Wringing realistic expression from electric and acoustic bass samples isn't easy. Some collections sound authentic at first, but quickly exhaust the ear due to short single-layer samples and static programming. Others contain sampled artifacts (such as vibrato on fretless instruments or fret squeaks) in an attempt to simulate a touch of humanity. In the end, the snapshot nature of many sampled instruments only provides a simulacrum of the real deal. Majestic ($399.95) gathers electric and acoustic bass samples with lots of instrument-specific tricks, techniques, and artifacts governed by the thoughtfully designed Modular Virtual Instrument (MVI) engine.
Yellow Tools Majestic provides natural-sounding sampled electric and acoustic basses, with plenty of realistic performance artifacts.
On the Mac, Majestic supports Audio Units, RTAS, and VST2. On Windows, it supports VST2, RTAS, and DX. I put Majestic through its paces as a standalone unit, and within MOTU Digital Performer 4.12, Steinberg Cubase SX 2.2, and Granted Software's RAX using a Mac G4 with a dual-1.42 GHz processor and 2 MB RAM. Installation was an easy — albeit labyrinthine — task which involved challenge-and-response routines and downloading a special file that helps authorize a hardware dongle. Although I'm not happy about having yet another hardware dongle on my system, at least Yellow Tools lets you use this one to authorize the program on a second computer.
Covering the Basses
The instruments in this collection include a Hofner Beatles Bass, a Warwick Streamer Fretless, an Epiphone Jack Cassidy Signature model, a Fender Precision, and a fretless Fender Jazz bass. The articulations include picked, slapped, fingered, and muted notes recorded using a DI as well as miked British and American tube amps. Majestic also includes two very fine-sounding acoustic basses, with equalized variants.
After you have registered Majestic, you can download variations of the instrument collection, which are labeled “Warm” and are processed with different EQ settings. This makes the Majestic bass collection suitable for use in a wider variety of musical styles.
Eight assignable slots, called Layers, comprise a Multi in Majestic, and each Layer holds a single program and its associated keymap. Each Layer can receive on its own MIDI channel or in Omni mode. Most often, Layers constitute components of a single, expressive instrument rather than providing a variety of basses over multiple channels. Because each articulation occupies its own Layer, discrete MIDI Controller assignments can bring any Layer to the fore.
Sample Layers include ghost notes, alternate scales and string choices, upward and downward slides, taps, slaps, and harmonics. Among my favorite instruments are the DI Fretless 1 featuring a lush, natural vibrato (see Web Clip 1) and a very lifelike upright bass.
Overall, the presets are nicely programmed, and the envelopes provide the basses with a realistic, animated musical “bloom,” as if played through subtle soft-knee compression. The addition of a Hold parameter to the otherwise typical ADSR emphasizes the attack stage and endows the instruments with a bit more punch, if needed.
Majestic eschews filters and LFOs as a means of imitating real-world acoustic behavior. Instead, Velocity, Modulation Wheel, Note Number, and other MIDI controller messages bring in alternate playing techniques, fretting noise, vibrato, and more. Techniques such as vibrato offer new samples for contiguous keys rather than interpolating a few samples. The sources for modulation are sensible but somewhat limited in scope. For example, Aftertouch can often provide a more tactile playing experience, but it is absent from Majestic's menu of modulation sources.
Modulation destinations include sample start points, pitch modulation, panning, and envelope attack rate. You can apply customized modulation to any individual key of a Layer, all keys, or the whole multitimbral layout. Majestic supports automation with fixed Control Change messages for any key of each Layer. (It's important to note that the Layers provided are presets and can serve as jumping off points for your own patches.) Alternate-technique samples are engaged by key switching, Velocity, or with the modulation wheel.
Unfortunately, Majestic proved problematic at times. In Digital Performer, loading a new patch or adding an insert plug-in caused the screen to corrupt, which required minimizing and reopening the corrupt windows. In addition, the standalone version of Majestic mysteriously lost MIDI communication several times, and offered no setup window to fix the problem.
The manual provides a tour of the user interface, but it needs more thorough descriptions of how to work the often complex modulation schemes. Demo MIDI files would be a very nice addition.
Once you have come to grips with the modulation assignments for the instruments, however, you will be rewarded with extremely high-quality and expressive basses. Majestic is a generous, but by no means comprehensive, collection of instruments. Instead, it focuses very well on the kinds of nuance that you will need to create realistic-sounding electric and acoustic bass performances.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5
Yellow Tools/EastWest (distributor)