Prosonus CD Sound Library
Searching for new samples? Craig Anderton lends an ear to three discs from this new American CD sound library.
Craig Anderton lends an ear to three discs from this new CD sound library.
Buying sound disks for samplers can run into a lot of money and, besides, very few manufacturers want to release a zillion different disk formats for a zillion different samplers. Why not, some clever folks reasoned, put audio sounds on compact disc that you could record directly into any sampler?
Creating this kind of CD is tricky, though. All recorded sounds should be in tune, recorded at several notes on the scale to allow for multi-sampling, well-documented, fairly consistent in level, and sound great to help compensate for the fact that sounds always seem to lose a little bit in the sampling process. What's more, it's important that sounds be categorised in some logical way.
Although there are many fine sound effects libraries, many of these are designed more for broadcast use than for musical applications, and in any event are seldom designed with sampling in mind. Recently, however, several CDs aimed squarely at the musician's needs have hit the market; of the lot, my current favourite is the series being marketed by Prosonus, a relatively new company based in Southern California.
At the time of writing, Prosonus (not related to Sonus, the hardware/software manufacturer) has three CDs available: Percussion 2, Electronic 1, and Brass 1. Percussion 2, clocking in at around 63 minutes, includes literally hundreds of different sounds. However, don't expect gated snares or other 'pop'-oriented sounds; you won't find them. What you do get are pure, extremely well-recorded examples of primarily orchestral percussion. The 21 instruments include bass drum, some excellent snares, bowed and straight gongs, tambourines, temple blocks, lots of timpani, cymbals, castanets, and several pitched instruments (celeste, marimba, glockenspiel, and xylophone). The pitched instruments are all multi-sampled, with samples occurring roughly every four semitones.
The 59-minute Electronic CD consists of 39 different multi-sampled synthesized sounds, mostly of the string/pad variety. Sounds typically have between 11 and 13 multi-samples, starting at E1 and moving up five semitones per sample. While this is not enough to give a sample for each key, it's enough for me. The one problem is that the CD medium does nothing to mask some of the noise generated by the synthesizers used for these sampling sessions, but that's the fault of the synthesizers and doesn't reflect on the quality of the Prosonus CDs.
The Brass CD, which clocks in at 42 minutes, provides just about every variation of trombone and bass trombone you could ever want - sustained, swelled, muted, and so on, all at a variety of dynamic levels. These are recorded with the same peerless quality as the other two CDs of the series. Although I don't have that much use for trombones, if subsequent releases that cover other brass instruments are this well done, I won't hesitate to snap them up.
There's something about the Prosonus CDs that sounds very alive. With some sample CDs, it sounds like the musicians just came into the studio and played a nice, clean note. With the Prosonus CDs, it sounds like the musicians were really trying to express something with that one note. I also understand that Prosonus spent a fair amount of time matching the right microphones to the right instrument; whatever their approach may be, it works.
Documentation for all Prosonus CDs includes duration timings, which are very helpful when trying to reconcile sounds with your sampler's memory limitations; a one-line description of the instrument; the pitch at which it was sampled; pertinent characteristics (muted, soft or loud hit for percussion, and so forth); and a recorded voice identification for each sound. What I do miss on this and other sample libraries are some subjective descriptions of the recorded sounds. When you have this many sounds on a CD, trying to track down the one that is most appropriate for a given musical context can be time-consuming - your only real option is to audition the CD when you have some spare time, and make some notes as to what sounds would be most appropriate for what types of musical situations. I know that trying to describe sounds subjectively is not easy, but any help would be appreciated.
The acid test, of course, is how easily the sounds can be sampled, and how they sound on playback. I had no trouble recording some lovely timpani into an E-mu SP1200 drum machine, and even after being subjected to 12-bit linear A/D and D/A conversion, some of the snares I sampled really cracked. The electronic synth sounds, despite being lush, rich, and huge, were surprisingly easy to loop. Within the sample, level variations after the attack are kept to a minimum (additionally, all synth sounds last exactly four seconds, giving enough time to find good loop points), and by invoking crossfade looping with Ensoniq's EPS keyboard sampler, I was able to quickly and consistently loop every sound I tried to loop. The trombones were even easier to sample, and it was easy to make very short loops with these.
The only caution is that the pitch of a brass instrument tends to waver a bit, no matter how good the player; if you elect to use a really tight loop, shift the loop start point to occur where the pitch is relatively stable and accurate, otherwise the pitch will appear to go slightly sharp or flat when the sample begins to loop.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the quality of the Prosonus CDs. Although I don't have that much use for trombones, and have enough synths around to use them instead of samples when I want synthesized sounds, I've used the Percussion disc a lot in my work and have not found it wanting in the least. More importantly, though, regardless of your current musical needs, these CDs bode very well for the future.
If the next few releases from Prosonus maintain this level of quality, we're in for a real treat when they start issuing sound CDs of guitars and string sections. Keep your eye on this company; they know what they're doing.
STOP PRESS: While not a sampled sound disc, Prosonus has just released CodeDisc, a CD that churns out NTSC-compatible SMPTE timecode signals. So, if you want to stripe your tape with SMPTE, just pop the CD in your player, and start recording! Brilliant. A version is due soon that follows the European standard EBU 25 frames per second SMPTE code.
Price £49.95 (per disc) inc VAT
Contact Exile Music Distributions. (Contact Details)
Excerpted from Electronic Musician magazine and used with the permission of the Publishers