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Sample CDs On Test

Hot new sound library releases
Published September 2008

Analogue Systems Sample CD

Audio CD


You could consider Analogue Systems' snappily titled 'Sample CD' as a showcase for their highly respected range of RS Integrator synth modules, which were used to produce this library. The 80-minute audio CD was recorded by synthesist Bakis Sirros using his own Analogue Systems 24U modular system and, according to the sleeve, all the sounds were recorded raw, without any multitracking, overdubbing or additional processing.

The content is organised into a dozen or so categories: Basses, Filter Sweeps, Leads, Modulations, Phasers, Harmonic Generator, Drums, Rhythms, Sequences, Soundscapes and Special FX. The vast majority of sounds have been recorded as multisamples spread across two or three octaves, mostly at C1, E1, G1, C2, E2, G2 and C3, and there's a comprehensive note-mapping list for each sample on each audio track. Most of the 48 tracks contain three or more multisampled sounds, so we're talking about a hell of a lot of samples to play with, although keeping track of what the track list says and what you're listening to can be difficult with so many individual sounds in this format.

Sample CDs On TestThe Bass section includes a good range of synth basses, including filtered, layered (up to three VCOs) and raw waveforms, although sounds like 'VCO Raw Pulse' sound much like any other pulse waveform, regardless of what was used to generate it. The Filter Sweeps and Lead categories include some very rich-sounding waveforms, with plenty of movement, and there are some particularly nice sync'ed and heavily cross-modulated articulations and sweeps.

The Ring Modulator and Phaser groups (using the RS20 and RS400 modules, I assume) are more run-of-the-mill and include standard-fare RM cross-modulations and a selection of phased tones, textures and drones, whose waveforms are mostly in the lower registers to emphasise the medium to slow phasing effects.

The two groups of percussion sounds (Drums and Rhythms) feature some creditable analogue bass and snare drums and hi-hats, derived from short bass envelopes or very short filtered white noise hits, and there's a useful collection of spiky-sounding and occasionally quirky rhythmic loops, listed with their tempo. The Special FX section, though, is a bit gimmicky — unless you're composing for kids' cartoons or '80s video games.

The Harmonic Generator section doesn't sound particularly analogue but contains some of the more interesting sounds on the disc. They tend toward an electronic ambient vibe and cover everything from phased space-choirs, stepped wavetable-type sequences and unusual, shifting harmonics to echoed random patterns, organs and weird, filtered, syncopated rhythms. I wasn't entirely won over by the five Soundscape tracks at the end of the disc: some are a little too frantic and busy or end too abruptly, although they could be useful for sound-design projects.

Being the lazy bugger I am, I'm not a big fan of the 'audio sample CD' format (too much hard work involved on my part), but many of the sounds, particularly the basic waveforms, will benefit from layering, looping and further manipulation in your sampler or DAW. If you are thinking of buying some RS Integrator modules this disc would be a good way to check out what the system is capable of, although I was occasionally left wondering which RS Integrator modules were used to produce some of the samples: 'Filter Crossmod Sweeps' and 'Res Saw Bass' don't tell me that much about how the sounds were generated... and the geek in me likes to know these things.

While a few of the samples feel a little pedestrian for my taste, the audio quality throughout the disc is superb, and at this low price it is great value. It could easily be regarded as an impulse buy, and I have no problem recommending it to anyone looking to expand their arsenal of sampled synth sounds. Chris Carter

£9.95 including VAT plus postage.
Analogue Systems +44 (0)1726 850103.

Big Fish Audio Nu Metal City 2



Big Fish Audio (BFA) seem to be releasing a spate of follow-up titles. Hot on the heels of Funk City 2 (see opposite) comes a second helping of Nu Metal City, which was well received when released in 2006. As with the first volume, Nu Metal City 2 provides a number of loop-based construction kits — 25, to be precise, containing over 900 loops (more than 1GB of sample data). Two further folders contain about 180 additional 'hardcore' drum and guitar loops. The drum loops are simply more of the same as those included in the main kits, while the guitar loops are mostly in the 'special effect' category — various random noises with a good dose of distortion. All the loops are presented in 24-bit, 44.1kHz resolution, and the key and original recording tempos (which range from 70 to 185 bpm) are specified for each of the construction kits.

Sample CDs On TestAs might be expected, given the library title, the loops are dominated by drums, guitars and basses, but they're joined by the occasional synth, atmosphere and scratch effect. The sounds are spot on given the genre: aggressive drums, aggressive basses and, erm, aggressive guitars. The guitars are particularly impressive, with a range of overdriven and distorted tones that, the odd gentle and melodic arpeggio aside, range from heavy to downright thunderous. The basses sound solid and the drums suitably big, with lots of splashy cymbals (perhaps occasionally a little too splashy?) and some nice fills. So you get good quality here, but the quantity box is also ticked, with each of the kits containing between 30 and 40 individual loops. This means multiple drum, bass and guitar loops in each kit, and plenty of variation. For example, there are usually at least two main guitar riffs per kit, with variations, and some further guitar ornamentation (such as chords, stabs and scrapes). With similar variety amongst the drum loops and enough bass options to do the business, it is really easy to create the foundations of a complete musical piece from the loops of a single kit.

The loops are right on the money in terms of style: they're more Sepultura or Pantera than Linkin Park, but add the right vocal and they could work for both the radio-friendly end of metal and more extreme forms. Big Fish Audio have packed a lot of bang for the buck into this collection, and while I suspect that nu-metal bands will want to record their own performances, media composers or solo metal heads looking to add some convincing modern metal to their own productions should find that Nu Metal City 2 provides them with an excellent starting point. John Walden

£49.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

LapJockey FlatPack 3

Reason Refill


The latest version of Propellerhead's Reason virtual studio (v4) demands the latest in sound design for its third-party Refills, and who better than Lapjockey to respond to that demand with Flatpack 3?

As Flatpack 2 focused on Reason 3's then-new Combinator device, so FP3 pays close attention to the Thor monster modular synth, with its awesome CV- and gate-routing options, and audio ins and outs. It features everywhere, as star sound source, drum-sound generator or signal processor.

FP2 also introduced the idea of themed preset Combinator 'shells' that become instruments in their own right, and this idea is further developed here.

Sample CDs On TestBoxmoor and RexDex offered a super drum machine and loop player respectively in FP2, but in FP3 each has acquired a 'II', largely due to the addition of Thor to the mix. Boxmoor II (the sample and synth drum machine Combi) mixes samples and Thor-synthesized drum sounds with dizzying results. Drum-pattern creation mixes ReDrum and Thor step sequencer patterns and real-time triggering, recorded with Reason's linear sequencer.

RexDex II (the groove box and loop Combi) does all sorts of unexpected things with the supplied REX loops, crossfading and shuffling slices, and once again Thor is often in evidence. This is as close as FP3 gets to instant song creation, but users of that kind of software might find the REX loops in FP3 rather more textural, eccentric and impressionistic than they're used to.

Joining the crew are the Element 'hybrid sample and synthesis' and Darwin 'evolving layer' Combis. The main 'oscillators' for Element patches are mostly NN19 sampler devices loaded with short, looped waveforms sampled from classic analogue synths. Thor provides the synth signal path in some patches and is part of the sound-generation system in others. Reason 4's fantastic RPG8 arpeggiator and Thor's own step sequencer are also exploited, rhythmically and texturally.

Darwin is your pad and soundscape machine, and it mixes longer samples with sources from Element and (surprise, surprise) Thor. Pads can be analogue-lush or '80s-clinical, and the atmospheres and textures cinematic, spectacular, spooky or unsettling.

Individual elements from the main Combis are also available for you to exploit, as is a seriously useful collection of Thor starting points. This is a big, deep device and having access to basic patches for a wide range of patch types, as supplied here, can be a real time-saver.

If I tell you that there are more than 300 Combinator patches, 175 Thor patches, 220 REX loops, 30 Redrum kits, 440 drum samples and 100 NN19 sample patches, that would just be the start. Instant sonic gratification is here, but the real fun kicks in when you use the fruits of Lapjockey's hard work to create your own patches.

In just the same way as FP2 did, FP3 supplies you with what feel like — and, in many ways, are — new instruments for your Reason rack. The factory set of patches is there, in all its impressionistic, atmospheric and off-the-wall glory — but tweaking your new 'instruments' is as easy or as complex as you want it to be.

The best third-party sound sets are an education: they showcase someone else's take on your software, offer new ways of doing everyday things, and show directions that might not have occurred to you. So Flatpack 3 could be the perfect third-party Refill for people who don't like third-party Refills! Derek Johnson

£50 including VAT.

Big Fish Audio Funk City 2



There are no prizes for guessing that Funk City 2 is Big Fish Audio's follow up to their earlier Funk City. Volume 2 has a lot to live up to, as Paul Sellars gave it a five-star rating back in SOS February 2006. BFA have obviously decided on the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' route, because Funk City 2 follows a similar format, offering some 29 different construction kits containing over 600 individual loops. This time, of course, these are presented in 24-bit, 44.1kHz resolution, rather than the 16-bit resolution of the original release. Tempos are all in the 70-130 bpm range, and the folder for each kit includes both the original recording tempo and key. Instruments used include drums, percussion (mostly tambourine and conga), electric bass and guitar, trumpet, saxophone, piano, Rhodes, clavinet and a few other minor elements such as processed vocals and scratches.

Sample CDs On TestMany of Paul's comments about the original Funk City apply equally well here. For example, there's a very strong '70s vibe to the performances, but the recording and production are bang up-to-date: everything sounds very crisp and punchy, and the drums in particular strike just the right balance, solid and powerful without being too 'rock' and overpowering. The performances themselves are excellent: there's not a hint of pastiche, just convincing, genuine playing... very funky indeed! In auditioning the various kits, I caught hints of the music from 1970s cop shows like Starsky and Hutch or The Professionals (in a good way!), classic Earth, Wind and Fire, and even Grace Jones's 'Pull Up To The Bumper'.

Each construction kit features a goodly dose of loops, with an average of 20 in each kit, and there's usually more than one bass and drum loop to choose from — which overcomes a common problem with the construction-kit format, making it easy to build arrangements that have sufficient variation to keep things interesting. Usefully, there's also a consistency of sound across the various kits: this is just one of those construction-kit libraries where the individual elements all just seem to fall together really well. While the drums and bass playing provide an excellent groove, the musical decoration from the guitars (with some nice wah-wah examples), the clavinet, and in particular, the horns, is great.

If you're a budding producer looking for some genuine funk inspiration for your projects, you really could do a lot worse than starting with both the original Funk City and Funk City 2. I think this library represents very good value for money, and if you liked the original release, my guess is that you'll want to add this to your collection. Highly recommended! John Walden

£39.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.