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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

The Unfinished releases Massive Darkscore III + 50% off in Birthday Soundset Sale

The Unfinished Massive Darkscore IIII

The Unfinished has announced the release of Massive Darkscore III, a soundset for the Massive software synthesizer by Native Instruments.

Massive Darkscore III features 128 patches for NI Massive that are perfect for modern filmscoring, atmospheric electronica and bass-heavy dubstep.

This time there are more thudding basslines and punchy drumloops – as well as the usual growly basses, soaring pads and otherworldly soundscapes.

Massive Darkscore III is perfect for providing cutting edge sounds to enhance your projects, whether you need more air, more low end, or just more drive. And with fully automated macros across each patch, the inspiration and possibilities are limitless.

The soundset is available to purchase for £14.99 GBP.

The Unfinished has also launched a Birthday Soundset Sale on its previously released soundsets.

So full of the birthday spirit am I that I have decided to put all my soundsets on a 50% off sale – apart from the newly released Massive Darkscore III – you can’t have that half price already! All three soundsets are on sale at half price for the next few days.

So, if you’re in need of new sounds for Massive or Absynth, then you’re in the right place to be.

More information: The Unfinished / Massive Darkscore III

Samplephonics introduces Vintage Filmscapes sample library by Toby Baker

Samplephonics has announced the release of Vintage Filmscapes, a quirky sample library from session musician and composer Toby Baker, packed full of rich sonic landscapes, emotive chord progressions and vintage character.

Samplephonics Vintage Filmscapes

The sample pack contains 64 8 bar construction kits made up of 3 parts, from dark distorted drum breaks to rich analogue drones to delicate piano and string melodies.

The loops and samples have been broken down in to 4 main categories: Sci-Fi, Drama, Crime and Romance. Within each folder there are 4 tempo sub folders of 90, 100, 110 and 120 BPM.

This sample pack is perfect for television and film composers looking for sound beds and ideas to build upon, as well as sample enthusiasts and mash up artists in hip hop, rnb and house.

All samples are provided in 24 Bit Wav format or Apple Loops (available as separate downloads from the dropdown menu above) and come ready to use, 100% royalty free. There are also sampler instruments packaged with.

The sample pack is available as a download for £34.70 GBP.

More information: Samplephonics / Vintage Filmscapes

Eastwest Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds now shipping

EASTWEST Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds

Eastwest has announced it is now shipping its Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds virtual instrument for Windows and Mac.

Over 70 weeks, the EASTWEST team recorded, edited and programmed every nuance of world-class orchestral woodwind players with meticulous care. The result is a comprehensive library of breathtakingly real woodwind sounds – the perfect addition to the critically acclaimed Hollywood Strings and Hollywood Brass.

Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds is the most powerful, realistic and complete woodwind virtual (software) instrument, weighing in with a massive 145 GB of meticulously captured realism and detail.

As with Hollywood Strings and Hollywood Brass, this library was sound engineered in the legendary EASTWEST Studio 1 by Academy Award, C.A.S. (Cinema Audio Society), BAFTA, and EMMY award-winning sound engineer Shawn Murphy, who has recorded and mixed the scores for more than 300 feature films including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Wars: Episode II and III and many more.

Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds includes Alto Flute, Bass Clarinet, Bass Flute, Bassoon, Clarinet, Contra Bass Clarinet, Contra Bassoon, Eb Clarinet, English Horn, Flute, Flute 2, Oboe, Piccolo Flute, with unprecedented sound quality and expression, true legato plus 5 user-controllable microphone positions (Diamond Edition only); Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds is designed to work seamlessly with the existing sections of the Hollywood Orchestral series – Hollywood Strings, Hollywood Brass and the upcoming Hollywood Orchestral Percussion – for the ultimate in virtual Hollywood scoring.

Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds Diamond Edition is now available for the introductory offer of $795 USD ($995 USD MSRP), and Hollywood Orchestral Woodwinds Gold Edition will be available the introductory offer of $475 USD ($595 USD MSRP).

More information: SoundsOnline / SoundsOnline Europe

u-he releases Dark Zebra soundset – Patches by Hans Zimmer and Howard Scarr

u-he has announced the release of the Dark Zebra, a soundset for Zebra 2 featuring patches by Hans Zimmer and Howard Scarr.


The Dark Zebra soundset with the custom ZebraHZ synthesizer plugin.

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 it into the scores.

Furthermore, the pack includes Hans’ custom built version of Zebra, dubbed ZebraHZ. Many of the more recent patches make use of the extra features available in ZebraHZ.

The Dark Zebra soundset is available to Zebra 2 users for $99 USD (incl VAT).
Note: The included ZebraHZ is currently VST2 and AU only (AAX and VST3 are in development).

More information: u-he / Dark Zebra

QESounds announces QES Phoenix for Kontakt

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QESounds Phoenix

QESounds has announced the release of the first entry in its QES Phoenix series for Native Instruments Kontakt.

QES Phoenix is a series of libraries based on 4th and 5th generation sounds – complex – layered – heavily convolved and granulated. The tone and feel is bigger and more aggressive than the ARFx series. All sounds originate from real world sources.

QESounds is known for slightly weird and subtly weird sounds. QES Phoenix steps it up a notch or three – with more notches to come. We’re throwing the kitchen sinks of sound design into this series – convolution synthesis, spectral and amplitude morphing, reversed/mirrored processing, FM and AM, static and dynamic granulation, pitch and time stretching, “motion”, stereo manipulation, layering, delay based Fx and more.

QES Phoenix is suitable for Film and Gaming soundtrack design as well as live venue.

The QES Phoenix is available to purchase for $59.95 USD (44.1 KHz) / $69.95 USD (48 KHz). Each QES Phoenix includes 10 instruments for Kontakt 4.23+ and 40 instruments for Kontakt 5.03 (Time Machine Pro).

More information: QESounds / QES Phoenix

u-he announces ZebraHZ: Custom Zebra synth plugin and sounds used for Dark Knight Trilogy bundled

ZebraHZ riddle

u-he has announced details on the upcoming ZebraHZ, a special version of Zebra that Hans Zimmer used in the soundtracks of the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films.

As you know, next week premieres the final part of The Dark Knight trilogy. For the soundtrack HZ used a custom built Zebra with Diva filters and some prototype features originally planned for Zebra3. He got us to do this in return for some rights. Now the gist is, part of what we’re releasing requires that pimped version of Zebra, hence it will be bundled. It isn’t perfect, e.g. the “Diva” filters are mono, there’s no multicore support, significant CPU drain if the extras are used. We call it ZebraHZ, and it will run nicely as a *separate* plugin!

So, hehe, I can’t hold back anymore, and it has been guessed rightly a few times – all Zebra patches by HZ/HS designed for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, accompanied by ZebraHZ. Sells for 99$, requires an existing Zebra license.

This I think is the best way to celebrate 11 (i.e. one more!) years of u-he, and a great way to bridge the gap until we release Zebra3. I’m also very happy that we can finally and officially make these sounds heard.

More information: u-he

Spitfire Audio intros Iron Drum + Albion II – Loegria cinematic library for Kontakt announced

Spitfire LABS Iron Drum

Spitfire Audio has released Iron Drum, a new Spitfire Laboratories sample library featuring the sound of a tuned soft metal instrument.

We are absolutely delighted to announce having passed the £10k milestone with our Unicef campaign and wish to heartily thank you for your contribution in that respect.We’re now the 4th biggest contributor to Unicef UK via PayPal, a remarkable achievement, long may this continue.

To mark this achievement we have purpose built a whole new little lovely just for you guys.

Recorded at Air-Edel studios specifically for the LABS, the Iron Drum is a heavy iron drum with 6 “resonators” that feel not unlike a chunky hand drum. It has a beautiful mellow tone that’s both familiar (like a nicely tuned steel drum) whilst being difficult to place exactly (or is it a vibraphone of some sort?). We have recorded it 4 ways, with a rubber beater muted and unmuted: 5 round robins, 2 dynamic layers, and with hand strikes both muted and unmuted again recorded with 5 round robins at a single soft dynamic layer.

The Iron Drum library is free, provided you donate £2 GBP to Unicef via the LABS.

Spitfire Audio Albion II - Loegria

Spitfire has also announced Albion II – Loegria, the upcoming scoring library which centers on cinematic beauty and detail.

Designed as a stand-alone tool, everything you would need to write beautiful and esoteric film scores out-of-the-box. We are excited to present an incredible Chamber sized String group of the first call session players in the UK, again designed as High and Low Ensembles.

At last this intimate sound is available with Spitfire’s mic mixing ability, and with strings that concentrate also on an array of additional techniques not found in Albion I, and woods and brass that centre more on “choral” use of such sections. Loegria is a must buy for Albion users wishing to expand on the possibilities of that broad & thumping tool-set, but also stands alone as a superb tool for creating intimate scores.

Release date and price TBA.

More information: Spitfire Audio