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Latest Sample CDs

Sample Library By Various
Published February 2004

Amps & Pickups 2 ****


Latest Sample CDsThis release from Sonic Implants focuses on a small collection of classic electric guitars and basses. When it comes to vintage axes, the two leading '...ers' are Fender and Rickenbacker. Here we have a Fender Telecaster guitar and Precision bass, along with a Rickenbacker 4003 bass and 330 six-string guitar — names to quicken the collector's pulse. All instruments have been multisampled on every note in a variety of playing styles and dynamics, including a comprehensive chordal section. All in all, the samples add up to about 1.2GB, presented on a pair of CD-ROMs along with a PDF file containing very detailed documentation.

The Fender Telecaster is known for its gutsy, cutting rhythm sound, but this model also plays some Stratocaster-like long, super-clean sustains, played with a pick and sampled at three dynamics. Fingered sustains, played with a more percussive 'snapped' attack, are also provided, along with fast slurs and some terrific muted pick notes. Put these together and you have a seriously funky sampled guitar.

Every bass player I know owns a Fender Precision, truly the king of the four-strings. Sonic Implants' model upholds the regal tradition, combining a deep, round sustaining tone with a trebly attack right across its three-octave range. The Rickenbacker 4003 bass also sounds powerful, albeit slightly more middly — my inclination would be to use the Precision for low root notes and dial up the 4003 for expressive melodies and high-end chords. Both basses offer fingered samples, strong up- and down-picked notes and slides; the Precision also performs a set of slapped notes.

In my youth I lusted after a sunburst Rickenbacker guitar, but its price tag was way beyond my pitiful adolescent means. The sampled 330 model re-awakened my admiration — its sound is warm, rich and lyrical, with a clean attack and piano-like sustain. The guitar chords are played in all 12 keys with up, down and muted strokes for realistic strumming. Both six-strings play major and minor chords, as well as seventh chords with suspended fourths; the Telecaster also plays minor sevenths and dominant sevenths, while the Rickenbacker six-string contributes added-second/ninth and suspended-fourth voicings, perfect for those jangly '60s intros. Some of the chord categories are incorrectly named, but they all sound great.

Sonic Implants have fully exploited Gigastudio's programming options in this library, providing a large number of instruments which can be switched by velocity, key and mod wheel. There are also nice tremolo, chorus, EQ and auto-wah effects, and some crafty octave doubling sees the Rickenbacker 330 transformed into a virtual 12-string! Good presentation — my only minor criticism is that the instruments' low range hasn't been stretched below bottom 'E'.

I should also mention the original 561MB Amps & Pickups library, featuring twelve legendary guitars and basses ranging from light acoustic to heavy metal. Though the sampling is somewhat less lavish, some instruments are gems, and the library is worth considering for its sheer versatility. Dave Stewart

Gigastudio or Kontakt 2-CD-ROM set, $229.95 (around £133); Soundfont CD-ROM, $199.95 (around £116).

Sonic Implants +1 617 718 0202.

Post Estonia Grand Piano ****


PAM Estonia sample CD.Hailing from the chilly shores of the Baltic, Estonia pianos have been lovingly handcrafted since 1893, and apparently Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck and a number of famous classical pianists swear by them. The object of desire is a nine-foot concert grand; the Post Musical Instruments team sampled its white notes from A0 to C8, creating over 400 stereo samples which are not looped or audibly truncated. This approach generated 1.2GB of data, presented in compressed form on a single CD.

Surprisingly, the piano was sampled at only three dynamics, which seems a little meagre by today's standards. The provision of a complete set of 'sustain pedal down' recordings helps make amends; the sympathetic overtones of other strings add a subtle extra dimension to these samples, enriching the tone and widening the stereo image. Via a crafty bit of sample-switching, the pedalled samples (also three-dynamic) sound only in conjunction with the keyboard's sustain pedal.

This piano can handle reflective lyrical playing as well as a more gloves-off rock style, and comes in fifteen programmed variations. The master version (called Final) combines straight and sustain pedal samples with release triggers. Although the latter add a nice dash of room ambience to outgoing notes, there's a potential problem — if you hold a note too long, the release sample kicks in with an audible bump when the key is released, which rather shatters the tranquil mood! Thankfully, a 'no release' option is also available.

The Estonia grand's tonal range is well demonstrated in programs called Bright and Rock (loud and clangy), Jazz (somewhat less bright, but still assertive), and Dark (soft and filtered). For those wanting to emphasise a particular dynamic area, Loud, Mezzo Forte and Piano variants are provided. Throughout, the piano miking sounds fairly close — so-called Ambient programs merely add decay to the samples, which is a bit of a cheap trick. There is a nominal Distant option, but one of its dynamic layers refused to play in Gigastudio, rendering that particular sound useless. A more global pitfall is that the piano sounds about 10 cents sharp, suggesting that its reference 'A' was 443Hz rather than 440Hz. Silly or what?

Using only three dynamics definitely limits the piano's expressive power, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly what's lacking: I felt the quiet samples were a bit uneven in the middle register; my partner, on the other hand, liked the quiet notes, but thought there was too much of a timbral jump when the loud samples kicked in. From a classical standpoint, the instrument would produce shrieks and honks of well-bred outrage if used in the Wigmore Hall. That said, it holds up very well in a track or MIDI orchestral arrangement, and I'm sure most pop producers would be delighted with it.

Overall, the Estonia piano has a handsome sound. Its versatile tone renders it capable of musical subtlety, its samples are clean, rich, detailed and noise-free, and it sounds as convincing as any sampled piano I've played. To find an instrument of such quality retailing at £65 seems an absolute steal. Dave Stewart

EXS24, Gigastudio, Halion or Kontakt CD-ROM, £65 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Brush Artistry ****


Big Fish Audio Brush Artistry sample CD.This library consists entirely of drum loops played with brushes, but while it does contain some loops that would undoubtedly sound great alongside a double bass and your coolest jazz piano playing, there is plenty that is of wider appeal. The styles are divided into clearly titled folders which include Swing, Ballad Swing, Jazz Waltz, Bossa, Samba, Six-eight, Country, Backbeat and Groove Loops. Usefully, within each folder, the name of each loop also indicates the original tempo of the recording.

Each of the styles includes a number of different patterns, and also covers a range of tempos — from 50bpm to 240bpm across the set as a whole! For each pattern, a full kit loop is provided and, for most, this is complemented by an intro, fill, ending, and a 'snare-only' track. The latter is useful, as it allows the essence of the brush sound to be added to other patterns, or lets you build something from a set of drum kit samples. The library also contains one-shot files for both a Roots and Jazz Combo kit. As well as the usual collection of hi-hat, crash and ride cymbals, each of these includes a small number of 'soft', 'medium' and 'hard' hits, so you could build a full kit in a sampler with some velocity switching if required. There are also some brush 'swishes' and effects that can be used to add a little further colour.

The quality of the recording seems to be very good, and this is matched by some really tasteful playing. Brush playing is a subtle technique in itself, and this is reflected in some of the more complex loops. To hear this detail requires a mix that is not too overcrowded — allow the drums a little space and there is some lovely, lively playing to be heard. While the contents of the Swing folders would obviously work within a jazz piece, along with the Waltz, Bossa and Samba folders, they would also suit a Latin/Cuban mood (think Raul Malo or The Mavericks, for example). I particularly liked the small number of 'south of the border' loops — these combined well with some sultry nylon-string guitar. Things get a funky feel within the Backbeat and Groove Loops folders, and there is material here that would actually work with a range of contemporary dance or pop styles. Given the brushed snare, these also worked particularly well when put up against some acoustic guitar. The country loops are in the traditional 'big hat' country style, rather than the more modern crossover country pop (in other words, think George Strait rather than Tim McGraw), but they have a nice vibe throughout.

In use within Acid, there seemed to be good consistency across the various loops, which made it fairly easy to mix and match within a particular style when constructing a complete drum track. While this collection probably won't have the mass appeal of some drum loop sets, it does what it sets out to very well. If you work within these particular styles (and as long as you don't want to use the loops within a library/production music context, which is not permitted by the license) then Brush Artistry may just be a master stroke. John Walden

Audio CD and Acid ised WAV CD-ROM set, £59.95 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Distoteque ****


Back in SOS December 2002 I reviewed a title called Groove Shadows, containing bits of rhythmic sound design intended for layering behind programmed drum grooves to add textural depth and interest. Despite some scepticism from some of my colleagues regarding the value of this concept, I ended up finding the collection very useful in a musical context. However, I did suggest that a copy of a beat-slicing program such as Propellerhead Recycle was required to get the best from the audio-only format.

So I was pleased to see that the new Distoteque library from Primesounds, which offers more than 650 loops fulfilling a similar role as those on Groove Shadows, contained not only an audio CD, but also a CD-ROM with both WAV and REX 2 files. Because so many audio applications allow you to import REX 2 files directly, automatically matching the loop to your song's tempo, it's dead easy to layer up and audition different loops — I set up a dozen different layers against one of my favourite drum loops in five minutes flat using Emagic Logic Audio, for example.

One downside, perhaps, is that there is less sonic range here than on Groove Shadows. The emphasis is squarely on techno-style distortion and bit-reduced metallic manglings, rather than anything relating to the title's implied link with disco — someone obviously couldn't resist the pun, despite its unsuitability. Everything sounds like it's gone through one too many plug-ins, and that may either constitute an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your music.

The bottom line is that, if you're doing anything dark and heavily electronic, then these loops are good for adding detail to otherwise fuss-free drum loops without having to spend hours programming. In addition, they could be used more selectively in a wider variety of styles, filling out the stereo image subtly in selected sections of your arrangement — the hooks or choruses, say — in much the same way that a shaker or tambourine often does in a mainstream pop production. Mike Senior

Audio CD and WAV/REX 2 CD-ROM set, £59.95 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Tower Of Funk ***


Latest Sample CDsDavid Garibaldi has been one of the regular drummers for Tower Of Power for over 30 years, so Big Fish Audio locked him away in a studio to create this collection of funk fusion drumming. As you'd expect, all of the 411 two-bar loops included in this collection are well executed, with a nice understated feel.

The patterns tend to lean towards rock-solid, basic funk/R&B grooves, rather than flashy or overly flamboyant showboating. Sorted into tempos that range between 66bpm and 136bpm, Garibaldi really gets into his groove around the 100-120bpm mark. That's not to say that the slower beats are badly done, but rather that the faster tempos suit his style better.

In addition to the loops, there are a further 348 fills, once again sorted by tempo. Although the fills are well played and very useable when combined with the loops, I'd have liked to have seen fewer included and much more emphasis on actual loops and patterns. Rounding off the CD is a small group of 30 single hits.

In terms of quality, the loops themselves are well recorded and left quite dry, giving plenty of scope for the addition of effects and further processing. However, it has to be said that this does drain some of the individual 'vibe' out of the beats. There is little in the way of variation in the kit Garibaldi plays, contributing to the lack of overall character. Apart from occasional changes from snare to side stick, the overall drum sound stays the same throughout the collection — a good percentage of the kit is his own signature edition. This makes the actual usability of the CDs rather dependant on whether you like the sound of the kit or not. Although the choice of drums suits Garibaldi's drumming very well, it does get repetitive, and makes the resultant loops less inspirational than perhaps they would have been with a less restrained mixture of processing and kit.

Overall, although I can't fault the tightness of the playing, the understated groove of the patterns, or the actual quality of the sound, this collection still left me feeling rather disappointed. Garibaldi is without doubt a great drummer, and if you're looking for clean, well-played drum loops in a no-nonsense funk/R&B style then there's plenty here to interest you. But for those who aren't aficionados of Garibaldi's work, or those used to the wider scope of other commercially available collections, the lack of variation in kit, sound and feel might soon become rather tiresome. Oli Bell

Audio CD and Acid ised WAV CD-ROM set, £59.95 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

Post Orchestral Instruments ***


Latest Sample CDsAt 164MB, this must be the smallest Gigastudio library ever, but you still get a nice little collection of orchestral tuned percussion and keyboards for your money.

Sampled marimbas (when you can find them) often sound too hard and brittle, but the specimen here combines an emphatic attack with a nice plummy tone. The celeste, recorded in Amsterdam's legendary Concertgebouw, also sounds pretty; while failing to deliver the 'natural hall ambience' trumpeted in the publicity blurb, it is at least stereo, unlike the marimba.

The vibraphone doesn't vibe — that's to say, it was sampled with its vibrating mechanism turned off. Pushing up the mod wheel produces a dodgy pitch wobble, presumably intended to simulate the real vibes sound. Although this leaves the instrument short on mellifluous jazz atmosphere, its unusual 'pingy' attack makes it highly playable as a keyboard patch. Soaring way above the other tuned percussion is a pristine glockenspiel, sampled at two notes per octave. More samples would have been welcome, but the glock is clean, bright and attractive.

Harmonium & Hackbrett — not a posh solicitors' firm, but an unlikely instrumental duo. The former is the wheezy, foot-powered reed organ favoured by Coldplay (here sounding a bit small), and the latter is a Swiss hammered dulcimer with a strong Eastern flavour — remember that descending zither break in 'Strawberry Fields Forever'?

Also included is a scaled-down version of PMI's Steinway model-D grand piano. The samples consist of 'C's and 'G's only; four dynamic layers are provided (ff, f, mf and pp), but presented separately so you can't play the full-dynamic version — I guess that's to encourage you to buy the real thing. The ff layer sounds very good, but idiotically the f samples have been tuned up 25 cents, making them well sharp of the other dynamic layers. Sack that programmer!

The 'register piano' is allegedly a 'historic, remarkable and truly unique' item, according to the rather sparse sleeve notes. My research hasn't yet thrown any light on the instrument, but its first program sounds like a cross between a piano and a harpsichord (with a bright attack, but very little sustain), while its second resembles muted guitar harmonics!

As you all know, the American experimentalist John Cage once royally messed up the sound of a grand piano by inserting bolts, screws and erasers between the piano strings, which really annoyed his mum. Cage's 'preparation' became a standard item in the nutty classical repertoire, and PMI have faithfully reproduced it here, using 44 stereo samples to replicate the whole delicately deranged shebang. They have also added a few mad rackets of their own, including 'gong piano' (percussive, pot-cover noises), industrial-sounding 'paper preparations', eerie coin scrapes, reverberant knocks and more, all derived from the piano strings. Fabulous!

No other instrument is as lavishly multi-sampled as this, however — the glock, register piano and vibraphone use six or seven samples each, and the hackbrett consists of a measly three notes. Many of the sounds are mono, and apart from the Steinway's four layers, the whole library is one dynamic only. While this has surprisingly little negative impact on the sound, it might indicate that some sampling sessions were done hurriedly.

But enough criticism — it's not expensive in the UK, and (apart from the piano tuning cock-up), everything sounds well recorded, musically effective and highly useable. You won't find a cheaper marimba/celeste/vibes/glock package, and the prepared piano is great. If you lack any of these instruments, this odd little library will nicely plug the gap. Dave Stewart

Akai S1000, EXS24, Gigastudio, Halion, or Kontakt CD-ROM, £32 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.