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Sample Libraries: On Test

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Published June 2006

Sony Sound Series: Trance NRG2

Acid ised WAV


It is not surprising that Sony sells a large collection of music loop CDs; they are one of the largest media providers in the world, as well as the owner of Acid and the rest of the Sonic Foundry line. The express version of Acid is even on their latest dance disk, Trance NRG2, in case your DAW doesn't do time stretching.

Sample Libraries: On Test

Trance includes almost 500 separate hits or loops. The loops run from one measure up to eight and, as can be expected in a dance genre collection, most of the content is rhythm oriented with drums taking up almost one third of the files. The drums are divided into eight folders, including complete 'four on the floor' and 'backbeats' to almost full kit 'combo hats' and 'perc,' as well as 'kicks' and 'cymbals'. There are a couple of kick loops here, but mostly single hits, ranging from the subsonic to meaty mid-range. The cymbal folder contains mainly short high-hats beats.

Overall, there is plenty of good stuff to work with, by either dragging in whole loops or building up a beat from several. The 58 basses are synthesized loops, including some juicy filtered files. Some of the loops can practically build a track by themselves, including 008 and 013 in the 'Basslines' folder. They are variations of the same bouncy echoed pattern and I immediately flagged them for use.

The Progressive, Trance and Techno Synths folders each contain 50-plus synth riffs. Most of the synth sounds, including those in the Lead folder, are brash and in-your-face to cut through the beat. Still, there are choices of mellower and organ-like sounds not built on pulse and saw waves. Whichever way you choose to go, there are enough variations of the same sounds that you can switch beats without having to switch synths. The Leads, Pads and SFX folders each contain 20-plus files. The pads do what pads are supposed to do, while over half the SFX folder is made up of enveloped analogue-filter 'space' sounds. These had me reaching for an envelope knob, so they must work. The remaining FX files are nice hits that could work in any style of electronic music. The 'Vox' folder contains only eight files, consisting of heavily processed, female spoken phrases. While there is nothing wrong with the performance or processing, the limited number makes their use problematic, except as isolated drops. All the files I tried worked fine with Sonar's Groove Clip function, and while my drag and drop experiments won't be making the dance charts, it was easy to come up with trance-style tracks. There is enough good stuff here to make more than a few songs, with time and a little talent. I always audition loop CDs to see if I can use them in styles other than the approved genre. Trance NGR2 scores highly here, too. There is nothing for the folk or jazz crowd, unless your sensibilities are different to mine, but plenty for other styles — from hard-edged pop to just plain hard. Alan Tubbs

Acid ised WAV CD-ROM, $39.95 including VAT.

Big Fish Elements: Traditional Jazz



Elements: Traditional Jazz, from Big Fish Audio, is a construction kit-based library providing some 600MB of loops in each of three formats. I tested the Acid ized WAV loops in Acid Pro 5, but the same content is also provided in Apple Loops and REX formats on the single DVD-ROM. There are no prizes for guessing the musical target here — Elements: Traditional Jazz is exactly what its title claims. The loops consist of plenty of brushed drumming, acoustic piano, double bass and warm, smooth-sounding electric guitar. All the audio is presented in a 24-bit/44.1kHz stereo format and the recordings seem to be very well made.

Sample Libraries: On TestA total of 22 construction kits are provided in the library and these range in tempo from a slow and seductive 65 bpm through to a somewhat hotter 129bpm ­ although there is nothing too frenetic here. Within each kit, there are either three or four loops, plus, for convenience when auditioning, a pre-mixed loop. The main loops always contain a drum loop and bass loop, while the other elements are either an electric guitar loop or piano loop, or both. This might sound a little on the skimpy side as far as construction kit formats go, but in many of the kits the loops are 12 or 16 bars long — essentially a complete 'chorus' (once through the chord pattern). The other interesting feature of the library — and this is made very clear by the inclusion of tempo and key details in the folder names used for each of the kits — is that several of the construction kits are clearly intended to be used together. For example, six of the kits are at 90bpm in B-minor and I found these very easy to chain together into a single musical piece.

Throughout the library, the playing seems to be of a very good standard and, as I have a fondness for slow, bluesy jazz, I found the lower tempo, minor key kits particularly appealing — suitably mellow and sleazy. That said, the up-tempo material is also very good, including a nice 123bpm kit based on a walking bass in Bb that somehow made me think of classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. Whilst only four main loops within a single kit might seem a little constraining, of course, one of the main features of jazz is improvisation and most guitar, piano, sax or violin players could while away many a happy solo by just layering the drums and bass loops and adding their own elements over the top.

Elements: Traditional Jazz is probably aimed at a fairly narrow market. While real jazz aficionados would probably prefer to roll their own, the library probably would appeal to media composers who are not jazz specialists but need a genuine-sounding resource to dip into for the occasional traditional jazz sounding cue — although do bear in mind that, as with many other Big Fish Audio collections, the license does not allow the loops to be used for library music production. Elements: Traditional Jazz might not be the biggest jazz loop collection available, but the material sounds authentic, is well played and, at this price, will not break anyone's bank. Hmmmm.... nice! John Walden

Apple Loops, REX, and WAV DVD-ROM, £29.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200

Big Fish Raging Guitars

Kontakt Instrument


There are no prizes for guessing what Big Fish Audio's Raging Guitars is all about! Supplied as a Kontakt Instrument for both Mac and PC, this collection is dominated by multi-sampled guitar programmes featuring various degrees of distortion. Both the sound and playing styles are aimed very squarely at modern rock genres — from Lostprophets through Linkin Park with a nod at Marilyn Manson in passing. The library is supplied on three DVD-ROM discs and spans 11GB in total. While this considerable size is, in part, due to the large number of different programmes, it is also because many of the individual samples are very long — hit a power chord and it sustains to a gentle fade some 30-plus seconds later with no sample looping involved.

A variety of programme types are included. These start with four types of sustained Chords: Power, Major, Minor and Add9. In each case, these are supplied in a range of just over two octaves with both up and down strokes within the same programme. This section also includes some 'Special Effects' programmes and some of these are a real highlight, particularly those that feature the use of tremolo. These will sync to the tempo of your host sequencer and form a great rhythmic bed for a particular song section. As in other areas of the library, programmes are supplied with different levels of distortion applied and a selection of mono, stereo or multi-tracked versions. Distortion levels move from mild (labelled T1 in the programme names) through to rip-your-face off levels (T3). Further variety is provided by a number of keyswitched programmes where, for example, all chord types are available from a single programme.

Sample Libraries: On TestThe aptly named Chugs section provides both very short or, via use of the Mod Wheel, slightly longer chord 'chugs'. I think these are all based around fifth intervals and they are excellent for building up simple power chord sequences — think of the introductory guitar line to the Foo Fighters 'All My Life' and you will have an idea of what might be done with these programmes.

Four sections — Hammer-On, Muted, Octaves and Single Notes (the latter in various forms, with bends, hammer-ons and mutes and different degrees of distortion/multi-layering) — are all based upon single-note rather than chord samples. The Hammer-On samples are not repeated hammering but a single, rapid hammer-on and the effect is similar to a single note but with a slightly softer attack. Any of these programmes could be used to create basic melody lines but, like any expressive lead instrument, constructing a convincing solo using samples — particularly something to mimic a little guitar shredding — is a difficult trick to perform. That said, the sustained samples work very well for constructing harmony guitar lines and, given the saturated, overdriven sound, it is possible to create some Brian May, or the Darkness-style textures. In contrast, the Mute programmes provide an alternative to the Chug samples and can easily be used to construct full chord sequences. For these samples, alternate notes produce up and down strokes, while using the sustain pedal gives a slightly longer note.

In the Extras section is a selection of fret noise, cable noise, some excellent (and surprisingly playable) feedback programmes and some muted strums. The highlight of this section is, however, the group of Really Special Effects that provides a further ten highly processed guitar sounds. As with the Special Effects in the Chords section, these include processing by wah, various other filters and tremolo. As suggested by programme names such as Elf Space Chatter and Far Cry, this is almost synth-like territory — but both weird and wonderful.

In contrast with the majority of the material, a Construction Kit section makes up the final portion of the library. Some 17 construction kits are included, with the programme names indicating the original tempo and key. In each kit, a series of complete loops are mapped between C1 and B1. These use Kontakt's Time Machine mode and so will sync to the host sequencer tempo. From C2 upwards, some of these loops are then presented pre-sliced using the Beat Machine mode. These can therefore be used to create your own variations on the main loops. While these programmes suffer the same limitations as any construction kit samples, what is here is excellent and I found it very easy to pick one or two loops to get a basic song idea started and then add some variation using a combination of the beat-sliced samples and some original guitar parts. The musical styles here are modern and you might add Puddle Of Mud or more recent Metallica to the list of 'influences' given above — Raging Guitars is more about contemporary rock than '80s Def Leppard or Motley Crüe.

As with all Kontakt instruments, there's also some useful additional effects processing on offer: Brightness, Saturation (a compression-like effect), Chorus, Reverb and Stereo Delay (which syncs to host tempo) all provide some further creative options.

The style of Raging Guitars is very much contemporary and even within the construction kits the emphasis is not on 'flash'. As a result, there is probably not much here that a competent rock guitarist might not be happy to play for themselves. However, the library is very easy to use and, in particular rock styles (think some nu-metal or rap-rock), a deliberately sampled rock guitar is part of the production — and Raging Guitars does that very well. Although the documentation doesn't specify this, I think all the material has been recorded from a standard 6-string electric (most of the chord patches seem to stop at D below a standard low E tuning). Given the musical styles, some 7-string samples might not have gone amiss to give that lower register vibe that is a favourite from the heavier end of the rock world. That said, the only other real downside is the price, which may put off some potential punters. Otherwise, with the Chord, Special Effects and Construction Kits as the obvious highlights, Raging Guitars is an ideal way for non-guitarists to add a slab of some modern rock guitar to their productions. John Walden

Kontakt Instrument for PC/Mac DVD-ROMs, £169.00 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200