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Review: u-he The Dark Zebra soundset by Hans Zimmer & Howard Scarr

u-he The Dark Zebra

Users of Zebra have no shortage in sounds for this virtual modular synthesizer. Thousands of patches are available in both free and commercial soundsets. U-he’s latest offering – The Dark Zebra, is a little more than just a collection of patches.

A bank of over 400 presets, a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and Howard Scarr. Practically all Zebra sounds in the The Dark Knight as well as The Dark Knight Rises soundtracks are included, plus several more that didn’t quite fit into the scores.

The pack also includes Hans’ custom built update from a licensed Zebra2.x to the version you can see in this video, ZebraHZ. Many of the more recent patches make use of the extra features available in ZebraHZ.


Demonstration of The Dark Zebra with its custom ZebraHZ synthesizer plugin.

So not only does this soundset for Zebra 2.5 include hundreds of sounds straight from the brilliant minds of Hans Zimmer and Howard Scarr, it also comes with a custom Zebra version that was made specifically for Hans’ scoring of the Dark Knight movies.

Additional features of ZebraHZ include:

  • analog filter models such as the ones found in Diva,
  • polyphonic compressors,
  • 2 additional modulation mappers,
  • and a Polymoog-like resonator effect module.
ZebraHZ Diva filters

The new filters are available from the DIVA VCF tab in the bottom bar of the GUI.

You get 4 highpass filters and 4 lowpass/multimode filters. The HP filters include two models – Pre and Bite, and the 2 pairs of lowpass filters have Ladder, Cascade, Multimode and Bite models. Controls for cutoff, resonance and key follow are available, and three unlabelled knobs can be used to set modulation depths for assigned sources (two for cutoff, one for resonance) for each filter.

Since these filters can consume quite a bit of CPU, it’s good to have some quality parameters so you can work in draft mode and render with high audio quality. You can also get some random cutoff values on the filters with an additional “CutoffSlop” control.

ZebraHZ polyphonic compressor modules

ZebraHZ comes with an individual polyphonic compressor for each one of the 4 lanes. Polyphonic means that these will apply compression for each single note! You can imagine this takes some processing power so you can deactivate them to save some CPU.

The lane compressor modules are particularly useful for doing percussion/drum type sounds where transients matter.

With two additional modmappers in ZebraHZ (also included in the latest regular Zebra plugin) you now have a total of 4 flexible modulation map modules to add even more modulation to your sound.

The new Resonator module (Res1) is available from the effects grid on the Global/FX tab. This emulates the 3-band peaking filter found on Moog Music’s Polymoog analog synthesizer.

One of the very first polyphonic synthesizers ever included a 3-band peaking filter that could be used to dramatically shape the overall sound.

ZebraHZ Resonator module
The resonator module in ZebraHZ.

ZebraHZ takes this concept and extends it with an extra full range band (60Hz-7.5kHz). The Resonator has various filter color modes, and the filter mode includes lowpass, bandpass, a bandpass variation with inverted second pole, and highpass.

Interestingly enough, many of the patches in The Dark Zebra don’t use any of these new features. Regardless, the additions are great to have.

As for the sounds, The Dark Zebra has a total of 400 patches which are categorized as follows:

  • Basses and Drones (33)
  • Bells and Metallurgy (26)
  • Drums and Clocks (64)
  • Effects and Chaos (38)
  • HighArps and Chords (72)
  • Lead and Horns (47)
  • LowArps and Stomps (50)
  • Pads and Keys (46)
  • Xtras (24)

As you would expect with sounds that were used in the soundtracks for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, many of them have a dark and cinematic feel to them.

Howard programmed most of the sounds to be performed with mod wheel, pitchbend, pressure and breath control, making them very dynamic. The patches come with information on the sound, how to use it and which controls are assigned to which parameters so you get an idea of how they were intended to be played.

Check Jarkko Hietanen’s amazing demo below to hear some of the sounds of The Dark Zebra in action. Only Zebra was used for this track!

So what do I think?

Product: The Dark Zebra by u-he
Format: .h2p patches + ZebraHZ VST/AU plug-in
Price: $99 USD incl. VAT (EU)
Like: Brilliant sounds, excellent for studying Zebra sound design
Don’t like: Costly for new Zebra users (since Zebra 2.x is required)
Verdict: 9/10

It is a real testimony to u-he’s Zebra, that a famed composer like Hans Zimmer chooses to use this particular synthesizer for his soundtrack scoring. Browsing the sounds of The Dark Zebra it is clear that see why this flexible, high quality instrument was used. But a good synth only gets you so far.

I reckon a decent sound designer can make a bad synth look pretty good. How much more can a brilliant sound designer do with a fantastic synth? Howard Scarr is a true master of synthesizer programming, and in this collaboration with Hans Zimmer his skill, knowledge and dedication bears much fruit.

The sonic range of The Dark Zebra offers small and beautifully intricate to gripping, fast-paced and chaotic. Highly cinematic, but not limited to film scoring, this soundset is both an archive of hundreds of beautifully designed sounds ready for use in your own productions, as well as a peek into top notch sound design with Zebra. It is well worth studying the patches to learn how particular sounds were achieved.

Though the soundset didn’t actually end up using the new features in a whole lot of its patches, it’s still great to have the Diva filters, resonator, and lane compressors in ZebraHZ for your own sound design.

The only downside is perhaps the price tag. Even though ZebraHZ comes as its own plugin, you do need a license of Zebra 2.x to use ZebraHZ and the soundset. I personally think that The Dark Zebra is well worth the price, but new users will have to pay a considerable sum to get the whole package. That said, Zebra *is* a most excellent synthesizer, so it’s not a bad thing to pick it up anyway.

More information: u-he / The Dark Zebra

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Review: Soundiron Rust 3 for Kontakt

Soundiron Rust 3

Soundiron’s Rust 3 is the latest in its series of found-sound percussion sample libraries for Native Instruments Kontakt.

With this grand 3rd volume, we set out to conquer powerful bass and rich musical tone, recording a massive variety of surfaces, objects, oddities, apparatuses and custom contraptions very up-close in wide stereo to capture even the most subtle of resonances and overtones.

We aimed for a collection that would offer uniquely alternative drum kit concepts, richly complex tuned percussion, dramatic effects and stingers and a huge wealth of sustaining lead, pad and ambient instruments. We reached for crystalline highs and mind-melting lows. We wanted a library that could stand on it’s own, capable of producing limitless musical potential all by itself.

Rust 3 features at a glance:

  • 49 open-format Kontakt instruments (36 K4 presets / 12 K5 presets).
  • 2,238 Samples.
  • 3.63 GB Installed.
  • 24bit / 48kHz stereo PCM wav samples (non-encrypted).
  • Powerful custom performance and FX control interface.
  • Bonus unique FX ambiences and atmospheres.
  • Bonus: 51 custom convolution reverb impulses.

Have a listen to the Rust 3 audio demos below to get an idea of what this is all about.

The patches of Rust 3 are grouped in 4 folders: Ensembles, Sustains, Master, and Effects.

The Ensembles section includes 7 instruments, with original (untuned) and tuned variations, so 14 patches in total. The sounds were recorded from a variety of objects, including large 50 gallon chemical drums, garbage can lids, garden tools, a cattle corral, various pipes and rods, and custom percussion instruments. A number of articulations is available – e.g. hands, sticks, mallets, etc – and the sounds are basically laid out like percussion kits mapped across the keyboard.
The tuned patches take a single tuned articulation from the full range of sounds included in each ensemble, and tunes and maps it across the keyboard. Articulations can be switched in realtime with MIDI CC, which can also be automated.

The three included Sustains patches have a focus on drones and ambient soundscape type sounds. The sounds in these patches can be morphed and polyphonic legato is available from the custom Kontakt interface panel.

The Master section includes a number of patches with combined instruments.

The master patch includes all percussive patches, and a lite version with less round robin samples is also included. The MegaMixer and Tuned Layer Builder patches allow you to construct your own ensembles by using 10 to 12 layers respectively.

The Effects section features 12 patches in both Kontakt 4 and Kontakt 5 format. The Kontakt 5 patches use the improved Time Machine Pro engine for a more realistic time stretching. The patches include sounds effects made by scraping metal objects, using violin bows, and other techniques.

Rust 3 includes a number of custom panels for quick access to parameters to modify the sounds, including the ever lovely “Uberpeggiator” custom arpeggiator, convolution reverbs and more.

For a more detailed overview of what’s included with Rust 3, check out the official walkthrough video below.

So what do I think?

Product: Rust 3 by Soundiron
Format: Kontakt, 24bit/48kHz Wav
Price: $89 USD
Like: Quality sounds, custom Kontakt interface
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

Rust 3 is a beautiful library, chock full of useful sounds.

By itself, the general vibe of the library tends to be a bit dark/creepy/haunting, which is great for cinematic film and game projects. Individual instruments will also blend in just fine with pretty much any other music genre, though the reason why this library (as well as other Rust libraries) is in Soundiron’s experimental category is obvious. I am not saying you shouldn’t use Rust 3 in your dubstep tunes, but I reckon you’ll get better mileage when you’re into junk percussion and original designed instruments with a metal vibe.

In short, I am well impressed with Rust 3. The sound recordings, instrument design, and Kontakt scripting all contribute to a deliver another top notch library.

More information: Soundiron / Rust 3

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Convert images to sound with Skytopia SonicPhoto

Skytopia SonicPhoto

Skytopia has released SonicPhoto, an audio program to convert from pictures to sound.

Use your existing photo collection or draw your own in Photoshop (or any other paint editor) and with a click of a button, watch SonicPhoto create the sound before your eyes.

Inspired by the existing PhotoSounder program from Michel Rouzic, SonicPhoto loses the internal paint editor and sound importer, but gains automatic and convincing stereo, and a unique harmony filter to help create distinct and professional effects ranging from sparkling synths and rippling arpeggios, to roaring bass and metallic drones.

SonicPhoto features

  • Create an infinite variety of sounds ranging based on the patterns found in any picture.
  • Instrument and harmony quantization so you can create tonal sounds.
  • Dozens of in-built presets, so you can immediately try sounds out and experiment.
  • Convincing stereo is automatically added to all sounds.
  • Very easy to use GUI with everything you need at a click of a button.
  • Well thought out system for loading and save custom projects.
  • Instantly adjust the quality to suit your needs (low for preview, high for final result).
  • Unlimited upgrades to future versions, and hassle-free installation, without messing about with keys/passwords .

SonicPhoto for Windows is available to purchase starting at $39 USD. A free demo version is also available.

More information: SonicPhoto

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Bluezone Corporation releases Tripod Invasion – Sound effects, drones and mechanical textures

Bluezone Tripod Invasion

Bluezone Corporation has announced Tripod Invasion, a sound library featuring 200+ unique stereo drones and Sci-Fi sound effects.

In this new downloadable sound library you will find high quality underground atmospheres, crashes and impacts, noise FX, risers and downshifters, transition and a large choice of alien rumbles, synthetic roars and deep organic ambient soundscapes.

All audio elements are perfect for the needs of scoring, temp tracks, trailers, songs and of course background music.

Like all Bluezone Corporation sound libraries, this pack is royalty-free and does not require any additional costs or permissions – it’s 100% ready to be used in your commercial productions. This sample pack is also suitable for style such as: Breaks, Dubstep, Ambient, Psy Trance, Techno, Drum and Bass and much more.

The sample pack is available to purchase for 18.95 EUR.

More information: Bluezone Corporation / Tripod Invasion

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SoundPack Summer Sale at Patchpool

Patchpool

Patchpool has announced the SoundPack Summer Sale, a limited time offer on its sound and loop libraries.

Buy 5 Packs of your choice listed on the product page for 50 Euros. You have 17 SoundPacks and 2 LoopPacks to choose from. You’ll find many Gigabytes of top notch audio material (wavs), all files can be demoed via the Souncloud widgets.

Soundscapes, Drones, Pads, Ethereal Textures, New Age, Sci-Fi Textures, Horror Scapes, Football Crowds, Alien Voices, Witches, Trains, Birds, Animals, Drumloops, Musicloops and much more, it’s all in there.

The sale ends July 9th, 2012.

More information: Patchpool / SoundPack Summer Sale

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Yuroun releases Abstractum II for Alchemy

Yuroun has announced the release of Abstractum II, a new soundset for the Alchemy software synthesizer instrument by Camel Audio.

Yuroun Abstractum II

Abstractum II is the successor of Abstractum I and contains a set playable atmospheres, textures and drones. Ranging from alchemistic, cosmic atmosphere’s to ethereal and bone-chilling soundscapes.

Abstractum II features over 359 MB of sample material hand-picked from Yuroun’s personal library and created with a custom Reaktor ensemble.

Each of the presets makes full use of Alchemy’s remix pads, offering a total of 440 sound variations. Use the remix pad and tweak knobs to find sounds that inspire you, or just fit well into your mix.

The soundset is available to purchase for 8.30 EUR.

More information: Yuroun / Abstractum II

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Yuroun launches Spring Sale – 50% off Alchemy soundsets

Yuroun Spring Sale

Yuroun has announced a Spring Sale, offering 50% discount on selected Alchemy soundsets.

Yuroun Spring Sale

  • Escape Velocity Bundle
    Collection of ethereal, space and inspiring pads and soundscapes.
  • Abstractum
    Set of 57 atmospheres, textures, drones and sound effects. Ranging from mysterious galactic atmopsheres to relaxing and delicate soundscapes.
  • Alchemy Elevations (Cinematic soundset)
    Small collection including impacts, stingers, beds, drones, soundscapes, percussive/atmospheric loops and more.
  • Odeon
    75-preset (with 600 variations) library for Alchemy. It offers a world of new sounds which are perfect for everything from film scores to ambient and new age.

The Spring Sale ends 20 June, 2012.

More information: Yuroun

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