AF’s Weblog

December 26, 2011

Native Instruments Kontakt 5 Review

Among the host of new products introduced by Natives Instruments in September, we found a new Kontakt version. Here is a quick overview of its new features.

Over the years, Kontakt became a topper on the software samplers market. But after the launch of MOTU’s MachFive 3 and Steinberg’s HALion 4, Native Instruments had to react by updating its baby. What’s new in version 5? Let’s dive in…

Your Effect On Me

Native Instruments Kontakt 5

The German manufacturer often uses internally (or even externally) developed technologies to enhance some of its products. Thus, we have found some of its brand new effects in NI’s virtual drums Studio Drummer (G-EQ, Solid Bus Comp), or the convolution reverb Reflektor in Guitar Rig Pro 5, etc. Kontakt 5 is no exception and hosts four new already existing effects: Solid G-EQ, Solid Bus CompTransient Master and Tape Saturator. We won’t dedicate more time and space to these effects that we have already described on AudioFanzine. However, we are happy to find them in Kontakt because they extend its audio-processing capabilities. Considering the price of the single effects, it’s a nice gift from Native Instruments!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Kontakt hits the nail on the head by offering features taken from other NI products: effects from NI’s Solid Mix series, filters designed by the creator of Massive, “MPC vintage” modes from Maschine, and a new time-stretching algorithm signed by zPlane. Add to this more comprehensive routing facilities (inserts, Aux sends) plus an integrated MIDI-file player and you get the reference tool among virtual samplers. Given the price, version 4 owners who don’t have the Solid Mix effects should upgrade without hesitation. If you thought about buying Retro Machines mk2, consider buying Kontakt 5… If you don’t have a Kontakt license yet, we recommend you to take a serious look at Komplete 8: for about $100 more, you get a very comprehensive collection of Native Instruments software tools.

Advantages: 
  • Solid effects
  • 37 new filters from the creator of Massive
  • New time-stretching algorithm signed by zPlane
  • More comprehensive routing options
  • Integrated MIDI-file player
  • Retro Machines mk2 for free
Drawbacks:
  • No as many new features as we expected
  • The quality of some instruments is not top
  • Too much for beginners?
  • Kontakt’s single price compared to Komplete’s price

To read the full detailed review see:  Native Instruments Kontakt 5 Review

December 17, 2010

Multitrack Drum Libraries

Filed under: Drums/Percussion, Samplers, Software — Tags: , , — audiofanzine @ 3:51 pm

More drum libraries are showing up in multitrack format from companies like Discrete Drums, Wizoo, East-West, Reel Drums, etc. Although these are sold on the basis of being useable out of the box for drum parts (with the additional advantage of being mixable), I see them more as a gold mine of raw materials for creating custom drum loops. Being able to process individual tracks separately is certainly a major advantage when deriving loops from multitracked parts, and of course, proper looping allows using these parts at different tempos.

For example, I just did a “remix” of the Discrete Drums sample library for the company, who had received numerous requests for “dirtier,” lower-resolution versions aimed for more hardcore hip-hop and dance musicians. Hard disk recording programs are ideal for doing this type of remixing; this article will concentrate on using Sonar, but most techniques apply to other programs, and specific examples are given for Acid as well.

Dealing with Human Error

Drum libraries played by real drummers are great, because of the additional “human feel” compared to using machines. But due to timing inaccuracies, it sometimes takes a little tempo tweaking to line up measure markers with downbeats.

 

This illustration shows a loop whose stated tempo was 79 BPM, but in the upper view, note how the downbeat at the beginning of measure 9 (the loop end point in this particular case) hits a little early compared to the measure marker. In the bottom view, changing the tempo to 79.03 BPM places the measure marker at the downbeat’s exact beginning.

If you need to change the tempo compared to the original file, then time-stretching becomes necessary. Sonar has a built-in time stretch function that’s very similar to the one in Acid; Cubase SX has a nifty ReCycle type feature that works particularly well with drum loops. For programs that don’t stretch, you have three options if you want to change tempo:

* Import the file into ReCycle, change the tempo as desired, then export back to WAV or AIF.
* Import the file into Acid, Sonar, or a recent version of Sound Forge, “acidize” the file, then export.
* If the tempo change is small, change the pitch withoutcompensating for duration. Tranposing pitch upward will speed up the tempo, transposing down will slow it. For small changes, the pitch difference may not be noticeable (and in some cases, may be desirable).

After tweaking the track mix and setting the tempo, render the file to a stereo loop. Import this into your hard disk recorder or a digital audio editor and set looped playback mode. If there’s a click when the loop jumps back to the beginning, add a 4 ms fade-out to eliminate clicks, and if absolutely necessary, a 2-4 ms fade-in. In drastic cases, I use Sonic Foundry’s Click Removal DirectX plug-in to remove clicks at transition points.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Groove Clip Tricks

* All programs that use slicing to do time-stretching work most efficiently when speeding up rather than slowing down. Therefore, if you want to create a loop that works well from, for example, 100 BPM to 120 BPM, you’re better off creating it at 100 BPM and speeding it up than starting at 120 BPM and slowing it down.
* Editing markers is usually mandatory for drum loops played by human drummers instead of machines, as editing can compensate for any timing variations that interfere with the stretching process.
* Before getting too much into editing, try adjusting the Basic Slices and Transient Detection sliders first. Often choosing different values will solve flamming and other problems, without the need for editing.
* Use the lowest Slice Rhythmic Value possible (e.g., 8th note instead of 16th note), consistent with good sound. Extraneous slices can cut off drum decays. This is particularly annoying with kicks, as you lose some of the fullness and “ring.”
* Sonar will endeavor to keep any markers that you’ve moved manually in their assigned positions, so you can experiment at any time with the Slicing and Transient Detect controls without losing the positions of your carefully-placed markers.
* When you save a Sonar song or bundle, it retains all the Groove Clip parameters. To save a Groove Clip in acidized format for use other programs, simply drag the file to the desktop; it will be copied and saved with its groove parameters intact. However, you will likely want to rename it, as Sonar generates the name automatically.

To read the full detailed article see: Multitrack Drum Libraries

October 1, 2010

Korg MicroSampler Review

To everyone’s surprise, Korg has launched a small sampler keyboard. Let’s see what we can do with it and for what purpose…

The first all-in-one sampler keyboard saw the light of day almost 30 years ago. Born under the Californian sun in 1981, the Emulator provided four or eight voices, a four-octave keyboard and 128 KB of RAM that allowed the user to save four seconds of audio data at 8 bits/28 kHz. “Play a turkey” said the ads… you could even play eight turkeys if you paid $15,000! In those days, big Fairchild systems were the rulers and the Synclavier could not sample audio yet. The Ensoniq Mirage was the first to make this concept affordable in 1984. And the arms race began: memory, resolution, sample rate, polyphony, sound synthesis section, effects, sequencer… E-mu, Ensoniq, Kurzweil, Akaï, and Roland became the major players. And Korg joined in the adventure in 1986 with the DSS-1. With the advent of computers and their giant sample banks, the sampler keyboard market reduced to zero, nothing… until recently, when Korg surprised everybody by launching a feather light sampler keyboard called MicroSampler. For whom, for what and how?

A Strange Package

Korg MicroSampler

With almost 4.4 lb., the MicroSampler is no tank! The front panel is made out of gray cheap-looking plastic. All controls are recessed into the housing; this design protects the controls during transportation indeed but it also makes access harder. It is specially troublesome for the “Tap Tempo” and “Sampling” buttons given that we would like to push them more easily! The unit is equipped with six encoders, that recall the program selectors of a washing machine, and 16 switches. The front panel is divided into four main sections: keyboard (that allows sample selection and assignation), pattern sequencer, sampling, and browsing. The latter consists in a backlit LCD, browsing keys and two encoders: the first one allows you to browse the parameters and the other one to edit them. The keyboard offers 37 velocity sensitive keys in small format. The MicroSampler is definitely made for skillful people when it comes to editing and playing, even if the black keys are a bit larger than on most compact keyboards… Right above the keyboard, you’ll find a 37-LED display inserted in a metal bar, which indicates the sample(s) being currently played or edited. By the way, the unit has no joystick nor wheels! On the other hand, it has two slots for a cell phone, a pack of cards, chewing-gums, or money…

Korg MicroSampler

On the front panel you can also find an XLR connector for the gooseneck dynamic mic included. All other connections are on the rear panel: headphones out, stereo audio output and input on 1/4″ jacks, Midi in/out, type-D USP port, power in, and on/off switch. The USB port allows you to connect the keyboard to a computer to transfer samples and Midi data (see gray box). Under the hood, there’s a closed compartment for six AA batteries that allow you to play for about four hours (battery indication with visual alert on the display), which is ideal to sample sounds on the beach or in the rain forest… Handling is rather easy and most controls are easily accessible since the unit is very slim. By pushing the “Edit” button and a key you’ll access the edit page directly above it. The only issue arises with the “Value” encoder, which is not absolutely precise for parameter editing. We would have preferred increment/decrement buttons.

Memory and Sound

Korg MicroSampler

The MicroSampler is stereo and has 16 bit/48 kHz resolution, like all Korg products since the Trinity… Its permanent memory allows you to save eight banks of 36 user samples each (160 sec. per bank and only half that in stereo). You can use only one bank at a time after having loaded it into the internal temp memory. We don’t know if audio data is compressed but 15 MB of internal temp memory correspond to 116 MB flash memory, in linear format. The polyphony provides 14 voices but samples that use time stretching require twice as much voices.

The MicroSampler is provided with a sound bank stored in the internal ROM. It includes 36 samples and 16 patterns, some of which you can listen to here (drums, pitched, looped): Not very generous and poor quality… In “sample” mode, you can access the 36 samples dispatched over the whole keyboard in their original pitch, except the higher C key dedicated to the stereo audio input. In “keyboard” mode, the current sample is applied to all 37 keys; the second C from the left corresponds to the original pitch. You can transpose beyond this pitch range, even with an external master keyboard! If other samples are looped while you switch to this mode, they will continue playing back. On the contrary, you have to release the notes to change the sample.

Now let’s take an even closer look…

Conclusion

The MicroSampler revisits a 30-year old concept with modern technologies. The results? Extremely light weight, mobility, permanent memory, real-time sampling, integrated effects, basic sequencer, and connection to a computer. With its small keyboard, basic editing, integrated mic and standalone capability, it will be best used for mobile or live applications; it cannot compete with software solutions in a studio. The ergonomics could be better considering the target users: better access to the controls, remote sampling start, standard-size keys, more banks… Finally, the MicroSampler is a nice compact tool which is less a toy than it seems, and it is just waiting for you to take it for a ride somewhere.

Advantages:

  • Very compact size
  • Easy to use
  • Real-time capability
  • Real-time time stretching
  • Flash memory
  • Comprehensive effects section
  • Memory exchange with a computer
  • Downloadable PC/Mac editor software
  • Wav/Aiff import via editor

Drawbacks:

  • Recessed controls
  • Limited sound synthesis possibilities
  • Proprietary sample format
  • Not conceived for multisamples
  • Playing limited to 37 keys
  • Only one bank in the RAM
  • Limited number of internal banks
  • Limited number of samples per bank
  • No save function for a USB key or a card
  • Almost no pattern editing possibilities

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Korg MicroSampler Review

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