On the evidence of this huge and detailed Refill, it seems clear that Propellerhead see their prime product, Reason, as much more than a loop-based dance tool. As you might guess, the focus is on the drum kit, as in kick, snare, toms, hi-hats, and cymbals. (Oh, and hand claps and finger snaps.) Names to drop here include Yamaha, Ludwig, Pearl, Zildjian, Meinl, and Paiste; if you need to know exact drums and head sizes, the printed manual reveals all.
The kits were set up at Stockholm's Atlantis Studio. Classic mics recorded the drums to analogue tape, after which the lot was transferred to a Pro Tools HD system at 176.4kHz/24-bit resolution. The Refilling process has resulted in a well-recorded, well-edited, well-organised collection of NNXT sampler patches, both of full kits and of individual drums from which you can assemble custom kits. The set also features some simpler offerings for the Redrum drum machine, plus a smattering of RV7000 reverb and Scream 4 distortion patches. (There are no Combinator patches, as this library was released before Reason 3.)
After the drums, the room, and the recording, the big issue here is multisampling, or Hypersampling as Propellerhead put it. NNXT 's velocity-fired layering abilities are pushed into overdrive, and you soon learn not be surprised at seeing 14 samples assigned to a key. In addition, multi-mic setups have been faithfully reproduced, so you'll be able to mix close-miked main drums with overhead cymbal mics (complete with spill from the kit) and ambient mics that add the sound of the main room. Thus, the 14-layer sample just mentioned would turn up three times — once up close, once from the overheads, and once from the ambient mics — yet be triggered from one key. It's up to you to mix the result, via the NNXT 's individual audio outs, which is a doddle courtesy of standardised routing and keymapping throughout (a handy little chart serves as an aide memoire).
If all this sounds like it could become a little sample heavy, you'd be right — there are over 10000 samples on the installation DVD. And Propellerhead are ahead of you: stereo variants of kits and individual drums are joined by close-miked and 'no ambience' varieties, so you're not committed to maxing out your RAM and CPU load. The Redrum patches seem a bit token when compared to the NNXT offerings, but are welcome nonetheless. In addition, the whole lot is supplied as independent 16-bit and 24-bit Refills — the latter nearly 2GB in size — the contents of which are otherwise identical.
It's impossible to pick out favourite kits or sounds — it's all good, if a little samey after an hour or two of auditioning. Even Propellerhead's grouping into pop, rock, and vintage soul/funk kits seems arbitrary. Familiarise yourself with what's on offer and choose the kits or drum sounds that suit your session. Then fix it in the mix! Derek Johnson
Reason Refill DVD-ROM, £79 including VAT.
M Audio UK +44 (0)1923 204010.
+44 (0)1923 204039.
This is another of Zero G's sample libraries based around an Intakt instrument front end — for information on this software's functionality, have a look back at the East West/Zero G instruments review back in SOS February 2005. As suggested by the title, this particular collection is a percussion and drum library, and the 'in Cuba' tag is a genuine one — all the recording was done in Estudios Abdala, a modern recording studio located near Havana, Cuba, and performed by established Cuban musicians. Indeed, full details of the recording process are provided in a DVD video that is included within the package. This is a really nice bonus and demonstrates the authenticity of the sounds and playing included within the collection. This is complemented further by a detailed HTML-based document which, given the size of the library, is very helpful for the new user trying to find their way around the contents.
The sample content is provided on two DVD-ROMs and occupies approximately 8GB of hard drive space. The samples are dominated by multitracked loops but there are also a large number of individual drum hits supplied for those users who want to build their own loops or augment those provided. The library covers what are considered the dominant rhythm types found in Cuban music: Cha Cha Cha, Danzon, Son Montuno, Bolero, Pilon, Son Traditional, Guajira Son, Guaracha, Mambo, Songo, Timba, Conga Habanera (Carnival), and Conga Moderna. Some of the styles contain additional variations, so they can be played in a 'modern' (often with a drum kit) or 'traditional' (without a drum kit) format. The single hits aside, most of the loops were recorded as an ensemble — to allow all the performing musicians to get into the groove — but with multiple microphones set up. As a result, in addition to pre-mixed stereo versions, the collection includes the outputs from each close mic and a number of 'room' mics that could be used to add ambience or to create a surround-sound configuration. A minimal amount of EQ or compression was used in the recording stage, so users can add their own to taste.
When first starting to explore this library, the sheer number of Intakt patches is quite daunting. However, the contents are organised in a consistent and logical fashion. At the top level, all the material is categorised by rhythm style (Cha Cha Cha, Bolero, and so on), and within each of these categories are between 20 and 50 further subfolders. Each of these contains all the samples and loops for an individual groove arranged as a number of different Intakt patches. The first of these is always based upon a stereo mix, the full stereo loop being generally mapped to C1 using Intakt 's Time Machine mode, so that it will sync to the tempo of the host sequencer. Other samples are mapped onto keys above this, and these generally include some combination of the main individual elements of the loop (for example the congas or timbales), the 'room' microphones, or, for those styles where it is appropriate, the 'modern' and 'traditional' alternatives. This arrangement works well, because, as well as giving access to the full loop, it is also possible to break it down and construct variations on it using these key elements. The bulk of the remaining Instruments within these subfolders contain each individual percussion element from the particular groove presented in Intakt 's Beat Machine mode, with slices mapped to a series of keys.
In use, the considerable lengths to which Zero G have gone in the recording process really do pay off. While the audio quality is very good, most importantly so are the grooves. I particularly liked those in the Bolero section, which had a lovely slow, lazy (even sexy) feel. In contrast, the more up-tempo Mambo loops had plenty of flair and a much 'hotter' vibe. I also enjoyed the Son Montuno and Congo Habanera grooves, although in truth there was little not to like — these types of rhythms are just made to dance to, and if this collection doesn't make you want to dance around your studio then, frankly, you should take up stamp-collecting or train-spotting!
On the downside, I would have really liked an additional single Intakt patch for each of the major musical styles, containing all of the stereo loops for that particular style mapped across the keyboard in Time Machine mode. This would be ideal for quick auditioning (much quicker than having to load each loop, in turn, into Intakt) or for occasions when mixing and matching stereo loops is all that is required for the project in hand. In addition, for the Time Machine-based loops I think the majority of users would prefer to see Intakt 's Loop and Legato modes engaged by default (it is in just a few cases, but far from all). When this is done loops keeps playing as long as a key continues to be pressed, and any loops triggered play back in sync with each other. The user can change these settings, but it is a bit frustrating to have to do it on every occasion. Both of these issues could easily be addressed by an update to the Intakt patch files, so maybe Zero-G should consider offering this as an update.
These minor niggles aside, there is no doubting either the quality or authenticity of the material itself. Beats Working In Cuba was obviously quite a significant undertaking for its producers and that, and the quantity of sample material, explain the fairly hefty price tag. As a result, and given that the size of the collection owes much to the multitrack format, this is probably less likely to appeal to those producers just looking for a few Hispanic loops to spice up their tracks. However, those specialising in Cuban music styles and who want their samples to be as close to the genuine article as possible will probably find this an essential purchase. John Walden
Intakt Instrument (including VST, DXi, Audio Units, RTAS, and stand-alone versions), £174.95 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
+44 (0)1837 55400.
Bela D Media built their reputation on the excellent Diva solo soprano library, and this new library once again aims for the unique, offering a library purely of children's voices. Girls' and boys' choirs are recorded in 24-bit on separate DVD-ROMs, each having Ensemble sections of sixteen voices and Chamber sections of four voices. Both sections boast sustain, staccato, pads, and so on, and they're packed with controllable articulations such as glottals, using release triggers and crossfades. There are also phrases — from theological ' Agnus Dei ' to surreal 'Mary, Mary quite contrary'!
Finally you get a series of patches designed to take advantage of the bundled Vocal Control software. Hooked up to a sequencer, this utility allows for precise manipulation of phrases. A table allows you to construct up to four chained phrases, adjusting the time spent on each syllable and the point at which one phrase switches to the next. Whilst not as comprehensive in terms of phonemes as East West/Quantum Leap's Symphonic Choirs, it's a far more accessible and user-friendly approach that is surprisingly effective. A built-in Legato tool strings notes together and slurs up and down as required in a phrase.
So how does it sound? In a word, natural. It's not clinical, it's not hyper-accurate, but it is, above all, moving. Considered use of the close and ambient patches can have shivers running down your spine with a single note. Never have I heard as much emotion from a choir that I wasn't conducting live myself! Whether soaring above an orchestra or blending into the background, the voices exude pathos.
The playable range is restricted, as befits the vocal capabilities of the girls and boys in question, and there's no oversampling or pitch-shifting at all — the intention was to construct a pure library, not in terms of perfect pitch or harmony, but rather in terms of the naturalness of the sound. Some users might frown upon hearing one or two singers lagging behind the rest in some of the more poignant phrases, but as the session conductor was heard to quip, 'If there is a choir who can sing at perfect zero all the time, firstly give me their number; and secondly you can't afford to sample them!' However, far from being detrimental, this adds to the natural feel of the library.
All this realism will be off-putting for those that want absolute perfection in every note, but if all music were perfect every session muso would already have been replaced by a synthesizer. To pitch-correct every note of a choir would be rather like strictly quantising a jazz drummer — it's just not the done thing! Pardon the paradox, but it's the impurities that make it pure. I can't be the only one thinking this way, as the first production run sold out in four days!
My biggest gripe with The Giovani Edition is that it sounds so good you can't help but cry out for more — namely adult voices. Thankfully, Bela D Media are hard at work on a sister library featuring adult choirs. The two together will be a powerful combination, and now that my appetite has been whetted, I can't wait! Hilgrove Kenrick
Gigastudio 3 or Kontakt 2-DVD-ROM set, £229 including VAT.
Time + Space +44 (0)1837 55200.
+44 (0)1837 55400.