I regularly try new audio software, plug-ins, sample libraries, etc. On this page I share some thoughts about these products.
A complete list of products reviewed on rekkerd.org is available here.
I regularly try new audio software, plug-ins, sample libraries, etc. On this page I share some thoughts about these products.
A complete list of products reviewed on rekkerd.org is available here.
Samplephonics has collaborated with yet another interesting producer for its Future Garage and Deep Techno sample library.
Mysterious producer Ghostek presents a deep and varied sample library, containing an eclectic selection of lo-fi garage breaks, driving techno percussion, granular pads, dark brooding atmospheres, deep and sometimes sinister basslines, and a huge collection of one shot drums and effects samples.
From airy, floaty trips to sinister, pulsating rhythms, this sample pack pushes forward the deep house, garage and techno movement towards something that is both unique and varied, yet somehow bound together by a distinct feeling of otherworldiness and emotion.
I was not familiar with Ghostek’s productions, so I had a quick listen to some of his tracks at his SoundCloud.
Ghostek’s style is seemingly dark and otherworld-ish indeed. Next-gen garage style beats and percussion mixed with minimal melodic themes drenched in reverb, electric static bass sounds and haunting vocal snippets.
The sample pack kind of sounds like a dive into Ghostek’s personal stash of samples. Here’s a breakdown of what is included:
The bass loops immediately set the tone. Ghostek is on some different stuff. Growling reeses and distorted hardcore stabs alternate with deep sub basses and techno lines. There’s a lot of creative processing going on. In general the bass loops are quite raw sounding.
Whereas the bass section smells more of drum and bass than garage or deep techno, it’s the combi drum loops that show this sample library’s true colors. The mix of syncopated garage shuffles and straight on deep techno beats is interesting. Both have a totally different feel, yet Ghostek blends them seemingly effortless. With close to 200 loops there is plenty of variety in these 4 to 8 bar loops. With a variety of lovingly applied sound effects, there’s not a bland beat to be found really.
The one shot sample section includes sound fx as well as various drum elements. These compliment the loops well and can be used to construct completely new beats from scratch. Very useful.
The pads & atmos are stunningly beautiful. Ghostek knows how to use reverb to create gorgeous, intricate soundscape type sounds. Very cinematic, and well suited to minimal or ambient music. I was pleasantly surprised that on their own, many of these samples actually have a very uplifting character. My only gripe is that some of the loops are cut a bit too short. They’re alright, but they just end too abrupt for my taste. Specifically the reverb heavy sounds would benefit from a longer tail.
The percussion and top loops again show Ghostek’s different approach. They have a lo-fi quality about them that I really enjoy. Lots of creative processing results in a very musical batch of sounds.
Lastly, the synth loops folder features another collection of melodic sounds. It is a bit of a mixed bag—not your typical synthesizer sounds, but very useful and inspiring. Some of the most beautiful samples I have heard in a long time.
Check the official demo tracks below to get an impression of the sounds of Future Garage and Deep Techno.
What a gem! The sounds of Future Garage and Deep Techno are so refreshing. There is lots of unique sounding material, it feels like uncovering a goldmine.
Though I found Ghostek’s music to sound rather dark, the samples in this production actually didn’t give me the same vibe. My favorite sections are the pads/atmos and the combi drums, but to be honest the whole pack is brilliant.
Ghostek’s Future Garage and Deep Techno is very musical and inspiring. If you are in for some new sounds, check it out!
Ethno-tropical sound set with a gentle breeze of warm equatorial regions.
The soundset includes a total of 54 patches:
Most patches have all 4 macro XY pads assigned for maximum expression.
At 54 patches, this soundset is rather small. However, it is surprisingly versatile.
Check out a few of the patches included in this audio clip.
For a demonstration of the sounds in a musical context, Torben Hansen created this lovely track.
Zebra Botanica is a really nice set of sounds. I don’t know if it’s the concept, patch titles and the cover art for the soundset, but the whole thing feels very organic to me. Almost like a collection of real instruments, found scattered around a tropical forest.
There is a lot of color in the instruments, they’re vibrant and alive. Interestingly enough, Artur has shared that he likes to start off with the artwork of a soundset, using a wallpaper of it as an inspiration while designing the sounds. I think this approach works really well, resulting in a cohesive collection of original sounds.
The patch count is kind of on the low side, but the soundbank is priced accordingly.
Only about a year after Ample Sound first launched, it has already managed to produce no less than 5 virtual guitar instrument libraries. After doing a set of three electric guitars (Fender Strat, Gibson Les Paul & PRS Artist) they have recently released Martin and Taylor acoustic guitar libraries.
The audio demos of these acoustic demos impressed me so much, that I had to check one of these virtual guitars.
My favorite Ample Sound library is the Ample Guitar M, which brings the sound of the Martin D-41 dreadnought to your computer. This one sounds a lot like the Takamine I use myself, so I was drawn to it immediately.
The instrument is built on a total of 3,842 dry samples in finger and strum playing styles. The Ample Sound engine comes with tons of features that allow you to make it sound like you are playing/recording a real guitar. There are various playing styles, fret noise, resonance control, comprehensive chords and strumming, various stereo & mono modes and doubling, and lots more.
So what does it sound like?
Now I don’t know about you, but this gets me all excited about using the AGM instrument in my projects. But there’s a catch… A fantastic demonstration like the one above typically leaves you scratching your head once you load the virtual instrument in your DAW, wondering how the heck they did that. I call this the Jeremy Ellis syndrome.
The AGM can sound incredibly realistic, but it also takes a fair amount of time and effort to learn how to play it. Much like a real guitar I guess. The MIDI programming options are comprehensive, and you will need get familiar with all the settings and controls. You really need to sit down and read the online manual – maybe a few times, since the instrument engine has so much to offer, including small detail type things that will really improve the performance of your guitar tracks.
Ample Sound recognizes that you will likely need some more hands-on training, so they have included MIDI and project files of the demos for some of the major DAWs, so you can see how the tracks were programmed.
If you know how to play guitar you can obviously do some things quite a bit faster on a real guitar (depending on your skills of course), but once you get the hang of the Ample Sound guitar engine, it becomes a great alternative to recording your own parts or session guitarists.
One of the things that took me a while to grasp is the strummer, which includes no less than 28 modes and 14 strum notes, and a library of 15 chord types and a total of 180 preset chords in 3 positions.
In “Select” mode, you can set up 12 chords in the plugin GUI, and use the sequencer to program strumming techniques, and just program single MIDI notes to trigger it all. It is also possible to let the engine “Detect” chords, including inversions for different guitar positions, by using a range of notes.
Typically, realistic guitar strumming is quite hard to do with a virtual instrument, and AMG certainly is not perfect. It can sound a bit lifeless, but again, you have lots of parameters to control detail of the sound (strum time, legato, humanization, etc) and with proper care in your programming you will be able to create authentic results for most strumming modes. Note that all controls of AMG can be automated by MIDI through the CPS (Customized Parameters Setting) system.
It’s worth mentioning the instrument also includes 8 effect unit to further shape the sound; reverb, stereo delay, chorus, phaser, compression, equalizer, overdrive, and wah-wah.
Here’s another demo clip from Ample Sound.
This virtual guitar is simply amazing. The samples sound crisp to my ears and it has some kind of intimate vibe to it, which I love. I am well impressed with the overall sound and set of features of this instrument.
Ample Sounds’ instrument engine is really powerful. Considering the plethora of keyswitches, playing styles, chords & strumming modes, and whatnot, it does have a bit of a learning curve but it is actually not as hard to get to grips with as you might think. If you take the time to read the manual and check the demo projects, you should be able to create your own guitar tracks soon enough.
In short, Ample Guitar M is an excellent alternative to recording your own guitar parts or using session musicians, and I think it is raising the bar when it comes to realistic virtual acoustic guitar instruments.
Ample Sound has a free Ample Guitar M Lite edition available to download. It has limited features but it is well worth checking out if you want to get a taste of the AGM.
I am always excited to see what Simon Stockhausen of Patchpool can do when he gets his fingers on a new synthesizer plug-in. After hearing some of the teaser sound clips, I knew the Diversion soundset for the Diversion synthesizer plug-in by Dmitry Sches was going to be good.
Diversity includes a total of 101 patches and 6 variations. Simon aimed to create a wide range of diverse sounds…
… reaching from mellow and beautiful bells, pads, textural instruments and expressive lead sounds to edgy and soaring sequences and synths to dark and mysterious drones and soundscapes to otherworldly and abstract textures.
The patches use many custom waveforms made with Diversion and other sources. The sounds of this set were designed to be expressive, featuring complex modulations and x/y morph parameter assignments & aftertouch for more dynamic and expressive playing.
A breakdown of the patch categories:
For each of the patches there is a description and/or insights into how the x/y, aftertouch, velocity etc. can be used to control the sounds.
Some of the patches use quite a lot of CPU. Simon recommends reducing polyphony or switching off the unison mode while tracking (and turn it back on for the render). Diversion does some high quality sounds, and I’m more than happy to work around some of the CPU issues until I get a better CPU.
While checking out the sounds I got inspired to do a little piece of music. The sound clip below is made with 5 instances of Diversion, only using patches from the Diversity soundset.
I only spent about 15 minutes from start to render so I didn’t spend much time on the mix and just slapped on a gentle compression on the master. No other processing was done.
For more elaborate examples of the sounds of Diversity, make sure to check Simon’s demos.
For a synthesizer as good as Diversion, it’s a bit of a shame there are only so few soundsets available for it. I guess there is a smaller market than for Massive, Sylenth1 and the likes, but luckily Patchpool supports the lesser known plug-in developers.
Diversity offers a most wonderful collection of sounds, beautifully designed by seasoned composer and sound designer Simon Stockhausen. With his signature cinematic style, Simon’s sounds are great for soundtracks and ambient music. They are ready to use out of the box, all you need to do is be inspired by them.
If you had a listen to the demos you undoubtedly heard that these sounds are designed in a way that when played alongside one or two other patches, or even individually, they are completely musical, expressive and generally totally mesmerizing. You just get completely immersed in the sounds, what inspiration!
London based record producer and recording artist Chemo is back with the second volume of Hip Hop Instrumentals, a collection of 10 construction kits.
Each construction kit has everything you need to build inspirational Hip Hop productions including stems of each drum part, Bass Loop, Hook and Atmosphere along with its own separate drum kit for those who want to roll their own breaks.
With tempos varying between 70-114 BPM this dynamic pack is also perfect for Chill Out, Urban, Triphop, Downtempo and all worldwide hip hop genres.
The collection offers 109 loops and 126 single shot sounds, neatly organized in construction kit folders and labeled with bpm and key info where applicable.
Loops include complete drum beats and breaks, melodic instrument loops, atmospheric background sounds, and more. The single shot sounds feature the individual drum sounds of the construction kits so you can create variations or new parts. A collection of bonus drum loops and kit samples is also included.
Additionally, 27 sampler patches for the drum kits, bonus kits and atmos are available in popular formats, including 14 kits for Native Instruments Maschine.
Here’s what Chemo has to say:
“With this pack, I have made a conscious effort to concentrate on the drum kits and organic atmospheres and textures. I often find that the atmospheric sounds lying behind the main elements in a song can really give a dynamic texture upon which to base the rest of the composition. You will hear quite a variety of subtle vinyl crackle layers, ambient nature recordings, distant trains and even a sound layer recorded at a supermarket checkout”
Chemo lays down some amazing vibes in this second volume of Hip Hop Instrumentals. The construction kits have a mellow feel, and are incredibly musical and well thought out. The drums and melodic elements of the kits are perfectly matched.
And then you have the steam train whistle, chirping of birds, water bubbling, vinyl crackles, random background noises, etc… The atmospheric sounds Chemo speaks about really set the tone, and make the kits truly original.
All kits have a distinct flavor, and the pack as a whole offers a consistent, high quality sound. Check it out!
An ultimate collection of useful lyrical and dramatic pads, effects and soundscapes from a multiple golden and platinum record owner composer.
You can use them in almost all styles from classical pop/rock ballads to moviescores or even in the most up to date dubstep compositions.
Padsheaven features 128 presets, including 96 pads and 32 additional keys, leads, plucked instruments, bass, and drum/percussion sounds.
The patches have descriptive titles and they are categorized for ease of use. Various parameters are assigned to velocity, aftertouch, pitchbend and modwheel, and each patch has detailed information on what is assigned and how a sound was designed or intended to be played.
The video below demonstrates some of the sounds of Padsheaven.
Zebra has a gigantic vault of free patches available to its users. Right now I count over 125 banks listed, many of which feature high quality sounds. A commercial soundset like Padsheaven really has to have to something special to offer. And it does.
Padsheaven includes some absolutely stunning pads, in a wide variety of colors. Soft and warm, ambient, glass like, strings, and lots more. Joseph displays his sound design skills by creating incredibly emotional, moving sounds, with lots of expression.
While the focus of this soundset is on the pads, the other sounds are certainly no filler. There is a bit of an 80′s vibe throughout the set, and some references to artists and synthesizers of that decade are in the patch titles (e.g. the Roland D-50, Prophet VS, Oberheim OB-X).
A lot of work went into creating these patches, and I would recommend you check under the hood to see how they were made, as Padsheaven is also a lesson in sound design in Zebra.
In short, Padsheaven is an outstanding soundset. There is so much detail in the sounds, it just makes me want to sit still, listen closely, and let the sounds sink in. Truly exceptional. Joseph is offering a free demo bank with 16 patches so check it out.
More information: Arte Nuovo
Toontrack’s latest expansion for EZdrummer and Superior Drummer 2.0 is The Blues EZX, a sound library featuring two drum kits and MIDI grooves played by seasoned drummer Hans Lindbäck.
The Blues EZX comes with two complete kits; A 1970s Gretsch And A Calfskinned Swedish Levin set from the 1940s.
On top of that, it features contemporary Paiste and Sabian crashes, vintage Zildjan A and K series cymbals as well as extras such as a suitcase and a set of calfskinned tambourines. All instruments were handpicked and in many cases road-worn by the sampling drummer himself, a blues musician with more than half a decade worth of experience behind the kit playing the blues.
The Gretsch kit includes a nice versatile 14×20″ kick drum, a deep, fat sounding 5½x14″ Slingerland Radio King snare, and 8×12″ and 14×14″ toms. An alternative preset is available for the Gretsch kit, swapping the kick and snare with a suitcase and a 30′s 6½x14″ Premier Brass snare.
The Levin drum kit includes a deep 14×28″ kick, a 60′s Premier Wood 5½x14″ rich sounding snare, and high and low tuned 9×12″ toms. These drums all have calf skinned heads.
One hihat is included in all kits, a 14″ Zildjian New Beat/Rock Beat combo, another choice for versatility. The cymbals include vintage 60′s Zildjian A and K series rides (19″ & 20″) and crashes (10″, 12″ & 18″), as well as a 16″ Paiste crash and 16″ and 18″ Sabian hand hammered crash cymbals.
Finally, two additional Grover Tambourines round off the setup.
The Blues EZX comes with a library of MIDI grooves, 13 songs in total in shuffle, swing, straight and 12/8 categories. Song include a number of grooves with closed hihats, open hihats, cymbals, breaks, fills, intros and endings. The library spans a large variety of tempos, from 80 to 198 bpm.
Check the video below for a quick impression of the sounds and grooves.
The Blues EZX drums and cymbals have been sampled with a good variety of articulations and the included kit pieces offer sounds for a range of styles, from jazz to blues to pop/rock. Hans Lindbäck provides a great set of songs with plenty of variations, interesting fills and breaks, and most important, an authentic blues vibe.
Having played guitar in a blues band for a number of years, I really enjoyed The Blues EZX. It feels very natural and I would have loved to have the sounds of these drum kits in our band back then. While to me, blues is all about playing together, this sound library is great for rehearsing, working out ideas, or doing studio work where you would normally get a session drummer.
In short, the Blues EZX is a solid, high quality set of drum kits and grooves that are great for blues music and beyond.
For those who have never heard of Maschine before, it is basically a combination of music production software with a dedicated hardware controller. A tightly integrated system that can be used standalone – including hosting of 3rd party plugins, or as a plugin in another host. The groovebox-like hardware controller can also be used to control external hardware and software via MIDI with Maschine’s MIDI mode.
Now, I realize I am a bit late to the party with this review, and to be honest after checking some earlier reviews I found pretty much everything I would like to say has already been written at Oh Drat. So I’ll try my best not to ruminate and list everything you can already find at the Native Instruments website anyway, and instead just mention a few things I found particularly interesting when using the new Maschine.
While the rainbow colored, toy-like appearance did not appeal to me a whole lot at first, I found myself using color coding on sounds and groups pretty much from day one. I already did the same thing in other music production software to indicate groups of instruments, sounds, effects, etc. and having the same kind of thing in Maschine is a definite workflow improvement for me.
Besides having multi-color LEDs, the pads also have a much improved sensitivity. I thought the pads on the original Maschine were really good, but to me the Mk2 is an order of magnitude better still. The sensitivity is just amazing, even at really low velocities. I can now confidently tap away the night without worrying about waking up my kids in the next room.
I also enjoy the new screens a lot better, easier on the eyes and improved readability. It has helped me to do more from the hardware controller where before I would jump to the computer screen. The fact that you can now audition samples from the hardware before committing helps a lot too.
On the whole many of these changes are seemingly minimal improvements, but in fact they are most useful. Like the little click response on buttons, something I didn’t even know I wanted until the mk2 came along, what a lovely improvement.
On the software part I feel that Native Instruments has an extremely difficult job. Besides implementing some of the new features to go with the hardware, there are tons of feature requests from existing and potential customers. It is not likely you’re ever going to be able to please everyone with any update, much less a point update.
Time stretch/pitch shift is a much requested feature that was implemented, but… for some reason it is not a real-time process. While the results of processed audio is impressive, it kind of stumps me why can’t just have a preview and commit function?
With MASCHINE 1.8, all MASCHINE users get the full version of the modern legend MASSIVE – the synth that gave birth to the earth-shuddering bass tones and speaker-troubling leads that have defined the bass music genre. This monster synth contains 1,300 ready-to-go sounds, all instantly browseable via the MASCHINE hardware. MASCHINE’s eight control knobs offer direct access to MASSIVE’s eight Macro controls, for perfect synergy between hardware and synthesizer, and a lightning-fast workflow.
It is my guess that over time, Native Instruments is going to be integrating more and more of its sounds & effects into the Maschine package.
There are a bunch more improvements, of which I want to mention one that may seem minor but it certainly made my day. You can now use both your hands for recording automation of parameters by pinning down the “Auto Write”. I record automation a whole lot so this little feature is a godsend to me.
What didn’t get much attention is MIDI. I work pretty much completely in the box so it’s no big deal to me, but if you use a lot of external gear and need full MIDI implementation with MIDI CC and multiple outputs, version 1.8 does not yet bring what you’re looking for. Native Instruments never said they would implement this in the update so can’t blame them really, but it would be good to see full MIDI support nonetheless. I haven’t a clue how much work it is to get it implemented, perhaps it will take version 2.0 to get it…
Some companies were already offering custom stickers and modifications for the original Maschine, so Native Instruments cleverly pulled the market towards themselves by offering a custom kit with faceplate and knobs in various colors. Granted, the pricing of these kits is a bit steep, but I have to say they look really good. Great quality and replacing the magnetic faceplate and knobs is really easy.
The stand is also something you could probably do yourself for less money, but again, great quality piece of hardware and it looks sleek. It can be mounted on standard drum hardware with the included Mounting Adapter.
Alright, to finish I want to show the obligatory Jeremy Ellis video. It should be said that this makes me want to sit down with my Maschine all day, but realize that it is not likely you will ever get anywhere near the amazing stuff he does. At least, this is truth in my case.
Also, for a great overview of everything new in Maschine mk2 and the 1.8 software, check out this excellent video by Dubspot’s Matt Cellitti.
Improved pads, screens & workflow, new effects and the Massive synth included. No earth shaking features perhaps, but with mk2 the Maschine platform is moving along rather nicely.
At the same retail price of the first model, Native Instruments is definitely offering a superior package with Maschine mk2. For those who already have the original Maschine, the software update is free. Personally, I enjoy the pads and colored LEDs so much to justify getting the mk2, but whether the controller improvements are worth the upgrade or not is up to you.
There is still a lot of room for Maschine to grow, and I am pretty confident that Native Instruments is going to tackle some of the top feature requests in future upgrades, but as is, Maschine mk2 remains an amazing piece of gear. Native Instruments calls it fast, intuitive, powerful and flexible. I call it a joy to work with.