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Software Reviews

EMBERTONE INTIMATE STRINGS – REVIEW

Embertone Stringsby PJG

In the last few years, Embertone has specialized in detailed, affordable virtual instruments: from the classic sound of the clarinet to the exoticism of the erhu and the insanity of the mouth trumpet – their products are always deeply sampled and beautiful scripted. And during all this time their solo strings have been Embertone’s flagship, starting with Friedlander Violin in 2013 and finishing with Leonid Bass early this year. Completing the series, Blakus Cello and Fischer Viola: it is always nice when libraries give their performers proper due. Continue reading

Soniccouture – Box of Tricks

By David Christiansen

Sometimes virtual instruments are created for artists for studio work, albums, sometimes live performances and later on they are released. Imogen Heap’s Box of Tricks is such a library and an extraordinary instrument created of her in cooperation with Soniccouture. After three years of refining 13 Kontakt instruments are release. The library consists of 30GB of sampled material and comes in a 12.7GB download. Kontakt 5.5 or later is required to run the instruments.

SOUND
All instruments are recorded in high-end quality and with a thoughtful use and placement of microphones. The sound quality is superb and the sample files have been saved in 24bit / 96kHz..

RANGE
One of the most interesting aspects of the library is the programming of the Kontakt instruments. All instruments make use of the complete playable range. On a 88 key controller all keys can be played. In Kontakt the original sampled range is marked blue and the transposed notes on the upper and lower end are marked green.

INSTRUMENTS

Array-Mbira
9 velocity layers, 5 octaves.

Cello
Pizz with 16 velocity layers and 3 round robins / bow / harmonic slides, reverse pizz.

Cocktail-Kit
With up to 64 velocity layers and room and direct mics. Great use of Euclidean Beats Module (explained later on)
* One of the instruments I will use most for all kinds of compositions *

Tongue Drum
10 velocity layers, 3 round robin layers, one octave sampled, sounds good on whole keyboard.

Body & Vocal Percussion
61 sounds
Play sounds with single sounds on the keys, or arrange with the Jammer or or Euclidean Beats Module.

Vibraphone
Articulations are fingernails, bow (decay, looped) and reverse and come all with 9 velocity layers.

Vocalpad
Articulations are: dry, ghost, reverse. The articulations can be mixed with the 3 sliders.

Boomwhackers
32 velocity layers with carpet & wooden beaters.

Whirly-Tubs
Pad sound with chromatic sampled Whirly Tubes.

Glockenspiel
11 velocity layers and 3 round robin layers, great sound and great with Jammer 2.0 and Hamoniser (explained later on).

Shruti Box
With spectral overtone crossfading. Personally it’s one of the patches I will not use too often. It seems to be a bit less versatile than the other patches.

Waterphone
A colorful great sounding collection of 128 waterphone sounds.

Marxophone
9 velocity layers.
It’s a fretless zither and very useful for chords and melodies. * This is well is one of the instruments I will use most for many styles of music *

PERFORMANCE MODULES
Are available for each chosen instrument.

Euclidean Beats
Can be used with Cocktail Kit and Vocal + Body Percussion Kit. With this module it’s very easy to generate and program complex beats. Steps and hits per sound can be inserted easily and the results always sound compelling. This way it’s simple to create individual loops. The midi note result can be inserted with drag and drop into the sequencer.

Harmoniser
Can be used with almost all instruments and is a simple NI script giving harmony. Used for instance in combination with the next module Jammer, this can be quite a powerful effect. 26 scales based on all 12 chromatic notes can be used.

Jammer 2.0
An apeggiator with 12 different patterns, which can be automated while playing and assigning options to any MIDI CC. This module has 5 offset controls and 5 evolve control to play around and find creative settings you can use and store. The scale section gives many options: major, minor, black notes, wholte tone C and C# and 8 Messiaen scales, which were invented by Olivier Messiaen.

Strum
The strumming can be used for the instrument Marxophone and for MBira and has a control to allow settings like direction and speed. In Marxophoone the strumming can be split and be used for the left of the keyboard (chords) or for the melody on the right side of the keyboard.

FOCUS
This button let’s you play the sound you just played on the whole keyboard. This can be used for the 61 unique sounds of Vocal & Body Percussion and for the 128 Waterphone sounds.

Pressure/Drift
This is for the SHRUTI BOX which has a possibility to adjust the pressure of the instrument and makes it sound more organic.

MORE
There are so many options to play with in in this library. There is a whole FX section with 17 different insert effects and a random mode. It comes with it’s own convolution reverb: 10 Spaces of Heap’s House. 22 Rooms (Concert Room, Cathedral, Cave…) and 20 SFX-Patches. Another function which is very interesting to experiment with is the SLIM controller which reduces the fundamental frequency of each chromatic note.

It’s interesting to know, that for all instruments there are different snapshots you can load in and learn from the masters behind it, how they create great patches from sometimes simple and pure sounds.

CONCLUSION
Soniccouture – Box of Tricks is an extremely inspiring instrument. It could have been named ‘Box of Inspiration’. The 13 instruments can be embedded in many kind of music. The sample quality is superb. The Performance Modules, Effects and all the possibilities programmed into the instruments. It helps the composer very much, that the best fitting Performance Modules have been choosen and lead to fantastic results in very short time. Box of Tricks has mesmerizing qualities and gives the composer a feeling of great play-ability at the same time.

8dio Agitato Grandiose Legato Review

By Ariel Juarez

Released in September 2014 8dio releases its line of next generation string libraries with “Grandiose Legato” being the first of 4 specialized string libraries. How does this library fare?

Instead of doing a “jack of all trades” library, 8dio has created a full product for each string requirement in articulation/instrumentation. As it name implies, “Grandiose Legato” specializes in the creation of lush and expressive melody lines, with 7 types of legatos to choose from, each with different characteristics. The 7 legatos are:

Sustain X fade
Gentle
Gentle Detached
Medium
Strong
Mancini 1
Mancini 2

All of them sound great and can be changed on the fly via key-switching, Having played with the library for a year, my most used articulations have been “Sustain X Fade” (lush and never ending tone for really long but expressive passages) “Gentle Detached” (detached allows you to do same note legato) and “Mancini 1,2” (expressive, “singing” strings with a defined ending)

The libraries are divided into violins, violas, and cellos, each of them divided into ensemble and divisi sections. All of the instruments contain 3 mic positions to choose from (close, far, mixed)

You get 4 four knobs, dynamics, expression, legato volume and speed, which offer great control on how tight or free you want the sound to be.

Also included are short dynamic bowings, which are short arcs varying from a certain dynamic to another, examples include “Very Short MP-FF” “Sforzando FF” and “medium P-F” . This complements Adagio`s other dynamic arcs. (Adagio being the lyric and slower tempo specialized library).

How has the library fared in practice? In short, great. Even though It is for faster tempos, sometimes I have created a slow melody and loaded both Adagio and Agitato. Sometimes the winner is Agitato when you need that extra vibrato/expressiveness.

In the tech side of things, Agitato is not a resource hog, For example, the cello ensemble patch with all mics loaded takes .78 Gb of ram, only .25 if you use one mic (enough in most cases). Total disk weight of the complete bundle is 13.9 gigs uncompressed.

The library shows a good versatility in its tones, close mics in divisi violins sounds intimate yet lush. Mixed mics in ensemble cellos for that big low string sound. I have blended some real performances with Agitato Instruments and only specialized ears would noticed the virtual strings, it speaks wonders the versatility of an specialized library.

Other extra functions include “Auto-Chord” which lets you play two or more notes so you don’t have to load another instances for chord/melody switching, and “Auto-Speed” which varies the speed of the change in notes depending on how long the notes are being held. Auto-Speed is the only function I haven’t figured out well, it seemed to me I lost control over the performance and things were a little off tempo. The library doesn’t sound good when playing too fast, but that is covered by “8dio Arpeggio Legato and Ostinato”

8dio offers the strings as separate instruments for $99 violins/cellos or $89 for the violas, if you get ensemble and divisi bundle of a certain instrument it becomes $149/139 instead, and if you buy all the “All Agitato” bundle, you get the 6 instruments for $399.

In conclusion, a specialized library that complements another string library. Has good versatility to blend with other libraries or real instruments. 7 great sounding legatos give you a great arsenal for your melodies and can even sound intimate if you tweak it correctly. No resource hog. 9.2/10.

Vienna Special Editions and Vienna Instruments Pro

by Danny Poit

With all the choices for orchestral samples out there, it can be difficult deciding which tools might be appropriate for any given composer and any given usage. Some libraries try to closely match the Hollywood sound, whereas others try to mimic a more classical sound. Some are recorded in famous concert halls and sound stages with multiple mic positions, whereas others are recorded completely “dry” and leave the reverb completely up to the composer. Continue reading

Synthology Ivory II American Concert D Review

By David Christiansen

When it comes to high-class piano libraries Synthology has been on top for several years. I’ve loved the possibilities of Ivory but then changed to other pianos because, in my point of view, they had more realistic samples.

ANOTHER PIANO LIBRARY?
Like most composers I had virtual pianos and was quite happy. Mainly I was using Alicia Keys and the Steinway piano included in Native Instruments KOMPLETE. Continue reading