Masterbits Sample CD Collection
David Hughes lends an ear to three well-priced CDs full of synthesizer and drum machine samples.
The arrival of the Masterbits CD sample collection came as something of an answer to this reviewer's prayers. What I'd recently discovered was yet another fundamental rule of the studio - a sample library is never big enough to satisfy every potential customer! This is a problem which, sooner or later, confronts every owner of a sampling machine. My sampler, an Akai S950, is rapidly becoming one of the real workhorses in my studio, ranking in importance alongside my trusty Atari ST and the coffee pot. Consequently, I've developed a desperate need for a collection of high quality synthesizer sounds - if only to keep the amount of synthesizer equipment down to a size which will fit in my studio, and which the national grid can support! So when the Masterbits CD collection dropped through my letterbox, I greeted them with some enthusiasm.
There are (currently) three CDs in the Masterbits collection and each features samples taken from a wide variety of modern instruments. The sounds themselves are largely digital recordings of sample playback machines, although there are a number of 'older' instruments in the collection, such as an Oberheim Xpander and Linn 9000 drum machine. This is particularly welcome, since getting your hands on an instrument such as the highly collectable Roland CR78 isn't at all easy; their owners tend to keep them locked away, out of reach of prying microphones!
The following is a list of the instruments available on each CD:
Running time 71.45 minutes
Korg M1, Roland D50, Kawai K1 and K5, Yamaha DX7 MkII, Kurzweil K1000, Ensoniq ESQ 1, PPG Wave 2.3, Casio FZ1, Moog (not specified), Roland TR808, Alesis HR16, Simmons SDS5, Linn 9000.
Running time 72.35 minutes
Waldorf MicroWave, Korg T1, Emu Proteus XR, Akai S1000, Kawai K4, Ensoniq VFX, Sequential Prophet VS, Oberheim Xpander, Roland CR78.
Running time 73.54 minutes
Ensoniq VFX, Emu Emulator II, Kurzweil PX1000 Plus, Kurzweil HX1000, Roland R8, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Casio VZ1, Roland MKS70, Casio FZ10M, Korg M1R.
All of the aforementioned instruments were recorded on a Sony PCM 1630 digital recorder, so the sound quality of the end product is, as you might expect, uniformly excellent.
In the process of the review I tried to listen to as many of the samples as possible. I would have liked to have listened to every one of the 1500 or so samples in the whole collection, but listening to a CD which consists solely of single notes, each of one or two seconds duration, is something akin to Chinese water torture! Anyway, I'll try to list some of the high points as well as some of the low!
This CD gets off to a great start with an instantly recognisable sample of what must be a PPG Wave 2.3. I couldn't resist playing around with this one. I've had an on-going love affair with the PPG since it first appeared nearly a decade ago!
The 'classic piano' on the 500 CD is definitely worth listening to. It's bright and clear, although it is let down by a fairly obvious 'cut' as each of the notes decay. There are a grand total of eight piano samples recorded at various intervals up and down the musical range, so that you can minimise the number of potential glitches when you shift from one sample to another.
I was delighted to find a series of samples taken from the in-vogue Roland TR808 drum machine. In the past, I used to get by with samples taken from a Boss DR110, which is similar but not the 'real thing'.
The 600 collection follows a similar format, although I felt that there was a heavier bias towards percussive sounds, in particular those of the Korg T1 and Emu Proteus. There are some excellent samples taken from an Akai S1000, notably the piano series and the acoustic guitar series.
I was a bit disappointed to find that the section reserved for the Oberheim Xpander was somewhat brief, which is a shame because these instruments are not easy to come by and are capable of some absolutely mind-blowing sounds. With the possible exception of the 'OB-strings' sample, I felt the sounds on offer were a bit weak and the sort of thing that a rather basic monosynth could accomplish with ease.
At this point I got the feeling that the producers were running out of steam in the ideas department. I couldn't, for instance, see why they should include the 'Full ROM' from an Ensoniq VFX synth, except possibly out of novelty value.
The real star of the show has to be the 800 collection. There is so much on offer that I felt that the producers deserve some credit for simply retaining their 'marbles' at the end of the recording session! It wears your finger out - not to mention the 'advance' button on your CD player - just stepping through the 96 or so tracks!
This disc starts with a fine collection of 'mixed' sounds, where two or more synths have been layered together to produce a more complex sound. All of these samples are highly usable and quite original with the exception of the Emu 'Shaku-Flute' preset, which surely every sentient being in the western spiral arm of the galaxy must have heard at some point in time in the last millenium!
We then move on to some interesting samples from an Ensoniq VFX, followed by a Korg M1. As in the case of the Xpander synth in the 600 collection, the Roland MKS70 samples were, for my taste, all too few in number.
The bulk of the 800 CD is made up of percussive type sounds - or maybe it just felt that way! There are the usual gamut of conventional drum kit type samples, some nice 'power drums' and a useful collection of sound effects, such as banging doors and gunshots. If I have any complaints about this CD, it is that there are possibly too many samples(!) on the one disc. I found it very tiring having to step through each track listening to a number of samples which, frankly, are not all that drastically different!
The general feeling I arrived at with this CD collection is that there is definitely something here for everyone, and in that sense this sample collection has to be the closest that anyone has come to providing a 'complete' sample library. The collection covers a very broad area, from orchestral sounds through to hip-hop, from heavy digital timbres to silky smooth strings, and from thunderous percussive sounds-which really give your speakers (and the neighbours!) something to think about - to some wonderfully gentle TR808 hi-hats.
Although there is some overlap of sounds between the three CDs, all three are sufficiently different to warrant serious consideration as a package. Individually, they provide a broad spectrum of sounds that offer excellent value for money. I liked the sheer variety of sample sources.
The collection does suffer a bit in certain areas. For instance, I felt that there weren't nearly enough ethnic-type percussion samples, which I find are excellent sounds for beefing up a rather tired mix. I also felt that there was too much repetition, particularly in the percussion department.
As a final comment, you should remember that you have to approach a collection of sounds like this with the right attitude. If you sit down and demand to be impressed with a series of attention-grabbing sonic pyrotechnics, then I'm afraid that you're in for a bit of a disappointment. Many of these sounds - there are a few notable exceptions - are of the type which sit anonymously at the back of a mix and don't really draw much attention to themselves. Their function is basically to support the rest of the piece so that other elements can be brought to the forefront of the mix.
I set out to find a means of improving my rather sparse sample library without committing huge amounts of cash to the venture. I'm quite sure that, in the Masterbits Collection, I've found a solution that will satisfy my requirements for some time to come. Give them a whirl. Your neighbours may never forgive you, your CD will certainly never forgive you, but your sampler will receive a vital sonic injection which will keep it fortified for many a long session!
Review products kindly supplied by the Advanced Media Group.
£29 (inc VAT) per CD, or £75 for all three.
Advanced Media Group, (Contact Details).
Also available from:
MIDI Music, (Contact Details).
Review by David Hughes
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