Score: **** 4/5 stars
Percussion follows the same format as the original Vol. 1 Drums, Hits & Ambience where each instrument typically comprises two sampler programs: one close-miked and the other miked at a distance in a live room. By loading both programs and adjusting the balance, a variety of interim stages can be created between very dry and very wet. Furthermore, there's a choice of two ambience samples, one large and one medium, providing adequate opportunity for customisation. Some dry samples recorded in a booth are also available for some of the sounds. You can even work in surround with these samples by using the dry sound plus medium ambience at the front and large ambience at the rear. Each 'layer' of an instrument is mapped to the same set of MIDI notes, so when you're progamming drums from a sequencer, all you need do is copy the original MIDI track to the track driving the ambience samples.
The instruments are provided as separate hits mapped over a number of adjacent keys depending on the type of sound, just like the first volume. The programs don't follow GM mapping as some of the sounds aren't in the GM set and, in any event, many sounds include a number of playing variations within the same program.
The sounds are mainly familiar percussion elements applicable to many musical styles and include tambourines, cow bells, blocks, shakers, triangles, congas, bongos, cymbals and bells. There's an especially large selection of cymbal and gong-type sounds, plus more bell trees, rainsticks and chimes than you can shake a (drum) stick at. Pretty much every form of mainstream percussion is represented here, but what makes this collection different, apart from the obvious luxury of having variable real ambience, is that rather than getting one of each type of hit, you frequently get several variations in addition to velocity switching. For example, with bongos you get a right and a left-hand version of each hit, and with shakers you get upswings, downswings and 'loops'.
Heard in isolation, the dry samples are clean and well recorded, but don't sound particularly unusual. It's another story when you add the ambience on another track and then start juggling with the level, though, as the whole thing comes to life in a way that adding reverb to dry samples rarely achieves. There's a slight 'fiddle factor' in having to load up two sets of samples to play an ambient instrument, but the result is generally worth it, and I can think of no competing product that offers the same facility.
An audio disc is included along with the Akai S3000 format CD-ROM, so auditioning sounds is easy. Volume Two makes an excellent addition to the first, which featured basic drum kit sounds, and the 'plus ambience' approach is a significant step forward in making samples sound more natural.
S3000 or S5000/Z4/Z8 CD-ROM & Audio CD, £150 including VAT.