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Sample Libraries: On Test

DFH Custom Vintage • ASL • Drops In The Bronx Vol. 1 • Raw Power
By John Walden & Paul White

DFH Custom Vintage *****


Back in SOS March 2005 I reviewed DFH Superior, which is a 30GB sample-based drum sound module which went to extraordinary lengths to offer greater than expected dynamics, the ability to remix the mics on the original kit, and the option to choose what level of detail you wanted in the crosstalk between the drums. The sounds were superb. DFH Custom & Vintage uses the same engine as Superior, so if you want to see what the interface looks like and what facilities for adjustment it has to offer, simply check out the original review. If you already have DFH Superior, then the new sounds are added to your existing drum library, otherwise the program loads a new VST or AU plug-in. Like the original, Custom & Vintage provides around 32GB of drum sounds spread over five DVDs.Sample Libraries: On Test

The package is based on old and often rare drums recorded using classic recording equipment (including an EMI TG desk) and techniques. Drums sampled include a Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum dating back to 1920 and a number of Noble & Cooley drums. During recording, the drums were screened to give a drier sound, but three ambience mics are employed to enable the user to add in more ambience if required. There's also an extra mono track processed via a Helios F760 compressor to get that classic big rock sound.

The main kits are Noble & Cooley Star, Slingerland Studio King, Camco Oaklawn, and a selection of snare drums including a Slingerland Radio King, a Ludwig Black Beauty, and a Ludwig Supraphonic. There's also a Craviotto, a couple of alternate Noble & Cooley models, including their Star Classic, Alloy Classic, and Zildgian models, and a Canopus Zelkova. These are augmented by cymbals and hi-hats from Zildgian and Paiste, all recorded using classic gear.

Back in the early 60s, some of the 'classic' drum sounds were pretty bad, and there was a tendency to mix drums so far back in the mix that only the snare remained audible half the time. However, by the '70s we had some great records with huge drum sounds from the likes of John Bonham and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason. That seems to be the flavour the producers of DFH Custom & Vintage were after, and I have to say that the result is every bit as good as I expected it to be after hearing their original DFH Superior. The sound is warm, solid, well defined and, thanks to the user-adjustable miking arrangement, extremely malleable. In a word, excellent. Paul White

VST & AU instrument 5-DVD set, £166 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

+44 (0)1837 55400.

Analogue Sequencer Loops ****


This is another in Zero G's series of libraries based on the Intakt software instrument — for details of how this works, check out the Intakt instruments review back in SOS February 2005. The musical contents of ASL (or Analogue Sequencer Loops to give it its full name) have been created by Ian Boddy and have been designed to complement Ian's Kompakt-based Morphology library, reviewed by Paul White back in SOS August 2004. The emphasis in ASL is on rhythmic, melodic, and bass loops — although the sound sources are, again, all derived from classic analogue synths and sequencers recorded at 24-bit resolution.Sample Libraries: On Test

In all, around 1000 loops, mostly running to four bars, are provided within the 1.5GB library. The loops themselves are divided into seven groups: Analogue Drums, Bass Sequences, Electronic Percussion, FX Loops, Hi-hats & Noise Loops, Melodic Sequences, and Sine & Pure Sequences. Within each group, a further split into seven tempo subgroups (90-150bpm) is provided, although this is for convenience only, as the player software provides excellent tempo-matching facilities. All the loops use Intakt 's Beat Machine mode, which offers Recycle-style beat slicing. Usefully, each loop can be loaded in three forms. Firstly a 'sliced' version is provided with the full loop mapped to C1 and individual slices mapped from F1 upwards; secondly, each loop is provided in a 'pitched' format, with the original loop mapped to C3 and pitch-shifted versions provided on keys an octave either side of this; and finally, for the contents of each single-tempo subgroup, all the loops are provided in a single patch with each loop mapped to a different key — this makes it easier to mix and match loops on the fly.

The contents of many of the loop groups are pretty much as expected given their titles. For example, the Analogue Drums and Electronic Percussion groups are based firmly around rhythmic loops, while the Bass Sequences provide — well, some sequences played via bass sounds! Perhaps slightly more surprising is that the Melodic Sequences and Sine & Pure Sequences groups are also fairly rhythmic in nature. In the main, these are not really straight melodic parts in a traditional sense, but are melodic in that many are based on chord arpeggios. There is some excellent stuff amongst this lot and, with a suitable pad or texture sat underneath (for example from Morphology), a pretty full mix could be created from just two or three ASL loops. What is noticeable about all the loop groups is a consistently high audio quality and the genuine analogue character of the sounds. Many of the loops have been processed, whether through careful use of various filters, panning, or a combination of both, and the end results are full of movement and warmth. Interestingly, the vast majority of this processing has been done at source — Intakt 's own Modulation and Effects options are not extensively used.

In terms of musical styles, I could imagine these loops working in a number of contexts ranging from synth-led Depeche Mode or Soft Cell through club styles (ambient trance anyone?) to a Mike Oldfield/Tubular Bells sound. Blended with something like Morphology 's darker soundscapes, it would also be possible to create some very unsettling moods ideal for scoring under horror scenes. For fans of a genuine analogue sound, ASL ought to have considerable appeal and, given the UK price, the library offers respectable value for money, even if it doesn't quite shout 'bargain!' However, as with the other Intakt/Kompakt libraries that SOS has looked at over recent months, you are locked into the Native Instruments front end. Good though Intakt is, this may deter some purchasers who would like the content, but perhaps prefer to use it via an alternative looping or beat-slicing tool. John Walden

Intakt Instrument (including VST, DXi, Audio Units, RTAS, and stand-alone versions), £129.99 including VAT.

Drops In The Bronx Volume 1 *****


This is another library from UK-based drum specialists Drumdrops — their Fistful Of Drummers title got the thumbs up in the SOS April 2005. As with other titles in their range, this one is available in two formats: either 16-bit stereo loops or, at a slightly higher price, 24-bit multitrack performances. The drumming itself is provided by Jan Kincaid from the Brand New Heavies and, as you might therefore expect, the playing is top notch. The recording approach is an all-analog one, with vintage mics set up around well-aged Ludwig and Gretsch kits, and recordings carried out using a 1970s Neve console and some classy EQ and compression. The result is a sound that is full of character, and while it might not suit those after a highly produced modern sound, for a retro 'old school' vibe it is spot on.Sample Libraries: On Test

The standard collection contains about 900MB of loops. This includes some 400 full-kit loops plus a further 400 percussion loops and a good collection of single hits. The loops are organised by original tempo (70-130bpm), although these can, of course, be adjusted given suitable tempo-matching software. The multitrack version is somewhat different in format to that of Fistful Of Drummers. While the same multitrack recordings are provided, these are also based around two-bar to four-bar loops, rather than a full track-length performance. I actually preferred this loop-based format, as it is easier to construct your own arrangement from these shorter building blocks. The multitrack loops are well organised and the naming conventions make it very easy to work out which snare loop goes with which kick loop, and so forth. This is important given that there is, of course, natural leakage between the various mics in the multi-mic recording, so although it is possible to mix and match loops, it does leave some 'ghost' hits. The overhead tracks are excellent and allow complete control over how much of the original room ambience is blended into the drum mix. Some of the performances also include an additional track featuring spring reverb applied to the snare, and blending in a little of this can add to the vintage sound.

As might be expected given the title of the library and the person behind the kit, these loops are pitched mainly at hip-hop producers. Nevertheless, there is plenty here that would work in a soul or R&B context and, by giving the tempos a small tweak upwards, many could easily sit behind a funk or rock track — provided that it required a good groove rather than a straight-ahead thrash. There is also a good mix of less busy loops and breakbeats. While the stereo loop set is perhaps not the cheapest collection you might buy, given the excellent playing and classy vintage sound, it certainly comes highly recommended. However, if you are prepared to work a little harder to create your own drum mix, the multitrack version is certainly the way to go. For those wanting a convincing analogue vibe to their drum tracks, Drumdrops are hard to beat. John Walden

16-bit Apple Loops, REX 2, and WAV DVD-ROM, £75; 24-bit multitrack AIFF 3-DVD-ROM set, £99. Prices include VAT.

Drumdrops +44(0)1273 553106.

Raw Power ****


Sample Libraries: On TestThis title from the Loopmasters Origin series comprises a total of 650MB of sample data in various different sample formats. All the original recordings are in the 120-150bpm range and are presented at 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution. The CD liner notes suggest the contents are suitable for anything from rock to indie, blues, goth, hip-hop, or metal. Having auditioned the loops, I'm less convinced about the last two genres. While there are some loops that might fit those styles, Raw Power is not the most obvious collection for fans of Eminem or Linkin Park. However, I would add punk (perhaps with a nostalgic '70s edge) and grunge to this list.

The loops are split into five main folders: New York Underground, Alternative USA, England's Dreaming, Artskool, and New Wave, with subfolders for drum (patterns and fills), guitar, bass, and synth loops. Within each main folder, the loops are all presented at a single tempo, and the collections within each folder contain loops that would obviously work well together in terms of style. Amongst the bass and guitar loops, there were some obvious groups, with four or five related loops that contained similar phrases and/or styles of playing, and this made it easily to build a coherent musical section with enough variability to sound 'real' rather than obviously 'looped'. It was perhaps a shame that this process wasn't more fully implemented within the drum loops — while these certainly contain plenty of excellent material, both in terms of performance and recording quality, there is less in the way of related loops. That said, it is not too difficult to build the basics of a complete drum track by mixing and matching within and between the various folders. If you need lots of flexibility here, you're likely to find yourself reaching for your favourite beat-slicing software.

In piecing together some brief demos, I found myself thinking of a number of specific bands. These would include some of the 'inspirations' listed on the liner notes — the Sex Pistols, Blondie, and Nirvana — but also other bands such as The Strokes and Queens Of The Stone Age. Much of this was down to the guitar and bass loops — while these covered all sorts of styles and sounds (clean and overdriven), the playing was grungy and not too technical. This is a compliment not a criticism — they're just right for that punk/indie/grunge vibe.

If there is a minor downside to the collection, it is that perhaps the library tries to cover a little too much musical ground in a single CD — other 'inspirations' listed on the liner notes include Beck, Oasis, The Pixies, Blur, Muse, Radiohead, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix! Even with more than 900 WAV loops, this is a pretty diverse musical palette to cater for. Still, if you like your rock to have character and a rough edge or two, Raw Power represents good value for money. John Walden

WAV, REX 2, and Reason CD-ROM, £39.95 including VAT.

Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.

+44 (0)1837 55400.

Published August 2005