Trilogy is big on bass — its supplied library has 3GB of sounds! Is it sweet and low, or does it plumb new depths? We find out...
Appropriately enough, Spectrasonics' Trilogy is the company's third virtual instrument, but the name actually relates to the number of sound types covered by the product, which is dedicated to reproducing bass sounds. The categories are acoustic bass, electric bass and synth bass, and like Stylus and Atmosphere before it, the core sample library is around 3GB in size and comes spread over five CD-ROMs. As with the other two instruments in the series, the core sounds are based on completely new samples, and there's no provision to import your own samples, though future upgrades could add new sounds.
Designed to work as a VST 2.0 plug-in (also supporting OS 9 MAS, and RTAS), future upgrades to Trilogy are planned to support RTAS and VST and Audio Units under OS X, while Sonar users can employ a VST-DXi wrapper to make use of the VST 2 version. MOTU will be supporting Audio Units under OS X, so it is anticipated that there will be no need for an OS X MAS version.
A powerful computer is essential to make serious use of Trilogy (though less than Atmosphere, as bass sounds tend to use less polyphony); as well as needing over 3GB of free hard drive space, you'll also need plenty of free RAM, as some of the sample sets are pretty large. Spectrasonics recommend that you have around 512MB of RAM reserved for Trilogy, though most sample sets seem to be under 200MB in size. The recommended minimum computer specs are a 300MHz Pentium III PC (running Windows 98, 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP) or a 300MHz Mac G3 (OS 9.04 to OS 9.2.2). Both installation and operation were trouble-free on my Mac G4 (for the spec, see the box on the next page). A proprietary copy-protection method is used, which works on a challenge/response system. Web address details are included in the manual and once you enter your serial number and challenge code, the response is immediate. Prior to authorisation, you can use Trilogy for just 48 hours. As with the other Spectrasonics products, the licensing arrangement is similar to that for CD-ROM samples, the main restrictions being that you can't make a commercial sample library using the instrument, you can't re-sell Trilogy and only the owner is licensed to use it.
The core library of over 13,000 individual samples covers electric basses (including fretless, picked, fingered and slapped models), acoustic basses and a huge range of synth basses. Additionally there's a large library of classic synth waveforms so that you can use Trilogy's modulation functions, filters and envelope-shapers to build your own synth patches.
Trilogy is based around a customised UVI audio playback engine with a straightforward, synth-like front panel which is (aside from a few minor cosmetic details) identical to that of Atmosphere. Sounds are comprised of one or two layers, A and B, and one set of controls is used that can be switched between the two layers using the A and B buttons in the centre of the panel. The relative levels of the layers can be balanced with the A and B mixer sliders on the left of the panel, and buttons in the centre select which layer is currently being edited. A Link button enables both layers to be adjusted together. There are separate envelope-shapers for level and filter with a choice of filter modes, and there's a master filter controlled by a slider that can be either high-pass or low-pass depending on which side of the centre position the fader is set.
The sounds are loaded from the hard drive into RAM via a menu window in the centre of the panel where the sounds are categorised and then further sub-categorised. A patch comes up with the one or two sample sets it requires plus all the control settings, though you can can create your own patches by loading any of the individual sample sets into either layer and then setting the controls appropriately.
In addition to the layer level controls, separate pan controls are provided for both the A and B layers as well as controls for coarse and fine tuning. As on Atmosphere, the modulation section hosts four variable separate LFOs where the modulation destination possibilities are pitch, filter, amplitude and pan. LFOs 1 and 2 are independent for each layer and always start in phase with the Note On message, while LFO 3 and LFO 4 are global and free-running. Also as with Atmosphere, the LFO's can't currently be sync'ed to tempo. There's a pitch envelope with depth and time controls, a resonant master filter with high- or low-pass operation and a multi-mode resonant filter for each layer, which can be switched between high- and low-pass 18dB-per-octave, low-pass 12dB-per-octave and low-pass 24dB-per-octave types. The filter has keyboard tracking and envelope depth controls, and it's also possible to control either filter attack or release via velocity.
The otherwise conventional level envelope section includes variable sample start offset, enabling you to change the sample start point, and there's a choice of four types of velocity curve. The Preview button is used to audition sounds without the need for a MIDI input, and the Solo button is used to activate a mono legato trigger mode for when you're trying to emulate a monosynth (a portamento Glide control is available in Solo mode only). The number of playback voices can also be set manually, as can the pitch-bend range. There's a high-quality 32-bit playback mode, which might sound smoother on some of the acoustic samples, though it doubles the RAM required to load the samples. Additionally, you can set your own continuous controller assignment for modulation, and you can also automate the panel controls via MIDI controllers where the host sequencer permits it.
As well as offering you the obvious benefits of layering synth sounds, the two-layer architecture has been put to good use on some of the acoustic and electric basses, where one layer plays the main sound and the other is set up to play fingering noises and string squeaks when the key is released. As these components are controlled by the two layer sliders, it's a simple matter to set the level of these noises. Many of these release noises change depending on the playing velocity, making the sounds more realistic. Furthermore, there are some sounds programmed with velocity-sensitive glissandos, a trick first unleashed with Spectrasonics' Hans Zimmer Guitars sample library. Most of these come in only at very high velocity levels, so it may be helpful to use the velocity offset facility of your sequencer to make these easier to trigger; I added 20 in Logic to the the overall velocity value.
Yet another feature designed to squeeze the maximum realism from the sounds is True Staccato. Where the patch includes this feature, the top half of the keyboard is used to double up on the notes played on the lower half, but the sampled sounds have been played staccato style, which is far more realistic than relying on the envelope-shapers to cut a sustained sound short. You can then use your left and right hands to play the same note, even though they're three octaves apart on the keyboard, which aids fast playing. In the case of picked basses, the upper region of the keyboard contains upstrokes of the pick whereas the lower region contains downstrokes. Some patches (such as the Jaco Fretless ones) also incorporate extra bends, trills or other effects at the extreme top end of the keyboard, while others offer more noises and slides at the bottom of their range. Separate full-range samples of slides, noises, harmonics and so on are also available, as are full-range note sets. These make full use of the keyboard's range, but at the expense of the staccato/upstroke voices.
Some of the menu items are available in A and B versions, the significance being that the A versions have Gliss samples triggered by velocity switching where velocities 126-127 trigger the gliss sample — the B versions omit these. The full sets of bass harmonics, staccato notes, slides and glissandos are best triggered from a separate instance of Trilogy on a separate track, though I'd have welcomed a keyboard split feature that would allow you to place the effects and noises of your choosing at the top of the keyboard. Maybe in the next revision?
The acoustic bass section differs somewhat in that many of the instruments have been sampled with a DI'd pickup on one layer, while the other layer is derived from miking up the instruments with a U47 tube mic. By changing the A and B fader settings, you can adjust the ratio of mic to pickup. The upright acoustic bass comes as Lite, Med and XXL versions, the XXL taking up a massive 260MB — in this version, the bass is chromatically sampled over a number of velocity values. On the patches with release sounds, the release noises reside in layer B, and there are different noises for each note, as well as some velocity-dependent noises. There is also a choice of normal or soft release noises, the latter omitting the harder slaps and bangs.
That brings us onto the synth bass sounds, which are divided into ready-made patches and basic synth waveforms taken from a number of classic models. Obviously, Trilogy's filters won't sound exactly like those of the original synth when used with the waveform samples, but with the available choice of filter modes, it's possible to get pretty close.
Let's face it — the reason you buy an instrument like this is for its sound, and in every respect it is just as meticulously designed as its siblings Stylus and Atmosphere. The acoustic basses are stunningly realistic, especially if you incorporate the staccato notes and slides into your playing style, while the natural noises on key release help complete the illusion. All the acoustic sounds have weight and depth, yet they also exude air, articulation and detail.
If electric basses are your thing, then you won't find better, and while the picked, fingered and slapped basses are superb examples of their respective genres, the icing on the cake for me is the great choice of fretless bass sets, especially the Jaco Fretless ensembles; they have all the depth and 'whine' of a great performance, with bags of character. The integral velocity slides and staccato notes really work with these sounds, though you can also use your pitch-bend wheel to add further realism.
When I finally managed to drag myself away from the electric and acoustic basses, I discovered that the synth bass section was simply huge. All the classic analogue basses are here, from Taurus pedals to Moog drones, from growly Oberheims to dancy Rolands. Many of these are generously multisampled with the original filter sweeps, but if you want to 'roll your own' sounds, the library of classic synth waveforms (and multi-oscillator/PWM waves) used in combination with the UVI engine's filters and envelope-shapers gives you just about everything you could want from an analogue bass synth. In fact, there's nothing to stop you from shifting the octaves up and building lead or pad sounds, though I did notice that the waveforms exhibited what sounded like pretty serious oscillator aliasing (atonal side-bands) when played back at higher pitches. This isn't an issue at all when producing bass sounds, but may preclude the creation of smooth, high-pitched string patches and suchlike. Spectrasonics are aware of this, but point out that this is because they didn't take samples in the higher registers, as this would have added further to the size of the library, or forced them to cut down on the space allocated for bass samples. Given the module's sonic focus, this is reasonable enough.
Adjusting the relative levels of the two layers can produce particularly creative effects on some of the acoustic basses, which have a miked-up sample on one layer, and a DI'd sound on the other.
Once again, Spectrasonics have delivered some seriously high-quality, musically playable sounds in an easy-to-use format and at an affordable price. The electric and acoustic basses are as good as you'll find anywhere, with all the necessary little touches necessary to add realism but without saddling the performer with too many control tasks. The analogue bass section is monstrous in its own right and seems to have more depth than most bass samples I've used. I know this because while I was using it, my Buzz Lightyear toy fell right off the monitor he usually sits on! What's more, because the control panel is so easy to use, it's a matter of a moment's work to fine-tune any of the factory patches to suit the song you're working on, then you can save the variation in your own settings library. I used to have an Oberheim Matrix 1000 that I used for analogue bass sounds, but to my ears Trilogy's analogue section has more depth, more useable sounds, and of course instant editing. Moreover, you can create some amazing hybrid basses by layering analogue synth and acoustic components. In fact, it's hard to imagine a style of music or type of track that Trilogycouldn't accommodate, other than orchestral, as there are no bowed basses.
Criticisms are few. I'd like those sync'able LFOs, and there is that aliasing issue with the synth waveforms at very high pitches, but as a comprehensive 'all you ever needed to know about bass' package, Trilogy has to be a winner, whether you're a preset-basher or a tweaker. Definitely worth the price of admission.