Every once in a while, I am embarrassed to discover that, as a professional, I've allowed developments in technology to escape my “all-seeing eye.” I like to think that I'm right on top of the latest and greatest audio and musical technology at all times, but I've recently discovered that it isn't so. Do you know what I mean? I thought I'd seen the final word in sampling. Sampling technology has seen a number of improvements through the years, but just like any other technology, you eventually run out of innovations. And that's where I thought sampling stood. Enter Trilogy. This is the brilliant brainchild of Spectrasonics' Eric Persing, the renowned product-development consultant and patch developer for Roland. And Persing has ensured that a variety of features propel Trilogy far beyond your garden-variety sampler loaded with bass samples.
First, the name Trilogy is an allusion to the three-pronged nature of the product's gigantic 3-plus-gigabyte core library. Three kinds of basses are represented: electric, acoustic and synthetic. These are good samples — incredibly good samples. The Spectrasonics crew spent nearly two years engaged in making high-resolution recordings of every kind of bass you could imagine. Excellent samples of handpicked acoustic and electric basses are available in both DI and microphone-captured varieties. Also, as you might imagine, the legendary Moog bass sound is copiously present, as are other classic synth basses like the OSC Oscar, the Oberheim SEM, the Roland SH-101 and the Juno-60, among many others. More than 13,000 samples are in this giant library, and it's a necessity considering the way that Trilogy's engine works. There are bass sounds in Trilogy that require the combination of as many as 1,000 samples!
The second major feature that contributes to the incredible quality of Trilogy is indeed its engine. Plenty of new technology is happening here, enabling features like superrealistic solo legato and glide. It's not just another sample-player that simply repeats the digital information that it is fed. Special features are intended to realistically accomplish the subtle nuances of bass sounds specifically. Among these is Velocity Gliss, which gives you a glissando on certain (high-) velocity layers. There's also True Staccato, which solves the age-old “machine-gun” triggering problem associated with playing repeated notes. There are True Staccato versions of quite a number of Trilogy's basses, in which the sustained notes are mapped to the left of your keyboard and the staccato versions of the same notes are placed three octaves higher. It takes a little practice to figure out, but you can achieve hyperrealistic “bass playing” with the keyboard this way. Similarly, there is a true “upstroke” sample for picked basses, which adds even more realism. Spectrasonics' dual-layer architecture (evident in other products, such as Atmosphere) is present here, as well, enabling unlimited development of user-created sounds.
Another major innovation is the release-noise layer. When a bass player plays, many more sounds than just the notes emanate from the strings. For example, there is a significant noise when the string is released after being pressed to the fretboard. As a matter of fact, a lot of little squeaks and noises happen with good bass playing. This is something that has never really been appropriately addressed by sample-developers. You may recall that in the mid-1980s, acoustic-guitar samples began to include that squeaky sound made when the guitarist slid his or her fingers from one fret to another. That was a basic and fundamental precursor to what Spectrasonics has done here. The release-noise layer enables the inclusion of much more than just release noise. There are little noises made when a string is pressed to the fretboard but not plucked or picked. Similarly, noises occur when the bassist's fingers mute a vibrating string. These are the myriad subtleties that the release-noise layer adds to the sound. And as I've said before, this is the kind of thing that propels Trilogy far beyond a simple playback unit.
START YOUR ENGINES
Trilogy uses the same dual-layer engine as Spectrasonics' superb Atmosphere soft synth. This enables the user to create bass sounds all day long by choosing two samples, tweaking them and ultimately blending them into one bass timbre. Each layer has its own level, panning and muting controls. Each sports coarse- and fine-tuning knobs, too. Also present are four LFOs, two of which retrigger with each Note On message while the other two run freely. A matrix enables you to determine modulation sources for pitch, filter, amp and panning, respectively. Filter and amplitude each get their own dedicated ADSR envelope generator, and pitch has a somewhat less-sophisticated envelope generator, as well. The available filter types are a 12dB/octave highpass, as well as 12, 18 and 24dB/octave lowpass versions. The filter off position literally eliminates the filter algorithm, which frees up some CPU power. For most electric and acoustic bass applications, the filter is overkill, but when you dig into the synth basses, you'll love having these filters available. There is also a Master Filter that kind of serves as a global tone control. The Solo button and Glide control give you monophony and portamento, respectively, just like vintage synthesizer bass. There are other global controls for polyphony; octave shift; bend range; MIDI continuous controller assignment; and 32-bit mode, which yields super-high-quality audio (at a CPU overhead cost). All parameters can be MIDI-automated, which opens up lots of room for creativity, particularly with synth basses.
The one thing that struck me immediately when I sat down to play with Trilogy is that I've never had an easier time getting a killer bass. For acoustic and electric applications, very little tweaking is necessary. In fact, I have yet to change one parameter within Trilogy on an electric or acoustic bass. Of course, external to Trilogy, I'm known to EQ, compress and so on, but you would normally do that with a real bass. Getting into the synth basses, the tweaking is a blast. These are great sounds, ranging from taut, punchy basses to mammoth, heavy, foundation-type basses upon which to build. The acoustic basses were recorded with a Neumann U 47 mic through a Neve 1081 preamp, and the DI was recorded simultaneously, yielding phase-aligned samples that can be mixed to your taste. The electric basses are arranged into fingered, fretless, muted, picked and slapped categories, each with a number of different instruments. There are glissandos, slides and harmonics for each of these, too.
Two kinds of synth basses are available, Patch and Waveform, the former being fully developed and ready-to-use whereas the latter are, as the name implies, just waves ready for you to sculpt and tweak into badass basses for your songs. Truthfully, although there is a boatload of great samples with which to start here, I'm probably more inclined to just go to one of my many software, or even hardware, synths. Nonetheless, the prefab synth basses are quite welcome because there are so many and I can just quickly dial up something that works for my project.
The acoustic basses are, in a word, convincing. Whenever I test-drive a “real��� instrument, I dial up an appropriate amount of volume, start playing some riffs and wait to see how long it takes my wife to barge in and ask if I've purchased “another damned toy!” This time, she was thoroughly convinced that I had an acoustic bass in the studio until she walked in to see me on a keyboard. She was also thrilled with the fretless sound I called up for a song she's writing. Come to think of it, the fretless basses are my absolute favorite part of Trilogy. Moreover, the fingered and picked basses, when EQ'd and compressed properly, are virtually indistinguishable from their stringed counterparts.
If you want no-muss, no-fuss bass, Trilogy is untouchable. There is simply no other product that ties it all together at such an incredible level of quality. It makes having incredible-quality bass an unbelievably simple exercise. Now, Spectrasonics, I'm awaiting a guitar-oriented product!
TRILOGY > $399.99
Pros: Extremely convincing electric and acoustic bass sounds.
MAC: G3/300; 512 MB RAM; Mac OS 9.x/10.x; 3.1 GB available hard-drive space; AU-, MAS-, RTAS- or VST-compatible host
PC: PIII/600; 512 MB RAM; Windows 98/98SE/2000/ME/XP; 3.1 GB available hard-drive space; VST-compatible host