Wilf Smarties kicks off our regular look at new sample CD releases.
Wilf Smarties presents the first of his monthly round-ups of sample CDs.
Sample CDs represent the best way to smartly and comprehensively upgrade your sonic repetoire. Compared with the purchase of synth patches, on ROM cards or other formats, there is really no contest in terms of the quantity or variety on offer, not to mention unit price per sound.
Of course, unless you are trading in CD-ROMs or DAT-RAMs (of which there are relatively few available, and those that are are machine-specific) you will have some work to do before you can slot them into your compositions. This is more than compensated for by the fact that most CDs contain surprisingly fresh material, from which you should be able to extract a fair mileage. Furthermore, breakbeat albums and dance-oriented CDs are about the only way your can get instant access to the raw material of dance productions. Drum loops are particularly useful, giving solid foundations for you to build songs onto. First on to my new Onyko R1 CD player (with optical output) this month we have the eagerly awaited...
I liked the presentation of this latest disc from Time & Space: no hype, just comprehensive lists of samples, well laid out. I particularly liked the 10-samples-to-a-track format: this makes for easy assembly into programs/patches etc. There is no 1 kHz test tone, but Ed Stratton (Mr. Zero G, alias Man Machine, alias Jack 'N' Chill) says that setting the level for one sample should see you all right for the duration. I'd heard that story before, and sure enough loop 21:5 (ie. track 21, sample 5) came in over the limit, requiring me to reset from +3 to 0dB attenuation on the digital input of my S770. Mind you, that was the first out of over 200 samples to go over the top thus far, so it seems that most have been properly normalised. (PS. watch out for some of the percussion samples at the end!)
There are loops aplenty here; loops are my favourite type of sample because you can use them to support your own original creations. Vocal and musical snatches (excluding single hits and unmelodic stuff) tend to dictate the direction of a composition too much for my liking. Well over half the selection on offer here were new to me, and as I already have getting on for 1,000 loops in my library, that is no mean feat. Incidentally, this CD currently holds the record for the number of loops on offer: 190! This includes material from 'Slave To The Rhythm', 'French Kisses', and plenty of less obvious tracks.
Minor criticism: why does no-one group beats properly? 1:06, 2:04, 3:10, 5:02, and 6:05 (I could go on!) are all close cousins, yet they live in different towns. Is Ed trying to create the illusion of more variety by separating similar sounding loops? I think we should be told. Similarly the Go-Go loops. Surely it would have made more sense to have kept those beats together?
One or two twice-round samples have sneaked past the censor (eg. 2:06 and 3:02), but most are satisfactorily economical with the truth. For future reference, here is the definition of the ideal loop (as delivered in last month's star buy, Kleptomania by Coldcut): one-shot + one beat, start trimmed. That extra beat is invaluable when looping.
The Roland CR78 Compu-Rhythm is the current fave among dance specialists in the know, and its voices are a welcome inclusion here. Nice to see Ed keeping us in touch yet again. Many more single drum voices follow: for the initiated it's very much a case of more of what you have already, though sample quality is pretty good. Good triangles in there. A fair selection of 'Analogue Synth Drums' are included, which aren't perhaps quite as fruity as the term suggests.
By now we're on to track 38, and the vocals have started. There are some great backing vocals ('Oooh's, 'Ahhh's etc.). These are viable, and could be used in the mix without taking over. Fine ethnic chanting also appears, further down the line. For the undiscerning, there is also a pristine collection of JB-style vocal hits.
Animal noises are cropping up everywhere these days (there go the whales again!). 808 State have a lot to answer for. Some of the metal noises sound interesting. The 'Misc. House SFX' are comprehensive and tidy — and fresh. Get them into your track quickly, though.
Next up are yet more analogue basses. Get yourself a 106 or a MiniMoog and try knob twiddling instead. Guitar loops are also present. The trouble with guitar loops, however, is that they are never in tune with your track, requiring all that mucking about with timestretch to pull them into line. Ever thought of using a guitarist instead?
There follows a swollen selection of 'Sci-fi and techno FX'. Get out that MiniMoog again, and put these to bed. The sci-fi vox are standard issue. Sampled sustained chords are always useful. However, some of the synths on offer here are distinctly sub-interesting.
"Say kids, what time is it? Time to stop manufacturing drum machines. Let's face it, they have had their day."
The origins of the ubiquitous 'Marcato Strings' are lost in the mists of sampling time. Some say Kurzweil, others (probably on a more promising track) say Emulator. Just as it is with those other great imponderables of life, we may never find a definitive answer to this question. In any case, multisamples are offered here of Marcato, Tremelo (Tremelonde, surely?) and a few other string sets (but no Spicato?). A useful if not totally comprehensive set. Pity about the reverb. I have Emulator II Marcatos, and they sound nothing like these. Incidentally, someone is sure to sample the demo tune that precedes each string set. (Thinks... me!)
The TB303 sounds here are all very well, but you've probably all got the real thing, haven't you? Track 93 sees the return of the Loop. Viable tambourines, shakers, congas, and various unmentionables. I just can't get enough! More single percussion voices (rather tasty these), and we are nearly home; but don't miss the last few percussion fills, buried in tracks 97 and 98. Mmmm... a nice churchbell. And could those two Japanese dialogue snippets be the start of a new trend?
This is a workhorse selection, very much son (or mother!) of ZG1 and ZG2. On the basis of the large loop selection alone, this has to be the best yet. No stereo samples (as usual), far less any fooling about with RSS. I have a stereo sampler, and I don't miss them.
Unlike other purveyors of sample CDs, Ed Stratton produces and markets his own products. The man knows what he is doing, and his quality control has been uniquely consistent throughout his product range. I'd think twice about not buying this if I were you.
Time & Space, (Contact Details).
Say kids, what time is it? Time to stop manufacturing drum machines. Let's face it, they have had their day. All anybody wants now are the sounds, ie. samples. 3D Sounds have come up with a sample CD containing nothing but drum and percussion single hits on it. The best way to approach this review is therefore to list the drum machines and samplers that have been comprehensively emptied.
So here they are: XR10; R8; RY30; DR550; HR16; DDD1; Drumtrax; Drumulator; RX5; TR808; Simmons kit; TX16W; TR505; TR606; TR707; TR909; CR78; SPD8; SP12; XD5; Linn Drum; Rhythm 55; and RX11. There are also several 'real' kits and some ethnic percussion, probably derived from one or more of the big US libraries (Emu or Synclavier) or from that for the Fairlight. No matter, the sound quality is good enough throughout. Similarly for the sound effects selection, and there are some fresh faces in here too.
What this CD lacks, however, is imagination (exhibit 1: the title). While it might help you to source (at a budget price) some specific sounds you've been after for months, it is hardly likely to inspire you. Still, the live kits are pretty good. One criticism: some mono voices are panned. Why? This just makes sampling that little bit more difficult. Simply summing L + R, as opposed to taking the left only signal of a sample panned hard left, increases noise by 3dB. This probably means that the samples were taken from the mix output of the drum machine in question, not usually the best practice since you can get mix noise, increased distortion, and crosstalk. Where possible it is always better to use individual outs when sampling, especially on older analogue models.
So there you have it. A drum CD that is fairly comprehensive, cheap, cheerful, well recorded (mono panning notwithstanding) and, well, boring. Too boring in fact to give a star rating: I think you can work out for yourself if you want it.
Parklands Professional Audio Services, (Contact Details).
Review by Wilf Smarties
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