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SoundFont Toolbox

SoundFont Toolbox

If you've got a recent soundcard supporting SoundFonts, such as the Soundblaster Live! or Value models, or the Emu APS, then you can access up to 32Mb of sampled sounds in one 'hit'. Although SoundFonts have come of age as far as quality goes, however, there are still few collections that stray beyond the confines of 4Mb or sometimes 8Mb size — which is where the SoundFont Toolbox from Sonido Media comes in. Supplied on a single CD‑ROM, it contains 500Mb of SoundFonts (with over 5000 individual instruments, although I didn't count these to check the claim!).

Neatly arranged into 40 folders, they comprise Basses, Brass, Drum Kits, Ethnic, Guitars, Harp, Keys, Loops, Orch Hits, Organs, Percussion, Pianos, Sound Effects, Strings, Synths (basses, effects, leads, and pads), Vocals, and Woodwinds. Each folder contains anything between three and a dozen multisampled sounds, along with a further 'Econo' folder containing the same sounds at half the size for fitting into smaller memory banks. Once loaded, each SoundFont normally contains anything up to a couple of dozen 'Instruments' arranged in various programs. These are either programmed differently, or with special effects, to extract the last drop of potential of each sample set, and descriptive names are used to help describe these variations. Most of the drum loops also have tempos indicated in the filename.

The majority of sounds are multisampled instruments, and these are very good, with a typical file size of several megabytes, but there are also sampled instrumental phrases of various types, such as strummed acoustic guitar, and velocity‑sensitive sounds such as the Gibson Les Paul Heavy Distortion that leaps into harmonics when struck hard. There is also a folder's worth of Loop Construction Kits with separate sync'ed instumental loops on different keys — great for instant gratification!

Recording quality was generally very good, and the individual samples that I loaded into Wavelab for further inspection were very clean — even many of the cymbals had clean loops, which takes some doing! Transitions between multisamples were mostly well done, although close scrutiny did reveal some anomalies: the Epiphone Pick Bass, for instance, had several adjacent multisamples with distinctly different stereo positions that made bass lines jump between the speakers.

Apart from all the other individual sounds on offer, there is also a 'free bonus' of two monster 12Mb and 24Mb GM/GS MIDI soundsets. These did sound very good, especially when used with the supplied orchestral and jazz MIDI files (as you might expect), although it's a tribute to Emu's engineers that the default 8Mb GM set supplied with the above soundcards wasn't that bad by comparison.

Although the advertising stresses the massive General MIDI banks and Loop Construction Sets, overall this collection covers a very diverse range of instruments, and does it rather well. The SoundFont Toolbox won't appeal to anyone who absolutely must have 2000 drum loops or the ultimate guitar library, but should prove ideal for anyone who needs to expand their basic sound library wihout sacrificing quality. Martin Walker