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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

QESounds launches QES PhoenixB sfx sound library for Kontakt

QESounds QES PhoenixB

QESounds has announced the release of QES PhoenixB, a sound fx sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt.

QES PhoenixB 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. The QES Phoenix series 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 PhoenixB steps it up couple more notches – it is more intense than and more heavily layered than QES Phoenix – with a large population of deep effects, motion effects and “plosives”.

QES PhoenixB features

  • 10 non-pitched instruments and 40 pitch varied instruments (Time Machine Pro) with a total of 880 sounds.
  • V4.4 scripting – which includes global EQ, global convolution, user control of envelopes, EQ and stereo image for each sound and the ability to Save/Load all settings to/from user specified files.
  • Suitable for Film and Gaming soundtrack design as well as live venue. It is synergistic with Adventure/Fantasy, SciFi, Horror, and Drama genres.
  • Available in 44.1 KHz and 48 KHz versions, Kontakt 5.03+ compatible (Mac and PC).

The sample library is available as a download for $59.95 USD and on DVD for $69.95 USD.

More information: QESounds / QES PhoenixB

Producer Loops Kings of Bhangra Vol 3 sample library released

Producer Loops King of Bhangra Vol 3

Producer Loops has announced the release of Kings of Bhangra Vol 3, a new sample library by award-winning soundtrack composer and producer Gaurav Dayal.

This set of five stunning Construction Kits includes 130 loops and samples per format, recorded on the finest instruments played by the most experienced musicians.

This pack features a choice of ACID WAV, Apple Loops, REX and ReFill formats. From the producer of the immense ‘Classic Bollywood’ sample library, comes ‘Kings of Bhangra Vol 3′, a multi-format collection of five Construction Kits fusing traditional Indian musical elements with contemporary Bhangra and Urban styles.

Suitable for everything from Bollywood soundtracks, right through to contemporary Western Pop with a World music vibe, this pack is essential for the producer seeking to add authentic Indian spice to their productions.

All files are key and tempo-tagged and the ACID/Apple Loops files will conform to the speed and pitch of your DAW project.

The sample pack is available to purchase for £24.95 GBP.

More information: Producer Loops / Kings of Bhangra Vol 3

Essential World sample pack from Loopmasters

Loopmasters Essential World

Loopmasters has released Essential World, an organic collection of 200 loops and sounds perfect for your world, ambient, chill, soundtrack and cinematic productions.

Essential World includes a great collection of samples and loops that showcase an inspiring cross-section of World samples from Across the Loopmaster’s range – from Latin Horn Ensembles to Urgent Tribal Drums onto Stunning Complex Indian Melodies. For multimedia productions to Ambient Masterpieces and everything in between – the spectrum of applications is vast and the samples are ready to meet the challenge.

Essential World features

  • 120 vocal loops and 80 sounds and fx from: Da Lata Afro Brazil Parade Vol1, Indian Sessions Vol2, Latin Horns, Musa MBoob presents tribal Drums, The Sound Of Mbira African Thumb Piano.
  • Includes 40 Horns Loops, 15 Indian Percussion Loops, 14 Indian Vocal Loops, 11 Sitar Loops, 20 Tribal Percussion Loops, 20 Tribal Percusssion Hits, 20 African Thumb Piano Loops, 20 African Thumb Piano Hits, 20 Afro Brazilian Loops, 20 Afro Brazilian Hits.
  • Coupon code to get 20% off the full pack.

The sample pack is available to purchase for £9.95 GBP.

More information: Loopmasters / Essential World

Bollywood Sounds introduces Slumdog Bollywood Scores sample library

Bollywood Sounds Slumdog Bollywood Scores

Bollywood Sounds has announced the release of Slumdog Bollywood Scores, a soundtrack oriented construction kit library by Gaurav Dayal a.k.a. “G”, an award winning music producer hailing from New Delhi, India.

The Pack features full song kits inspired by the work of A.R. Rehman (Oscar Winner) & Nitin Sawney. The kits feature Indian instrument phrases combines with beats symphonic lines as well as ethnic percussion

“G” has produced beats,remixes for artists Like Wyclef Jon/Shakira , and has done music composition and major productions in Hollywood / Bollywood Blockbuster Movies (recently – Warner Brothers – Cinderella Story 3). G has previously produced Top-Selling Loop libraries like “Classic Bollywood”, Kings of Bhangra Vol1 & 2.

Slumdog Bollywood Scores features

  • 4 construction kits with 86 loops in Acid Wav, Apple Loops and REX formats.
  • One-shot drum samples are also included per kit.
  • All Loops are tagged with key & tempo information for easy use with your project.
  • All Loops are 24-bit 44.1Khz
  • Total size: 1.94GB (unzipped), 258 files.
  • Gear used: Apogee Converters, Neve 1073 Pre/EQ, EL Labs Distressors, El Labs Fatso, Thermionic Culture Rooster (Tube Pre/EQ), Eventide Eclipse.

The sample library is available to purchase for $49 USD.

More information: Bollywood Sounds / Slumdog Bollywood Scores

Samplephonics intros World Percussion Soundtrack 02 sample library for Kontakt + Angie Brown Vocals 20% off

Samplephonics World Percussion Soundtrack 02

Samplephonics has released World Percussion Soundtrack 02, an interactive sample library for Native Instruments Kontakt, featuring a diverse collection of expertly played and recorded percussion loops and samples by session percussionist Chris Wells.

The sample pack draws on various influences from around the world, combining contemporary music styles and instruments with more traditional ethnic percussion styles. This creates an extremely useable set of percussion samples, perfect for film, tv and popular music production alike.

The sample library contains a full on board mixer, allowing custom mixes to be created from the individual percussion samples to suit the composition. The various on board effects and dynamic processors allow for intuitive control and tonal changes, and the simple layout allows the percussion loops and samples to easily be played as full loops, or broken down into individual stems.

World Percussion Soundtrack 02 features

  • 35 full percussion grooves.
  • Individual percussion stems for each groove.
  • Custom Kontakt instrument with on board mixer, loop syncing and effects.
  • All the loops and samples have been meticulously recorded in 24 bit wav, and are 100% royalty free.

The sample library for Kontakt 5 is available to purchase for £34.70 GBP.

Samplephonics is also offering its iconic vocal sample pack Angie Brown Vocals at 20% off until September 1st, 2012.

Use discount code angie3721 at check out to take advantage of this offer.

More information: Samplephonics

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

u-he teases Dark Zebra – Custom Zebra with sounds from Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight soundtracks

u-he has posted a screenshot of the “Dark Zebra”, a collection of 400 Zebra patches from Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight soundtracks, bundled with a customized version of the Zebra software synthesizer.

Dark Zebra screenshot
Teaser screenshot of the upcoming custom Zebra that comes with sounds from Hans Zimmer.
Dark Zebra screenshot
The above shots reveals that filters from u-he virtual analog DIVA are now in Zebra.

Urs Heckmann writes:

Second image shows Diva filters in this pimped version. All parameters are visible, even if a specific filter type does not use them. As I said, it’s provisionary.

As for the soundset, it really is very special. Loads of cinematic effects and ambiences, many instruments that need to be discovered to be fully exploited – which will be ultimately rewarding!

Everyone, set up a knob on your controller keyboard that sends CC#2 for Breath Control, because this is used extensively in many patches.

Howie through in a few refined drafts so we reach 400.

The Dark Zebra is scheduled for release on Monday, July 23rd.

More information: u-he