Sonic Implants' String Boxes: Mellotron and ARP String Ensemble CD-ROM library ($69.95) brings together string sounds from two classic keyboards: the Mellotron and the ARP Solina String Ensemble. The Mellotron produced its sounds by playing analog tapes of each note of a recorded instrument, and the ARP Solina synthesized its string and brass sounds from sawtooth waves. Although the Mellotron has always been considered a unique, classic instrument, the Solina has only recently earned its standing as a vintage synth.
Let Me Take You Down
As you might expect from the price tag, this is not an extensive collection of instrument sounds. The Mellotron library is limited to Flute, 8-Voice Choir, and three String sounds from the M200, M300, and Mark II models. However, those are the instruments most closely associated with the Mellotron sound, and they are good representative choices. Furthermore, each sound has a number of variations created by adjusting envelopes or filters. For example, the M200 Strings library has four filtered pad sounds with different attack and release envelopes, a basic Dry Violins patch, and other pad variations that alter sample playback by using only attack and release envelopes. The Mellotron samples were recorded at a 22.05 kHz sampling rate with 16-bit resolution, which is enough to ensure faithful reproduction of the Mellotron instruments.
I was shocked to discover that each Mellotron sample loops back to the beginning with a noticeable audio gap between the end and the beginning of the loop. When I mentioned that to Sonic Implants, I was told that it was intentional. Fortunately, you can defeat the loops so that the samples will play only from beginning to end like the tapes in real Mellotrons.
The Solina sounds are grouped into five libraries: ARP Ensemble 1 Full Octave, ARP Ensemble 2 Full Unison, ARP Ensemble 3 Strings Only, ARP String Ensemble Mod, and ARP String Ensemble No Mod. The Full Octave and Full Unison libraries are samples of string and brass sounds played an octave apart and in unison respectively. Like the Mellotron libraries, the Full Octave, Full Unison, and Strings Only libraries contain variations based on envelope and filter adjustments. The String Ensemble Mod and String Ensemble No Mod libraries differ from each other in that the Mod library patches have a thicker, more choruslike sound than the sounds in the No Mod library. Both libraries include variations such as Viola, Violin, Trumpet, Horn, and Strings, as well as layered patches of the individual instruments in various combinations. Additionally, there are variations based on different envelope and filter settings, as there are in the other ARP and Mellotron libraries.
The Mellotron and Solina String Ensemble libraries respond to MIDI Program Change, Velocity, Modulation, and Sustain information. I would appreciate a few patches that contain MIDI Control Change messages for altering filter settings. That would have been especially useful in the Solina libraries. Nonetheless, you get more than enough variations to keep you satisfied for a long time.
The Best-Laid Plans
The concept behind this CD-ROM is great: include the best-loved and most used Mellotron sounds with a variety of sounds from a classic analog string box and sell it for a nice low price. The only issue is that the Mellotron sounds contain the sound gap that I described earlier. I hope that Sonic Implants will correct the problem in the next release; in the meantime, it's easy to fix. On the other hand, the Solina String sounds are reproduced well and offer a large selection of textures from which to choose. Having real-time MIDI control over the filter for those sounds would have been an extra treat, but I can live without them for the time being. I can always create those patches from the material already provided.
The String Boxes library is far from perfect; however, its comparatively low price outweighs its imperfections, and its blemishes are easily correctable. Besides, there are plenty of raw samples and simple instrument designs that you can use for creating some variations of your own. If you are willing to do a minuscule amount of work to get the collection playing properly, then String Boxes may prove to be a good deal for you.