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Sample Libraries: On Test

Hot New Releases
Published April 2006

Sample Lab Broken Beats



I found myself a little surprised, given the title of this new release, that it didn't sound, well... more broken! Rather than Cuckooland glitches and squerks, however, the library's name appears to allude to the lo-fi processed breakbeats at its core. Tempos cover 60-120bpm, although REX files are included for Reason users and pre-sliced loops (complete with MIDI trigger files) for EXS24 users, thus allowing plenty of flexibility if you want to layer any of the loops with existing tracks. Even if you are forced into using the loops at their original speeds, the accuracy of the stated tempos means that you can layer loops from the same tempo group together pretty freely. Or, to put it another way, although the library only actually contains a third of the 600 loops claimed on the back of the packaging, Sample Lab have (as usual) expended so much effort on making the sounds usable that I felt anything but short-changed.

Sample Libraries: On Test

The loops combine live and programmed elements and the sounds are all pretty heavily processed, mostly with well-judged distortion, filtering, and compression, although occasional retro reverb effects also add a nice flavour. While listening through, I found myself thinking of Portishead at the slower tempos, and then the grittier end of hip-hop by around 90bpm, before heading towards Nine Inch Nails-style industrial beats at the higher speeds.

While the demo track skips along fine using the fastest 120bpm loops, I think Broken Beats is generally stronger on atmosphere than groove overall. The percussion and background ambient sounds are the main strengths for me, comparing well with great libraries like the Big Fish Audio Wall Of Vinyl series and E-Lab's Smokers Delight. Some of the kicks and snares had a tendency to sound slightly spongy, or else too spiky and lacking body. However, a healthy dose of compression proved to be something of a panacea when using these breaks on their own; and it must also be borne in mind that a breakbeat is often simply layered over a main programmed beat to add definition and/or detail, in which capacity the break wouldn't need to provide the entirety of the snare or kick sound anyway.

An additional folder of 480 one-shot samples (comprising kicks, snares, and hi-hats) continue the library's general family sound. Given the quality of the background effects and percussion, it was a shame that none of these were pulled out separately, and it would also have been nice if the one-shots had been organised so that you could easily find those sounds used in any given loop.

Compared to the same sampling team's Luscious Grooves, I'd say Broken Beats is less of a 'one-stop shop' for providing the whole rhythmic backbone of a track. However, if you're wanting to layer some urban swagger over your MPC programming, then you'll find bags of that kind of attitude here. Mike Senior

Audio CD and WAV, EXS24, Halion, and Reason Refill CD-ROM 3-CD set,
£59.95 including VAT.

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Garritan Jazz & Big Band

Kontakt Instrument


Gary Garritan's latest product is aimed at the jazz community, offering an enormous number of multi-sampled instruments at an unfeasibly low UK price. The library is unique in providing the entire saxophone family, from the plaintive, reedy sopranino, to the foghorn-like subcontrabass. The brass is similarly comprehensive: a total of fifteen solo trumpet, trombone, and flugelhorn instruments, played with and without various types of mute, cover just about every jazz brass timbre known to man. Histrionic big-band 'falls' and 'doits' can be tacked onto the end of the trumpets' deliveries — a nice idea, but I found them too quiet in comparison with the straight notes. There's also a handy facility to create trumpet 'shakes', although this had yet to be implemented in the version I had for review. I've usually found Garritan to be pretty good about providing updates to fix things like these, so they may well have sorted this out by the time you read this.

Sample Libraries: On Test

The flute and clarinet families are included, effective both as solo instruments and for adding subtle colours to ensemble wind passages. These clarinets 'speak' more quickly than their orchestral counterparts, and when played using Garritan's simple-but-effective legato mode, they handle the fluid delivery of Artie Shaw-style quicksilver runs with aplomb. All the wind instruments were recorded in mono in a dry acoustic and were performed at one mf dynamic level with no vibrato (synthetic vibrato can be introduced via aftertouch). As in real life, they can only play one note at a time, though a polyphonic option may be available later. No phrases or ensemble samples are included.

The rhythm section (drum kits, and fretless and stand-up basses) also features a large collection of Latin percussion and some great-sounding hand drums. The two brush kits are good, if a little short on alternative snare hits; however, an ingenious programming innovation enables users to add their own rhythmic groove to the swishy, amorphous-sounding brush snare 'stirs' traditionally played on jazz ballads, which really brings that performance style to life.

In the accompaniment department, there's a Steinway acoustic piano and vintage Rhodes (both highly playable), a colourful vibraphone (excellent for Gary Burton-esque solos) and an electric guitar with a rounded tone ideal for bebop lines. There's also an acoustic guitar with a nice sound but dodgy tuning. Users should be prepared to experiment with the MIDI controllers which affect important parameters such as tone colour, sustain level, and vibrato speed: I found some wind instruments sounded more realistic with a slower vibrato, and increasing the sustain of the upright basses cheered them up considerably!

With its self-imposed dynamic restrictions and limited playing styles, this library can't compete with the lavish sound of bigger, more expensive libraries. However, for anyone working in these specialist genres, the amazingly comprehensive instrumentation, convenience of use, educational value, and affordability of this smart little package lift it into the five-star bracket. Dave Stewart

Kontakt Instrument DVD-ROM,
£169 including VAT.

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Big Fish Audio Hip-Hop High

WAV+REX+Apple Loops


This is one of several recent hip-hop construction-kit libraries from Big Fish Audio. I looked at WAV files in Sony Acid Pro 5 and, as well as the 19 construction kits, there were two additional folders containing some extra drum loops (33 in total) and some individual samples for three drum kits. Usefully, the folder name for each of the construction kits gives information on both the original tempo (all between 80-100bpm) and key.

In general, each of the construction kits contains between 10 and 20 individual samples. Some of these are loops — drums, bass, and synths for example — while others are one-shot samples. The latter might be hi-hat, kick, snare, and clap hits, for example, so you can indulge in a little DIY if you need to add a little variety to the drum loops. Each construction kit includes a complete mix based upon the loops within it, so it is easy to audition the materials and get a feel for what might be possible. Most of the kits here revolve around one or two complete drum loops, a single bass loop, and two or three synth loops, although some of the synth loops are a few bars long so they could easily be chopped up for a little further variation. Aside from the individual drum and percussion hits, the other files within the kits also include the occasional piano, vocal, or special-effect sample.

Sample Libraries: On TestWhile hip-hop can be a fairly minimalist musical form, in use I perhaps wouldn't have minded just a few more choices within each construction kit — even if it had been just in terms of drum and bass loops. This said, the quality of what is provided is very good indeed and, as the pre-mixed demo loops show, we're on solidly commercial territory. In terms of specific style, while there are some quite melodic things going on here, this is all pretty serious stuff — much more Ms Dynamite and 50 Cent than Eminem or Goldie Lookin' Chain. Of course, the best way to use a construction-kit library is as kick-start to a composition that is then developed with other samples or new recordings, and it would be easy enough to start from Hip-Hop High and move in a number of different directions. With due care and attention to pitch, it also proved easy enough to mix and match between the different construction kits.

There are a large number of hip-hop loop libraries in the marketplace, and I'm not sure Hip-Hop High brings anything radically new to the table. Aside from wishing for a little more variety within each kit, my only other comment for potential purchasers would be that, like many other Big Fish Audio libraries, the license does not permit the samples to be used within a library/production-music context. The quality of what is provided is, however, pretty good, and at this UK price the library in unlikely to burn too big a hole in anybody's pocket. John Walden

Apple Loops, REX, and WAV DVD-ROM,
£29.95 including VAT.

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Sonic Implants Symphonic Harp



Sonic Implants have now added a harp to their impressive orchestral strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion titles (collectively known as the Complete Symphonic Collection). Sampled in the same concert hall as CSC, Symphonic Harp contains both single notes and glissandi and needs 5.2GB of disk space.

The harp's tone is clear, open, and precise, and the hall acoustic adds space, depth, and lushness without sounding too distant or reverberant. Timbral transitions are smooth across the straight notes' four dynamic layers, though some jumps in level between layers were apparent. The soft attack and delicate muted chimes of the harp harmonics are lovely; a set of looped bisbigliando (tremolo) samples are also very sweet and soothing, and can be layered with the straight notes to create a blissed-out rippling effect. Played with the fingernails, the près-de-la-table samples have a harder, more incisive edge reminiscent of a koto.

Sample Libraries: On Test

Although the samples sound stunning, the presentation leaves something to be desired: the straight notes' low range is very quiet in comparison to the higher registers, and although that may be an accurate reflection of how the harp was played on the day, the end result is a top-heavy instrument with a distinct lack of low-end weight and presence. Another programming oversight has given the main Harp Fingers program a very unrealistic rapid decay on note off. I'm hoping that Sonic Implants will fix this in an upgrade.

The harp's spectacular glissandi are played in various scales, keys, and lengths — in some programs, the upwards and downwards sweeps are mapped an octave apart, so you can execute a full bidirectional flourish with two key presses. There are some inconsistencies: the glissandi labelled Major are pentatonic rather than full major scales, and the supposed B Major performances are actually in the key of G! The minor-key glissandos use the same 'harmonic minor' mode as the lauded Vienna-library harp, and are the perfect musical accompaniment for spooky on-screen goings on. Diminished versions are supplied in three keys, the lowest of which muddies the water by unnecessarily adding a semitone interval to the row of minor thirds.

If these glissandi don't deliver what you're looking for, you can perform your own using the straight-note samples. A number of clever programming methods help you pre-select the right pitches, but if that's too much trouble, you can choose from a large menu of preset scales. Having decided on a scale, you just have to sweep your finger up and down the white notes, which allows complete control over all aspects of the glissando, and it sounds very realistic.

It takes a brave company to sample the entire orchestra, but Sonic Implants are diligently working their way through that huge job, and this sumptuous new arrival adds considerably to the stature of their project. Dave Stewart

Gigastudio DVD-ROM set,
£145 including VAT.

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