Review : Jaeger (version 1.2) by Audio Imperia

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Just a few days ago, after much anticipation, Audio Imperia released a massive free update to their flagship orchestral library, Jaeger. This update is huge, and you can tell they took their time and really listened to user requests and critiques. This review is going to cover my overall thoughts and critiques of Jaeger ($599), including the recent improvements featured in the 1.2 update.

When Jaeger was first announced (see teaser above), it came as a bit of a shock to some. Audio Imperia, as a company, are known for their cutting edge sound design libraries. When I think of the name Audio Imperia, I Instantly think of AAA film trailer effects, such as intense braams, risers, gritty synth pulses, atmospheres, mechanized hybrid FX, and the like. This company not only carved out a niche, but earned a spot at the top, offering incredible designed sounds at really competitive prices. While a lot of their products did include organic instruments, such as Trailer Guitars, and their Klavier Piano series, I truly never expected them to release a full fledged orchestral library. There was such a massive market already for orchestral samples, from companies such as Spitfire Audio, 8dio, Cinesamples, Orchestral Tools, and East West, so when they did announce their plans to release Jaeger, my initial reaction was one of surprise, quickly followed by excitement.

The GUI is sleek and modern.

The GUI is sleek and modern.

I had yet to be disappointed by anything released by Audio Imperia, and the more I learned about Jaeger, the more eager I became to hear more demos and check it out for myself. The artwork and marketing alone sure go a long way to selling the product. They made it clear, this is not your mother’s orchestral library... this is modern, epic, and in your face. You won’t find any vague and pretentious marketing campaigns here! You know… the kind with musicians playing in slow mo, quiet string swells and minimalist ambiance (aka… Spitfire Audio). Instead, we get massive braams, blaring horns, tight string ostinatos, and the most gorgeous legato vocals you’ve ever heard. To top it all off, the visuals seem straight out of a sci fi blockbuster... you’re faced with this badass artwork of a giant mechanized robot (like the Jaegers in Pacific Rim), a big knob in the center of the GUI that looks sort of like the arc reactor on Iron Mans chest, and just an all around sleek, futuristic, mechanical design. Pretty freakin cool, if you ask me.

I held off on buying this library for a while. I recently had purchased Spitfire Albion One, I didn’t need another all-in-one orchestral library. I had also recently purchased 8dio’s Century Strings and Brass, plus Keepforest Evolution Dragon and Atlantica...I didn’t need more individual instrument sections or any more hybrid trailer FX. Plus, those companies had years of experience perfecting their craft... I’m sure many of us wondered that maybe Audio Imperia bit off more than they could chew. It’s their first attempt at anything orchestral and they chose to do an entire orchestra (minus woodwinds, more on that later...) How good could it be?

Pretty good, apparently..

Pretty good, apparently..

The first look and unboxing videos started to make their rounds on the interwebs (thanks Daniel James!) The reviews began to pour in! General consensus: it was GREAT. Not just good, but great, even excellent! It earned an astonishing 10/10, a perfect score, from MusicTech magazine. That’s pretty impressive. You couldn’t even begin to talk about vocal samples online without someone raving about the Jaeger legato vocals by Merethe Solvedt (of Two Steps From Hell fame). I had to admit, everything I had heard sounded stunning. Yet I continued to hold off on purchasing. I mean, if it had woodwinds, I would have been all over it from day one. To me it felt a bit incomplete, but I couldn’t get over the sound of that legato vocal patch I kept hearing. It sounded so beautiful yet epic, and the legato so natural and smooth you could swear she was standing in front of you, singing her heart out. They had a promo and sold the vocal library on its own, and of course I had to check it out. After buying just the vocal, about a month later I had caved and bought the entire Jaeger library. I had to have it. It was just too cool! 

Content and Sound

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Jaeger loads up into the file browser, or quick load, section of Kontakt, not through Native Access, therefor it is not compatible with the free Kontakt Player, which is always a tiny bit disappointing to me. Not because I personally use the free Kontakt player (though I know many who do), but because I just prefer having seamless access to my content in the library tab, and while it is such a small detail based on vanity, it feels so much more official having the nice little graphic there to click on to explore and load the content. Nonetheless, that is purely my personal taste.


Jaeger is a very good sounding library, no doubt about it. Its divided into sections labelled “hangars”, consisting of Strings, Brass, Percussion, Sound Design, and Vocals. The shorts are, for the most part, impressively crisp and punchy, in fact the staccatissimo brass is my new go to when I need to achieve a tight and punchy sound that bites right through the mix. While the brass shorts can be very aggressive and hot, I feel the spiccato strings, while perfectly usable, can sound a bit bland and lack detail. However, I do use them very frequently to achieve a full and lush Hollywood trailer sound, though usually layered under a more detailed ensemble that cuts through the mix. Alternatively, you can EQ them to bring out more of the highs. I noticed by default, the short notes were not syncing up to my tempo properly, instead sounding a bit sloppy and delayed. I realized I simply had to adjust the “sample start” slider all the way to the right, which made them perform like my other spiccato patches. While I first thought this was an odd choice, I do appreciate the amount of control this library offers, and by featuring a slider like this, it can consequently produce the tightest string ostinatos out of any library I own. Additionally, using this feature, along with a similar “Legato sample start” slider, can produce the fastest and most nimble legato lines I’ve heard, which is pretty impressive.

French Horns are essential for epic music, in my humble opinion!

French Horns are essential for epic music, in my humble opinion!

When I tested out the legato and long notes, the first thing that struck me was how incredible and lyrical the legato is. This is hands down some of the best legato I’ve ever heard, and by nature is incredibly beautiful, natural, and flowing, which, to me, somewhat stands in stark contrast of the “epic” and aggressive focus of the marketing. I found Jaeger had a beautiful and cinematic side to it, and was more than capable of producing soft and intimate lines that you’d expect in a John Williams or James Newton Howard score. I also found the horns, while beautifully sampled, did top out fairly early in terms of dynamics, especially for epic music. While they do provide an aggressive growl when they get louder, they couldn’t quite match the bold and precise sound of the 6 horns featured in 8dio Century Brass playing at their loudest.

However, when layered with the trumpets, trombones and tubas, the long and short notes of the full brass section are stunning... very rich, full, and bright, and along with the legato, the brass section is a true highlight of this library. The trumpets are bright and full of life, while the trombones offer an aggressive and raspy edge, rounded out on the low end by the tubas.

The strings have a nice, lush, Hollywood sound, and are much improved with the new 1.2 addition of NV (non-vibrato) samples as well as a vibrato slider, for more control over the overall sound. The cello and violin legato once again sounds fantastic, giving these sections a majestic and soaring vibe when needed. The strings, overall, do lean towards being more full and lush, as opposed to intimate and detailed, and although I find it is a nice balance overall, I would have liked a bit more detail in the spiccato strings. There is also a noticeable lack of dynamic layers with the short notes which is a bit frustrating.  I also noticed the basses are quite weak compared to the rest of the strings, producing a very noticeable drop in volume going from the lowest cello note to the basses when an ensemble is loaded.

This is what I picture when I hear the violin legato…lyrical and beautiful.

This is what I picture when I hear the violin legato…lyrical and beautiful.

Jaeger is a very dry library, meaning any reverb, or sound and space of the room,  is little to none. I have no problems with this, in fact I sometimes prefer it, so I can apply the same third party reverb to all of my tracks and give it a more cohesive sense of space. One thing I did know going in, is that everything in Jaeger is recorded centered, meaning if you want it to sound more realistic and natural, you will need to pan each section accordingly. To some users, this is a deal breaker, though I personally don’t mind panning on my own. It would have been nice, however, to have a pre panned mic setting, so you could have both centered and panned mixes at the click of a button. 

The library could have used more of this…

The library could have used more of this…

The percussion section, while offering the nice touch of featuring both distance compensated (DC) and non-distance compensated (NDC) mixes, seems to be the weakest section out of the bunch. While they do include some great sounding samples, do not expect to achieve an epic, Hans Zimmer style percussion sound from what’s included in Jaeger. Nothing here sounds bad at all, just a bit underwhelming as far as ensemble sizes go . What they do provide, including hits, rolls, and crescendos, all sound great. While the library offers a lot, I feel including some truly epic percussion ensembles would really sweeten the deal.

The package is rounded out with the absolutely beautiful solo vocals, performed by renowned vocalist Merethe Solvedt, and feature the most convincing legato transitions I’ve ever heard. They are pretty much perfect. You’ve probably heard enough about them already, but they really are the best available, and that’s damn impressive.

Merethe Soltvedt lends her incredible voice to Jaegers vocal patch.

Merethe Soltvedt lends her incredible voice to Jaegers vocal patch.

The sound design hangar is also incredible as expected from Audio Imperia. You can easily make a licensable trailer track using just sounds from the sound design hangar as your only FX, not even needing any post processing. If you have any Audio Imperia sound design libraries, you know what to expect. Absolutely top notch sounds and fx here, absolutely no complaints. 

Bang for your Buck

Overall, Jaeger offers a good value, but I believe it could definitely be improved, and I personally believe there are other packages that offer more for the price. Spitfire’s Albion One ($449), which earned a 9.0/10 score from my review, offers massive percussion, loops, synths, and woodwinds, while another 9.0/10 score went to Berlin Inspire (399 euros, approx $453.42), which offers solo instruments and combined sections. Overall, they still take the cake for me as far as content and value is concerned. While Jaeger does feature great sounding individual instrument sections, offering a level of detail that may not be attainable in the aforementioned libraries, it doesn’t help that the areas where Jaeger seems to be lacking are now going to be sold as additional libraries by Audio Imperia. That’s content that is included in some other packages, that you will now have to pay extra for. For instance: Audio Imperia scrapped their Decimator drums library for Cerberus, and are selling it for 299 dollars, touting it as the epic, percussive companion to Jaeger, as they are recorded in the same space. Basically, I can’t help but shake the feeling some things are missing on purpose with Jaeger. While it offers a lot of great sounding content, and is perfectly useable on it’s own, it’s lacking in quite a few areas that other packages often include. If you buy Jaeger as a first library , and want to truly have epic percussion, you may then feel obligated to buy Cerberus. If you want truly earth shattering low brass and horns that will melt your face off, you’d then invest further in Talos. And if you want woodwinds, be prepared to invest even more into the upcoming woodwind library. Please keep in mind, while I am offering quite a few points of critique, Jaeger is a very good library, but it still feels lacking in some areas, and with the release of so many companion libraries at fairly high prices, it can sometimes feels intentional. 

Final Thoughts : a bit of an identity crisis?


Nonetheless, the library was impressively beautiful, which struck me again as a bit odd, but by no means a bad thing. While it was very suitable for modern and epic music, it seemed it could equally perform at the opposite end of the spectrum, able to produce delicate and soft passages of equal measure, sometimes even better, than the more aggressive sounds. While I welcome this decision, it’s here where the lack of woodwinds really hurts it. For soft passages, to me there is nothing quite like the delicate and expressive sound of woodwinds, and they are sorely missed when you bring this library down to its softer dynamics. This library also combines first and second violins into one section, which again seems to highlight a slight lack of vision... this library is impressive, but can’t quite be a jack of all trades, and, on it’s own, it can’t yet succeed at fulfilling the needs of making truly epic music. For instance: those who want something purely for epic music have louder and more bombastic options such as Metropolis Ark 1, and those who want a more traditional library would most certainly favor a library with pre-panned sections, woodwinds, and first and second violins. You also only get legato patches on cello, violins, vocals, and horns, though it sounds absolutely stunning on those that do feature it. I feel this library could have easily ventured into GREAT or EXCELLENT territory if it expanded it’s content to offer woodwinds, and included epic percussion, maybe even louder dynamics on the horns.


Updates! 


One thing I felt was missing originally was the ability to load a full ensemble patch. I had saved some custom multis, one featuring every string section and panned accordingly. However, every time I loaded this multi up, the sample start slider was always reset, and I had to adjust the slider for four different instruments every time I loaded up a project, so my shorts played nice and tight. A minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless  One of the new features included in the 1.2 updates is the ability to load up full ensemble patches , however, there are no options to individually pan each instrument section, so it’s a bit of a trade off.  Personally I use the ensemble patch for shorts but still load individual sections for every other articulation, so I can pan them individually. Nonetheless, it is very nice to have the ensemble patches available for quick loading and sketching. 

The feature that most interested me on the list of updates was the decision to include polyphonic legato. I felt this was generally a fairly new and cutting edge feature, implemented in only a handful of libraries I owned, but those that had it were an absolute joy to play and I favored them for their ease of use and effenciancy when writing. Polyphonic legato works differently in Jaeger, splitting each legato voice by velocity. I will quote Tomas from Audio Imperia here:
“For instance, when you enable three velocity splits you’ll be able to play up to 3 different legato voices, with voice 1 being linked to velocity range from 1 to 42, voice 2 from 43 to 84 and voice 3 from 85 to 127.“

While it doesn’t offer the fun factor and ease of use as something like Strezov’s Afflatus, it is an excellent feature and works very well, and I’m quite impressed they managed to include this in the update. 

Another very nice feature is the new vibrato slider, which enables you to load one patch and choose between a non vibrato or vibrato playing style. 

Overall, the updates are quite substantial (over 10gb), and add some really great features.

All updates are as follows:

  • Added new legato unison interval samples for all legato instruments. The feature is triggered when the sustain pedal is on.

  • Added strings non-vibrato samples and the corresponding non-vibrato to vibrato instrument patches.

  • Added ensemble samples and ensemble instrument patches.

  • Added velocity based polyphonic legato.

  • Added lite, super resource-friendly patches.

  • Added sustain pedal support.

  • Added Stereo Spread and Reverse parameters on Sound Design engine.

  • Release samples were denoised and sample starts were adjusted for all instruments.

  • Loops on sustained instruments now use equal power crossfades.

  • New percussion engine for percussion instruments.

  • Huge improvements in release samples behavior.

  • Release samples are not affected by dynamics after release.

  • Fixed non-persistent controllers issue.

  • Individual patches were hugely optimized and now load much faster.

  • 36.2 GB installed (up from just under 25 GB in Version 1.1).


I did notice all patches now load instantly, even before doing any sort of batch resave, which is very nice! 

The Verdict - 8.75/10

PROS +
+ Overall impressive sound, especially for the first orchestral offering from the company.
+ Brass is bright and powerful, offering some of the most crisp and punchy short notes I’ve heard.
+Amazing Legato for Violins, Cellos, Horns, and the impeccable Solo Vocal.
+Sound Design elements are second to none.
+1.2 updates are substantial and add quite a bit to the value of the library.

CONS-
-NO WOODWINDS! Even just a full ensemble would go a long way to flesh out this library :(
-Percussion is sorely lacking in ensemble sizes, especially for epic music
-Seems to lack a well defined vision…can’t quite do everything, can’t quite nail one niche.
-Doesn’t offer as much content as some lesser priced packages, feels a bit stripped down on purpose to sell Cerberus and Talos.

New releases and 2019 updates!

Legion of the Damned release Slaves of the Shadow Realm, featuring cinematic music by B. Free Productions!

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Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2018 has treated you well! First off, 2019 is off to a great start already, as this month already has some exciting releases.
First we have the release of a brand new album, Slaves of the Shadow Realm, by thrash metal titans Legion of the Damned!

This album features some epic original music, created exclusively for the album by B. Free Productions!

Legion of the Damned are signed to Napalm Records and launched their newest album on January 5th, 2019. I had the privilege to write the intro for the track “Priest Hunt” as well as the cinematic outro for the entire album (“Dark Coronation/Outro”). It was a lot of fun creating the dark soundscapes featured on the album!
Be sure to check out LOTD!

-Official Site
-Facebook
-Spotify

BOMBFEST releases worldwide on all major consoles on January 31st, 2019!

As part of my ongoing collaboration with indie game publisher Whitethorn Digital, I had the opportunity to contribute some additional music for the award winning multiplayer game, BOMBFEST! Developed by Sudden Event studios, I worked closely with lead developer Zac Pierce to write some exciting new music, including music for four new stages that were added after they reached their funding goal. I can’t wait for you all to play this addicting party game! It releases January 31st, 2019, on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

Review: Native Instruments Symphony Series - Woodwinds

Today I’ll be reviewing another product in Native Instruments’ fairly new orchestral product line, Symphony Series Woodwinds. I was in need of a wide ranging collection of solo woodwind instruments as well as ensembles, and the entire Symphony Series line has a very attractive price point, especially for owners of Komplete or Komplete Ultimate! I paid around $150 USD during a promotion where everything was 50% off, normally you’d pay $499 for the whole collection, and Komplete owners are eligible for a crossgrade price of $299 for everything, which is a really great price compared to the other collections on the market. They also offer this Woodwind library (and all NI Symphony Series products) in a stripped down, Symphony Essentials version, which is even cheaper, but lacking in the amount of features and articulations.

The full ensemble patch features color coded keys for each instrument section

The full ensemble patch features color coded keys for each instrument section

GUI and Features

The GUI is consistent across the board with every Symphony Series library, and I really do appreciate the simplicity and layout. There are single patches for each articulation, which include “Effects” (some really nice flourishes, arps, and valve clicks), “Expression” (crescendos and decrescendos, sforzando, and swells), as well as the standard Sustain, Staccato, and Legato, and an additional Multi-articulation patch which enables keyswitches for switching articulations. There are options for enabling different arpeggios for the sustains, shorts, and legato patches, which is a nice option to have, although while some scales perform great, others are out of sync and really not very usable in my honest opinion. For instance: hold down the D key for a major arpeggio run, and it performs the arp in tight 16th notes. However, when you move up to the E key, it no longer performs the arp with consistent 16th notes, instead having more of a swing, which gives it a human feel, but it will not be in sync with any other 16th notes in your track, and the lack of consistency is quite frustrating. There is a “tightness” slider which I believe is meant to fix this issue, but it begins to make everything sound very synth-y and fake. This collection is also lacking an English Horn or Bass Clarinet, and strangely includes an ensemble of saxophones where the other instruments mentioned would be much more appropriate for an orchestral setting.

The Sound

The sound featured in this collection is truly a mixed bag, but it leans towards the negative end of the spectrum. I’ll be completely honest, my initial reaction upon loading up a few different instruments in both the ensemble and solo libraries, I was disappointed. There seems to be some sort of processing going on in the sounds, and there is a lot of ambient room noise and reverb included in the recordings, even with the “reverb” setting turned off. For the most part, the various effects like clusters, flourishes, and the like, all sound very natural and add a nice human performance to a composition, and I can definitely see myself using them quite a bit. However, this library is very hard to blend with other orchestral or woodwind libraries, due to the overall quality and nature of the recordings themselves. There seems to be an overall lack of purity, which I get from other libraries such as Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds and 8dio’s Claire woodwind collection, both of which feature far superior sampling quality than NI’s offering. Some of the short patches are good, but the sustains sound very, very fake and processed to me. The legato also says it’s “true legato” but, the transitions are quite poor. I find these observations ring true with both the ensemble and solo libraries. Simply comparing the quality of the solo clarinet in Symphony Series to the 8Dio or Spitfire solo clarinet is truly night and day. There is an airy, raspy quality to the NI collection which just sounds bad to me. While this may serve the Bass Wind’s patch well, for others it sounds very out of place and just amateur overall, especially with the clarinets and bassoons. I have experimented extensively with different mic positions as well, and while I do prefer the close mic, I still do not like the overall sound of this library. The sounds are pleasant in low dynamics, but lacking in volume, as if played very far away. When you begin to push the dynamic slider up further, the warm, subtle pleasantness of the instrument quickly vanishes and is replaced by a harsh, raspy, buzzy tone quality, and everything sounds processed as if compressed. There is simply an uneven and inconsistent quality when it comes to the sounds you get with this collection, and it really is frustrating. While these instruments may work very well in a full orchestral setting, when played on their own in an exposed setting, they do not sound convincing to me. While it might be nice to use the flourishes and clusters and some effects in certain places, do not expect them to really blend well with other woodwind libraries, simply due to the difference in sound and timbre, which means I may never get any use out of it at all due to owning much better libraries for woodwinds. I don’t mean to imply this collection is useless for everyone, and it would work if you are a composer on a budget and aren’t looking for realistic and expressive performances. The effects included are really nice, and this product would suffice if you don’t use woodwinds often and need them to enhance a pop song, or use them in context with a full orchestra (if they play in an exposed setting they can’t really hold their own), but to me overall, there is a certain lack of quality that prevents this collection from earning a recommendation.

The Verdict -

5.5/10

Unfortunately, this collection falls far short of the quality standards expected from modern orchestral sample libraries. While it does offer a very good price and lots of content, I feel the samples themselves are of very poor quality, sounding overly processed and they never once were truly convincing. There is also the issue of having so much room ambiance and reverb baked into the samples themselves, which does not enhance this collection in any way. Sadly I feel this product was a waste of money, and while I only paid $150, please be warned for those looking for a “bread and butter” woodwind collection, it would be wise to invest in a library of higher quality from a more reputable company.

Review : Berlin Inspire by Orchestral Tools

Berlin Inspire is another addition into the popular (and ever-so-crowded) category of “All-In-One” orchestral sample libraries. These libraries are aimed at a specific crowd: those who may be newer to the field of composing with MIDI in a DAW and want a good starting point, or those who may not be able to afford (either with income OR computer resources) the large and detailed libraries featuring full orchestral sections. There are quite a few of these libraries which are recommended commonly on the internet : Spitfire Audio’s Albion One, Orchestral Tools Metropolis Ark 1, and Audio Imperia’s Jaeger. These libraries, however, seem to be aimed towards a more specialized approach: making music that is more modern and bold (able to produce a louder dynamic range), with large ensemble sizes and no solo instruments, as opposed to focusing on the sounds of traditional film scores and classical music. Enter BERLIN INSPIRE!

Berlin Inspire is an all in one orchestral package from Orchestral Tools. It includes arguably the most comprehensive list of instruments for a traditional film score or for writing classical music. To my knowledge, it is the only such package to include solo instruments (flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet), as well as a harp, piano, and timpani/orchestral percussion, in addition to the standard Strings, Brass and Woodwinds. Each section is also very detailed, offering a patch solely for first and second violins and first chair strings as well as the full string ensemble and high and low string 8va patches.

Included are the most common articulations for each instrument section, including sustains, spiccato/staccato, pizzicato and tremolo (strings), marcato (brass), and trills (woodwinds). You also get a few combined sections, such as Trumpet+Horns 8va, Trombones+Tuba 8va, Flutes + Clarinets 8va, and Bassoons + Clarinets 8va. Having solo instruments as well as smaller combined sections goes a long way to add detail and clarity to tracks created using this library.

The sound of this library is very detailed and crisp, the shorts in particular sound impeccable. Every instrument is recorded in their natural seating position, meaning everything is pre-panned right out of the box, which is very nice and adds realism (some may prefer a centered recording approach, but I believe pre-panned works for the style this library represents) The “Whole Orchestra” multi is an amazing tool to load up for sketching out ideas and fleshing out tracks that may be lacking thickness or punch. The first chair strings sound appropriately intimate and are a welcome addition to provide a more close and detailed sound. The inclusion of a harp and piano are nice, however the harp I found sounded quite disappointing compared to the Kontakt Factory Library VSL Harp patch. The percussion included performs very nicely, the timpani especially. Also included are a glockenspiel and a combination patch featuring a marimba and xylophone (this patch sounds great, the glockenspiel, however, isn’t my favorite). Besides these exceptions, the sound is amazing and lives up to the high standard set by previous libraries by Orchestral Tools, and it stands as a great starting point for those wanting to dive into the sounds this company offers without spending thousands of dollars.

Not every instrument features legato, and while it performs beautifully for the solo instruments (the solo horn especially sounds amazing) and for the instruments which it was specifically recorded for, the emulated legato transitions on the other instruments aren’t anything to write home about, though it is nice to have it included. This library also tops out fairly early in terms of dynamics for the sustains. For instance, for the “whole orchestra” staccato patch, it sounds incredibly punchy and full of life. When you switch to a sustain articulation on the same patch, it does not go into the same realm of punchy-ness and intensity, instead sounding a bit mellow even in the highest dynamic range. It does however easily provide enough loudness and range to fulfill the needs of a classical composer.

My biggest complaint is on the lack of any extra mic positions, only offering one, which sounds fine for me, but more control over the mic positions would go a long way (and also add to the hard drive space and resource consumption of the library, so it’s perfectly understandable why this feature was left out).

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The Verdict-

9.0/10

Pros +
+ Amazing amount of content for the price.

+ Very detailed and focused sound, perfect for traditional film scores and classical music.

+ Nice variety of articulations.

+ Includes First Chair strings and Solo Instruments, most comprehensive ‘all in one’ package.

Cons -

- Only one mic position

- Emulated legato transitions, plus the sound of the harp and glockenspiel, aren’t my favorite.

- Sometimes fast staccato/spicatto phrases fall out of sync in certain note ranges (for instance: low full strings aren’t properly synced when playing fast)

Overall, Berlin Inspire is a great choice for anyone seeking a detailed and traditional orchestral package, as it is full of great and realistic sounds, without breaking the bank or requiring a super powerful computer.

Review - Afflatus Chapter I: Strings by Strezov Sampling

The art style represents the unique quality of this library

The art style represents the unique quality of this library

Here it is! The big review for the massive new release from Strezov Sampling, Afflatus Chapter I: Strings! This library has been the talk of the town on social media and composer forums since the first teasers began leaking out, and hearing the demos, the unanimous decision was that it sounds incredible. A new revelation dawned once the library actually released : It’s EXPENSIVE, costing 799 euros at the time of writing, which is roughly $909 USD. When you see user opinion on this library, a clear pattern emerges: everyone seems to agree it sounds amazing, but many simply refuse to budge and purchase a library with such a high price, which is understandable since there are so many great string libraries out there already, many for a fraction of the cost. Also, many composers have at least one or two all intensive string libraries already, so many are wondering “what will this do for me that I don’t already have with my other libraries?”

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Details

This library is massive, coming in at ~123 GB Hard drive space for the library (59GB for installation files and 64 GB extracted full size library). This library does NOT require the full version of Kontakt and runs in the free Kontakt Player, which is a major plus for many users. Upon hearing the demos and reading the first details of this library even before release, you can get a feel for what Strezov is trying to accomplish here: incredibly realistic and flowing string performances captured in samples, with none of the nuance and emotion lost in translation. Here is an excerpt taken directly from their official site :

“Inspired by film and classical music icons this collection pushes the boundaries of traditional sampling methods by introducing revolutionary features like Auto Divisi combined with Polyphonic True Legato and a Thematic Approach towards playing techniques. Gone are the days of soulless samples.”

The more I delved into the details of what this library offers, the more excited I became. I have a few string libraries, each with their own pros and cons, but never have I had one that I can just load up and play with my keyboard and have it perform completely naturally, until now (and many more libraries will begin to implement this in the future, I can guarantee that). I had chalked it up to simply being the limits of sampling in general: I assumed legato patches would only be feasible on individual sections, playing one note at a time, and not being able to perform polyphonic chords or sections while still applying the beautiful legato transition. That is, until I got my hands on some newer libraries which implemented this exact technology (Genesis Choir by Audiobro and Silka Choir by 8dio, specifically, although this polyphonic legato is also a feature on Strezov’s Wotan and Freya Choirs). I really love using polyphonic legato featured in the libraries I mentioned, but I really desired a string library with the same features, as I (and most composers I know of) write more for strings than for choir.

The Interface/Content

Useful help messages pop up when needed

Useful help messages pop up when needed

One immediately notices the beautiful art design used for the promos and GUI of this product : very noir with a vintage color palette. Don’t let this fool you, as while some patches very distinctly emulate vintage style recordings/arrangements, there is something for everyone here in this library, from the classical and traditional film composer to the modern and more bombastic/aggressive styling. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content here, as I started to realize why this library may be a bit more pricey than other standard string libraries. Not only do you get the incredibly realistic and playable polyphonic legato and auto divisi technology, you get full ensembles ranging from 50+players to a more intimate chamber size ensemble and everything in between. These patches offer instant gratification the likes I haven’t experienced with any other string library to date and are incredibly rewarding to just load and play to your hearts content.

You can enable and disable the legato for all the long patches, and there is a very useful “overlap” toggle button, which will allow for a more traditional legato transition once you play a new note, as opposed to playing both notes simultaneously. Some features I’d like to see in future updates : adjusting the speed and volume of the legato transitions between notes themselves, to enable faster and tighter legato phrases.

afflatusstrezovGUI2 patches ensembles.png

There are many unique combinations here as well, such as “Shark Strings”, which is a combination of 10 cellos, 8 basses, and 2 pianos (Jaws, anyone?). “Christmas Strings” are violas and cellos accompanied by a pleasant alto saxophone, “The Mouse Strings” are a detailed Pizzicato ensemble. “Contemporary Strings” is a short spiccato 12 string patch. There is a TON of content here and they’re all properly labeled and explained in the provided user manual. Some personal favorites are the Lush Strings (standard big Hollywood Sound) and Minimalist Strings Legato (a more intimate and detailed sound). I also really loved “Warrior Basses” which is a combination of bartok pizzicato, timpani, percussion and male shouts. There are also preset patches tailored to modern pop and ethnic/world music as well as modern and vintage film music and classical genres as well. As you can see, you really can get an immediate and focused sound for almost any single genre of music imaginable from this one library alone. Each ensemble comes with the option to use “All Samples” , “Full Section Only”, and “Half Section Only”, which can help save computer resources. Not all patches provide the option to enable Divisi (using only half of the number of selected instruments), but most allow the use of sordino or dampened/muted playing. This library also provides experimental patches, which provide many unique instrument combinations you would never normally find in a string library, and are listed below:

The addition of so many unique instrument combinations is really incredible

The addition of so many unique instrument combinations is really incredible

Some small critiques here about the arrangement and categorization of patches: These would ideally be arranged in “Long” and “Short” categories, where as some of them are labelled by articulation in the patch name, others are not, and it feels a bit inconsistent and leaves it up to you to remember that “Contemporary Strings” only provides the spiccato articulation, as opposed to simply naming it “Contemp Strings Spic” or simply having two categories for “Ensemble Long” and “Ensemble Short”. Another thing I noticed was there are limited keyswitches available. For instance, “Lush Violins 1 KS” only allows you to keyswitch between long/legato and tremolo. It would be nice to have at least one large patch that allows you to switch between Long/Legato, Short/Spiccato, and Tremolo, to prevent from loading up multiple instances of this library with each unique articulation patch, for users who may need to conserve CPU and RAM. Also, only two patches provide a marcato articulation (“Red Army Strings” and “Shark Strings Marcato”). These critiques are small, as the library provides a truly staggering and impressive array of content, and some patches are more niche (such as the combination patches). While many of us already have a more generic/standard library with the “bread and butter” articulations already, some users may never spend this amount of money on a String Library that doesn’t at least give them a patch with the ability to key switch between the basic articulations of long, short, trem, pizz, etc.

The Sound

The sound and playability of this library are truly amazing. There is a built in reverb slider to make it as dry or as wet as you want. Overall the samples are dripping with realism and emotion, capturing the nuance of a real performance in every stroke. The polyphonic legato feature is incredible, and a massive time saver (load up ONE polyphonic legato ensemble patch instead of each individual legato section). The sheer variety of sounds this library is able to produce is phenomenal. In one library, you get typical large orchestral string sizes, as well as smaller chamber sizes, sordino, harmonics, “vintage” film/classical sounds, “trailer” patches with a more bombastic and intense phrasing, trills, molto vibrato, as well as standard pizzicato, bartok, spiccato, marcato, not to mention the vast amount of combinations, experimental patches, and pads. This library can do the classic Hollywood sound: huge, lush, and soaring (think CSS and Hollywood Strings) ; while also easily tackling the smaller section sizes with increased detail and clarity (think 8dio Century Strings or Spitfire Chamber Strings). The sound of this library alone is absolutely incredible, and just has an amazingly sweet and realistic tone, but what really pushes it to the next level of greatness is how it plays and performs. Out of every string library I have tried, none so far come close to the instant gratification and ease of use that I got from Afflatus Strings. This library is capable of producing the most realistic and beautiful string sounds with an absolute minimal of tweaking, it just works, right out of the box, and enables any composer to skip with the fuss and painstaking editing and tweaking we’re so used to with other libraries. It doesn’t eliminate tweaking completely, as sometimes legato transitions need to be adjusted slightly, and sometimes legato transition volume can be slightly inconsistent (hence my recommendation for a legato speed and volume slider), but it succeeds better than any other library at getting the performance AND sound as close to perfection as possible.

The Verdict

We all knew Afflatus Strings would be great, no doubt. What I did my best to determine was answers to the following:
Does it bring anything new to the table? - Yes


Is it versatile, can it do modern music? (such as fast paced and tight action, as well as the more traditional film style focused on in the trailers and most demos) - Yes

Does the amount of content justify the high price, and can it be the one string library to cover all grounds? - It depends.

The answer to the third question definitely depends on what you own so far, and how much use you will get out of the unique combinations and patches. Some people may never want a string section combined with a saxophone, or low strings and two pianos playing simultaneously. Some others may still be put off by the high price and lack of in depth key switch options between articulations, or furthermore the lack of a comprehensive list of articulations (some standard articulations in other libraries aren’t well represented, long patches only keyswitch between trem and legato/sustain, etc.)

For me the library is incredible and delivers wholeheartedly on sound and content (and then some) and for long strings and the full patches, nothing comes close to matching the realism and sweet sound of the polyphonic legato, not to mention the auto divisi which is not a prominent feature on many string libraries whatsoever. I did have a few critiques that I do believe, if updated and addressed, could push this string library into the realm of perfection (an unprecedented full 10/10 score). I know there are planned updates to this library, so I have very high hopes these features can and will be implemented in the future.

*Future updates are bringing in First Chairs and SCENE D'AMOUR Celli

(Scene D’Amour = “very small string ensemble playing con sordino and with molto vibrato. Very emotional performances. Patches also have Tenutos”)


Final Score: 9.5/10

Pros+
+Incredible sound with unmatched playability.

+Polyphonic legato and auto divisi perform exceptionally.

+Massive amount of content, capable of a staggering amount of sound possibilities and combinations to match ANY style.

+THE library to beat for the traditional and classic soaring “Hollywood Sound” (John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Bernard Hermann, etc)

+Every patch is dripping with emotion, soul, and realism.

Cons-

-Some ensemble patches should be categorized or labeled better (into long and short, etc)

-High price is only fully justified if you plan to use the full extent of the library: unique combinations and playing styles, and varying ensemble sizes, may not be for everyone (although the price is justified for the amount of content, IMO. Normally you’d pay 500+ for an orchestral string ensemble, and 300+ for a chamber string ensemble, etc.).

-Limited keyswitch options and some missing articulations that are standard in other libraries.

To Spam or Not to Spam?

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Harsh and somewhat cynical post warning :)

Let’s address a very problematic topic that plagues composer forums worldwide and often the online music industry as a whole. I’m talking about relentless music spammers. The people who go to every single composer or musician group on Facebook and post the same song to each one, usually with the same description copied and pasted beneath it. “Hey guys, please enjoy this latest track I’ve been working on, I used EW Composer Cloud and I think it’s my greatest epic track so far! Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel, thanks!” (People who just post the song without even a description are even worse and possibly sociopaths) Often times this link will have the name of the song followed by “Most epic emotional beautiful uplifting music.” The over compensation for a lack of a true musical career doesn’t look good on anyone. Think about it: you’re going to a group of people who all have their own careers and many have dedicated years of their lives to gaining valuable connections and building a portfolio of quality work, and asking them to take time out of their own profession to randomly listen to a song from someone who has nowhere near the level of experience and is just going through a self inflicted “creative high” that we all get when we realize we have potential to do great things creatively. To be clear, I am not talking about asking for critique or posting to a “share your track” thread. I’m talking about the ones who friend request you and ten seconds later invite you to like their band/artist/composer page. The ones who follow you on Instagram or Twitter and feel it’s somehow acceptable to send you a direct message asking you to not only listen to their new song, but to follow them on all their social media pages and share it to your fans, without even properly introducing themselves or offering anything worthwhile in return (maybe comment on a track of mine you like, and ask me to listen to one of yours, I would be much more inclined to do so once you engage in a human conversation, or at least pretend to). I’m sorry, but this kind of unsolicited self aggrandizing is so incredibly annoying, lazy, and most importantly, it will get you absolutely NOWHERE in your career. These groups are full of people who make music and want to have (or already have) success of their own. Spamming a track online will not gain you any connections or worthwhile fans, just annoy everyone around you and push them away from ever checking out your music or engaging with you again. Views and plays really mean nothing, and it’s especially not worth it if you get all those plays from one million different people who will never remember your name or listen to your music again.

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Now, here’s the flip side. There is a ton of potential (and money to be made) in the music industry for orchestral and hybrid composers. Think about it…every TV show, Ad, Trailer, and online video content that you’ve seen that has awesome music in the background. Most of us have no idea who wrote this music, and most of us don’t care. Someone wrote it, however, and are probably making very good money collecting sync checks every time someone like me views or streams the content. Find out who these people are, and go check out their social media pages. They often have less than 1000 fans or followers and even less SoundCloud plays/streams. They are doing what they love and making a living off it. It’s absolutely possible and is immeasurably preferable to being known as “that one person who spams every single track to every single group and acts like their music is God’s gift to us all”.

So, to sum it up, and quote my original Facebook post I wrote after being a bit miffed and weeding thru all the group notifications that were simply useless spam, here are some honest and proven ideas:

1. Submit your music to music libraries for licensing. These people, unlike the groups you post to, are actually actively looking for composers to write consistently good music. If you're good enough, you'll get accepted, if you don't get accepted, it'll push you even harder to perfect your craft.

2. Actually have something to offer. People spam their tracks 24/7, and it gets so incredibly old. It most likely will not gain you any worthwhile professional connections. In the end, what are you trying to achieve? It's usually you want views/plays, compliments, validation, etc. It's all entirely self serving. Try to actually have something productive to offer, try to help others instead. Look out for people asking questions that you can answer, give GOOD feedback on someone asking for critique, start an important conversation about the craft or industry, etc.

3. Don't worry about plays or views and worry about your skills and talent. The vast majority of music on TV, ads, trailers, are all written by people you've never heard of, and they make a lot of money doing so. Seek out professionals who want what you have to offer. (It's highly unlikely you will find them just hanging around a Facebook forum for composers.)

4. Humble yourself. It’s such a saturated market, not everyone is going to get perfect professional connections and good pay early on. If you have no experience or credits, there is no shame in working for lower rates. Some people get so worked up about this, saying you devalue the profession as a whole, which is complete BS in my opinion. Think about it, if you want to gain real experience and make something of yourself, it will take A LOT of work and frustration and dealing with difficult clients. There is no better way than to just jump in the fray, admit you really don’t know what you’re doing, and take what you can get. If you don’t do the job, someone else will. Every single product in the world has lower priced knock-offs and budget models, and this does not diminish the market for the higher priced/premium products, because people know you do get what you pay for. There are people out there who are willing to pay GOOD money for your services. You just have to prove yourself first, often by doing low budget and unfavorable jobs. If you have something to offer, the law of attraction is real, and you will continue to thrive and succeed in this field, I guarantee it.

There’s a lot of amazing people in the online composer community and a lot of incredible and helpful content and advice just ripe for the taking. Just take what you need, and leave the rest, and please, stop trying to shove your music down everyone’s throats. Go find the people who really WANT it. Feel free to email me for further discussion (free of charge, always)

Happy composing :)

Review: Angel Strings by Auddict

Video Demo/Walkthru at the bottom of the page!

Angel strings.jpg

Today we’re going to look at another niche product, Auddict’s Angel Strings Vol. 1! Angel Strings is a fantastic collection of unique and experimental playing styles for an orchestral string ensemble. This library offers a different approach than your standard string ensemble library, and is focused on unique effects, tones, and playing styles that may not be offered in the more traditional collections. Not only do we have some great effects and sounds you may not find elsewhere, you also get standard sustains, spiccatos, tremolos and a basic bowed-runs builder. The library retails for 100 Pounds which is approximately $130.00 USD.

I was excited upon hearing the demos for this product, as it was something that was sorely missing in my orchestral template: performance based string effects that simply cannot be properly reproduced with standard samples alone. The price seemed fantastic. and I took the plunge (this is my first orchestral library from Auddict, and after being highly disappointed in their first synth, Hexeract, I was a bit hesitant. However, I can safely say, Angel Strings delivers!)

The Angel Strings players, who also performed for Auddict’s United Strings of Europe.

The Angel Strings players, who also performed for Auddict’s United Strings of Europe.

Angel Strings is not compatible with Kontakt Player, so it loads up in the file browser or your Quickload panel. It has three instrument categories:

Runs and Tremolos, SFX, and Tonal Longs and Shorts

Runs and Tremolos, SFX, and Tonal Longs and Shorts

Notice the first abbreviation, “USE2”, which stands for United Strings of Europe (vol 2), as Angel Strings features the same performers/players that recorded their main string ensemble library, United Strings of Europe. This will help it naturally blend in for owners of USE.

angel strings SFX.png

The bulk of the content is contained in the SFX and Tonal Longs and Shorts .nki files. Overall, the quality and detail in this library are excellent. In SFX, we have two different kinds of risers: one slow and steady, the other very grating and in your face. Next we have dives: I noticed the “Dives Attack” and “Dives Smooth” are very similar, different only slightly near the end of the sample. Tremolo dives, obviously, add a quivering tremolo technique to the dive. All of these long samples have a slider to adjust the sample start time. However: these samples do not sync to your DAW’s tempo and have no way to adjust the actual speed of the sample. This can be frustrating, having to adjust the samples in the MIDI sequencer multiple times before it fits just right in your compositions. The Trem and Sus Bridge articulations are very harsh and grating, as they are played very close to the bridge of the instrument, and sound very eerie and bizarre. Even more unnerving is the Scratch Tone, which is a slightly undulating and de-tuned sound and quite disturbing to listen to continuously,, and lastly we have Perc Sounds, which is using the bow to strike the instrument to create various percussive noises. All in all, these samples all would be excellent for a horror score, creating atmospheric tension, and building a sense of dread and unease in a track. I found it a bit odd they named it Angel Strings, as the samples sound to me more like Demon Strings: dark and perfect for building tension.

Tonal Longs and Shorts

Tonal Longs and Shorts

Next we have Tonal Longs and Shorts. Here we have standard sustains, clusters, bends, sul ponticello, molto sul tasto, sautille spicattos and staccatos. I really loved the “Cluster to Unis” (this sounds almost like the deep tone in the famous “THX” logos in the beginning of movies) , as well as the bends. These really add realism and dynamic performance to any track, and really help to spice things up a bit. It’s really nice we have sustains as well, though I did find when playing softly (these notes respond to velocity, or how hard you play the keys), the release was louder than rest of the samples. Overall, this is really quality stuff, minus a few issues, but they’re quite negligible given the price and amount of unique content, and the fact most will not purchase this library for the sustains which you can find in every other string library imaginable. The Sautille Spiccatos are also excellent, very crisp and detailed.

The last instrument is Bowed Runs and Tremolos, and it has a step sequencer to allow the trems to be played in a wide variety of ways. This acts very similar to a “trance gate” on a synth pad, and it really pretty cool to use. The Bowed Runs have a tightness slider, which in theory allows them to be played super tight, or a bit lazy, and everything in between. However, when the slider is set all the way to the left, at the slowest setting, sometimes you get really bad stretching/phasing issues, and that makes it unusable at this setting.

The Mixer Panel

The Mixer Panel

The Mixer Panel offers a wide variety of mic positions, though I honestly thought it was a bit confusing to use, and I preferred to use a third party reverb and pan within my DAW.

The Verdict

8.5/10


Overall, this is a quality collection, especially if you are looking for unique performance based samples for horror scores. Angel Strings seems to be very badly named, as I mentioned above, as these samples are the opposite of Angelic, more dark and tense in nature and better suited for creating unease and sense of dread. There are certain articulations I use very frequently (bends, clusters, risers) and others I don’t use at all. The video at the bottom of the page details everything you can expect with this library, so please check it out, and like and subscribe for more great content like this!

Pros+

+Unique and quality sounds that you may not find in other collections.

+Nice effects that are very usable, especially on horror tracks.

+Really good price for the content.

+Includes standard sustains and shorts, which perform very well.

Cons -

-No TM patches, does not sync to DAWS tempo

-Sample start seemed useless to abruptly come in right in the middle of a riser.

-No stretching for long samples, and have to be manually adjusted to match your tracks tempo, which can be painstaking.

-Bad phasing/stretching when “bowed runs” tightness slider is set all the way to the left.

Alternatively, there is 8dio CAGE Strings, which offers more content, but is much more expensive.

Review: TIME Macro by Orchestral Tools

Hello all! I’m back, and as promised, today we’re going to take a look at Orchestral Tools’ TIME Macro. This is a fairly recent collection, and falls under the category of additional colors, or textures, to enhance and add nuance and realism to your tracks. This is a fairly non-traditional and unique offering, as opposed to a “bread and butter” set of standard articulations. Instead, this collection focuses on movement and swells, unique textures and timbres, and subtle sound ‘palettes’ that may not be possible to achieve using your standard orchestral libraries. These kinds of products are right up my alley, as I do enjoy having this kind of motion or movement embedded into the performance itself, so I can just open the patch and instantly play, without having to fuss around with CC01 modulation. The library retails for €349 , or approximately $399.

TIME is a recent collection of textures released by Orchestral Tools.

TIME is a recent collection of textures released by Orchestral Tools.

This library is categorized into Multis and Single Instruments, and then into Combined and Individual Sections. By nature, the sound is very atmospheric, textured, and overall amazing. I can’t help but get a major Spitfire Audio vibe here, as not only are some of these patches extremely similar to what’s offered in Spitfire’s Orchestral Swarm, but a lot of them seem to really revel in the softer dynamics, and instantly remind me of some of the sounds from Albion V: Tundra (example: sul ponticello and col legno articulations). The library offers standard sustains, but where it really shines is the unique offerings, such as the playing styles mentioned previously. The Sul Ponticello strings have a more harsh and grating sound, while the Col Legno are very soft and airy. A personal favorite of the String articulations was the “Sustain 5th Drops” and the “Trem Bursts”. These capture details and colors in the actual performance by the players, so it’s very natural, and something you would not be able to properly recreate with standard articulations. Sounds like these can instantly add realism, nuance, and atmosphere to any track you could think of.

timemacro OT.png

This library does focus primarily on long notes as opposed to short or dotted notes, although there are some of the latter. I found the Woodwinds Combined and Individual sections to be my favorites. I just love the magical sound of woodwind instruments playing at soft dynamics, and this library absolutely nails it. Every articulation here sounds very ethereal and magical, and would work wonders at building atmosphere or enhancing the colors in a fantasy styled composition. The Individual Woodwind Sections (High and Low) offer an “Airy Sustain” patch which sounds especially beautiful and haunting.

Managing articulations is a breeze

Managing articulations is a breeze

The three main patches in the combined sections are Strings, Woodwinds, and Choir. Having the addition of a choir here is very nice, and while it’s not comprehensive as far as features, it absolutely gets the job done and offers some wonderful sounds.

In the Individual Sections we have the Strings, Woods, and Choir, split into High and Low (or Male and Female for the choir), and this is where we also find the Brass articulations (which features Sustains and long marcato as well as the familiar textures), as well as “Harps and Vibes”, “Double Reeds”. The “Harps and Vibes” patch is very beautiful and delicate and a personal favorite.

The “Altered Time” sounds are breathtaking.

The “Altered Time” sounds are breathtaking.

There is a section called “Altered Time”, which plays around with reversing the samples and other time based experimentation, and it contains some of the most amazing sounds of the entire library. It’s exciting opening up each new patch and having a small idea of what it will contain based on the name, but it always is surprising and utterly beautiful when you strike the keys. The “Pendulum Winds” patch sounds almost like an organ in places, as the instruments play and swell in reverse and create a purely magical pad-type sound. Think of these as some sort of orchestral synth, as the sounds are very pad-like but incredibly organic, full, and rich. For owners of the library, make sure you experiment with each and every sound included in “Altered Time”, as they truly are magnificent.

The Verdict

9.5/10

This library is truly a unique and beautiful offering from Orchestral Tools. It isn’t cheap, at $399, and be advised it does not contain legatos, although it does contain all the sustains and motion/performance based textures you might possibly need. Alternatively, there is Orchestral Swarm from Spitfire Audio, which has some VERY similar sounds, although Orchestral Swarm seems to offer more in terms of dotted note articulations, and does not include a choir or any sound design style presets (like the Altered Time section), but it does retail for quite a bit less. If you are in the market for unique and atmospheric orchestral colors, or simply want a product that captures more of the player’s performance in the samples, than you really can not go wrong with TIME Macro. I use it very frequently to spice up soft/intimate tracks, just make sure you have the standard articulations covered before you purchase, as this library is more for additional and unique textures.

PROS+

+Amazing and unique sounds

+Beautiful and haunting textures

+Altered Time patches are breathtaking

CONS-

-A tad bit pricey

-No standard legatos, which would be nice, as you could do an entire track with this one library alone.

Review: The Silver Screen Toolkit by Instant Sonics

Today we’re going to explore a brand new sound design library for Kontakt, The Silver Screen Toolkit by Instant Sonics. This is a brand new library, the first one released by Instant Sonics, so it’s fairly unknown at the time of this write-up. Instant Sonics reached out to me in order to get an in-depth and honest review of their brand new product, and provided a copy, free of charge, for me to test and critique. There is very little information out there about this product and the company behind it, so I will share what resources there are so far, and try to go beyond that and provide a very detailed and in depth look at this library!

First off, here’s a demo track made ONLY with sounds included in the Silver Screen Toolkit and a third party reverb- and be sure to check the detailed walkthrough/demo video at the bottom of the page!

This library retails for $150.00 here at the official site. The official thread here at VI-Control can provide more details about the specifics, and there is also more info and it’s available for purchase here at Kontakt Hub. It’s primarily a sound design library, aimed at modern cinematic music, and provides a very large variety of sounds. I’d say it’s very much focused on providing electronic, modern, cutting edge sounds and effects for hybrid and trailer music, though I could see it covering underscore, ambient, even straight up EDM. The nature of the sounds is very electronic as opposed to orchestral. The library provides 3.6 gb of content.

The Interface

Silver Screen Drums 3.png

The interface of this product is very basic and not flashy at all, unlike similar libraries such as Collision FX by Soundyeti and some of the libraries from Sampletraxx. However, this doesn’t bother me, as it is clear and very easy to use. With an unknown library such as this, I’m much more concerned with the quality of sounds and ease of use than having a flashy and cutting edge interface. Upon installing (quick and easy extract from the .rar file into your libraries folder) I was initially a bit shocked to see that this library contains a whopping 44 .nki files! However, they are all labelled appropriately and easy to navigate (unlike the aforementioned Collision FX). Each .nki file is very focused and specific, for instance, providing a separate .nki file for every “Complex Kit” drum patch, instead of loading up one .nki and cycling thru the kits in the interface itself. Some may find this a bit overwhelming at first glance, but I really don’t mind it, as they all have names that are very easy to identify.

The GUI has three sections: “Waveform”, which displays the visual waveform of the sample being played, and contains a slider for the sample start time. Keep in mind, this is a global settings, and not only does it change the sample start point for the current sample, but for every other sample contained in the .nki file as well, which could easily be an annoyance for some.

Beneath that, we have controls for Attack, Release, Speed (which controls the speed of the long samples like risers and swells), and a Gate. The speed knob is nice, in case you place a riser in the MIDI sequencer that doesn’t quite sync perfectly with the timing of your track, you can adjust how quickly it will play with this knob, although there is no numerical value associated with the setting here. Alternatively you can adjust the placement of the actual note in the sequencer. If you set the speed knob to the slowest setting possible, the sample becomes very strained and stretched. Either way, it is nice to have it there, just in case you wish to tweak these sounds further.

The gate is one of my favorite features, as it simply applies a “trance-gate” type effect to the samples, which can be set for various note intervals, and adjusting this slider controls the tightness of the gate effect. Use this to instantly add stutter effects and movement to any of the samples.

The effects rack includes Filters, Damage (distortion/overdrive/bitcrusher), Reverb, Delay, and Post Filters. I really liked having a low pass filter built in to the GUI, and the Damage section can really add a lot of character and punishment to the sounds.

Content and sound

As you can see below, the library contains a MASSIVE amount of .nki files, and is separated into four major categories, Drums, Effects, Instruments, and Pulses.

That’s a lot of patches….

That’s a lot of patches….

DRUMS

The “Drums” category contains 10 separate kits, each labeled as “Complex Kit” and numbered 1 through 10. They provide highly processed drum samples, some mangled and distorted, some more traditional, yet all very electronic. These are mapped across the keys like so:

Green keys play the various   bass drum     type samples, yellow plays   snare   sounds, and the red keys play   hi-hat   type sounds and assorted auxiliary percussion.

Green keys play the various bass drum type samples, yellow plays snare sounds, and the red keys play hi-hat type sounds and assorted auxiliary percussion.

Some of these sound very glitchy and crushed, somewhat similar to some of the kits from Heavyocity’s Damage, others are more clean and remind me more of a radio friendly hip hop or trap beat. Either way you have a fairly wide variety of sounds here, although some of the kits sound overly similar, they all provided quality sounds.

Effects

Next up is “Effects”, which is the largest category here, and where my favorite sounds this library produces are contained. They contain sounds such as Alarms, Booms, Bends, Braams, Drops, Hits, Risers, Swells, Transitions, and Whooshes. Most of the sounds are self explanatory, and there is a lot to enjoy here. Some of the samples do sound a bit similar, just thrown through different processing techniques, with the further ability to add your own distortion, delay, reverb, and filters with the built in effects rack. Tonal effects such as “Braams” have pitch control mapped to the lower keys of your MIDI keyboard.

The standouts here are Bends, Drops, Risers, Swells, Swell Drops, Timbres (basically atmospheric textures), Tonal Reverses, and the Whoosh Hits. Each of these patches contains a nice variety of sounds, and many of them are instantly usable in any kind of trailer or hybrid track. My favorite sounds produced by the Silver Screen Toolkit are those that are saturated and heavy, and there’s definitely a nice amount of them included. The risers are modern and intense, the swells are massive and brooding, the Drops are earth shaking and provide incredible sub-bass, as well as the Swell Drops. The Timbres really add atmosphere and textures to your tracks, and are more subtle, but still can be aggressive and moody. The Whoosh Hits are short on the riser and very punchy on the hit, and are perfect for transitions and endings. The Tonal Reverses have a very long attack and build up to a short, but thick and aggressive, swell.

instruments

Long Instruments patch and the variety of sound banks included.

Long Instruments patch and the variety of sound banks included.

Next we have the “Instruments” section, which contains Long (synth leads, bass pads, etc) amd Short (plucks, etc). There is a variety of sound banks here, and while it may not seem like a lot, they can be stacked in any combination, resulting in some fun experimentation and many possibilities. They cover a variety of tones, from soft and airy to harsh and gritty, but some seem to lack the thickness of some VST synths, especially in the bass spectrum. I find these to work best for leads, though they can also easily provide pad sounds as well, and they work exceptionally well while playing with the low pass filter. Having melodic synth-like instruments here is a very nice addition and they work very well, especially with the “Glide” setting which enables portamento. The Short Instruments patch contains less sound banks, and generally covers pluck sounds. Just these two instruments alone, and the effects included, are easily capable of producing slick and modern EDM sounds, and truly surprised me with how well they performed, as some Kontakt based “synths” leave a lot to be desired. The variety of sounds isn’t anywhere near what a standalone VST synth can offer, and don’t expect anything like a massive and thick supersaw, but they are very capable of holding their own in any hybrid track.

pulses

SST pulses.png

The last section is Pulses, which come in High and Low variations. These also have pitch control mapped to the lower keys. I think these could have been better labeled as well. For instance, some contain melodic arpeggios and others are just one pitch 16th notes. Some are also light and airy and very clean, while others are overdriven and harsh. There are some great sounds here, though not much customization (no step sequencer, no multi note arps, etc). I preferred the high melodic pulses, as they are really nice and modern. For the most part, the Low Pulses were just the same 16th note pattern, with each sample simply having different levels of distortion and other processing applied. While there is still some good content, overall I found them to be lacking, and in need of some more customization options, such as a step sequencer or an arpeggiator.

Small Critiques

While this library provides an amazing variety of sounds and many of them are top notch, not every single sample is a winner, and some seem a bit too harshly processed. The “Assorted” patches were strange, as they contained some good sounds but were scattered across the keyboard seemingly at random, never knowing what you’re going to get, and once you do find a good sound, it’s very easy to simply forget where it was mapped. I think the “assorted” patches could be better labeled, such as “assorted percs”, “assorted tonal”, “assorted atonal”, “assorted texture”, etc, as this patch contains everything from a short metallic hi-hat to a distorted dub-step type wobble. The alarms category is pretty underwhelming, and overall provides content you can make with a VST Synth and bending the pitch (certain sounds in general didn’t seem to be anything groundbreaking, just synth based with some basic processing, and I feel I could make these sounds on my own). For the most part, the “Booms” were lacking in the sub-bass spectrum. The Braams are also lacking the intensity and character provided in other libraries, such as Keepforest’s Evolution Atlantica, and this library seems to be lacking in the bass area, which would otherwise make this an almost perfectly rounded package. There’s plenty of sub bass drops and what not, but as far as a Bass Instrument, it seems to be lacking in this area.

The Verdict

8.5/10

Other than the critiques mentioned above, the sheer variety and quality of sounds included is very nice, and you could easily make an entire track simply with this one library, as it provides drum kits, trailer effects, melodic synths, and pulses, all in one 3.6 gb Kontakt Library. Many of the categories included here could easily be sold as one single Kontakt Library, and they have included all of them in one, and none of them feel truly tacked on, with the exception of some of the pulses. I think this would be a great library for the beginner trailer composer, as it includes everything you could need in one place. To those more advanced who own more dedicated libraries, there may not be a lot here that’s new to you. I personally own many more specialized products, however you also have to consider the price paid for what you get, and I do believe this is a good and well rounded package. I can almost guarantee you I will be using the effects provided, as they are easy to use and offer nice options for tweaking the samples, and while some of the sounds lack the character of more expensive libraries, they also serve as a great starting point to apply some of your own sound design techniques and take them to the next level.

Pros+

+Impressive variety of content.

+Many top notch and instantly usable sounds.

+Easy to use interface and nice assortment of effects and customization options.

Cons-

-Some sounds lack the polish and character of more expensive libraries.

-Pulses could benefit from extra features (step sequencer, etc)

-Some of the sounds could be better categorized/labelled.

Review: Silka Choir by 8Dio

Per request, we are going to be talking about 8Dio’s Silka choir today! 8dio’s choir libraries are widely considered to be some of the best you can get when it comes to overall sound quality, so I was eager to pick this one up at it’s intro price of $348 dollars (Currently a whopping $598). The only choir libraries I owned before this, were EWQL’s Symphonic and Hollywood Choirs, which are very solid choir libraries and capable of covering a wide range of styles. I remember listening to the demos of Silka and just being blown away by the nuance and realism on display. It was immediately apparent that this is NOT a choir library for a bold, epic “Choir Wall” sound.

silka_poster_2 (1).jpg

According to their marketing, Silka means “Gentle, Flowing”, and that is exactly the vibe you get from listening to the demos. The aforementioned Hollywood Choirs from EWQL is entirely built around an amazing feature, the Word Builder, which allows the choir to, in theory, sing any words or phrase you can think of, just by typing it out. However, it can sound very choppy, in fact it cam sound the opposite of “gentle and flowing”. For this reason, and the high praise for the previous choir libraries from 8dio from users across the internet, I was eager to dive in and check out the new Silka Choir (I even spent days trying different phrases and tweaking the multitude of settings in Hollywood Choirs word builder, just trying to get it to sound similar to the Silka demos, in order to determine if I should really spend the money on another choir library.)

The Sound

After purchasing, downloading, and installing, I loaded up one of the “4 Syllable Soft Arc” patches featuring the full choir (Male and Female combined), and just went to town. The first few hours playing around with this were incredibly fun and satisfying. The Arcs are absolutely amazing, and could quite possibly bring a tear to someones eye with the angelic nature of these samples. I own 8Dio’s Century Strings and Brass, and their “arc” articulations have been invaluable to me and make their way into almost every single track I make. I believe this is one of the key factors in Silka to getting this library to sound so instantly realistic and expressive: recording the singers naturally starting at low dynamics, building up louder to the middle of the pre-recorded phrase, and then slowly fading back to sing softly again to finish the phrase, or “arc”. In the past these dynamic swells have always been done simply by automating the CC01 (or dynamics) of the library, but having this already baked into the recordings themselves, as performed by the actual singers, takes things to a new level of realism. Check out this examples below, as the results speak for themselves.

I think it’s worth pointing out some of the amazing scripting that goes into these Arcs. This library allows for polyphonic legato, and melisma singing. (I’m going to compare again to EWQL Word Builder again, so bare with me). One of my biggest complaints with EWQL’s World Builder, was how every time you pressed a new key, or performed the next note of your sequence or phrases, the choir immediately started singing the next syllable, and did not allow you to shift between notes while continuing to sing the same syllable, which ends up giving it that choppy quality. Silka allows you to change the note you are playing, in the middle of the phrase, without actually interrupting the phrase itself. You can have multiple singers all singing a chord, all perform a legato slide up to a different chord or note, all while continuing to sing the same syllable in unison. I most likely lack the skills to properly explain this and what it means, so please check out the demo video to hear this in action, as it really is a big deal IMO. Another nice feature of the Arcs is a sequencer built in, which allows you to play any of the pre-recorded phrases in any order that you wish, so things don’t sound repetitive.

The built in sequencer for cycling through the different phrases.

The built in sequencer for cycling through the different phrases.

After the initial “high” of having this kind of heavenly sound stream through my speakers at a moments notice, I started to explore the rest of the library. To me, the absolute highlight are the multitude of Arcs they have included, which sync to your DAW’s tempo, and can also be played at double or half speed. However, there is a lot of content in this library, which is why this review and full testing took a bit longer for me this time around.

I definitely enjoyed the Triplet Loops/Triplets as well as the Arcs and Intimate Legato patches.

There’s quite a bit of content here

There’s quite a bit of content here

The legato patches sound fairly good, especially the “Legato Intimate”, though they all sound best at a softer dynamic range. I find any choir library sounds synthetic when playing one single note at a high velocity, and Silka was no different in this aspect. Which brings me to my next section.

The inevitable quirks…

Granted, there is a LOT of content included in Silka. More importantly to me, however, is how much content there is that I will actually USE. I feel this library is centered around the Arcs, and for good reason, as they are phenomenal. However, I can’t ignore the fact that rest of the content here feels like an afterthought, tacked on to justify the very high price of almost $600.00. There are no standard sustains included here. I kind of expect every single choir library to include basic sustain articulations (Ah, Oh, Oo, etc.), especially one with a $598 price tag. Instead, when loading up the sustains, you get an “Oh”, but it is all performed in an arc or swell. When it comes to sustains, I want a steady dynamic “Oh” that I can completely control with CC01. All this offers is the syllable being sung in a dynamic arc, which is pre-determined in length and quite limited in it’s uses, to be honest. The rest of the sustains are more like effects, which seems really strange to me. (See the list below)

sstains.png

Next up, we have the “Fast Repeated Staccatos”, which would be good in theory, however, they play a bit off beat sometimes even though they are syncing to my DAW’s tempo. Little things like this pop up here and there, and just show that this library can only do one style (granted, it does that one very well).

The Legato Sustain patches don’t actually sustain… they hold on for a few seconds and then stop, which is incredibly confusing, as every other legato patch sustains indefinitely as long as you hold the note. However, for a patch with “sustain” specifically in the title, they do not actually… sustain.

As amazing as the arcs initially sound, they too can be difficult to time right and have them sit in a track with a steady rhythm/tempo, sometimes having to play with different phrases to find one that actually fits in with the timing of your track. Overall, every sound provided here is amazing for a slow, soft track, with a lot of “breathing room” to let the arcs fully sustain and finish the full phrase, but for something that has a steady 4/4 rhythm and needs to be tight and precise, Silka is definitely not the right choice.

Lastly, sometimes you can hear phasing at high dynamics and some articulations would output nothing but silence until I exited and reloaded them again. I don’t know if it’s laziness or something else, but 8dio produces AMAZING sounds…. the problem is, after owning MANY of their products, they just have never made an all around GREAT product. Other companies produce amazing sounds AND amazing products, where everything just works (interface, usability, sound all being consistently stellar). It frustrates me that 8dio hasn’t seemed to produce such a product yet There are always some bugs and inconsistencies, and considering this, I feel overall they are overpriced. This is just my honest and possibly harsh opinion, but they lack the polish and cohesiveness that other companies consistently deliver, and it’s all the more frustrating to have to run into these problems and point them out in reviews, because honestly, the sounds are incredible.

The Verdict

This library really, really shines when it comes to the arcs and really nailing that dynamic performance. In turn, customization and versatility is sacrificed for having an instantly playable phrase that just sounds amazing. This review was probably the most difficult I’ve done so far, as when I first got this product I was in love just playing around with it, but, in context, it has quite a few flaws. When I do reviews I have to really look at so many aspects, not just how it sounds out of the box, but how it performs and holds up while writing music, and the overall practicality and versatility of a product, especially when it’s priced so high. I believe Silka is a VERY GOOD library at nailing the Arcs and the dynamic swells and realism of a real choir. However, when it comes to versatility, it’s sorely lacking. It was quite frustrating to see so many issues popping up as I was really testing all factors of this library, as the sound is so incredible, I wanted to love it. I still like it, but there are many things that need to be addressed here, and many articulations that just feel tacked on as an afterthought. In order to understand some of my compalints, let’s try to look at another product, Fluffy Audio’s Dominus Choir, which costs only $379 dollars. It offers very similar sound and performance features, at a fraction of the price. When you’re aware of such things that are also out there, I can’t help but feel 8dio is drastically overpricing it’s Silka Choir. Also consider, 8dio also has a choir library called “Insolidus”, which is incredibly similar in features and sound, and both libraries are a whopping $598 each. I’ve even seen users who report that Silka simply feels like an “Expansion” of Insolidus choir. I don’t own Insolidus so I can’t directly comment on that, but it’s definitely a viewpoint I have seen floating around. Writing these reviews can be incredibly difficult, and I also have to consider the technology present in other libraries I have purchased recently, such as Audiobro’s Genesis Choir, which has all the melisma, polyphonic legato, syllables and phrases, plus more features, for a price of $279 (granted, it is only a Childrens choir, but a damn good one). As amazing as Silka’s Arcs sound, I cannot ignore the broader picture that it is vastly overpriced, and is not as playable or usable as it may seem at first glance. There are other libraries on the market that cover so much more ground for a similar price, or you can simply settle for something just as focused for a fraction of the price.

7.0/10

Pros+

+The realism and expressiveness present in the arcs is incredible.

+Polyphone legato during arc phrases sets a new bar for realism in an 8dio library.

+ Nails the intimate choir sound.

Cons -

-Bloated articulation list. Many feel like an afterthought.

-No standard “Ah, Oh, Oo, Mm” Sustains.

-Phasing issues in certain key ranges.

-Not as playable and practical as it initially seems, quite limited in it’s use.

-Very niche and only covers one style of singing, all while sporting a very high price tag.

-Too similar to Insolidus choir to justify an entirely new product with the same price.