Online Library Card (Mac/Win/Unix)
Sonomic is one of several online services offering direct download of samples and sound effects. Like the others, it offers various options for accessing its sounds that are intended to suit the needs of different types of users. The Sonomic Online Library Card ($39.95), available only through retail stores, is a new offering from the company and allows the user to download a total of either 50 samples or 20 sound effects from the online collection of more than 200,000 sounds.
Finding the sounds you want can be the most challenging part of using any online library service, and Sonomic's approach, though not perfect, is fairly simple. At the main page, you'll find two different search engines. Click on the HTML engine, for example, and you'll be given the choice of locating either sound effects or samples. Click on sound effects, and you can then enter keywords to search only selected categories (Ambiences and Animals, for example) or the entire collection. You can also limit your search to a specific number of channels (mono, stereo, or All) or “frequencies” (44.1, 48, or All). Previews are available in Windows Media and RealAudio streaming formats.
Cough It Up
For the keyword “cough,” I got 48 hits ranging in length from one second to nearly four minutes long. Therein lies one of the problems: because you get a fixed number of downloads, you might end up with as little as 20 seconds of data or as much as 70 minutes. I prefer the model of some other services where you pay a fee for some fixed amount of data ($50 for 500 MB, for example), or pay by the sound, with the amount prorated based on the length of the sound you're downloading. Sonomic does offer other types of subscriptions, including monthly subscriptions for $29.95. But here again, you are allowed 10 sound effects or 30 samples regardless of the sounds' actual size (your download “balance” rolls over to the next month if it is not completely used). Unlimited downloads start at $799.99 annually.
Sonomic's huge library contains selections from a number of major players in the sound effects and sample world. Among them are the renowned BBC SFX Library and the complete offerings of Sampleheads, Zero-G, and others. Sonomic's collection will suit a vast range of musical needs — there are an extensive number of loops for dance-music folks, not to mention processed piano sounds, distorted guitar riffs, and hundreds of non-Western instrument samples. There are also a number of multisampled instrument sounds, including acoustic, electric, and ethnic examples.
I didn't find many representatives of “fringe” sample styles, such as those offered by Rarefaction or Fizzarum, though some of the vocal effects — the offerings from Zero-G, for example — could fall into this category. However, it was good to see a large number (over 200) in the Foley group, a category that can never offer too many choices.
Placing an order with a Library Card is easy — you register the first time you log on and from then on, you just sign in using your e-mail address and password. Once you've made your selections, you view your shopping cart, pick the format you want (Acidized WAV or AIFF), and initiate the download. Unfortunately, Sonomic has no option to zip or stuff all the sounds you're downloading and send them in a single archive, which would be very useful. I would also prefer not to have to opt out of having my user info passed along to other companies.
Sonomic's SoundBay feature builds a database of your purchases and allows you to search your collection. You can also store sounds in your SoundBay area, which is set up automatically after your first purchase; that lets you access them from any computer. That sure beats dragging a bunch of CD-ROMs with you when you go on the road!
Downloading samples offers huge benefits over buying sample libraries on CD-ROM. The most obvious of these is that you can buy only what you need and of course, try before you buy. But the ability to select only sound effects or samples, not some combination of the two, is an unnecessary limitation that could be avoided if you simply had a total number of megabytes available to you. Moreover, once you download the sounds, you'll have to find a way to keep them organized, as you won't have a booklet or index such as those found in CD-ROM collections. Of course Sonomic's SoundBay is intended to help with this, assuming you buy from only one company and have access to an Internet connection any time you wish to browse your sample collection.
Sonomic gives you access to a huge collection of samples and sound effects from a number of major sound providers. The Online Library Card is an economical way to sample the company's offerings, but a little more flexibility would make it an even better buy.