Loops, Samples, Kits - EMusician

Loops, Samples, Kits

THE NEXT GENERATION OF SOUND LIBRARIES HAS ARRIVED
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It may be hard to believe now, but videogame consoles crashed and burned in 1983, when companies trying to cash in on the craze flooded the market with sub-standard games. But that was then, and this is now; these days, a new game in, say, the Mass Effect franchise gets the same kind of response that a new Beatles album received back in the ''60s.

Loop and sample libraries may be following the same kind of arc. When they first hit the world, people couldn''t snap them up fast enough. But frankly, quality wasn''t uniform, the bloom came off the rose, and a lot of companies went back to the drawing boards.

Now they''ve emerged with a new generation of sound libraries, and the timing is right. Part of it is the general downsizing in today''s economy—with a decent library, you really can produce a pretty good video soundtrack before the FedEx dropoff. But that''s not all. Dance music is (of course) a primary consumer of loops; however, as its various musical sub-genres mutate like drosophila on speed, there''s a constant quest for more exotic, boundary-pushing sounds. Even rock bands are getting into the act by adding a track of exotic percussion, or maybe some sampled parts to complement the “real” ones.

This roundup surveys the current soundscape, from traditional loop libraries and construction kits, to virtual instruments that think they''re loop libraries, to virtual “needledrop” music, to libraries that provide the sounds while you provide the playing—as well as some products that defy easy categorization.

The one bummer: We got more great stuff in for review than we had space to review it all in, and our publisher didn''t think it was such a hot idea to use 4-point type and include a magnifying glass with each issue. So we''ll be doing more coverage of sounds in the months ahead—while waiting eagerly to see what the sample librarians come up with next.

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Kontakt is hosting West Africa; note the mixer toward the bottom, with the limiter effect being edited. The colored keyboard keys indicate articulations and other performance-oriented aspects, while the Pattern Player generates loops.

Native Instruments Discovery Series: West Africa
Style:
Authentic West African music
Product type: Virtual instrument with looped patterns and playable instruments
Loop formats: Playback within free Kontakt 4 Player, can sync to host tempo
Stats: 26 percussion instruments, 8 melodic, 888 patterns total (including variations)
Documentation: Well-written PDF with useful, applications-oriented info

This library has the virtue of being hosted by Kontakt 4, an extremely capable sample player that provides significant customization—edit the onboard percussion patterns, instantiate onboard insert/aux effects, use articulations, add hits, and more. The loops aren''t sampled, but play in real time by triggering sounds, so they have inherent variations (thanks to the transparent KSP scripting engine). Percussion instruments are duplicated with 12- or 16-step patterns. Instruments include kora, balafon, flutes, djembes, percussion ensembles, etc.

There are 12 patterns per instrument, and 38 ensemble patterns (each with 12 variations). Although the emphasis is on authenticity, inclusion of performance gestures, and sparkling audio quality, allow the instruments to add an exotic element to anything from dance to New Age.

Compared to software like MOTU''s Ethno, the price may seem high. However, the approaches are different. Ethno emphasizes a comprehensive library, while West Africa is about exceptional playability for a more limited soundset.

Kontakt 4 has a learning curve, so read the manual. Once that''s squared away, the instrument itself is pretty obvious, and the documentation is helpful—within ten minutes I was putting evocative, expressive sounds on the timeline. Overall, the entire package is classy and musical.

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Ueberschall''s Elastik player (from zPlane, who creates the stretching algorithms for, among others, Ableton Live) makes loops playable, and encourages improvisation. But the really interesting action is the Random button in the lower left, particularly for their Inspire series libraries.

Ueberschall Funk & Soul
Style:
Like the title says . . .
Product type: Construction kit meets loop library meets playable instrument
Loop format: WAV, exportable as WAV
Stats: More than 700 loops, 1,282 samples
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: Downloadable Elastik Player manuals

Longtime readers know I''m a fan not just of Ueberschall''s sounds, but their extremely playable and customizable Elastik loop playback engine. (Rather then get into details, visit their website for a free player/demo bank download.) However, their new Inspire series of libraries is a huge advance in loop libraries: After loading an Inspire construction kit, you can invoke random replacement for whichever loops you select, thus creating usable variations; replacements are consistent (e.g., bass replaces bass). As the Elastik engine is uncanny in matching key and tempo, the results are at least usable, and at best . . . well, inspirational. What''s more, you can save the collection of loops, including any modifications you make, as well as create full loops from the various individual instrument loops.

The randomize function works across any Ueberschall libraries you have installed, not just the ones with Inspire kits—for example, combining loops from their Sounds of Berlin with Funk & Soul created a kind of future funk. (An upcoming rev will let you restrict randomization to specific libraries.)

The recording quality and musicality are, as usual, spot on. But the Inspire feature is amazing: It merges construction kit and loop library concepts intelligently, yielding an almost infinitely expandable library.

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The cover graphic for Sony''s Charm is actually a pretty good representation of the sounds inside.

Sony Charm
Style:
Downtempo, IDM
Product type: Construction kits
Loop formats: Acidized WAV
Stats: 31 construction kits with strong mix-and-match potential, 250 unique loops
Resolution: 44.1kHz/16-bit
Documentation: None in downloadable version

I realize this couldn''t be titled Prozac for legal reasons, but Charm is almost as good. Each kit typically has a keyboard part, separate kick/hat/snare, some percussion, pad, bass, and various ear candy—bells, arpeggio, synth leads, etc. The pianos are appropriately dreamy, the pads thick, and the percussion non-intrusive; if this library was a woman, she''d be achingly pretty and would speak with an unidentifiable (but hypnotically intriguing) foreign accent.

However, she wouldn''t have any identification on her, because these kits continue Sony''s habit of generally not including key or BPM info. The mitigating factor is that the Acidization is as good as it gets, so you can time- and pitch-stretch with abandon. (Most kits are in keys between F and A, so you don''t have to pitch-stretch too far.) For more than two decades, Sony has been top dog for loop editing; Charm keeps the company''s reputation intact.

What''s more, Charm totally owns the “how much can I put together in how short a time?” contest. For one kit, I just pulled files in where I thought they might go based on their names (“We''ll start with piano, bring in some bells, then percussion . . .”) and when I played it back, it was good to go. I''d feel guilty if I cut an entire “Music for Relaxation” CD from this library, but I could—and I bet people would buy it.

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Ministry of Rock 2 works with EastWest''s Play Engine, which provides mixing, multiple effects, and a browser. As with other instruments, keyboard shadings and colors indicate instrument placement and articulations.

EastWest Ministry of Rock 2
Style:
Hard rock
Product type: Virtual instrument
Stats:
57GB (not a typo) library with 3 rock drum kits, 6 guitars, and 8 basses (all except one bass remastered from their Hardcore Bass and Hardcore Bass XP libraries); all have multiple preset variations
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: Comprehensive PDF

EastWest seems to like challenges, whether it''s capturing the Beatles'' vibe, or transforming haunting vocal samples into a playable instrument. This time, it''s creating a “virtual rock band” where listeners can''t tell whether they''re hearing a “real” recording or samples. EW has succeeded (check the audio demo online), thanks to a lot of well-recorded data—eight double-layer DVDs with multisampled everything (over 7,000 samples for the 5-string Stingray bass alone), room mics for drums (overhead, room, compressed room), instrument articulations, you name it.

EW''s 32/64-bit, cross-platform Play engine has a limited number of controls, but they''re the important ones: drum mixer, envelope, filter, delay, ADT, and reverb. The drums in particular have a great feel (EW claims some proprietary mojo called “live technology”—whatever it is, it works), but running the guitars and basses through beefy amps helps too, as does using top-flight players.

You''ll need chops to exploit the articulations, but time invested in “learning” the instruments is time well spent—MoR II is the only library I''ve used out of the box that, with sufficient practice, produces a convincing virtual rock band. $395 may seem steep for casual users, but film composers will likely consider the price a bargain, especially as the library is up to EW''s exemplary standards.

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The inclusion of a reel of multitrack analog tape on the cover of Freshtone Samples'' Lost Tapes, Vol. 1 is not a coincidence.

Freshtone Samples Lost Tapes Vol. 1
Style:
''60s/''70s soul and funk
Product type: Compact construction kits with mix-and-match library potential
Loop formats: Acidized WAV, REX2
Stats: 43 construction kits, 970 unique loops
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: PDF with license info

This library tries—and succeeds—to capture the “analog era” through analog recording gear from the ''60s and ''70s, vintage instruments, and most importantly, vintage attitude.

The construction kits are divided into folders of jams (full mixes) and instrument loops (drums, bass, guitar, keys, stabs, fills, etc.). Sorting by instrument instead of kit isn''t standard, but with limited riffs per kit, this emphasizes the loop library aspect. Loops from different kits often work well together, although unfortunately the filenames lack key signatures (but include BPM). Acidization/REX editing is unusually good; some sounds have too much reverb for me, but this is a ''60s/''70s project—and they loved their ''verb!

The kits are ideal for projects requiring “that” sound, while the individual loops are well-suited for adding unique elements to music from hip-hop to rock to dance. Years ago, a remix of one of my tunes couldn''t get clearance for a Stax/Volt-type sample; had this library existed, any of several loops would have worked instead.

It''s fast and easy to put material together, particularly if you stick within a kit. But it''s also fun—it''s hard to resist cracking a smile as you work with these files. This is a left-field sample library that might not end up as your most-used library, but it''s done with style, and there''s nothing else like it.

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K-Size loop libraries offer samples in a wide variety of formats—they''re compatible with just about anything.

Best Service K-Size Electro Edition
Style:
Dance—electro, house, tech-house, progressive, dash of trance
Product type: Library collection with loops (including a construction kit slant) and one-shots
Loop formats: Acidized WAV, Apple Loops, REX2, RMX, WAV
One-shot formats: Mapped to patches for Ableton Live (Drum Racks, Samples, and Simpler), Battery 3, EXS24, Halion, Kontakt, NN-XT, WAV
Stats: 831 unique loops, 1,716 unique one-shots
Resolution: 44.1kHz/16-bit
Documentation: PDF with installation instructions for one-shots and the various compatible instruments

The loops are organized in four folders—Beats, Hi-Hats, Synth & Bass, and Addon. Beats tend toward four-on-the-floor electro-house rather than Kraftwerk-type offbeats, but all lay down an excellent foundation. Related loops are named similarly (and tonal ones include the key signature), making it easy to locate variation loops.

The construction kit angle comes into play when layering other loops on top of the beats, particularly as the hi-hats are broken out into separate loops. Stretch editing is good for the REX and Apple Loops files, but not for the Acidized ones due to missed transients and not having a base pitch assigned, requiring manual transposition. If you use Acidized loops and need to stretch much from the 128BPM default, use Acid or Sonar to edit them for optimum stretching.

Putting together tracks is easy: The only hiccup is having to transpose Synth & Bass loops; a lot of them are in A and C, but you''ll also run into the occasional A#, G, etc. Regardless, if you''re into electro that leans toward house, Electro Edition gives solid, well-recorded, muscular tracks—and the relatively specific focus lends itself well to loop mix-and-match. It doesn''t take much browsing to find plenty of loops that work well together; Electro Edition is equally comfortable complementing existing tracks or laying a foundation, yet doesn''t sound generic.

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It''s arranged like a construction kit, but Pure Rock Hits is a good example of modern needledrop music—the music is defined, but unlike earlier needledrop music, easy to rearrange.

Big Fish Audio Pure Rock Hits
Style:
Radio-friendly rock
Product type: Construction kits
Loop formats: Acidized WAV, Apple Loops, REX2, RMX, WAV; drum stems are WAV only
Stats: 20 construction kits, with drum loops supplemented by multitrack drum “stems” (WAV only), 1,491 unique loops
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: PDF with instructions for using the different formats

This library is more about “needledrop music”: The construction kits break a song down into different sections of different instruments, inviting re-arrangement (extend or shorten sections, weave instruments in and out, etc.). The guitar parts are great—melodic and “hooky,” with complementary electric, distorted, acoustic, and picked parts. The bass lines are also strong; keyboards play a more supporting role.

The drum loops are disappointing, though. They''re overcompressed, with muffled—not crisp—mixes. Fortunately, the parts are also available as stems, so you can create your own drum loops out of the “raw materials.” They''re only in WAV format, so to stretch tempo you''ll need to do transient marker editing; also, some of the levels are rather low. On the plus side, the stems avoid the limitations of the loops, and get props for including overhead and room mics so you can customize the ambience. I wish more libraries would take this approach.

Using the drum stems means it takes longer to put songs together, although you gain the advantages of flexibility and customization. But the stars here are the infectious, well-played guitar parts; if the clock is ticking really fast, combine them with drum loops from another library. For a rock tune or video theme that people will hum after the music stops, Pure Rock Hits has the goods.

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The sound quality is expressive and rich, but so are the editing options. This shows just one page of four pages with editable parameters.

Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos
Style:
Four different upright pianos
Product type: Virtual instrument
Format: VST/AU/RTAS plug-ins, Mac/Windows
Stats: 84GB of multisampled notes for four pianos
Documentation: Printed manual

Having set the standard with their virtual grand pianos, Synthogy has now done the same for uprights, with a Yamaha U5 (pretty much the modern upright piano), vintage Hume, honky-tonk piano, and tack piano with, yes, real tacks. If you choose to install all four, expect to spend some quality installation time with the 12 DVD-ROMs.

There are up to 16 velocity layers (you can select the number of voices, from 4 to 160), but part of Synthogy''s “secret sauce” is resonance modeling for sympathetic string vibrations. I''d always felt sampled pianos were to acoustic pianos as White Castle burgers are to Kobe beef, but the Ivory II engine changed my opinion. It''s not just about sound; pianos are also about feel, and the Ivory II pianos feel right, with exceptional dynamics. They''re also surprisingly editable, with pedal noise, stereo imaging, sustain resonance, tuning table support, and more. There''s even a synth layer, as well as EQ, chorusing, and ambience effects.

As a reality check, I compared the Ivory uprights to some other sampled pianos—which only made the Synthogy ones stand out more. Of course, nothing playing through speakers sounds exactly like a real acoustic piano; but Ivory II''s pianos nail the sound of real recorded acoustic pianos. More importantly, the experience of playing them is truly satisfying—and that''s the toughest emulation of all.

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The industry has certainly seen plenty of “volume 2” projects, but Aftershocks is designed to extend the original Continental Drift library.

Sony Continental Drift Aftershocks
Style:
World, ethnic
Product type: Loop library add-on to Continental Drift library
Loop formats: Acidized WAV
Stats: 466 unique loops
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: None in downloadable version

The original Continental Drift impressed me, not just due to the wide variety of world loops, but also because—whether by accident or design—loops from seemingly disparate cultures often worked very well together. I met one of the people involved in creating the library at AES, and he mentioned they had a lot of good material left that they couldn''t fit into the library, and were planning a follow-up.

Well, here it is. It''s the same cast of characters: African, Appalachian, Arabic, Asian, Celtic, East Indian, Native American, and Gypsy. While Aftershocks can stand on its own—it exhibits the same cross-cultural mix-and-match options as its predecessor—it really does work best in the context of expanding the original Continental Drift.

Like the original, the sounds are true “world” sounds, not watered-down “New Age,” and as such are quite exotic and have a Smithsonian-field-recording vibe, albeit with better quality (and of course, Sony''s superior Acidization). This limits their usefulness in traditional music, but makes them ideal for soundtracks, as well as for adding dashes of spice to dance and other open-minded musical genres.

If you like Continental Drift, but wish there was more, Aftershocks is for you. And if you''re looking for some really evocative world loops, the combination of the two libraries is a great place to start.

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Synth lovers, rejoice: Synth-Werk from Yellow Tools is loaded with a huge variety of synth sounds.

Yellow Tools Synth-Werk
Style:
Synth tones, synthesis, and rhythms
Product type: Virtual instrument with built-in mini-drum machine
Loop formats: Proprietary, within instrument
Stats: 1,500 sounds total
Documentation: Printed manual

This virtual instrument is a worthy addition to this roundup for those who like to fashion their own loops. Synth-Werk is a synth lover''s dream, particularly if your taste runs to the more Euro strain. Sounds include chords, dissonant chords, synth patches, computer-type sounds; choirs and vocoders; melodies, pads, basses, effects, drum machine, and rhythm sounds; and an engine with lots of editing options (multimode filter, lo-fi, flanger, reverb, delay, sample start, randomization, and a lot more).

You add or remove layers, then choose the sound for that layer. I was initially put off by the naming convention (for example, with Chord Sounds, you have Chord Sound 001 to Chord Sound 195—not very descriptive), but pretty much everything I pulled up was cool. Fortunately, you can create favorites when you find ones you like.

This is a somewhat impractical instrument because there are so many variables; but that''s also its charm, as the ratio of hits to misses is very high. In a way, Synth-Werk feels like the software equivalent of a modular synthesizer: “Hmm, what happens if I plug in this patch cord and turn this knob. . . .”

I don''t know how this one flew under my radar, but it''s great. Put some of these sounds on top of the K-Size Electro Edition loops, and you''ll get the dance floor moving.

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This top module shows the loop slice editor with pitch being edited, while the lower module is an instrument''s effects section set to show editable parameters for the delay effect.

Big Fish Audio RiG Urban Workstation
Style:
Urban, rap, R&B, pop
Product type: Virtual instrument with looped patterns and playable instruments
Loop formats: Playback within free Kontakt 4 Player, can sync to host tempo
Stats: More than 1,200 patches, 26GB sample library (compressed, requires 15GB disk space)
Resolution: 44.1kHz/24-bit
Documentation: PDF with Kontakt quickstart and info on instrument interfaces Our second Kontakt 4 library can also be a plug-in (VST, AU, RTAS) or work standalone, but is quite different from most Kontakt instruments—it recalls Avid''s Transfuser, as it''s optimized for a specific musical style, and offers various distinct instrument “modules.”

The loop/sample library has what you need for urban production (drums, synths, guitars, basses, hits, keyboards, horns, pads, strings, pianos, etc.), but there are three different instrument types with different interfaces. For example, drum loops have a slice editor that can edit pitch, amplitude, reverse, filtering, etc. per slice, with 16 “slots” (presets) for storing your edits. Playable instruments have 12 editable effects, as well as envelope, legato, and microtuning parameters. Arpeggiation-oriented instruments add dual step sequencers (for gate, pitch, attack, decay, lowpass, resonance, highpass, and pan with 4 to 64 steps) to the instrument options, and offer 32 presets of settings. The instrument interfaces are obvious, although you need to learn the Kontakt interface as well.

Within the limits imposed by a dedicated musical style, RiG is all about fast & fun. Fast because of the compatible sounds, fun because it''s easy to create tracks and edit them into useful variations. Within minutes I had funky guitar, moody organ, and ethnic/hip-hop drum loops grinding away—then playing bass and horns on top gave me all I needed. Nice!

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