SSU Professional PCM Sample Library
Yamaha SY99 Sample Disks
Martin Russ lends an ear to some accomplished PCM samples for the hungry sample RAM in your SY99.
The borderline between reviews of third-party patches for synthesizers and sample CDs for samplers is getting harder to determine. Instruments with battery-backed user sample RAM, like the Yamaha SY99, can be used as synthesizers, samplers, or even a mixture of both. Being able to load your own samples into RAM instead of using the factory-supplied ROM PCM samples opens the way to changing the entire sound palette, producing what can be thought of as a timbral chameleon — especially with a synthesizer as powerful as the SY99.
Sound Source Unlimited (SSU) voiced some of the factory sounds on the SY77 and the SY99, and so their programmers already have considerable skill at making the most of the 99's diverse assortment of features. In the Professional PCM Sample Library series, SSU have aimed to provide PCM samples which complement those already in the 99's internal ROM, and then utilise these new samples in a selection of showcase voices. There are currently 10 titles in the series, each containing five disks filled with PCM Sample and Voice data — there are about 512 Kbytes of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz sample rate sample data on each disk, making 2.5MB per title in total. The 512 Kbytes suits the basic SY99, although with extra RAM plug-ins you could load a complete set into RAM all at once; this would then require some remapping.
I auditioned four of the titles, covering a wide range of sounds and potential areas of application.
With two of the disks in this set called 'Pyrotechnic Guitar', you have some idea of what to expect. The SY77 and 99 are already renowned for their guitar emulations, and so you might wonder what SSU could do to add to the existing possibilities. The answer is special guitar effects — we are talking heavy abuse of strings with the whammy bar here. There are distorted guitars with pitches going up and down in classic 'show-off' style: scrapes, dive-bombing, animal impressions, that sort of thing. Just over half of the patches use these samples with various audio effects added (flanging, pan, etc), whilst the remainder rework the factory samples into new forms, with some interesting use of RCM.
The 'PowerGtr' disk features a wonderfully smooth 'crunch' guitar multi-sample, which sounds excellent even without the aid of distortion in the effects section. The aftertouch-controlled feedback examples are very good, although they need careful playing to ensure good results, but then technique is all-important for guitar emulation work anyway.
The 'Electric Basses' disk uses four samples to provide a range of bass sounds using just the AWM synthesis section — perhaps the DX FM bass sound is too clichéd. The four splits help to place the sounds in context, which can be very important for bass sounds.
The final disk is called 'Strat'. At almost the other end of the guitar sound spectrum from the distorted power-plays on some of the other disks, this is supposed to represent the classic 'clean strat' sound. Unfortunately, the six multisamples have one or two flaws — like extraneous high-pitched tones, loops with different pitch to the rest of the sample, enveloped noise, and a very peculiar pitch wobble in one sample. Either strats don't sound like they used to, or my taste in samples is very wayward — this was the one disk that I couldn't live with.
With a good selection of internal orchestral samples already in the SY99, SSU had their work cut out. The 'Full Violin Section' has a bright, immediate sound with plenty of bow scrape, and makes a nice contrast to the more restrained SY99 internal samples. One of the loops has a nasty dip in volume as the loop begins, but in a violin section this would probably go unheard. Of the patches, the 'Tremulus' sound is wonderfully light and different, but I couldn't see the purpose of the volume changes across each octave in the 'Viol/Viol' patch. The 'Violin Pizz' disk replaces the often rather synthetic internal pizzicato sound with a much more pleasing and natural sounding one — with a mere 13 multi-samples. The patches exhibit rather more imagination than just 16 slight variations on a pizzicato string sound, with my favourite being the 'SawedPhizz' (sawtooth sustain with pizzicato attack) patch, although this could do with much less stereo echo.
With a superb tremolo string sound already under their belt, SSU also offer 'Tremolo Strings', a disk containing some very different tense, dark, powerful timbres — poles apart from the factory patches. Four patches with added percussion did rather overstate one application area, and I would have preferred to see some other explorations. The C#-2 to F2 sample suffers from a loud click in the attack part, which is rather disappointing, considering the 'professional' label of the disks. The 'Violas Attack' disk has some very smooth alternatives to the rather harsher Strings 2, Strings L and Strings R from the SY99's internal ROM, and the resulting bow sforzandos are very effective indeed. The use of three 'Scary' pitch enveloped sounds is a waste of patches — especially since you should only really use such a sound sparingly.
The 'Percussion' disk has some of the sounds you are unlikely to find in any but the very best sample libraries! Orchestral percussion seems to be more restrained than the rock 'n' roll equivalents, and this is very obvious in the Cymbal Roll, with its slow and smooth build, and the very ordinary snare drum, which would probably be criticised as 'boring' were it to appear in a drum machine destined for use in chart material. What you or I might suspect were just large cymbals turn out to be called 'Piattis', and the 'Timpani Roll' does not describe how to move kettle drums around. The patches have a mix of drum kits using all the samples and applying various effects to them, and single voices with pitch scaling. The accompanying description mentions RCM percussion patches using AFM and AWM, but all the ones on the disk I tried were merely plain AWM.
Two of the disks in this set are devoted to the classic Sequential Vector Synth. First is 'VSBrass', with a Brass sound built around a strongly-chorussed brass sound which mixes to a super-sawtooth type of sound for the looping section. It's a very nice contrast to the rather static internal samples of brass sounds, and gives some surprising results, particularly the hugely organesque 'St.Peter's', and the characteristic poly-mod of 'ProphetStg' — an enormously analogue sound from a digital synth. The second Vector Synth disk features the 'PacBel' sound: the sort of sample that usually gets a name like 'Digital' or 'Bell', with a complex set of FM-like non-integer ratio harmonics. 'Digital 1' provided a very effective vector-like evolving pad sound.
Stacks of synths playing together were used to produce the samples for the next two disks in the set. MIDISynths has a very distinctive percussive start and pad sustain, which is used to great effect in the 'Sustainium' patch — a million dollar Synclavier sound if ever I heard one! 'MarimbaAir' has two different samples, a synth marimba and a percussive sound with a full-of-movement 'busy' sound as the sustain segment. A mixture of these two samples in the 'LSMarimAir' patch occupied most of my playing on this disk.
The final disk in the set, 'SynthTube', has just one long, beautifully looped organesque, bell-like sample. The 'TubeTines' patch is a carefully crafted example of RCM programming, with the FM-like harmonics of the sample reworked with the FM section of the SY99. The result is halfway between a pipe organ and an electric piano.
The original SY77 was sometimes criticised for having a rather lacklustre set of drums, whilst the SY99 comes with a much better selection. The 'Drums' disk aims to provide additional percussion sounds for special uses, and the mix of kits and AWM/RCM sounds certainly provides some persuasive percussive timbres.
There are five disks in this set: 'Gated' and 'Reverb Drums' both sport five kits and 11 sounds; 'Fusion Drums' offers eight kits and eight sounds; 'Simmons Drums' has four kits and 12 sounds; 'Cymbals' has four kits and 12 sounds.
The RCM patches take the idea of synthesizing drum sounds from the RY30 drum machine, but here the synthesis power is much more sophisticated, especially with the SY99's real-time controllers. 'Floor2Tom' from the 'Reverb Drums' disk is a superb example. It has a gated reverb sound, where the filtering of the tom is controlled by the second modulation wheel (you would probably map it to a pedal controller), whilst the gating and aural exciter are controlled by the data entry slider — expressive is not an adequate word.
The disks cover specific areas. The Gated drums are very contemporary, whilst the Reverb drums are just plain big. Fusion drums are clipped and the Simmons are excellent late '70s/early '80s synth drum kit reminders. The cymbals just showcase exactly what decent long drum samples sound like! The kits on each disk typically come in several variants named after the applied effects: Reverb, Gating, Flange and Echoed. The individual sounds also get the effects treatment — the syncopated stereo echoed 'MuteCrsBel' patch on the 'Cymbals' disk was perhaps my overall favourite. I wondered initially if the drums would be the weak point, and I was totally wrong!
Overall, the sample quality was excellent, with a great deal of care taken to provide long, meticulously looped multi-samples — and they are long, with often only three or four samples taking up the SY99's basic 512k of user RAM. No demo songs, either — these disks are solidly professional. Only having 15 patches per disk seems a little sparse, and perhaps suggests a lack of imaginative use of the samples, although it does give 80 patches for each disk set as a whole.
The patches vary from straight replays of the basic samples, through to a few wild (and hard to use) deviations, bearing little resemblance to the original sound, and encompassing a mix of single-element and multiple-element usage. Most of the sounds are good, usable ones, with lots of the minor variations that save you having to program in the middle of a session. The programmers at SSU definitely know their business!
SSU Professional PCM Sample Library far SY99 £23 inc VAT per set of five disks.
Zone Distribution, (Contact Details).
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Review by Martin Russ
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