Dan Dean has certainly been busy since releasing his Solo Strings and Giga Bass GigaSampler-format libraries -- his new Solo Woodwinds collection is a huge 10-CD set, with each CD dedicated to a specific instrument. It's supplied in a smart zippable wallet, with each CD in a separate transparent sleeve, ringbinder-style, plus an eight-page manual. Instruments covered comprise alto flute, bass clarinet, bass flute, bassoon, clarinet, contra bassoon, English horn (more commonly known as the Cor Anglais, and not a horn at all!), flute, oboe, and piccolo.
Each note of each instrument has been sampled fairly closely in stereo, with up to six dynamic layers, which provides smooth timbral change from pianissimo to forté. The file sizes range from 236Mb (bass flute with three velocity layers) up to 734Mb (flute with six velocity layers), although of course this is largely irrelevant to Giga users, since the sounds are streamed in real time from your hard drive. However, some RAM is still required for buffering, so for those who have less than 256Mb, or who don't want to store the entire 2.5Gb of data on their hard drives, 'light' versions of each instrument are also available.
No looping has been used, so the maximum length of each note is determined by how loud the player blows -- a single breath can last up to 20 seconds or so with very soft notes on the clarinet, for instance, while loud notes are correspondingly shorter. This should help your phrasing when attempting to write realistic acoustic performances on unfamiliar instruments. No attempt has been made to artificially extend keyspan either, as in some other libraries -- each instrument plays only over its designated range, and this makes perfect sense in an orchestral context.
Each instrument has been recorded in four basic articulations: Legato, Legato Vibrato, Staccato, and Portato/Mezzo Staccato. The only exceptions are the two clarinets (and clarinets are nearly always played non-vibrato in orchestral parts anyway). These basic articulations provide the first four presets of the selection provided, but many more presets incorporate various programming features, such as control of attack time or type and the ability to switch between various different articulations, via either the mod wheel or Giga's keyswitching (using a selection of notes outside the normal playing range).
Additional keyswitching presets let you choose from the different dynamic layers or different articulations manually, or switch between articulations via velocity. In all, there are the four standard articulations mentioned above, a further eight controlled by the mod wheel, eight more by keyswitching, and a final four by velocity switching. A total of 26 'full-sized' presets are provided, with presets 27-53 being otherwise identical 'light' versions using four multisamples per octave instead of one per note. Although the many options do take a little getting your head around at first, the 52 presets are presented identically for each instrument (apart from the two clarinets), which means that once you've found your most suitable playing technique it applies to every instrument.
Even with so many options available, this library wouldn't cut the mustard unless its sounds came up to scratch, but fortunately I feel there are no disappointments. As you might expect, the most expressive, responsive instruments are those with six velocity layers -- bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, and oboe. The recordings leave just enough tiny human imperfections to add a little character from note to note, without making any of them stick out, and although I initially thought I'd found a couple of notes louder than the others, this perception proved to be down to my keyboard technique.
Even instruments with only three layers, such as the dark, smoky alto and bass flutes, and the bassoon, are still very playable, and better in sound quality than most similar samples I've heard. I thought it might prove difficult to perform realistic crescendos and diminuendos in the absence of any layer-crossfading options, but I managed fairly realistic results using a MIDI swell pedal, even playing just a single layer.
This is an expensive collection, but still good value for 2.5Gb of data across 10 CDs, especially considering its quality and scope. However, if you do only need a couple of the instruments, they can be ordered individually. The bottom line is this: when incorporated into a recording, I'm sure these instruments would fool the majority of listeners into thinking they were hearing a real performance, even if the samples were fairly exposed. I think Dan Dean's aim, to "create the most realistic sounding instruments available", has succeeded enough for a full five-star rating. Martin Walker