review

Review: Veil By Instant Sonics (Pads and Textures)

Veil is a brand new library from Instant Sonics. Their last offering was the Silver Screen Toolkit, which I reviewed a few months back. While the Silver Screen Toolkit was a large and varied library, Veil is significantly smaller and much more focused, this time offering a great collection of pads and cinematic textures. The library costs $25, comes in at just under 1.5 GB, and requires the full version of Kontakt to run.

The GUI is clean and simple, similar to Silver Screen Toolkit.

The GUI is clean and simple, similar to Silver Screen Toolkit.

I really like the clean GUI of Veil. To be honest, I rarely use built in FX with any Kontakt instrument, but the libraries from Instant Sonics seem to always be an exception. I grew up with VST soft synths, so there is a sense of familiarity with the various effects, dials, and knobs represented in the GUI of Veil.

The on board effects are plentiful and powerful, offering an arpeggiator, filters, distortion, gating, ADSR, and echoes, which enables delay and reverb all generated in a powerful convolution engine, with several reverb presets to choose from. Different variations of effects can be applied independently to each sound source, which is a nice touch. There’s also a randomize function for instant inspiration.

The heart of this instrument is a dual layer sample engine, allowing you to load up to two sound sources at once and seamlessly mix between them and blend as you see fit. Each generator has four separate categories to load sounds from: Pads, Plucks, Rhythmic, and Other.

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The Pads category easily takes the cake for the most sound sources available. The sounds included are really fantastic overall, and very textural. While the sounds may sound similar to some synths at first, what sets them apart is the unique, evolving textures embedded in each sound. You get a large variety of sounds, and each pad evolves as you hold down the keys. For instance, the “Bubbles” pad has a bit of a mild glitchy effect, and “Desert Winds” invokes the sound of wind blowing across a natural landscape. Each sound is fairly unique, and most are instantly useable, just drop them into a track and they will stand on their own, not to mention the fun that can be had blending them together. While the sounds in the Pads section are unique and differentiate from one another, a few of the sounds on their own can be just a tad generic, but, this library isn’t about loading up just one sound source, and that initial feeling disappears quickly once you dive in and start tinkering. Experimenting and getting creative is what this library is all about. When you also take into consideration the fact you could literally experiment for hours with the onboard effects, it’s pretty impressive the amount of content you get for just $25.

The other sections are much smaller, but they all deliver. The plucks are typical EDM style plucked sounds, but again, experimenting with the echoes and convolution effects prove to be a real joy, no matter what the initial sound happens to be. The rhythmic section sounds a bit more loop based, sometimes sounding like a cross between a synth pulse and a pad with a trance-gate effect. The “other” section seems to be a grab bag of stingers and transitions, with a couple phat synth sounds thrown in and one really quirky sound (Sunrise String) that has a synthetic, human-voice type sound.

From etheral soundscapes, haunting and unnerving drones, and everything in between, this library delivers. I was very impressed with the variety of sounds and the incredible quality of the on-board FX engines. The evolving nature of the sounds and the sound shaping capabilities are top notch. I almost always use third party reverbs and effects, but the included effects are very satisfying, which is a huge plus. Instant Sonics is one company I find myself not wanting to each for the third party effects, I feel satisfied just playing around with the on-board settings.

I really love smaller and more focused libraries, and while I really enjoyed their last offering, Silver Screen Toolkit, I think the lower price tag and increased focus of Veil will go a long way to making Instant Sonics a household name. I would definitely recommend this product for someone looking for cinematic textures and soundscapes, especially for those who love to get creative and have fun tweaking dials and layering FX.

The Verdict - 9.0/10

Pros +
+ Fantastic sounds and on board effects engine.
+ A lot of content and fun for a really great price.
+ Offers a wide variety of unique textures and encourages hours of creativity and experimentation.

Cons -
- May have trouble sorting through the different pads and remembering which one was your favorite.

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 - 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.

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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.

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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Review: 8Dio Legion Series - 66 Tubas

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You guys asked for it, so here it is! My review of 8Dio’s newest addition to it’s Legion Series , 66 Tubas. I’ve been on a bit of a hunt for some insane low brass ensembles, so this came at the perfect time for me. I purchased at the intro price so I believe I paid around $138 dollars. Currently it retails for $248 dollars here at the 8dio website.

So, this one is fairly self explanatory. It’s 66 freaking people each playing a tuba in one giant room. It sounds HUGE, deep, brassy, a bit farty, and they threw in a bunch of sound design presets as well.

Obviously, this is not the kind of library for the purists out there, as you’ll never be able to reproduce these sounds with a traditional orchestra. I feel it really embraces the Hans Zimmer approach to sampling, which is a mindset of pushing the boundaries, and usually “bigger is better”.

The GUI

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The interface is fairly straightforward, easy on the eye, and provides the most needed controls all laid out right underneath the main articulations. The “Chaos” button randomly sets all the parameters and is appropriately named. Sometimes it can be fun to see what you get here. This library is pretty solid for sound design as well, especially for drones. The “Stack” button allows you to stack multiple articulations at once, and can definitely come in handy. It’s also nice to have an option to reverse each sample right there in the GUI. This library loads in the quick-load section or in the file browser, and has separate folders for main and spot mics, each including a DFD (Direct from Disk) folder, two time machine folders, and a separate section just for the sound-design presets.

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The Sound

66 Tubas is humongous, that goes without saying. What I did notice immediately, is that the first patch that loads from the sustains section is very quiet (playing at a gentle PP), and you’ll notice that when playing through the patches, some of them are surprisingly mellow. This library sounds incredible in the range of C3 all the way up to a surprisingly high C5. I find that going lower than G2, the notes on their own don’t really hold up, as they are so deep sometimes it’s even hard to tell what note is playing. However, when you layer this low end with the higher notes, or with a standard trombone or horn library, the result is impressively massive. This library is generally also not a “smack-you-in-the-face” type of brass sound. It is a very wide, thick, and slow burning type of sound, in my opinion. It’s not as brassy as a trombone ensemble, and the sound isn’t quite up front at all, but more subtle and provides a nice growl at the higher dynamics. I believe most of this is due to the amount of players here, and I honestly think they did go a bit overboard with the amount of players and it cost them in terms of providing a focused sound. The sound can become very muddy, and there really is no close mic sound, and there also is not much of a difference between the various mix mixes, besides the trailer mix (which was my preferred mix). The trailer mix is more up front and provides a nice balance.

This library goes up to a surprisingly high register, and can be transposed even higher with the pitch selection in Kontakt. I found the higher notes to be nice when layering, but by themselves, I noticed a bit of phasing, and some overall quirks that made them unusable in an exposed setting. Like I mentioned previously, there is also a muddy quality to the recordings overall, simply from having so many players in the same room, I believe. This is a very niche library and truly provides a sound you absolutely cannot get anywhere else, and I give 8dio serious props for that. I can definitely see it being used for modern epic tracks and trailer work, but anything that requires a more focused sound would best stick to more traditional ensemble sizes. In terms of being used in my own work, I see it having definite potential as a layering tool, but not much else.

The Verdict-

7.25/10

Pros+

+MASSIVE, thick Sound

+Highly unique product that pushes the boundaries, you will not find a library like this anywhere else right now.

+Good for layering and providing a wide, thick low end.

Cons-

-Frequently too big for it’s own good. (Muddy sound, lack of focus)

-Notes in extreme low register are hard to make out

-Notes in higher register have strange phasing issues

-Inconsistencies in Legato sustain patches

Here’s a patch walkthru and pointing out some of the complaints I mentioned above.