Sample Logic deliver a flexible pad, soundscape and atmosphere designer with a powerful DIY twist.
Sample Logic have an impressive catalogue of virtual instruments aimed primarily (although not exclusively) at media composers. Their latest offering is Empyreal Atmosphere Designer. Yes, it’s an instrument for designing atmospheric pads, soundscapes or textures and, no, the music technology universe is not short of tools intended for that purpose. However, these sorts of sounds are a staple of modern film or TV scoring, and working composers are always looking for some fresh content on this front. And, as it happens, amongst its impressive specifications, Empyreal AD includes a specific feature that many composers will find particularly eye‑catching. Let’s dig in...
Empyreal AD’s engine is built on a familiar sound‑design concept; it allows the user to blend two ‘cores’ (A and B), each with an underlying sound source (sample), to create a unique new sound. To that end, the library ships with over 500 ‘atmosphere’ samples and, as suits the purpose, the vast majority of these seem to be both long in duration (30+ seconds) and evolving in nature. Also included are over 1100 presets. Core presets are based upon one of the samples manipulated by the various processing options provided within one of the two core engines. Instrument presets combine two core presets for a global‑level configuration of the whole Empyreal AD instrument.
As well as options for blending the two sound cores, each core offers a well‑stocked range of features for manipulating the underlying sample, applying a range of effects and some powerful modulation options. Once the two sounds are combined, there is a further level of master effects that can be applied.
Empyreal AD’s controls are organised across four pages — Main, Edit, FX and Master — with tabs between them located top‑centre and with access to the instrument preset browser to their left. Both this instrument browser and the core preset browsers share a neat tag‑based system for exploring the sounds.
The Main page provides a summary waveform view for the individual samples loaded into the two cores, with access to the core browsers and source samples, mini level meters, and options to adjust the volume, pan, mute status and blend between cores A and B. At the base of the page, the Animation panel can be popped open, allowing you to modulate the blend (via a step sequencer) or volume/pan for each core (via individual LFOs). More detailed editing of the waveforms takes place in the Edit page, where you can define the waveform start/end points, a loop region and the loop crossfade. All of these can also be automated via a step sequencer. You can also adjust the tuning, high and low filters, add compression and saturation via the Refine controls and tweak the ADSR envelope. Parameters with a ~ character beneath them can also have LFO‑based modulation applied.
The FX and Master pages both offer six‑slot effects chains based upon a selection of Kontakt’s effects. In the FX page, you get individual chains for each core, while the Master chain is applied to the blend of the two cores prior to the main output. Again, modulation options are provided, with each effect having one preset parameter that offers either LFO or step‑based modulation.
On the surface, all of this is conceptually straightforward and well laid out for the user. However, it’s very much a ‘sum of its parts’ design; it lets you squeeze a lot of sound‑design potential out of the two underlying samples within any Empyreal AD sound. Automation of the blend, EQ and other filter parameters means lots of scope to create evolving textures, while being able to automate the waveform parameters themselves creates some interesting (if sometimes unpredictable!) additional possibilities. And, if you want some quick inspiration and are feeling lucky, the dice icon lets you randomise Empyreal AD’s settings. While you can randomise everything, if you open the drop‑down menu to the right of the icon, you can constrain the process to target specific elements such as the individual core presets, source samples or the various effects chains. It’s easy to use and offers enough control to be genuinely useful.
Do It Yourself
Browsing the extensive presets makes it very clear that the supplied content will keep you busy for some time. However, there is also that eye‑catching feature mentioned earlier: Empyreal AD also includes support for drag and drop of your own samples into the two cores. This capability is something NI introduced into Kontakt a little while ago (in v6.2 I think) but, as yet, not that many third‑party VIs have actually integrated it into their specific engines. However, it makes a lot of sense with an instrument such as Empyreal AD and, if you have a library of pad or soundscape samples from other sources, Empyreal AD’s engine now offers the potential to exploit that content in a multitude of new ways.
I had no problems dragging and dropping suitable samples into Empyreal AD, nor in applying the various effects or modulation options to further adjust the sounds. It is both cool to explore and impressive to see working. However, I’m not altogether sure I understood exactly how Empyreal AD’s waveform editing functions always interacted with user‑loaded samples, or the process for saving my user‑created presets within Kontakt itself, although the current settings were saved (and then recalled) within my host Cubase project. Given that this has the potential to be such a killer feature, there is surprisingly little mention of the specifics within the (otherwise very good) PDF manual. It may be that this Kontakt feature is still something of a mystery to everyone (developers included), but the potential is undeniable. Here’s hoping Sample Logic can document the principles — and any current limitations — in a bit more detail.
In use, the sum of all the previously described technical parts come together rather wonderfully. Sonically, there is absolutely nothing to complain about; Empyreal AD’s sample content and instrument and core presets are excellent and there is almost limitless scope to manipulate things given both the sound‑design features and randomisation options. The ability to import your own samples is the icing on the cake.
As you might expect given the Atmosphere Designer element of the name, there are lots of presets that provide evolving soundscape‑type sounds and Empyreal AD does an excellent job in this regard. If you need a sonic texture to imply mysterious, sinister, scary, magical or mythical, then you will find plenty of options here. Apply some animation to the blend control (or MIDI Learn it to your mod wheel) and you can easily keep your soundscape moving.
Empyreal AD sounds great straight out of the box, even if you just load a preset or three and start playing.
What perhaps surprised my initial expectations, however, was the ability to also generate some really interesting rhythmic or pulsing sounds. The engine offers various ways to achieve this but the most straightforward is simply to use the LFO modulation for the volume control of each core. With control over both the speed and intensity of the modulation, you can create almost any level of rhythmic pulse. And, if you use different time bases for the modulation in each core, the blend control can be used to shift both the tone and the rhythmic feel of your sound in ways that can be both wonderful or suitably unsettling; it’s a very cool feature.
My only other practical observation is that Empyreal AD is reasonably demanding in terms of CPU usage. That said, a little goes quite a long way in terms of this kind of sound and a note or two is often all that’s required. In addition, for the kind of underscore that Empyreal AD excels at, there are plenty of presets here that would require little or nothing by way of additional sounds to form a complete soundscape‑style cue.
Empyreal AD sounds great straight out of the box, even if you just load a preset or three and start playing. However, what’s equally impressive is the balance Sample Logic have found between what is a powerful sound‑design engine and the ease with which that engine can be used. It’s a very attractive combination. No, it’s not cheap, but I suspect busy media composers will lap it up.
Empyreal Animation Designer’s sound‑design engine is both powerful and accessible. It also sounds excellent and will undoubtedly appeal to media composers whose work regularly requires atmospheric soundscapes, textures and rhythmic pulses.