Some time ago I put my name down at the VR Sound website http://www.vrsound.com as a person willing to be supplied with one of their CD roms for review purposes. Not a hard commitment to make really, but I didn\'t expect an answer. About mid November I was informed that I could do a review, and a couple of days later the Giga Module CD rom arrived in the post. I feel obliged to say that VR Sound have not pushed me to write the review in any particular fashion, asked to vet it before posting, or even tried to tweak my opinion with flashy descriptions of their recording techniques. They just sent me a CD without liner notes and a polite request for the review. What with a sudden big job and then Christmas, I\'ve been a bit slack putting fingers to keyboard, but here it is finally. Please excuse me if I seem to be covering the same territory as RobM did last month, but it\'s probably handy to have a second opinion anyway.
VR Sound\'s Giga Module is an example of what might be seen as a second generation of sample libraries for the Gigasampler. Initially Gigasampler users had access to conversions of libraries which were designed for Akai samplers. This was the first generation. The only problem with this was that the Gigasampler usually ended up under-utilised. Gigasampler features which were unavailable on Akai samplers could only be accessed by those intrepid enough to do further time-consuming programming after they\'d converted their Akai library. As Akai samplers only use ram for sample playback most sounds sampled for the Akai were compromised to fit the limited (and relatively expensive at the time) ram. Crash cymbals were faded quickly, tuned instruments were not sampled on every note, dynamic sounds were sampled loud and then filtered, rather than sampled at mutiple velocities and switched.
The Second generation ignores these boundaries. The Giga Module has instruments which will only fit in the largest ram based samplers, combinations of these instruments will only fit in Gigasampler, and it is not unusual to find instruments which are sampled at several velocities for each note. Even crash cymbals have multiple velocity layers.
VR Sound have also implemented their own ID system. Bass instruments are prefixed with \'bs\', percussion with \'pn\', acoustic pianos with \'pa\', electric pianos with \'pe\' etc. These IDs in conjunction with Gigastudio\'s Quicksound should make it easy to locate a favourite VR sound.
This collection is not a detailed analysis of any particular instrument. It isn\'t Ultimate Marimbas, or the Unabridged Tin Whistle Library. It\'s a bit of a buffet. I haven\'t spoken to the sound designers, but my impression is that this CD is designed to be a good general starting point for those who aren\'t ready to commit to big bucks for a single instrument CD. It also supplies sounds which are missed out in some libraries.
For example, there are only two basses on the CD, but they aren\'t the kind of basses you generally find on real or synth bass CD roms. They\'re eq\'d and processed - designed to sit in a mix pretty much immediately. Dirty Phunk Slap Bass has a tasteful hint of amp distortion, and for every straight note in the bottom half of the keyboard, there is a funk slap exactly two octaves above. For basses, I personally prefer this approach to velocity switching - I tend to get too energetic when playing parts and unintentionally fire off sounds in the upper velocity range, so separating the sounds for right and left hands works well for me. VR LowBass is a very mellow tone across the whole range, which is a big improvement over those sampled basses which switch to new samples for strings A, D & G. This way you can play the higher notes and not get that thin bright sound of the top strings sticking out from the rest of your line which is based on the warmer E string sample. The top half of VR LowBass\' range has a variety of articulations and effects which are thoughtfully processed to match the main bass sound.
The Funky and Rock drum kits are seriously multisampled and have a few alternate processed choices of kicks and snares thrown in (I love Ledrm Kick - so much character). Some sounds like the snare and kick have up to 16(!) sets of stereo velocity levels. Even the ride has five layers. The layout on these is clever too. On the snare you have two adjacent keys with similar (not identical) strikes that you can easily play realistic sounding paradiddles on. Adjacent to those is a third key with quite loud multisampled versions of the snare. For me, it was very easy to play a soft to medium pattern on the first two keys and punctuate it with all my loud hits using the third key. The layout is repeated halfway up the keyboard, with slight velocity range variations, for those who like to play drum parts two handed. The hats are also hugely multisampled, but my guess is the programming was done pre-key zone implementation, so you\'ll need to assign all the hats to their own region, which should take all of two minutes. Flammed toms are available in the extreme upper range of the keyboard.
The Moog 15 Sequences patch uses single shot atonal percussive filter blips and sequences which are also thoughtfully programmed in a kind of \'construction kit\' manner. You have a sequenced pattern of lively non melodic filter boinks on one key, with each of the next several keys holding panned single-shots which are consistent with the full sequence - allowing you to easily roll your own sequences. This is repeated across about ninety keys.
The Organs are a mixed bag. Most are derived from a nice present hammond registration recorded with a little valve overload through a leslie.
There\'s a main slow leslie recording, a strong fifth slow leslie, and an accelerating to fast leslie. But there is no fast only leslie recording..I\'m not sure what to make of that. Theoretically you could edit the front off the accelerating samples, but it\'d take a while. There is also a \'Tube Fuzz\' slow leslie patch which would add some serious edge to any \'prog rock\' performance (just kidding!). It\'s a real \'character\' sound, a sound which on its own can make the difference between a straight sounding piece and something which sounds juicy and different.
The \"Tokyo 7\' Piano - Player\" is mostly sampled every three semitones, and sampled at four velocity levels. The samples are seamlessly looped and the instrument takes up about 50 mb of disk space. When listening to this I had to keep reminding myself that it shouldn\'t be compared with piano libraries which use two or three CDs to hold one instrument and cost huge dollars. This piano sounds better than most I\'ve heard on Akai libraries, but isn\'t a patch on something like the Steinway B. There is a separate version of the piano - called sustain, which is one layer with each sample covering about half an octave. It\'s richer than the other version but has a sample which stands out around F2. I found that cutting that region out altogether and filling the gap left with the regions above and below actually sounded more even.
The \"Vienna 9\' Piano - Player\" is also sampled every few keys, but has three velocity levels instead of four. I prefer it to the Tokyo, as the sound is a little less bright, and a little \'roomier\'. VR also supply a version which is sampled with distant miking. I found it quite strange to play a piano which sounded like it was actually positioned across the room from where I stood. As with the Tokyo, the Vienna 9\' has a sustain version - miked similarly to the Player instrument.
The Fast Tremolo Rhodes has about two samples per octave, with two velocities layers per sample. The soft samples would work in most material needing soft Rhodes, not too dull - but also not too \'tiney\'. The hard samples have a bit of bark, which some people would call clunky, but others always miss when playing a \'sampled\' Rhodes. Some people may have a similar problem with a multi sampled tremolo Rhodes to that of a multi sampled Hammond through Leslie, ie it\'s just not possible to get perfect synch of the spacial movement across mutliple samples. However, lateral thinkers will realise that doesn\'t stop the unsyc\'d multisampled fast tremolo effect being interesting in itself.
The Slow Tremolo Rhodes is sampled more often - one sample for every few keys, with three velocity layers per region. It\'s a really lovely spacious sound which ranges from soft tines to warm mids to that slightly overdriven Rhodes sound. There\'s a dud hard layer on the E3 region though - sounds like a damped tine, but apart from that it\'s all in tune and responds very naturally.
As with the sustain acoustic pianos, VR Sound has included a \'bonus\' Rhodes - the Octave Rhodes. Each key is actually two octaves played simultaneously with slow tremolo, one layer and two samples. It\'s a pretty thick sound and probably not as easy to sit in a mix as the other Rhodes, but these days it\'s hard to say what is or isn\'t musically useful. You decide.
3 Congas is about as big a misnomer as you\'ll ever see in relation to drum patches. The last thing anyone really wants in their Latin kit is just three conga hits (which is what I thought this patch would be until I loaded it). After I find a conga sample which fits what I\'m working on, my next big problem is always that dreary mechanical repetetiveness caused by having only three samples - usually low, high and slap. You can try to convince yourself that a little creative velocity and filter control can make that high conga sound unique on every hit, but the truth is it\'s still the same bop over and over again for the whole piece, which probably works against the idea of using a conga part to liven things up in the first place. This patch contains over eighty stereo conga samples. Some are effects - like heel slides or flams, but most are straight tones and slaps. Again,. the programmer has chosen to spread the samples out linearly across the keyboard rather than build several16 layer velocity switched single key regions. This is what I prefer, as I can locate the samples I like quickly, and more easily visualise how to build a part around them. There are enough variations for each of these sounds (even the slides) that your conga part will continue to sound fresh and can even evolve with the mood of the piece.
The Tamborine patch contains 23 samples. Several versions of your classic hard hits, several soft touches, several rolls and a few hits which have about a quarter of a second of tambourine build before the main impact - for those pedants who want a little more realism.
I had no idea what a Tupan was when I loaded it. My first impression was that it was some kind of bass drum - which it is. Apparently Tupan is a Macedonian word for a bass drum used in Bulgaria and some Arabic countries. There are twelve samples in the patch which are laid up twice across two octaves - making it a little easier to play two handed. The hits range from very loud to quite soft and distant. Again, it\'s great to have several versions of the same style of hit - eg three or four soft hits or a few hard hits, instead of findong a sound you want to use, but only having that one strike to play over and over.
Polymoog Phat Bass. What it says. I personally always hated the sound of the Polymoog, which seemed more like an organ with filters than a polyphonic mini, but the Phat Bass sound is quite big. It\'s one four layer sample which is spread across the stereo image. It largely uses the Gigasampler filter, which means you don\'t get a faster filter effect as you go up octaves, and is a very thick sawtooth sound with at least two strong octaves. It\'s a little reminiscent of a rumbling pipe organ bass. Switching to Turbo filter seemed to de-emphasise the mids and bring out the subs.
The Synth pad called Sweet Metal Mod is warm, chorusing, slightly evolving, and sonically fits in between soft strings and synth choir. It\'s a very useful all-rounder. The patch is programmed using a band pass filter, and the mod wheel has a very useful brightening effect without ever getting thin and reedy.
You could describe \'Thick 3D Ana Pad\' in a similar way, but the mod wheel has much more throw on the filter and as you open it you hear more of a vocoded string sound, which gets very bright and resonant. In the background you can hear a rising square wave trill which gives the patch a slightly spacey effect (more obvious when the filter is open). The patch has a one second loop which comes in after about four or five seconds. Single notes with the filter open make the loop clear, but in paddy chords you\'d mainly hear a nice general motion during the loops.
Thick Slow Ana Pad also falls into the soft strings/vocoder variety. It starts out with a very slight, brief glide to pitch, and a fairly whispy top end which very slowy decays into resonant mid range. Very subtle with continuous movement.
Voicy Sizzle is a two octave pad (ie two sets of oscillators on each note - at different octaves).The bottom end is a warm square wave that\'s fairly generic but fills the sound out well. The top octave is where the \'character\' of the patch lies. It\'s reminiscent of a Roland patch called Soundtrack which used pulse waves, two oscillators gliding to pitch from opposite directions, and a resonant filter sweep to create a kind of \'meow\' across the first couple of seconds of the patch. The Roland patch was programmed with fifths on every note, which sounded clever but was always a pain to fit into a piece. Voicy Sizzle doesn\'t suffer this problem. It has a nice present mid range, \'sizzling\' upper range, and a haunting lower range with digital vocal overtones. This patch would find itself at home in just about any documentary soundtrack
The Small String Ensemble sits in an unusual position. The ensemble isn\'t a chamber group, and it\'s not twenty six violins either. With the exception of the cello, each sample region covers about three semitones. The violins and violas have some vibrato, are a sweet tone and have an intimate romantic quality about them. You\'ll probably need to find your cellos elsewhere than this patch. There are two instruments in the bank - one with a quick release and the other which felt more natural to play has a release of about a second.
LhundrumXjii is a single sample synth effect. The patch uses what seems like a multi tap delay, with cross mod on an oscillating filter which has a negative envelope doing a quick \'zap\' type close at the beginning, then slowly opening up and spending about fifteen seconds (depending on which key you play) climbing and climbing. The Star Wars type laser effect at the beginning might appeal to some, but I\'d prefer to cut it off and just use the long climb, which has a really nice build.
Mosfate is also a synth effect. There are two samples on either side of middle C. The lower sample is a kind of \'shooting star\' slow oscillator fall with delays. The upper sample is more complex, with sharp attack, audio modulated filter, delays which increase in intensity, and a slight slow rise. Very \'Sci fi\'.
The Prayer Bowl Rotation synth effect is reminiscent of a Tibetan bell or large glass bowl being resonated, with a strong panning effect which accents the timbral swirling. It works from a very low range up to A4, at which point the Gigasampler seems to run out of transpose steam. Higher notes just play back the sample at its unity note. A very ethereal ambient sound.
The last patch on the CD won\'t put Donnie and Sean\'s Ultimate Percussion Library out of business, but it\'s still a thoughtful addition with nice programming. The VR Timpany - Soft Mallet Close Up contains twenty four samples, twelve articulations from a tymp tuned to high A, and the same articulations from a tymp tuned to low A. You get four straight strokes from pp to f, four short rolls from pp to f, and three more longer rolls (about three to four seconds and dampled at the end) which cover p to ff. Even though the patch says \'close\', the sounds are quite workable for close miked tymps, not too much of that unuseable skin smack on the loud samples, with a nice ring to the soft hits.
VR Sound make the point that their libraries contain enhanced stereo effects. As 3D positioning is very dependent on the positioning of speakers and the listener, and I\'ve been listening on my simple home studio, I\'ve steered away from any big judgements about spacial effects. After I get back to work I\'ll post some more info on VR effects.
As I said earlier, I think this library was designed as an economical broad base starting point from which to branch out. It gives you a taste of a range of well recorded instruments without requiring that you mortgage the house for library to cover a single instrument. As such it fits the bill well. I haven\'t tried out the Conexant 500mb GM library, but my assumption is that in trying to cover the whole 127 instrument GM library specification, it\'s not physically possible to do it in the depth that VR have covered this group of instruments. Although there is still an obvious need for other sounds , If I had just bought Gigastudio and was looking for some sound fodder, the Giga Module would be an easy choice.
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