library

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: 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

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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.

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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.

Review - COSMOS by Impact Soundworks

Check the video at the bottom for a walkthru of the sounds included!!

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Cosmos is a fairly new Atmospheric library from Impact Soundworks. I feel that as a company, Impact Soundworks’ products offer an amazing bang for your buck. I own a number of their libraries, and always love the simplicity and focus, and the prices are some of the best you can get, while still providing a vast amount of fantastic content. Needless to say, I was excited when I heard the demos of Cosmos…beautiful atmospheres and deep rhythmic pulses… what’s not to love?! (Granted, I’m a sucker for these types of sounds in the first place…)

I made my purchase and downloaded the product in a 4 part .rar archive. Delivery of the product and installation was quick and easy.

The interface for Cosmos is fantastic. I love products that are focused and simple to use. Too often, I feel libraries go after the all-inclusive approach, and try to do everything. I dislike this for a couple reasons: One, they provide so much content it can be utterly overwhelming and too often an absolute pain to navigate and find the right sounds. Secondly, the price of these libraries can be utterly ridiculous, easily clearing the $500 dollar mark. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Cinemorphx from SampleLogic…guilty on both accounts)

Simple, easy to use, and a wonderful image of a nebula.

Simple, easy to use, and a wonderful image of a nebula.

The library comes with two main instruments - Ambiences and Phrases. I loaded up the ambiences first. There is an option to scroll through the sound sources on the left side of the GUI. In the middle is a step sequencer, and underneath are filter controls, then in the bottom left corner are ADSR controls.

The ambiences are quite amazing. They are very evocative and inspiring, often evolving over time, with subtle pitch changes or harmonics coming into play. They seem to be either very warm and beautiful, or a bit more abrasive and tense, but always very spacey. There are two categories of sound sources provided: Tonal and Atonal. Naturally, the atonal sound sources are where things can get more ominous and capable of building some real tension. While they are all very evocative of outer space, they are also quite versatile. I did notice that most of these will sound best for underscoring or building an atmosphere, not so much for very melodic chords. I say this because many of them have some sort of subtle melody, harmonics, slight pitch modulation, etc, already built in as you hold one note. All in all, the ambiences in this library are incredible.

Navigating the phrases is a breeze thanks to the tagged categories and instant sound previews.

Navigating the phrases is a breeze thanks to the tagged categories and instant sound previews.

The second instrument provided is phrases. These come in Arps, Pulses, and Gates. Navigating through the content here is incredibly simple and intuitive, providing tags for each type of sound, etc, and also featuring an option that previews each sound before you even load it up. This is incredibly helpful and I wish more libraries would organize their files this way. The arps range from cinematic to EDM flavors, and the notes in each arpeggio is pre-determined. There are keyswitches you can load up multiple phrases at once and switch between them on the fly. I preferred the sounds of the Pulses and Gates, but that is just my own personal preference based on the style of music I compose. The pulses and gates can be soft and beautiful, or aggressive and dark, and all sound just phenomenal, and instantly useable in a wide variety of genres. I encourage playing with the resonance and cutoff for these, as they can really morph from something dark and subtle to a bright and edgy sound.

Products like this are often some of my favorite (including another from Impact Soundworks called Sonic Forest) and I end up using them MUCH more than the bigger, more expensive and wide ranging libraries. . They’re fairly small, extremely focused, and provide amazing sounds with just enough controls to be tweakable, yet not overwhelming. Not to mention, the incredibly low price you pay for such amazing content. I can highly recommend Cosmos not only for media composers like myself, but for electronic music producers and more.

The Verdict-

9.25/10

Pros+

+ Amazing sounds, evocative and inspiring.

+ Browsing through the phrases is quick and intuitive with tags and sound previews.

+ Amazing price for the amount of content.

+ Simple, focused library that can really shine and deliver the outer-space inspired sounds.

+ Perfect amount of content and controls, easy to get into and tweakable, yet never overwhelming and confusing.

Cons-

- Arps follow pre-determined notes, some were a bit harsh/EDM for my personal tastes.

- Ambiences generally don’t allow playing chords, more of a one note pad due to evolving nature of the sounds.

Cosmos is selling for $49.00. Check it out here!

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Let's Listen - DOUBLE FEATURE! Fingerpick by Realitone and select Misfit instruments by 8Dio!

Hey all! Welcome to the Wild West themed 'Let's Listen'!

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me professionally knows I thrive on variety and having a wide and eclectic musical taste, which translates into covering a lot of ground as a composer and musician. Every month I try focusing on covering new musical ground... and once again it's time to expand! When you stop exploring and learning, life can quickly become quite.. boring. My listening focus lately has been on exploring the roots...ethnic music from all over the world (specifically China, Persia, and India, so stay tuned for more of that) and here in the USA, which brings me to today's feature!

I love the Western film/video game genre and American roots music as a whole, and have always wanted to explore more into this territory with my own music. I did a few things here and there experimenting, but my libraries were severely lacking. I know the blues well on guitar and a bit of country but wanted to have EVERYTHING... fiddle, banjo, harmonica, that epic whistle you hear in the old Clint Eastwood films (listen below to "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly"... that intro whistle is unanimously associated with Westerns, and we ALL recognize it).

I really love exploring the niche instrument libraries available for Kontakt, so I set out to find something good for a decent price (I'm not going to use these on every project, so I want the BEST sound for the BEST price.) 

Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?! Wrong film, whatever.

Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?! Wrong film, whatever.

8Dio Misfit Series

I settled on the Misfit series from sample giants 8Dio They are priced VERY modestly (I paid $15-$37 for each) and I was swayed by the demos and their unique sense of charm (from the official site: "8Dio's Misfit Series is a massive deep-sampled collection of over 15 different instruments – all recorded with a unique, quirky and semi-drunk feel to it."


I started with the harmonica and banjo to get a feel for the usability and quality and later returned for the fiddle and whistle (I was torn between Embertone's fantastic 'The Whistler Ensemble' and the 8Dio 'Misfit Whistle', and decided on the latter because it was exactly what I was looking for and seemed to be made simply for that purpose, opposed to a more cheery and whimsical whistle ensemble).

The interface, for the most part, is pretty darn ugly (especially the harmonica). We have an amateur and hand drawn aesthetic on display here, complete with childish scribbles on post it notes.  There is a help button that is definitely useful, if you can get through the clutter. I mean I didn't expect a futuristic and minimal interface on a series called Misfit, but it could have been done a whole lot better than this. However, taking into consideration the extremely low price points of each instrument, presentation doesn't matter nearly as much as the sound. Still, it's quite the eyesore.

Cluttered with help info... useful, but ugly and tedious.

Cluttered with help info... useful, but ugly and tedious.

The sound however is pretty darn good for what it's worth. I am impressed by the character they put into the samples and the different performance effects that are available. The harmonica can do straight notes and a variety of bends and trills, and I really love how it sounds. You can ever make these sound like crap and out of tune if you want (the accuracy knob displayed above purposefully makes our 'musician' blow wrong notes). This all lends well to the "quirky, drunken" nature of this Misfit instrument series. However, at this time, I don't have use for a drunken harmonica player blowing the heck out of wrong notes on an instrument that already can sound grating to the ears. 

The fiddle sounds really good, and truly nails that lazy western tone with amazing performance legato (which they call "true gelato") and they truly capture a raw, human quality to these instruments which is really fitting for the style I wanted to use it for. Do NOT expect virtuoso playing and a classical sound, as you get the exact opposite. These really nailed the gritty western sound I had been searching for. Highly recommended if you are in the market for some alternative and unique libraries for Kontakt or for anything in the Western genre. You are pretty much guaranteed to feel like Family Guy's Stewie Griffin in that episode where they move down south. I know I did!

 

FIngerpick by Realitone

The only thing really missing from my ensemble so far was a great acoustic guitar. I did some live performance with my acoustic guitar and Telecaster for this piece, but I am not quite as proficient in country/bluegrass as I am in other styles, and I wanted to capture the style of finger picking, which I also am not a master at! A few weeks ago, I had stumbled across something that might be able to fill this void, Fingerpick!

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As you may know by now I love discount plugins and samples and frequently browse and purchase from VstBuzz and Audio Plugin Deals. The latter, besides having a weekly product with an insane discount, has a shop featuring a lot of great products. You get rewards money every time you purchase one of their deals or any product from the shop. Naturally, I have accumulated a nice amount of rewards money which can go to any purchase there, so I frequently browse through to see if anything new has caught my eye.

Fingerpick by Realitone is my new favorite acoustic guitar library. I was, as usual, impressed by the video walkthru and knew it was the missing spice I needed for my Western Ensemble. The programming here is phenomenal, most impressive is it's auto legato, which automatically performs hammer on's and slides depending on the length of the note on your DAW's midi sequencer. The sound is incredibly realistic and genuine, and absolutely nails the sound of a seasoned guitarist performing on your tracks. For $89.95, plus additional discounts with rewards money from the Audio Plugin Deals Shop, this library is an absolute steal. Of course it is not only suited for the Bluegrass/Western style I was looking for, and while I think it is best for Rock/Folk and Blues/County, it absolutely covers any genre of music that uses an acoustic guitar.

NOW! Let's hear these bad boys in action. Giddy-Up!

Let's Listen : Embertone "Herring Clarinet"

I recently picked up the "Winds of Awesomeness" bundle by Embertone, available at discounted price via www.audioplugindeals.com. I'll do my best to add more reviews of the different instruments available in the bundle, but I wanted to start off with my favorite, and my new "go-to" clarinet library, Herring Clarinet.

I've always heard great things about this company, and finally had the chance to check them out. Do they live up to the hype? YES, Yes they do, actually even exceeding expectations. All I can say for certain is the folks at Embertone are simply genius, or possess some otherworldly magic and have somehow transported a real, living clarinet player into my midi controller/computer.

This sample library is performed by Jose Herring, and I really like the fact they show a great level of care about the artist, devoting an entire section of the GUI to him.

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As you can see, the GUI is clean and easy to navigate. We have legato sustain, poly sustain, staccato (short), and trill patches, all changeable via the GUI or keyswitches. Clicking on the "Solo" button changes from a solo instrument to an ensemble, and we have slider controls for dynamics, vibrato, flutter, instrument multiplier, reverb, and a switch to enable round robin sampling. 

The sound of this library is truly stunning, and the level of detail and depth of scripting provides incredible realism. The slurred or tongued legatos are natural and smooth, and each slider is very responsive, adding details and creating a performance I didn't think was possible using just a midi instrument. Turn up the dynamics and ease on the flutter control, and you get a gritty flutter tongue effect which sounds detailed and natural. The versatility and playability of this library is fantastic right out of the box, and it really needs to be heard to give it justice. Delicate passages with the legato add nuance and texture to any orchestral or classical composition, and by turning up the dynamics and switching to the "short" patch, you can play ragtime or jazz runs with ease. The trill patch is great for achieving a natural, human sounding trill effect, as doing these on the piano roll often end up sounding static or overly quantized. 

I purchased this library as part of a discounted bundle, however this library alone was worth the price of admission. It retails for $99 USD here at the official Embertone site. 

Audio Demos

Embertone Herring Clarinet audio performance demo (straight out of the box) going through Legato sustain, short staccato, and trill patches. Adjusting dynamics and vibrato via mod wheel, and adjusting flutter effect via the GUI sliders (flutter tongue effect audible at around 40 seconds )