Considering the kinds of cutting-edge dance music styles that are usually associated with Reason, the idea of a General MIDI Refill might appear to be a bit of a strange one. However, Propellerhead have already demonstrated that Reason is much more than a one-trick pony with the Orkester Refill. If Reason is your main music-making environment and your studio is not overly stocked with top-notch soundcards or hardware synths, then some facility for playing back basic MIDI files (commercial ones or those acquired via the Internet), might also be quite useful.
The CD is split into three parts. The central feature is the main set of General MIDI sounds for the NNXT sampler. The rest of the Refill contains some 200 multisampled, multi-layered NNXT instruments that are variations on the core GM sounds. These are also supplied in less memory-intensive NN19 forms (370 patches). A collection of 26 Redrum kits rounds off the Refill. Finally, some 2900 samples, upon which the Refill is based, are supplied in WAV format. All the original samples were recorded at 24-bit resolution and the synths used include the Korg 01W, Waldorf Microwave, Yamaha DX7, Roland TR808 and Linn 9000, amongst others.
The NNXT GM sound set offers 128 patches named and numbered according to the GM convention. These stick fairly faithfully to the sorts of GM sounds found on many sound modules — so you can expect that the NNXT Soundtrack patch to be very much like that in other GM sets. This is important for those who might use this Refill as a means of playing commercial MIDI files written with GM in mind. In the main, this works well enough in practice, and AMG include a few template Song files to help this process. However, it is still something of a pain that, having opened a GM Standard MIDI File, you then have to manually assign the appropriate patches to each channel.
The quality of the GM sounds themselves is pretty good. Most feature multisamples and some also multi-layers. The quality is certainly better than you would find on most soundcards and, for example, I preferred many of them to the equivalent XG sounds on my own Yamaha SW1000XG — perhaps just a little less polite? In particular, the pianos, brass, synth bass and pads all worked well. For the latter, adding in the sound-shaping capabilities of the NNXT offered some very functional sounds.
One or two things were less satisfactory. For example, a couple of the guitars were a little lumpy (but then really good GM guitar patches are rarer than rocking horse manure) and the solo violin is a little heavy on the vibrato for my taste (although the fiddle is useable enough). Melo Drum is straight out of Eastenders!
The additional NNXT patches (and their NN19 equivalents) are all in GM territory, but add to the variety on offer. For example, the Arp/Sequencer section contains a small number of really nice patches that sync to tempo. The usual GM-type sound effects are also present, but are far more convincing here than on your average soundcard. The Redrum kits cover the usual TR808, TR909, funk, acid and 'straight' collections, plus one or two that are more adventurous (the Daisy Kit is quite interesting), and the quality is good.
In conclusion, Sonic-O-Tool 2 is perhaps not going to set the Refill world alight, but those needing access to a very useable GM-style sound set via Reason need look no further. What the sounds might lack in originality, the CD makes up for in value for money — £30 is a steal. Now where did I put that 'Baby One More Time' MIDI file? John Walden