Kontakt 2 / Kontakt Player 2
Those up on their Greek mythology will know that Phaedra was a lover of Hippolytus, but Phaedra also happens to be the title of a 1974 Tangerine Dream album... and given that Zero-G's Phaedra is described in the advertising as 'the ultimate virtual analogue synth', it was probably this that inspired the library's name.
Producer Sam Spacey has constructed a massive collection of virtual analogue synth sounds: over 4GB of samples are included, with some 20,000 individual samples making up the 700+ preset patches. A range of synths was used in creating the library and, apart from an Ensoniq ESQ1, the sound sources were all analogue. These included a Minimoog D, a Yamaha CS5, a Korg Monopoly, a Studio Electronics SE1, a Roland SH101 and a Crumar Multiman. The sounds themselves are organised into a number of logical categories. There are two synth sections (1 and 2), basses, leads, pads, sequences, FX, D'n'B and 'Synth Builder' categories, while a series of Kontakt multis (several individual instruments layered to create more complex sounds) is also included. Given the size of the library, and the usual Native Instruments registration procedure, installation takes a little time, but the serious time is required for the auditioning, so I suggest you get in some provisions!
Both the synth categories are well populated, and the patches cover a huge sonic palette. There are some excellent bread and butter sounds — such as the subtle but beautiful 'Angel Delighted', which could be used for basic chord or melody parts in a range of musical styles. Like many of Phaedra's sounds, the original analogue nature of the sound source comes through and, in this case, the mod wheel gently closes the filter to warm things up nicely. Amongst many others, the wonderfully-named 'Big Throb Pants' and 'Mr Putin' patches offer a similar vibe — basic tones with a good dose of analogue character. But there are more adventurous sounds, too. The weird 'Ghost Popcorn' and 'Poltergeist' and the creepy 'Fade' and 'Scary Cellos' are to be found amongst some fabulous and sometimes monstrous analogue-style sounds, such as the big, fat 'Hardcore Wet' or the dance-friendly 'Deep Bottom'.
The Bass and Lead categories are equally good and also mix some useful generic sounds with some that are more full-on. For example, on the bass side, 'Awesome Moog' and 'Ebolfer' provide really solid dance basses, while 'Big Ass Bass' and 'Deep Dub' offer something a little bigger. The wonderful 'Donna Summer' preset includes arpeggio notes for an instant 'I Feel Love' bass line: very disco! The lead sounds go from the huge 'Big Up The Massive' to the somewhat weirder 'Bontempo Tempi' (think Rolf Harris and Stylophones). The rather odd 'Spanky' does a nice line in synthesized cats, while 'Sugar Plum' has a nice hollow character to it and would be great for dance melody lines.
The collection of pads may not be Phaedra's strongest suit, but there's still some excellent material here. Amongst the usual string-style sounds and the occasional '50s sci-fi movie soundbed, the highlights for me were those presets with tempo-sync effects, such as 'Bubble Monster', 'Edge of Space' and 'Hillage Pad'; these were all instantly inspiring. This theme continues in the Sequence category, and presets such as '1 Note MD WH Single' could make an instant techno backing. The Sequence group also features a number of short, staccato sounds that would work really well with an arpeggiator plug-in.
The FX section contains a mixed bag of bleeps, bloops and filter sweeps. The wonderful 'Bleep Blop 02' sounds like a bagpipe player falling down a well, while 'They Can Hear Us' does a good impression of sequenced Clangers having a chat. Unfortunately, 'Sex Drawf' is not as interesting as its patch name suggests... The D'n'B category contains a useful selection of aggressive and dissonant sounds, and is dominated by a series of related 'Z1 Note Bass' presets, with plenty of examples using detuning and pitch shift that would fit the hardcore attitude required for this style.
The Kontakt 'multis' take several of the preset patches and layer them in Kontakt's rack, and although some of the individual sounds may be big, these multis take things further — by, for example, combining some of the pad sounds with those that have tempo-sync'ed rhythmic elements. In many cases, the mod wheel can be used to fade between the various layered sounds, which can bring a great sense of movement to the sound. The Synth Builder sounds, on the other hand, tend to be very simple, the idea being that you can use them as building blocks for your own patches and multis (the complexity of many of the presets means they're not always suited to that), and this approach provides bags of flexibility.
There's little not to like. To describe Phaedra as 'the ultimate virtual analogue synth' is perhaps pushing things a little, but it is certainly an excellent collection of sampled analogue sounds — and it ought to appeal to a wide audience, because the sounds would suit almost any style of electronic music. Given both the volume and quality of the content Phaedra is also excellent value for money, and if you want an instant virtual analogue sample collection, this would be a great place to start. In fact, the only problem you'll face is finding enough time to get familiar with the sheer number of sounds on offer. John Walden
Marshall Jefferson's name is one of the latest to be added, with understandable fanfare, to the roster of Loopmasters' Artist Series. As a pioneer of the Chicago House scene, he wrote the classic 'Move Your Body', produced Phuture's 'Acid Tracks' (launching the TB303-led acid house sub-genre), and has since carved an enviable reputation for deep house tunes. Like others in this series, this library provides 540MB of loops, one-shots and multisamples in numerous formats, totalling more than 1100 samples. (As mentioned in previous reviews, I'm not sure how Loopmasters arrived at the '1.2GB of content' quoted on the box.)
In the drums folder there are 53 programmed beats, majoring heavily on the TR808 and TR909, as you'd expect, plus a further 73 live-recorded breaks. The machine drums give a decent set of pattern options that you can supplement with full one-shot kits, and the sound has an appealing vintage authenticity to it. There's a retro flavour to the acoustic drums as well, which are tightly performed and full of life. However, the heavy gating that contributes to the punchy kick and snare sound also cuts off a few drum tails unnaturally, and gives some of the hi-hat details an unattractively 'serrated' timbre. Perhaps not a problem in a busy track, but a pain if you want to drop and solo elements to develop a track's structure.
Some of the live breaks have percussion layered over them in the well-worn carnival style surely familiar to every house aficionado, but there is also a comprehensive folder of nearly 100 percussion-only loops and copious further one-shots. A dozen different percussion instruments have been recorded, and are easily layered to create your own bespoke patterns, all the more so if you can use the REX 2 files.
The bass loops (synth, guitar and upright) all have a pleasingly off-kilter and characterful sound, as indeed do many of the guitars, synths and keyboards. Inevitably, acid-style TB303 bass lines make a strong (and surprisingly varied) showing, but house piano is also something of a Jefferson trademark and there are plenty of these loops on show as well, should you forgo the pleasure of programming your own parts using the several nice sets of multisamples. Notwithstanding all those goodies, it is the hooky little synths folder that gets my vote as the highlight of the library.
Unusually, for an affordable house library, you get live strings and brass loops too. The string sound seems a bit middly and nasal on its own, but that's because it's designed to work against house drums, and when combined in this way it all makes sense. It has to be said that the timing between the string and drum loops is occasionally a bit wayward, but fortunately nothing that a little digital editing can't sort out if you feel inclined — and there's every reason to be, as the performances are stylish and driven. Timing issues also afflict some of the 19 brass loops, which have been captured with a nice full tone, complete with some subtle and flattering modulation effects.
Around a quarter of the sample count is packed out with male vocal samples, and although this does smack a bit of space-filling to me, there's still plenty of strong material. There are 388 one-shots from not only Marshall himself but also Byron Stingly and Paris Brightledge, and all are really nicely performed. This pair are both let down a bit by the audio quality, though, and Stingly in particular sounds like he's been recorded with an SM58 (and a fair amount of spill) in a broom cupboard. However, the handful of pre-processed vocal loops showcase how far you can take this raw material with the help of liberal editing and effects.
I imagine that Jefferson's dedicated fans will consider this product a must-have, simply because of the name. However, other musicians will also find a lot to recommend this sample set (despite the disappointing technical niggles) where the production's generally euphoric but slightly muzzy mood fits in with their own music. Mike Senior
BFD Expansion Library
Joe Barresi Evil Drums is the second in the Platinum Samples Master Engineer Series of BFD libraries (I reviewed their Andy Johns library in SOS January 2007, giving it a full five stars, and a third, by Jim Scott, is in production). Mr Barresi's credit list is a long read, and even a brief glance it enough to make any producer green with envy, featuring the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age, Skunk Anansie and Veruca Salt. Unsurprisingly, then, this is a very different library from the Andy Johns one — or, for that matter, to anything else BFD currently has to offer.
The idea is to give you drum kits as the engineer would record them — in other words, you get Joe Barresi's mic selection and placement, the processing he'd apply during tracking (EQ and compression courtesy of a Neve console) and his choice of recording medium (a Studer analogue tape machine). The drums are not intended to sound as Barresi would mix them (because mix decisions obviously vary from song to song), so you will still need to process these tracks in your mix.
As with other BFD libraries, you get a range of kit pieces and a variety of kits, including Barresi's own Vistalite kit (kit 2), and you can mix and match the individual pieces to create your own bespoke kit. All the usual suspects are present, including Gretsch, Pork Pie, Ayotte, Zildjian/Noble & Cooley, Ludwig and Paiste, and some of these pieces were sampled at an impossibly huge 250 velocity levels. You only have 128 MIDI velocities available, but BFD can vary which hits play at any given velocity, thus avoiding unnatural-sounding repetition. Arguably, this is overkill (the full 74GB library eats up a huge plot of hard drive real-estate) but, sensibly, there are options to install fewer velocity layers. At 24GB, the smallest option is hardly insubstantial but will be more manageable for many users.
So has the hard work paid off? It has indeed. The quality is impeccable, and up there with the Andy Johns library, but the sounds are much more contemporary and should easily find a place in modern productions. There's a nice variety of kick drums — some tight and clicky, others sounding fuller — and the snares cover the ground you'd expect in a Joe Barresi library. The Tama pings nicely, and there are other, thicker sounds too, giving you plenty of options. The toms sound musical, the cymbals outdo any of those in Fxpansion's own BFD libraries, and the hi-hats fit nicely in the kits without drawing unwanted attention. One thing I noticed in BFD1.5 (which I was using to test the library) is that the relevant mixer presets don't load automatically when the kit is selected: scrolling to get the one that corresponds to the kit will pay dividends. I didn't get to test the BFD2-specific features, but they're worth a mention: there are ride 'edge' hits (crashes), as well as new mixer presets for BFD2 (because the mix gain is different in BFD 1.x and BFD2). Finally, forming a tiny but useful fraction of the many gigabytes is a library of very usable MIDI loops, taken from performances by Pat Wilson, of Weezer fame — and there's plenty of variety here, with 16 sets of loops and a corresponding range of fills.
In short, Joe Barresi Evil Drums is, rather paradoxically, very much a force for good in the studio. Platinum Samples have created a fantastic-sounding, highly-tweakable and, most importantly of all, very usable library — which has become my de facto starting point for BFD. Matt Houghton