Zero G Nostalgia
As suggested by the library title, this instrument has a historical element to it. Sound designer Steve Howell has applied his extensive knowledge and experience with the world of electronic instruments to produce a Kompakt instrument with some 1300 patches covering the last 40 years of classic and quirky synths, samplers, drum machines, and pianos — and he's also included a few toys for good measure! Lots of details of the instruments sampled can be found on Steve's site at www.hollowsun.com/vintage/nostalgia.html.
Given the huge number of individual instrument patches, even auditioning the library is a fairly major task. Thankfully, the instruments are organised into some sensible categories within Kompakt. However, what really made auditioning the huge number of instruments much less of a chore was that there are some truly wonderful sounds! For example, as the former owner of a Juno 6, the various Juno-based patches within the Japanese Classics category made me want to kick myself all over again for ever having sold that particular synth! The same category also includes a large number of SH101, D50, and DX7 sounds — the patches from the latter two creating an instant '80s pop vibe.
For more of a '90s feel, the various 'dance' patches within the European Classics category (created with a Novation K-Station) have 'rave' written all over them, and there are a good number of bass patches that complement them perfectly. This category also includes some PPG patches, and my particular favourites amongst these were the two 'film pads' and the various filter-swept patches, all of which are very atmospheric.
Both the Organs and the Electro-Mechanicals categories contain samples of some real classics. The former provides very useable B3, Farfisa, and Vox Continental sounds, while the latter category includes patches from a Clavinet D6, Fender Rhodes, Yamaha CP70, and Wurlitzer. For a dose of evolving pad sounds, the Digital Rompler synths category is well equipped. Amongst sounds derived from the Prophet 5, Ensoniq SQ80, and Yamaha SY85 are a selection of pads from the Yamaha CS1X and FS1R. Whether it is floating new-age backings or deep and dark sci-fi horror textures that you need, there is something here that will fit the bill. The SQ80 bass patches are also very good.
The Vintage Samplers category is actually dominated by sounds from the Fairlight. There are some classic sounds here that must have appeared on a large number of hit records during the 1980s, including those of Peter Gabriel and Trevor Horn — the Orch 5 patch is probably the classic 'orchestral hit' sample. Slightly more esoteric are the sounds within the Cheap N Cheezy and Obscure Synths categories. The obvious highlight here is the Stylophone (provided both with and without vibrato). For those of a certain age, I'm sure this will conjure up images of a certain Rolf Harris TV advert — so naff it's almost cool!
Three categories of drum-machine sounds are provided; Drum Synths, Classic Beatboxes, and Obscure Beatboxes. The Drum Synths include Pearl DRX1 and Syncussion, Simmons, Synsonic, and Roland TD7 sounds. These all sound wonderfully dated, but in the right context this might be just what is required. The Classic Beatboxes category includes sounds from all the usual suspects — the whole TR series is represented, as are the Linndrum, RX11, Korg DDD1, and Alesis HR16 and HR16B. While the original units span a considerable period of time, many of these classic devices are still in very wide use, and there are plenty of sounds amongst this lot that would work in many current music styles, particularly dance or hip-hop/urban productions. Many of the Obscure Beatboxes live up to their name, although there is also a collection of samples from the Alesis SR16 here, and these are certainly very useable.
The final four categories are themed by the style of sound, rather than by the particular synth or sampler used: Sci-Fi, Atmosferics (yes, that's how it's spelt), String Synths, and Basses. The first two of these contain plenty of soundtrack fodder — add your own Theremin and you are instantly in '50's sci-fi B-movie territory. The Synth Strings collection covers a wide range of different string-style sounds (from obviously synthetic through to more realistic) and is based, amongst others, on the ARP String Ensemble, Crumar Multiman, and Roland Jupiter 6. The Basses category is dominated by a large number of very familiar Roland TB303 sounds, but also includes some excellent ARP2600 patches. While many of these sounds will create a nostalgic vibe, they would fit equally well in some current musical contexts. Overall, the themed nature of these last four groups works very well, making browsing for a suitable sound very easy.
As you might have guessed, I think Nostalgia is excellent. Zero G and Steve Howell should be congratulated for putting together such a large number of 'classic' sounds in a single, very affordable library. I had no problems creating complete instrumental pieces using just the sounds within Nostalgia. What's more, unlike some Kompakt-based libraries, this one does make very good use of Kompakt 's own processing options to add further colour and movement to many of the sounds. True, some of these sounds can be found with more comprehensive multisampling in other libraries, but what is here sounds consistently good, the samples are well programmed, and, unlike some sampled instruments, the instrument will not put a huge demand on the host computer.
If you like the sounds of classic synths and drum machines, but, like me, could never afford to buy even a modest selection of the electronic instruments represented here, then this library is an excellent way to get a flavour of the sounds without breaking the bank. For sheer fun and 'bang for buck', Nostalgia is certainly worth five stars, and I'd probably give it more if I could! John Walden
Kompakt Instrument, £114.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200
Big Fish Audio Soul City
This 'hot-buttered collection of construction kits' cites as inspiration artists including Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Macy Gray, and Erykah Badu, so the producers have set themselves something of a challenge. The collection ships on a single DVD-ROM of 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo files. Each of the 27 different construction kits is presented as a complete mix and as a collection of the component parts. The kits range in tempo between 80bpm and 110bpm, which seems reasonable for the genres concerned. Unlike some other Big Fish Audio libraries, there are no extra loops or other samples thrown in for good measure: the construction kits are all you get. You're unlikely to be too disappointed, though, as these are very good indeed, and there really isn't a dud among them.
The material includes some pretty convincing 1970s soundalikes, as well as some more up-to-date R&B-flavoured efforts. The arrangements are intelligently put together, with proper attention paid to the details, so the more 'retro' kits feature live drumming and rasping wah-wah guitars, while the more contemporary kits use programmed drums with plenty of swing, and fat, punchy electronic snares.
The remaining instrumentation is mostly live, with various musicians credited for congas and bongos, guitar and bass, piano, sax, trombone, trumpet, miscellaneous percussion, scratch effects, and additional keyboards. There are some very nice Rhodes, clavinet, and organ sounds to be had, and some funky but tastefully restrained guitars, horns, and bass lines.
Many of the kits feature a couple of different drum fills, providing some useful variation, although it would have been nice to have had some extra single-hit drum or percussion samples included, for programming extra fills and the like. That said, ten minutes with any half-decent sample editor is all it takes to make your own.
While you're under no obligation to follow the construction-kit blueprints, the 'complete mix' examples included with each kit do an excellent job of demonstrating how the various different pieces fit together, usually with plenty of space left in the mix for a vocal to be added. If you do decide to try a bit of mixing and matching, each of the kits has its tempo and key included in the folder name, which is a time-saver.
To sum up, Soul City is a very well-put-together library which quite convincingly recreates the overall sound and production values of the records it pays homage to. The loops are unfailingly usable, and should appeal to hip-hop, pop, soul, and R&B producers alike. Paul Sellars
Apple Loops, REX 2, and WAV DVD-ROM, £39.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200
Zero G Vocal Forge
Zero G's latest Intakt-based sample library contains over 1.2GB of material on a single DVD-ROM. Sample libraries with an Intakt front end will now be familiar to regular SOS readers, but those requiring some background should check out earlier reviews from the SOS June 2004 and February 2005 issues. As suggested by the title, this is a library of vocal samples, but there is something of a twist. Unlike the majority of vocal libraries that tend to be dominated by playable 'oohs' and 'aahs' or short sung phrases in particular styles, Vocal Forge provides complete vocal performances, including lead vocals, doubles, backing vocals, and various ad libs.
The format of the library is similar to a construction kit. The majority of the samples are organised into 14 kits, each of which contains the vocal samples for an individual song. Within each kit, the samples are arranged into a number of different Intakt programs, each containing a different element of the vocal performance, such as a verse, chorus, backing vocal, or ad lib. Each program then contains several samples — the majority using Intakt 's Time Machine mode to provide Acid-like tempo-matching to the host sequencer — and these samples might represent different lines from a verse, doubles within a chorus, or, in some of the kits, processed versions of the vocal line. For convenience, Zero G also include a 'whole song' programme that contains all the key samples in a single program. This is useful for both auditioning and initial arranging.
A further set of Toolkit programs are provided, and these include all sorts of weird and wonderful vocal snippets. There are choral samples, operatic phrases, hip-hop shouts, vocal percussion, heavily processed vocals, and even a few mock TV sports commentator samples. It is a bit of a mixed bag, but there is some good fun to be had here if you're looking for some vocal ornaments to add to a track.
In terms of musical styles, the main vocal kits are dominated by R&B, dance, and pop singers — both male and female — with original tempos between 80bpm and 140bpm. The feel is definitely urban, and the performances themselves are generally good with plenty of character. The ability to arrange the lead vocals and to add appropriate backing vocals or ad libs to your arrangement makes each 'kit' quite flexible. On the downside, while the tempo can easily be adjusted, you are constrained by both the lyrical content and, unless you have access to software such as Melodyne, the melodic content of the original recordings.
With only 14 kits to play with, there will only be so many songs an individual user might be able to construct. My main concern with Vocal Forge, therefore, is its longevity. With an instrument-based construction kit, the elements can always be blended in with samples from other libraries. Vocal lines, however, are always going to stand out in an arrangement, and will contain the same lyrical and melodic base regardless of who constructs the song. Working with Vocal Forge is more like a remix task than creating a song from scratch. This limitation aside, Zero G have produced an interesting take on the vocal sample library, and Vocal Forge certainly ought to be of interest to budding urban music producers or remixers without access to professional singers. John Walden
Intakt Instrument, £114.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200