Zero-G's The Big Reason certainly lives up to its name: with well over 6000 individual samples, occupying 4GB of hard disk space, it certainly is big. This is somewhat less surprising when you realise that The Big Reason actually consists of seven individual libraries, all developed for Zero-G by different producers but sold as a single product. Interestingly, while the various instruments and loops are presented in formats suitable for use with NN19, NNXT, Malström, Subtractor and Dr:Rex (amongst others), they are not packed into Refills, so the samples themselves would be available to non-Reason users. That said, I ploughed through the considerable content via Reason v3.0.4 (armed with emergency supplies and a stiff drink). Here we go....
First up is Binary Finary, the bulk of which consists of instrument patches and REX2 drum loops. The instrument sounds include NNXT, Malström and Subtractor patches covering dance or techno style sounds. There is probably not anything radically new amongst this lot but there is plenty of material to get your teeth into and I particularly like the range of bass sounds: some simple and solid, others more extreme. However, things do get a little more interesting amongst the REX2 loops, including various mixtures of ethnic percussion and processed Nine Inch Nails-style drum loops, although there is also plenty of dance-orientated material: a rather eclectic mix but interesting and fun nevertheless.
Chemical Comedown provides 2GB of NN19 sampler patches organised into two types. The 'Pads & Themes' section provides a huge collection of evolving pads with some more obviously melodic timbres, while the 'Sound FX' section contains textures more akin to sound design. Like the pads, many of these are also evolving sounds and the atmosphere can get pretty creepy at times. I could easily imagine the material in this library getting used in a horror or sci-fi film score.
G-Funk Era provides a range of Subtractor, Malström, NNXT and NN19 patches that are similar in territory to those of Binary Finary. However, there are a few more melodic sounds, such as a small number of Subtractor-based electric pianos. However, the highlight of this library is the collection of REX2 files containing drums, guitar, bass, scratching and percussion. There is a funky, dance-orientated feel to much of the material (think Fat Boy Slim) with a dash of trip-hop thrown in for good measure. The collection also includes a number of 'mini' construction kits — that is, loops that are obviously intended to be easily put together to create a basic song section.
The Guitar Lab library provides an eclectic collection of guitar riffs and chord progressions in REX2 format. The styles cover blues, jazz, rock, funk, folk and a whole lot more. Both the playing and recording quality are very good, and if your guitar chops are not as strong as you might like there is plenty here to help out. While there are a few loops that are obviously related, this is not really a construction kit library and, in the main, I would think these loops might be most easily used to provide an instrumental 'hook' within a track — perhaps not something for everyday use, but well worth dipping into for the occasional bit of inspiration.
Organic Chemistry provides a rather left-field collection of electronica and exotic loops set up for use within Dr:Rex, NNXT and NN19. There is some really interesting material in this library, including some heavily-processed loops based upon ethnic instruments, such as bagpipes and kalimba. There are also plenty of processed drum patterns, using both acoustic and electronic kits. Again, there are lots of beats that would work in NIN-style pieces.
The final two libraries, Percolated Beats and Planet Bliss Loops, both provide collections of drum loops ranging in tempo from 70 to 170 bpm. Percolated Beats would suit R&B, hip-hop, funk, electronica and associated styles. The drums are mainly acoustic and the loops feature some nice, and occasionally quite intricate, playing. While some loops do feature processing, this is mostly a little room ambience and it is therefore very easy to mix and match the loops. Planet Bliss Loops is more directly aimed at dance styles (techno, electronica, hip-hop and R&B) and the sounds are more electronic in nature. In some cases EQ or filtering has been applied, but there are usually small groups of related loops with which to build a drum track. The playing may be a little less adventurous than Percolated Beats but there is still plenty of useful material.
Overall, The Big Reason is a little hard to classify. While the libraries are all useful in their own right, they do make a rather strange set of bedfellows in a single package. On the down side, none of these libraries is perhaps overly original and shouts out 'must have', and I'm tempted to speculate that this might be why Zero-G have bundled them together in this way. On the up side, at this price each library works out at just over £10 and they certainly represent excellent value for money. For those working in dance or electronica styles who want a shed-load of content without parting with a shed-load of money, The Big Reason is well worth considering. In summary, three stars for originality but five stars for value for money: that'll be a four then! John Walden
Back in SOS December 2003 Oli Bell awarder E-lab's Smokers Delight the full five stars. Since then this laid-back hip-hop collection has become recognised as something of a classic, and I've certainly recommended it to musicians on a number of occasions. Following a certain amount of corporate shenanigans, E-lab have transformed into E-quipped Music and have now released a two-DVD sequel to Smokers Delight, Smokers Relight Deux, containing around 5000 loops and one-shots in WAV, REX2 and Refill formats.
The undoubted highlights of this library are the MPC Loops & Vinyl Breaks folders, which are quite simply the most incredible hip-hop drums I have ever come across on any sample library. Impossibly punchy kick-drums, razor-sharp crispy/crunchy backbeats, unstoppable groove, beautifully executed gutsy fills... Where can I buy a fresh bag of superlatives? It's like some freak experiment combined the power of Platinum Essentials, the groove of the original Smokers Delight, and the retro vinyl atmosphere of the Wall Of Vinyl series. If you're doing hip-hop and you don't check out these drums, you might as well pull your trousers up and retrain as a traffic warden! Furthermore, the beats aren't locked stylistically to the library's subtitle ('turntable jazz and loungin' hip-hop instrumentalz') as much as the rest of the library's content, so applications as far afield as urban pop or the more menacing end of dance music would be well within range.
The only downside of such killer drums is that they rather put the rest of the library in the shade, even though it would probably merit a five-star review on its own. The percussion loops (featuring tambourine, shaker, conga, and mixed percussion) share the level of musicianship of the main loops, and work well in their more supporting role. The basses are really weighty and solid, if, by nature of the umbrella style, a little pedestrian, and there are some surprisingly useful curios in the Organ Beatbox Loops folder.
I found the remainder of the loops (largely based around riffs on electric piano, flute, tenor sax, trumpet, or vocals) a little restrictive stylistically, due to their being swathed in masses of delay and reverb — perfect for the style as advertised, but not so hot if you might want to use the sounds in other contexts. Fortunately the one-shots folder has oodles of dry one-shot samples, which really showcase the library's characteristic smokey sonics. The beat-makers amongst us are also blessed with 1400 drum and percussion one-shots, in case any of us are foolhardy enough to challenge the loops already supplied.
In short, don't let the silly name put you off: this library is simply unmissable. Actually, forget that. Whatever you do, don't buy this library! That way I can have it all to myself... Mike Senior
The Reggaeton Refill has been produced by the Salazar Brothers (a Chilean trio) for Propellerhead Software and is available exclusively via their website as a downloadable product. The Refill is approximately 260MB in size (so don't use a dial-up Internet connection to download it!) and contains a collection of over 200 drum and percussion REX files and a large collection of patches for the NNXT sampler, Subtractor and Malström synths, and a collection of Redrum drum kits. A number of Combinator patches are also included, as are some MIDI files (mainly drum and percussion loops). Some 20 short 'demo' songs provide a good illustration of the sounds within the library and how they can be combined to create an authentic reggaeton sound. Reggaeton has become very popular with urban music audiences — hip-hop is combined with elements of Jamaican reggae/dancehall music and Latin American bomba or plena, with vocals often rapped in Spanish.
A key element to the music is the beats used — the dembow (named after 'Dem Bow', the song that first popularised the style) — and in this regard the Reggaeton Refill does a good job, as there is a good collection of dembow REX2 drum loops, as well as a smaller number of other dancehall-style drum loops. These are complemented by an excellent collection of percussion loops based around bongos, congas, guiro, shakers, surdu and timbales, amongst others. Both the percussion sounds and the range of drum sounds used are also very good, and the Redrum kits and NNXT drum patches would make an excellent addition to any hip-hop or R&B sound collection. These include some big, booming kicks and a range of acoustic and electronic snares.
The instrument sounds cover the expected territory, given the strong hip-hop bias: lots of sub-bass sounds, some lo-fi keyboard and lead sounds, muted guitars and a good number of analogue-style synths. The various NNXT 'stab' sounds are particularly good fun and provide plenty of ear-candy to turn to when you need to 'hit' a chord change or song section. Usefully, these are provided in both processed and dry versions. The vocal samples provide the usual mixed bag of short shouted phrases, but many of them do have a Latin feel to provide a little genuine vibe, although there is not enough material here to create a complete vocal arrangement.
While the reggaeton style might have started as something of an underground sound for Latin American hip-hop audiences in the 1990s, it is now easy to hear its influence in the music of more mainstream contemporary hip-hop and R&B artists. At this price, it is difficult not to like the Reggaeton Refill and the sounds and drum/percussion loops would make a good addition to any Reason-based hip-hop producer's arsenal. The Latin and reggae influence is clear, however, and the short demo song sections are an education in themselves for anyone who might be new to reggaeton. Me gusta... John Walden