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

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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

January 20, 2010

Best of NAMM 2010: The Top 11

The Audio & Musical Gear that Made the Show

As the dust is settling in Anaheim, and the post-buzz is gathering wind, us here at Audiofanzine present to you our Top 11 gear picks from NAMM 2010. Why 11? Well, it’s one louder isn’t it?

With the hundreds of new products revealed and displayed last week at NAMM 2010, it is quite a battle for manufacturers fighting for attention space in the minds of consumers and partners.  It is always a challenge, and everyone of course has their favorite category, brand or particular gear need that directs their attention to this booth or that piece of hot news.  It is also extremely difficult to say hands down- this is the most innovative product to come out because invariable each product can only fairly compete within its own category.  Furthermore, like I said innovation is the outcome of a particular unfulfilled need, and not everyone will share this need.  Some products at the end are not groundbreaking but are just ‘cool’.  And that’s cool too.

Hence, without further ado, the editors of Audiofanzine present to you the Top 11 picks from NAMM 2010, in no particular order- as the products present a mixture of categories that cannot be compared.

Teenage Engineering OP-11.  Teenage Engineering OP-1:

It may look like a Japanese toy, but the OP-1 is the all-in-one portable Synthesizer, Sampler and Controller. With additional features like the FM Radio and a G-Force sensor for pitch and bend effects. Beside a creative approach to sequencing with multiple choice of sequencers, it also has a built-in Tape feature.  Check out all juicy details on Teenage Engineering .  This one is a keeper.

Pearl E-Pro2.  Pearl E-Kit:

What makes the E-Pro Live drumset truly different from other electronic drumsets, the company says, is the “real feel and response from the pads”. Pearl’s Tru-Trac Electronic Heads feature dual-zones that reproduce all of the intricacies the drummer is used to hearing when playing an acoustic drum. The smooth coating on the heads makes moving from drum to drum fast and easy, Pearl says. And of course, let’s not forget the obvious: the real sizes of the drums. The set features 10″, 12″ and 14″ toms, a 14″ snare drum, and a 20″ bass drum. Say goodbye to 8″ practice pads.

Taylor Baritone 8 Strings3.  Taylor Baritone 8 Strings:

Taylor decided to add 2 octave strings to each of the A and D strings. The resulting 8-string baritone GS complements the baritone’s lower tonal range, adding a touch of upper-octave brightness without too much 12-string jangle. The result is a guitar with great tonal range, perfect for walking basslines and rich melodies.  How does it sound?  Simply divine.

Want to see the rest of the list?  Visit us here:  NAMM Top 11

June 29, 2009

Spectrasonics Omnisphere: Omnipotent & Omnificent ?

Introduction
After many years of development, Spectrasonics has released their new flagship virtual instrument, Omnisphere, which has been heralded as a completely new ground-breaking hybrid virtual instrument incorporating a myriad of realtime synthesis techniques, an epic library featuring ‘psychoacoustic’ sounds, and many other innovative features. It’s also the first instrument to be built upon their newly developed STEAM Engine. So, when Spectrasonics, who has always been a heavy-weight in the world of VSTIs and Sample libraries, makes a claim like this, many of us stop to listen. What have we heard…..


When I first got wind of Spectrasonics plans to come out with Omnisphere, I , like no doubt many other people, was wondering why they’d go to all the trouble of  trying to improve upon the already impressive Atmosphere when there were so many other things they could do. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Spectrasonics had developed their own Steam engine and was now poised to create a hybrid synth worthy of their new engine and that would dwarf Atmosphere in sheer scope, design, and capabilities. And while Spectrasonics has gone to great lengths to point out that Omnisphere is not merely a successor to Atmosphere but a completely new virtual instrument, many people might erroneously continue to think of it that way. But 5 minutes with this instrument is enough to convince anyone that it goes well beyond being just an Über-Atmosphere and is in its own “sphere”.

Give me some STEAM

One of the most important features of Omnisphere is Spectrasonics’ own STEAM engine, as opposed to the UVI engine found in Atmosphere. The Steam engine was created by their own in-house development team and will, they say, be used as the basis of all of their future performance instruments. As well as providing development possibilities into a variety of hybrid synthesis and control capabilities (high resolution streaming, Sample playback, Integrated FX, Timbre Shifting, etc.), Spectrasonics says that it will also make future technological transitions easier. An additional advantage of having their own engine is that their own software can be more flexible and open, allowing patches to be shared across hosts and computer platforms as well as allowing all instruments based on their engines (S.A.G.E. & STEAM) to better interact, which is already evident in the interaction between Stylus RMX and Omnisphere (more on this later).

Installation

Nowhere is the contrast between Atmosphere and Omnisphere more obvious than with the difference in library sizes. Atmosphere fit on 6 CDs and took around an hour to install. Omnisphere has a core library of  40-plus gigas and comes on 6 DVDS! Installation can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes per DVD (depending on the speed of your drive) which means that it could take up to 4 and a half hours to install! In my case, each DVD took around 35-40 minutes which meant the whole thing took about 4 hours. Fortunately you can interrupt installation and resume where you left off (starting at the beginning of the next DVD), even if you turn off the computer. Once everything’s installed, it’s time to go to Spectrasonic’s site to register and get the latest versions of the driver and the patch & soundsource libraries. Registration and updating are pretty quick and painless and you should take the opportunity to start downloading the truly excellent video tutorials on their site.

Multi-timbral

One of the main differences between Atmosphere and Omnisphere is that the latter is Multi-Timbral while the former was not. This means that while you needed to open multiple instances of Atmosphere when you wanted it to play more than one part or sound, one instance of Omnisphere can play up to eight different parts at the same time (cpu willing) thanks to the new STEAM engine.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion
I’ve been a big Spectrasonics fan ever since I first came across their products. So does that mean I’m not objective and automatically like everything they do? Not really. It’s more like a long time fan who becomes more and more difficult to please and who has high standards for the object of his adulation (I’m a big Sting & Stevie Wonder fan but that doesn’t make me less critical of their latest releases; rather the opposite is true). But somehow Spectrasonics just keeps getting better and better at what they do. Of course one can always find negative things to say about anything, even Omnisphere. So some might say that the sounds are too big and won’t easily fit into a mix, or that Spectrasonics’ sounds are too easily recognizable and ubiquitous. Or that its sounds are too geared at certain styles of music. But these arguments, which I disagree with, would only be valid on the surface (if that!). The complexity and versatility of the instrument and its massive sound library make these points irrelevant.

In light of this test, Audiofanzine gives Omnisphere a Best Product award

At around $480, it’s a very good deal, especially when you think of the sheer number of sounds that come with it. You won’t find a better sounding instrument with such an enormous palette of sounds in the virtual world. Its only competitors are to be found in the hardware world, and when you look at it like that, the price now takes on a new light! Add to that the fact that Spectrasonics has included many sounds from their award winning sample libraries of the past (the wonderful Symphony of Voices alone costs around $500!) and the ‘value for the money’ ratio starts to tilt even further in the buyer’s favor.

Advantages:

  • The Sound, the sound , the sound
  • User friendly
  • Flexibility, and the possibility to go in deeper
  • Arpeggiator
  • Live and Stack Modes
  • The sound library (and the inclusion of a “best of” compilation of Spectrasonics older libraries)
  • Midi learn, Automation, and Modulation (the majority of parameters can be controlled & it’s easy to do!)
  • Interconnectivity of all it’s aspects and features
  • Interface (both simple & complex sections)
  • Excellent Video Tutorials and Presentations
  • STEAM engine: present and future interaction with other instruments built on their engines (like RMX)

Drawbacks:

  • Resource Heavy
  • No Stand alone

To read the full detailed article see:  Spectrasonics Omnisphere Review

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