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Sample CDs

Mini Reviews
Published January 2007

VSL Saxophones, Elements & Vienna Konzerthaus Organ

Vienna Instruments


Having unleashed their 545GB Symphonic Cube orchestral collection, VSL embark on the second phase of their Vienna Instruments series. Two of the new VI's will ring a bell with VSL followers: Saxophones is an expanded version of the 2004 sound library Saxophones 1 (see, while Elements incorporates the ethereal Glass & Stones, one of the highlights of the company's Horizon series.

Saxophones completes the Vienna saxophone family by adding alto, baritone and bass saxes to the soprano and tenor instruments supplied in Saxophones 1. This 25GB collection was performed single-handedly by Robert Bernhard in VSL's Silent Stage, a controlled room acoustic which suits the saxes' intimate sound. The five instruments perform a huge menu of single-note deliveries, changing dynamic samples and note repetitions as well as fast octave scales and a comprehensive set of trills and grace notes.

Sample CDs

VI's intelligent interval detection software makes legato melody notes join together as nature intended. Sampled at three dynamics, the alto sax's performance legatos sound astonishingly real and can transform simple keyboard melodies into flowing, expressive lines worthy of Wayne Shorter. Now upgraded, the soprano's performance legatos match the high quality of the alto sax. In the full library, there's a choice of vibrato, no-vibrato, marcato and portamento (slide) legatos, the latter producing real played bends which sound far better than anything you can knock up with the pitch wheel.

In the '60s, Tamla Motown producers used to largely confine the baritone sax to honking staccato mini-phrases and the occasional spluttering foghorn-like solo, but the instrument in this collection is capable of far more than that. The rich, attractive timbre of its quiet sustains sounds great in isolation but also blends very nicely with orchestral low winds. The rarely-found bass sax is impressive too; it's an expressive, powerful and surprisingly versatile low-range instrument which handles bass lines, melodies and even chords with aplomb. But if all you want are those Motown bass licks, the baritone and bass sax's blasting sforzando samples will do nicely.

A new set of growling 'dirty' samples and pitch falls help make these top-quality sax samples suitable for pop, jazz and big-band arrangements as well as orchestral settings. Although Saxophones contains no pre-configured melodic phrases, having such a wealth of lively performance samples under your fingers makes it inexcusable not to program your own. Throughout, Mr. Bernhard plays with commitment and lots of feel, effortlessly covering the emotional range of these highly versatile and mobile instruments. After performing 58,000 samples the poor chap deserves a holiday — let's hope that VSL bought him some lip salve for Christmas.

The 11GB Elements occupies more of a niche market, but it's a pretty nice niche. The beautiful instruments from Glass & Stones are all here, augmented by several more elemental creations. The largest is an oversized tam tam so tall that Ronnie Corbett could hide inside it. Its small menu of conventional loud hits sound like slow-motion explosions, and it has also been scraped, rubbed, stroked and otherwise molested by a variety of implements, producing a range of mysterious atmospheric noises, suitable for horror film soundtracks and experimental modern music.

Glass & Stones ' musical glasses now have alternate samples with an extended range, and also offer mallet hits which reminded me of chiming clocks, toy pianos and Javanese gamelan metallophones. Unfortunately the element of fire is absent, but the liquid world is represented by a fantastic bass waterphone, a mad-sounding contraption that creates a wonderfully spooky set of slithering, other-worldly noises, indeterminate random notes and crazy overtones. A set of blown bottles completes the line-up. Unfortunately, their upper range is rather limited, but hopefully that will be sorted out when someone from VSL next goes to the off-licence. You can see the original review of Glass & Stones at

The third new Vienna Instrument is the only title in VSL's catalogue not to have been recorded in the Silent Stage, but there's a good reason for that: the instrument is built into the fabric of the Great Hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus and it would have been rather inconvenient to move it to another location! Built in 1913, the Konzerthaus organ boasts five manuals and over a hundred stops. The Vienna boys sampled every note of 39, using the organ's retro-fitted MIDI interface to speed up the job. Each note has its own reverb release sample, and although VSL claim the hall acoustic gives the instrument a more defined sound than your average cathedral organ, its reverb tails are still pretty prominent.

The two things I look for first in a pipe organ are a simple flute stop and a big, multi-octave sound to scare the congregation. I found the former quickly enough — 'Bordun 16' and 'Lieblich-Gedakt 16' are both pure, plain flute timbres, which sound lovely on their own, or can be used as building blocks in the construction of more complex sounds. I enjoyed the tremolo effect of 'Unda Maris', which gives it something of the floating quality of a Hammond/Leslie combo, while the brighter, reedier 'Trumpet 16' and 'Krummhorn 8' have a much more triumphant and declamatory tone. If you want to add high frequencies, there are plenty of 4', 2', 'quint' (ie. sounding a fifth higher) and 'mixture' stops, all sounding bright and transparent.

For an instant big organ sound, you can simply select one of the 36 pre-layered multi-stop 'registration' patches, the most massive-sounding of which is the 'Large Principalplenum + Reeds', combining nine different stops. If that apocalyptic racket doesn't put the fear of God into your flock, nothing will! The Konzerthaus Organ is highly playable, extremely versatile and sonically beautiful. The only minor inconvenience is that some bass notes take a while to develop, so if you want these particular low notes to 'speak' in time with your track, you'll just have to play or sequence them a bit early!  Dave Stewart

Saxophones: Standard Library £265, Full Library £495. Elements: Standard Library £200, Full Library £330. Vienna Konzerthaus Organ £230. Prices include VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Scarbee Imperial Drums XL

HALion Player VSTi, AU and DXi


The 'XL' version of this library is a revised, improved and expanded version of Scarbee's Imperial Drums acoustic drum sample library. The key differences are that the library is presented with a dedicated HALion Player front-end (for which you'll need a Steinberg Key); and that it now totals 48GB, nearly 40GB of which is new. At 12 DVDs you might want to break out your sandwiches and prepare for a lengthy install!

Sample CDsThe features are expansive, with 51 different drum types, 12 different stick types (three kick-drum beaters) and a full set of cymbals, presented with detailed velocity layers. Drums were recorded at 88.2kHz/24-bit resolution, then presented as 44.1kHz/24-bit samples. Individual drums are available in four sizes: M, L, XL and XXL, the latter containing up to 100 velocity layers. Samples are organised into two types of kit: the stereo kits, which provide access to the basic sounds without demanding too much RAM, and the multi-mic kits, which provide close-miked versions of the individual elements, alongside stereo overheads and ambience mics. Each of these is fed to the host sequencer via a separate output from HALion Player which means that they can be mixed with the same degree of control as a comprehensive multi-miked studio recording, including how much room ambience you dial in. For example, many of the kits include two bass-drum mics (inside and outside) and two snare-drum mics (above and below).

Once the plug-in is inserted into Cubase or Nuendo, a suitably named series of mixer tracks is automatically created. Key-switching or the Mod Control can control features such as where (on some drums) the drum has been struck, or the degree of hi-hat opening. The rest of the extensive features include drum mapping for both the GM and Roland V-Drums formats, and a library of MIDI grooves.

Of course, quality comes at a price. Imperial Drums XL is not cheap and, if you want to use the XXL samples, you can expect HALion Player to chew up plenty of computer resources. So this library ought to sound good — but it sounds absolutely fantastic! I found it impossible not to be impressed by the quality and flexibility provided. It just sounds like a real kit, beautifully recorded. All the drum kits sound great, but for me the highlight was the samples of a Ludwig Vistalite, as used by John Bonham. Anyone serious about constructing acoustic drum tracks from samples via MIDI really ought to audition this library. Imperial Drums XL is about as good as it gets for acoustic drum samples — an instant classic. John Walden

HALion Player, £196 including VAT
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200

Platinum Samples Andy Johns Classic Drums

BFD Expansion Library


What many people didn't understand about BFD was that you needed to apply your own processing to get the best out of it. BFD Deluxe Edition brought a range of kits that provided more instant gratification (a welcome development for the lazier drum programmers amongst us!). Platinum Samples Andy Johns Classic Drums, the first third-party library for BFD, provides similarly instant gratification.

No surprises for guessing that Andy Johns was developed with the legend in engineering of the same name (I could print a credit list but if I get any further than Led Zep, the Stones, or Satriani I risk taking up several pages). But can it really put you in the happy position of a producer who has Andy Johns as their drum engineer? Well, apart from maybe putting a life size hologram of Mr Johns in your control room, it does about as much as you could ask!

Sample CDsSome of the 70GB library has been sampled at a staggering 256 different velocity layers (so make sure you have plenty of space on your hard drive). The kits are well chosen and gel together nicely, with a range of vintage, classic and modern kits and pieces including Gretsch, Ludwig, Pork Pie, Zildjan, Paiste and others, and the default kits are very useable.

Not only do you get the benefit of Mr Johns' mic selection and placement, but also his ear for tuning drums, and EQ, printed via a Neve series 80 console through a Studer 24-track tape machine, in much the same way he would choose to do on a session. There's apparently no compression, but the individual sounds are already well balanced, and I found no need for compression, except perhaps for combined compression with other elements, such as a bass guitar with the kick, or maybe a little on the room mics or on the stereo drum group.

The kicks range from humble and vintage to modern and meaty, the snares from soft to snappy. The hats are nice and tight, as they should be for the rock genre. Tuneful toms reach out beautifully through the mix and the cymbals are a real high point — certainly the best ones I've heard for BFD, and they'd be a worthwhile addition on their own.

There are also several new MIDI grooves and fills, that come in various clearly named styles, including 'Collapsing Damn' (figure it out), and they should provide a great starting point for typical rock tunes.

In summary, it's a good set of kits, played by a good drummer, recorded by a great engineer in a great room. Maybe we don't yet have the ultimate drummer replacement, but I've not heard better. A brilliant addition to the BFD stable! Matt Houghton

Expansion library for FXpansion BFD £149.99 including VAT.
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