Digital Juice Sound FX Library (SFL)

Review by Carlos Garza

This is a general-purpose library of general purpose, human and musical sound effects. The library is distributed on seven DVD-ROM discs, plus a single disc with 1.5 GB of previews in 128 kbps MP3 format. The library itself is provided at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution and would require 55 GB to stored on-line.

SFL includes a software application, appropriately named, “Juicer” that provides browsing, searching and sample preparation. Installation of the complete library at full resolution (55 GB) is unnecessary because of Juicer’s semi-automated batch processing. I didn’t mind loading in the appropriate DVDs when Juicer prompted me because at this point I don’t have 55 GB to spare on my hard drives.

Digital Juice SoundFX

Digital Juice SoundFX

Juicer Audio 3.02 was tested for this review on an Apple G5 Quad running OS 10.4.8. Requirements include a DVD-ROM drive, 256 MB RAM, 1.5GB for previews, Apple QuickTime version 5.0.2 or later, Mac OS10.3.9 or later, Windows 2000 or XP, DirectX8 or later.

Sound FX Library includes 11,500 clips divided into 170 categories. The set includes voice actors and musical logos in addition to Foley and sound effects. The general effects include ambience, animals, crashes, explosions, Foley, horror, household, impacts, office, sci-fi, technology, weapons and weather. The human effects include men, women and children. The topics include exclamations, business, commercial phrases, questions, police, reactions, telephone systems, states, occasions and numbers.

The noise effects include alarms, ascends, beds, beeps, bells, blasts, buttons, computer, descends, distortions, drones, evolvers, feedbacks, filters, hits, lasers, LFE, liquids, fly-bys, kicks and lasers, sci-fi elements, stabs, whooshes and more.

The Musical FX section includes short phrases of electric bass, flute, guitar, organ, percussion, sax, trombone and trumpet. Also included are musical “logos” broken out as: acoustic, comedy, corporate, electronic, jazz, new age, news, orchestral, pop, rock, sports, urban and world. There are sets of related cues organized as acoustic, corporate, jazz, orchestra, rock and urban and longer pieces, or “textures.”

The strength of this product is in the general sound effects and human recordings. These are both well recorded and versatile. It’s hard to imagine what is missing. The animal set is reasonable but not exhaustive. There are four types of dogs, for example. The dinosaur sounds — some made from real animals – are impressive. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.

There are 328 basic Foley sounds and another 146 just for footsteps. There are rivers, waterfalls, things falling in water, office sounds, sports. By the way, the golf swing makes a nice whoosh that would work in a fighting game. Speaking of which, there are 237 weapons by brand name and bullets going into different surfaces.

The weather sounds held my interest. Thunder is sometimes called “lightning” but it sounds great. The big Hollywood-style explosions would sound at home in a film of any budget. These are BIG sounds. I mean it. There’s even an atomic blast. Where did they get that?

The human sounds are also quite useful for anyone making commercials or corporate sound design, such as telephone systems. The adult voice actors are professional sounding and there are enough words and phrases to make a variety of announcements and commercials.

The strongest musical elements are the acoustic, corporate and orchestral. The rock elements lean towards the heavy side but are very convincing. A bit more variety in the guitar tone and playing styles would help the overall usability. I really liked the orchestral transitions and the variety of moods makes this a go-to set. There are some gems in the electronic and pop logos as well. I can easily hear these used in professional and academic productions for TV and stage.

Juicer’s keyword-searchable index is handy to use but does not always respond as expected. For example, searching for “air” returns plenty of air-based sound effects but also returns “folding chairs” and “scissors cutting hair.” Searching for “boom” or “bang” does not return any of the excellent explosions in the general effects class.

The idea of using an integrated browser is a step in the right direction but it would be nice if users could add their own topic areas, ratings and bookmarks. I found the organization and preview features quite valuable when going through a library of this size. Playing samples and adding them to a batch for extraction is simple.

I noticed only small problems with the interface. The track ball on my Mighty Mouse works in reverse on the left-right volume control. Vertical scrolling works fine, as does clicking on the volume control and dragging it.

On the down side, Juicer cannot be used to browse libraries from other manufacturers and searching is apparently text based rather than semantic. Nonetheless, the effects are excellent and the sound quality is stunning. This is a well thought out set with applications in sound design for film, TV, interactive web sites, theater productions and game creation. The music cues and dialog clips are applicable to corporate, academic and commercial productions.

Digital Juice Sound FX Library is a versatile collection, sounds great and was the easiest to navigate of all the sets I auditioned.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Hollywood Edge – Sonic Energy

Sound Effects Library

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally published in Pro Audio Review

Sonic Energy is a collection of beds, distortion, noise, impacts, low frequency effects (LFE) multimedia effects and production elements.  The beds occupy all of disc 1 and most of disc 2. The remainder of disc 2 is noise and distortion effects. Disc 3 contains impacts and LFE, and the remaining two discs contain multimedia effects and production elements respectively.

Hollywood Edge Sonic Energy

Hollywood Edge Sonic Energy

This set comprises five audio CDs and a bonus DVD-ROM with copies in 16-bit, 48 kHz WAV format. The DVD contains 1233 WAV files totaling almost three GB.

The 1-page CD track listings don’t do justice to the complexity of the sounds but the full descriptions, which come in text, Excel and PDF format, are very useful. I was pleased to see that the first audio disc had been entered in Gracenote’s CDDB, which made auditioning the sounds much easier in iTunes. Unfortunately, the other discs were unrecognized.

Years ago, I purchased a drone sample library that turned out rather dull. I understand that drones are not supposed to be exciting but a little variety would be nice. Luckily, the Sonic Energy beds are richly textured and varied.

This is not just another set of low hums and drones, the shimmering qualities are very modern, the stereo images are enveloping and the low end is rumbling when it wants to be. I’m planning to use some of the ominous beds in an upcoming live performance of my band’s original score for the classic vampire silent film, NOSFERATU.

There are not too many mild distortions or noises, most are intense. Watch the volume when you audition these, there are some real “ear cleaners” here. The distorted communication sounds and other vaguely familiar sounds were my favorites. They would work well in a sci-fi drama or game where something has gone wrong.

I found a few treats in the impacts and LFE sounds along with familiar sounding electronic boinks, metallic clangs and chirps. The low frequency elements are meaty and satisfying. The palette runs from synthesized analog zaps to digital splats with a few metal hits and manipulations.

Between the impacts, laser hits and low frequency rumbles you have all the sonic elements for a dynamite role-playing game. I liked the “underwater sonar ping” and metallic effects. In some cases, the best part is the way the sound evolves through the reverb tail.

The multimedia effects disc comprises chirps, beeps, clicks, bonks and tiny sweeps. These are ideal for games, as in picking up an object and scoring points. Some of the zaps are odd and comedic. The sounds are generally short and subtle but there are a few “ear cleaners” in the set. A few sounds are reminiscent of Star Trek alarms and some sound like struck glass and metal objects.

The production elements overlap the hits and beds somewhat. The logo elements are ideal for crime dramas and “most wanted” TV shows. If you are designing sounds for space alien or aquatic intruder/invader shows you might want to check out the stingers and “whooshes.”

All together, this is a fine set with a varied and high quality collection of beds, hits and LFE sounds. It is recommended for game creators and sound designers for TV and film.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Hollywood Edge The Premiere Edition 7

Sound Effects Library

Review by Carlos Garza

At one time, nearly all composers used pencil and paper while sound designers worked with a mic, tape recorder and splicing block. While that approach clearly still works, today you are just as likely to see both at a computer — trading the pencil and razor blade for a MIDI keyboard and mouse.

This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

The product includes 10 audio CDs with additional 16-bit, 48 kHz WAV file copies on two DVD-ROMs totaling 1932 sounds (around 1150 files) and using approximately 7.7 GB at 48 kHz.

Premiere Edition 7

Premiere Edition 7

The 10-disc set includes three discs with automobile sounds from sedans, muscle cars, an MG B, SUVs and trucks; four discs of urban ambiences including traffic backgrounds, city backgrounds, construction, train station, retail and services backgrounds; and three discs with footsteps, laughter, child vocals, wind, water, mud, animals, doors, buttons, Foley and medical sounds.

Except for the occasional vintage sound, most of the recordings are clean and accurate. The engine sounds and car doors packed plenty of punch on my Mackie HR824 monitors. I was surprised by the variety and distinction in the auto sounds and the use of stereo. There is a good variety of auto and truck engines in various states or operation – starting, driving and coming to a stop.

The car sounds include tires squealing, horns and highway sounds at various speeds. Also included are hoods closing, power windows, wipers, shifting and dashboard items. Road ambiences were captured in rain, snow, potholes and other road hazards.

The traffic backgrounds tend towards urban settings with several New York scenes in heavy and light traffic. Some traffic backgrounds are listed as London, Paris, an Iranian city and a convincing “early 1900’s street scene.” The settings are well covered but some of the wet road and slush traffic is accompanied by human sounds.

The track listings on the disc sleeves offer simple descriptions, such as “start” whereas the Excel, PDF and text catalogs delivered on the DVD offer details such as, “Engine Problems: automotive starter motor, no start.” At the time of this writing, the CD track descriptions had not been submitted to Gracenote’s CDDB so software CD players, such as iTunes, show nothing more than “track 01” etc.

The construction sounds include a John Deere 750, air compressors, pumps, cement mixer, pneumatic hammers, chainsaws and distant blasting. There are some gems in the squeaky and slurping machine rhythms, which sound like music to me (hint).

The Foley includes footsteps on dirt, gravel, snow, sand and leaves, individuals and groups of two and more people running and lots of laughing. The child sounds are also well represented from younger kids to teens and most are believable, including the screams. However, some of the child dialog tracks are idiosyncratic and less versatile, such as the Spanish counting sequence.

There are a few “vintage” laugh tracks, which appear to be mono and lower fidelity. Most of the newer tracks have big separation and range from small groups to large groups and “slowly getting the joke laughs” to full hysteria. Many useful tracks here.

The wind sounds range from narrow to wide and spooky to peaceful. The water is almost entirely ocean shore-based and ranges from light “lapping on rocks with gulls” to an assault of pounding waves. There are no creeks, rivers or waterfalls but the bubbling lava from Yellowstone would be perfect in a dinosaur film.

The train station backgrounds have the best balance of atmosphere and unobtrusiveness. The school and restaurant backgrounds are even and consistently background (i.e., not too many sounds that would jump out inappropriately in your production).

The animals include seagulls, sea lions, Beluga whales, Galapagos seal calls, dolphins, squirrels, chimps, fruit bats, rats and lions. The Beluga vocals and blowing sounds are excellent for creature design. A few of the samples contain ambience and occasional human sounds. Track notes indicate the recording location (not always in the wild).

The door samples include sliding, revolving, swinging varieties as well as garage doors, prison doors and a very intense large stone door. The same disc has a number of interesting switches, including an excellent set of televisions and radios. The medical effects include dentist office sounds, ICUs, heart monitors and other hospital sounds, such as a gurney and a newborn baby cry.

It’s clear that a lot of time and care went into making this set. The categories provided are covered exhaustively and other parts of the Premiere Edition series presumably complement the categories. If you are looking for the real world, this set is a great place to start.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library Glass and Stones

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally published in Pro Audio Review

Provided on one DVD-ROM with 4.4 GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Glass and Stones includes glass harmonica, musical glasses, verrophone and lithophone. The EXS24 versions were tested with Logic 7 and HR824 monitors.

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

The glass harmonica includes portamento, sustained and half-step trill articulations played with fingers and short notes glissandos played with mallets. The articulations for musical glasses include staccato, sustained, tremolo and a half-step trill.

The verrophone is a set of glass tubes of different lengths mounted in a wooden stand. The tubes resonate at specific pitches, eliminating the need for water tuning. Verrophone samples are finger played with staccato and portato, sustained notes, tremolos and half-step trills. It’s also played with mallets in several variations including trills and glissandos.

A lithophone is a natural or man-made instrument made of stone. VSL recorded a lithophone constructed with marimba-like bars and resonators. The VSL lithophone program offers a variety of playing techniques, including soft, medium and hard mallets, fingers, fingernails, stones and a bow. There are single notes, mutes and tremolos.

The fingered verrophone has an almost vibes-like quality, especially the tremolo version. The lowest notes seemed very thick until I softened the throbbing fundamental and exposed the high frequency shimmer with an equalizer. The mallet glissandos on the verrophone have a mysterious quality that comes from both the whole tone-like scale and the sound, while the chromatic trills come across as a more metallic take on the angklung (see FX Percussion).

Most of the lithophone articulations remind me of a marimba but are different enough to be distinctive. The low end is very warm and comforting. I lengthened the attack of a soft mallet instrument and, when the lowest notes were played with a slow pitch bend, it sounded like a large sea animal. There are plenty of unexpected sounds in the lithophone effects but my favorite is the bowed low-end sound.

The forte samples of the glass harmonica have an edgy quality. The standard versions are designed to use less RAM but are suitable for general use. I found the versions with separate release triggered samples the most captivating and least “synth like.” For completely “out of this world,” try volume-fading chords or note clusters on the half-step trill sounds. Then throw in a pitch bend. Spooky stuff.

Although the focus of this review is sound design, I have to add that the Glass and Stones set has many musical possibilities. The sustained glass harmonica can serve as an organic cousin of the Theremin. Less electronic but just as haunting. Designing a sound for friendly aliens or the spirit world? You might want to check out these sounds.

(2) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library FX Percussion

Sound Design Tools for Effects and Music
By Carlos Garza

At one time, nearly all composers used pencil and paper while sound designers worked with a mic, tape recorder and splicing block. While that approach clearly still works, today you are just as likely to see both at a computer — trading the pencil and razor blade for a MIDI keyboard and mouse.

This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

VSL FX Percussion

VSL FX Percussion

This sampler library is part of VSL’s Horizon series of orchestral sound libraries. It includes musical instruments and acoustic effects devices used in the symphony orchestra and around the world.

The set includes an angklung, bell tree, boobams (drums), brake disks & springs, bull roarer, Burmese bells, car horns, castanets, chimes, claves, cuica, exotic gongs, flexatone, hammer, Japanese singing bowls, jingle bells, lion’s roar, log drum, ocean drum, rails, rainmaker, shots, siren, spring drum, tam-tam, thunder sheets, vibratone, Walteufel, waterphone, whip and wind machine.

It is provided on one DVD-ROM with three GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Instrument mappings for both VSL products in this review are supplied for Logic’s EXS24, TASCAM GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt. They are intended to be played from a MIDI controller, such as a keyboard and in many cases offer various articulations or the same sound at different pitches across a range of keys.

Some of the programs use key switching to select articulations during performance. For example, the angklung, a bamboo instrument from Indonesia is available in short medium and long shakes. The combination program uses keys C1 to D1 to pick from the three.

Many of the sounds come from familiar objects, such as bells, horns and gongs. Much of this set is dedicated, however, to acoustic imitations of the natural world, many of which are commonly used in the symphony orchestra but some have origins that are more ancient.

For example, the bullroarer has a type of whiling aerophone, which is commonly associated with aboriginal Australians (although not by this name). The recordings are very deep sound with a high wind component that is captured beautifully in stereo.

Imitative instruments, such as the wind machine, thunder sheets, rain stick and ocean drum offer possibilities when mixed with recordings of the real thing. For example, thunder sheet mixed with real thunder creates a supernatural atmosphere.

Some sounds evoke a common feeling in different cultures while others do not. To my western ears, nothing says, “scary jungle” quite like the rattling bamboo tones of the angklung, an instrument native to Southeast Asia. The sound was used in Jerry Goldsmith’s original Planet of the Apes score. Goldsmith also made good use of the Brazilian cuica to mimic ape sounds. Here, the cuica chirps like a hairy ape and moans and groans like a wounded cow.

FX Percussion really shows off the acoustical environment that VSL created in their custom-built stage. This is most evident in the metallic pings, scrapes and boings. The Burmese bells samples, chimes are very relaxing and crystal clear. There is plenty of variety in the widely captured bamboo chimes. The Japanese singing bells program uses the modulation wheel to switch from rubber to wooden mallets, an expressive feature that I found very musical.

The more disquieting side is covered by thunder sheets and Peking opera gong. The China gong has more of the mysterious quality associated with tam-tams and is well represented with hits and rolls. However, the lack of bowed gongs and tams is unfortunate.

But fear not, or do fear, because there is bowing a-plenty in the thunder sheets and waterphone. The sound of distressed metal keeps me squirming no matter how many times I hear it. These samples are high quality and well suited to professional applications calling for terror and suspense.

Many of the sounds are explored in depth and the results have applications for sound designers in TV and film genres including comedy, drama, suspense, sci-fi and horror. The sounds are also perfectly suited to contemporary symphonic mock-ups.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Symphonic Choirs, Quantum Leap Colossus and Ra

EASTWEST/Quantum Leap

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review

Streaming sample libraries are increasingly taking advantage of the faster storage interfaces, faster CPUs and increased RAM on today’s personal computers. Three recent products from EASTWEST/Quantum Leap have answered the call with higher resolution, increased variety and real-time performance features.

Colossus is a general-purpose library, which is modeled after the variety of sounds found in a typical keyboard workstation. Ra is a collection of ethnic world instrument sounds. Symphonic Choirs includes adult choir sections, a boys’ choir and three soloist virtual instruments. The adult choirs can be programmed to sing words using the WordBuilder application.

The three products in this review are available for $995 US each or discounted through various bundles including an initial offer of all three for the price of two. Colossus is also available in a hardware configuration with customized MUSE Research Receptor, sold as the EW Receptor.


The three sample libraries in this review come with dedicated versions of the Native Instruments (NI), Kompact sample player. Kompact incorporates 32-bit internal processing and has support for up to 256 voices of polyphony depending on computer resources. NI has an automated registration system for license keys, which includes support for moving an existing software license to a new computer.

Kompact runs independently for live performance and as a software plug-in through VST, DXi, ASIO and DirectSound under Windows XP and VST, Audio Units, Core Audio, Core MIDI and RTAS under Mac OS X (10.3 or higher).



I’ve purchased over a dozen keyboards in the 30+ years that I’ve been composing and performing. My first criterion for choosing an instrument is very simple. Does it inspire me?

Imagine the variety of sounds in a professional keyboard workstation with huge storage and you will have an idea of breadth and depth of Colossus. Whereas typical keyboards use file size compression to squeeze samples into read-only memory, Colossus takes about 32 GB of hard drive to store all the samples and articulations for its 160 instruments. Many of the instruments use key switching to enable real-time articulation control.

Approximately half of the disk space is used by a selection of samples from previous EW/QL titles. The other half were newly recorded at 24-bit resolution at Ocean Way Studio B. The instruments represented here are suited to rock, pop, jazz, country, classical and ethnic/world genres.

The percussion highlights include electronic, ethnic, orchestral and drum kits for rock, jazz, Hip Hop and country. The guitar family includes 60’s electrics, blues, electric sitar, banjo, Hawaiian and lapsteel as well as acoustic, fretted and fretless basses. The acoustic Washburn was one of my favorites – suited for pop and world music.

Several ambient textures are provided in the New Age “ensembles.” I found them very colorful and easy to play. There are stock synthesizer leads and basses and some very cool dark atmospherics collectively known as, “Stormdrone.” Most of these use the mod wheel to morph between sounds. The General MIDI set is augmented with pop brass sounds and a choir with vowel sound cross fades.

The keyboards include two grand pianos, a honky-tonk, Rhodes, Clavinet, church organs, B3 and Farfisa. The main piano is a versatile bright Steinway that will sound familiar to owners of EASTWEST piano libraries such as the Pro Samples volume 8. The new 2GB Fazioli piano is darker and would be at home playing Debussy or a moody Thomas Newman score.

I was impressed by the quality and scope of Colossus. The new ethnic sounds are gorgeous and cover most of the world’s regions at some level. The orchestral sounds are of excellent quality and suitable for quick and simple symphonic arrangements and pop/rock recordings.

I used Colossus strings, trombones and French Horns as a replacement for previously recorded keyboard parts on a CD I’m producing. The Colossus sounds are brighter and more detailed than the sounds I had originally played on my Kurzweil PC88. The KONTACT player worked flawlessly in Pro Tools 6.7 under OS 10.3.7 and Logic 7.1 under OS 10.4.

About half of the sounds in Colossus are from other EW/QL sample libraries. This may be a draw back to those with a heavy investment in certain specific titles. For everyone else, this set is a bargain, yes even at nearly $1,000.


Quantum Leap Ra is a 14 Gigabyte sample set covering instruments from the Americas, Australia, Europe, the Far East, Africa, India the Middle East and the Turkish Empire. You’ll find most of the world represented but this is not an exhaustive world instrument collection.

As an owner of Rare Instruments, I was intimately familiar with about 10% of the Ra library. The remaining 90% was recorded at Ocean Way studios in Hollywood by producers, Pacemaker and Tony Austin. ra

Many of the virtual instruments include the idiosyncratic bends and inflections that make each instrument unique. Some of these articulations can be selected on-the-fly using key switching.

Ra also features a new performance legato mode, called Q Legato, which I found very realistic. One of my favorite samples from the original Rare Instruments Akai sample set is the Armenian duduk. The key-based articulation switching in Ra makes it possible to explore the range of expression in a single performance – no need to overdub the different note endings, just hit the key switch.

Space does not permit listing every instrument but there are some gems, such as the metal and wooden shakers and Ewe drum ensemble from Africa. Ra is not heavy in percussion sounds but is designed to complement the EASTWEST Stormdrum product.

The little touches make a difference when you want realism on a tight deadline. One of my favorites of the African drums is the speaker rattling low berkete. The hand slaps conveniently truncate a sustaining low note as you would expect.

I love the sound of the sitar but have never found a sample that I can play for more than 2 minutes until now. The authentic bends and flourishes in the key-switched sitar program had me hooked for hours. I laid down a bed of tabla drums and a tambura drone with its characteristic dynamic swells and had an authentic sounding track in no time.

Other favorites include the ney flute, hurdy gurdy, First Nations cedar flute, Irish low whistle, Gamelan ensembles, highland pipes, gongs, bansuri, middle east strings and the baritone violin. Lord of the Rings fans take note — the Hardanger fiddle is here. The producers thoughtfully included non-traditional vibrato samples as played in the LOTR score along with the traditional inflections.

The producers behind Ra realized that it’s just not enough to capture one or two playing styles and call it a day. Many of the melodic instruments offer a generous variety of note bends, trailing figures and alternative playing styles.

The focus on authenticity and sound quality is what sets Ra apart from other ethnic instrument sets. Ra scores big points where it counts.

Symphonic Choirs

East West/Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs (SC) is a virtual instrument library comprising soprano, alto, tenor and bass (SATB) choirs, soprano boys and soloist programs with soprano, alto and boy singers. symphonic choirs box

Samples were recorded in the same concert hall, with the same engineer and mic techniques used for EASTWEST/Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra. The recordings were made at 24-bit, 88.2 kHz resolution (or better) by engineer, Keith Johnson. Close mic, full stage and the ambient hall samples are available for each choir and soloist and the samples are phase aligned to allow blending.

Need a vowel? The SATB choirs include vibrato and non-vibrato looped vowel sounds, consonant sounds and voice effects such as shouts, falls and whispered words. The soprano, alto and boys soloist samples have fewer articulations and no adjustable vibrato. The “Church” choir combines the four adult sections with full hall reverberation in a single instrument for composing and quick arrangements. The mod wheel cross fades non-vibrato with vibrato samples where available and dynamics in some cases.

The most unique aspect of SC is the WordBuilder application, which allows entry of English and phonetics for more precise control of the adult choirs. WordBuilder does not work with the soloist or Church choir programs but does work with both stand-alone and plug-in versions of Kompact.

The recommended CPU speeds are 3GHz for Pentiums/Athalons and G5 processors running at 1.8 GHz or faster. SC requires 38 GB of drive space and 2 GB of RAM are recommended. I tested SC on a G5 Quad with 4 GB of RAM and a G4 Dual 1-GHz with 1.5 GB RAM.

The sound is superb. The voices are premixed with a wide sound stage giving excellent localization of individual singers in each section. The vocal quality has no apparent coloration from microphones or room acoustics resulting in a very natural sound.

The hall sound is gorgeous and on the G5 I usually turned off my convolution reverb and used samples with the room sound. This is a first rate choir and an immaculate recording.

WordBuilder’s linguistic features give SC its unique potential but harnessing this potential requires a little patience and the set-up can be daunting. The on-line instructional videos, FAQs and forum are highly recommended.

First, the virtual connections between your DAW software, WordBuilder and the Kompact player must be made. With Logic Pro 7, WordBuilder runs as a separate application and must be virtually cabled between the sequencer engine and the Kompact plug-in. The “pre-wired” Logic Environment and WordBuilder templates on the EASTWEST web site were helpful.

Each section (altos, tenors, etc.) has its own window in WordBuilder and a dedicated instance of the Kompact player in Logic. The special multi-programs used by WordBuilder are resource intensive because they use five instrument programs each to cover the full range of vowel and consonant sounds.

WordBuilder gives you extensive control of pronunciation. For example, you can adjust how quickly the choir moves through diphthongs using cross fades (Oy!) and control the syllabic em-PHA-sis.

Got a song about snakes? You can sustain non-pitched consonants such as S, T and H. Pitched consonants can also be sustained to create, for example, “singing insects” with a “zzzzzz” melody or to record a certain soup commercial that goes, “mmm mmm good.”

This versatile library has many uses including TV/film scoring, video game music, jingles and concert music. I wrote several pieces to test the range of SC and found the experience of commanding a first rate choir with phonetic programming quite surreal. First, I created a horror film theme using tenors and the boys’ choir singing in Latin. I was going for something in the style of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for “The Omen.”

WordBuilder’s built-in Latin phrases gave me a quick way to start my vocal track. The vocals were still distinct even after adding a dense orchestration of strings, brass and percussion. The stereo width of both choirs helped them stand out in the mix while the 24-bit quality and Latin syllables created a frightening realism (whatever they’re saying).

Next I went for a lighter sound using the female alto section with a celesta-driven string arrangement along the lines of Danny Elfman’s title music for “Edward Scissorhands.” Again, I turned to WordBuilder to breathe life into the track with a series of “ah” and “oh” sounds and the occasional “ooowaaah.” SC sounded like the real thing.

The full choirs in SC would be right at home in an action/adventure film score or an electronic game soundtrack. The soloist samples are beautiful, haunting and perfect for simple parts but there is not enough articulation control for instrumental singers like Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator) or Lisbeth Scott (Munich) to worry about their jobs.

A tremendous amount of control is provided by WordBuilder but the fact that pronunciation is not linked directly with the sequencer’s timeline makes word/melody synchronization a bit tricky during recording. I had no problems syncing words with music when both Logic and WordBuilder were started from the beginning.

Some of the sample sets are more resource intensive than others. The G4 was adequate for one or two sections but the Quad was better suited to the demands of a larger choir with full dynamics and WordBuilder. Faster load time and lower memory use are possible by reducing the buffer size and polyphony and using the close mic samples with a separate reverb plug-in.

After tweaking the, so called, “expert” memory settings in Kompact, I was able to open four multi-programs for WordBuilder on the G5 Quad. In this extreme test, it took Logic 7 about three and half minutes to load my Logic song with all SATB choirs using full mic positions and 3-layer dynamics from a FW800 drive.

Achieving believable singing performances with Symphonic Choirs takes some tweaking and an investment in learning the techniques but the results are out of this world. This is an amazing product.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library Horizon Series

Horizon Series: Solo Strings, Chamber Strings, Woodwind Ensembles, French Oboe and Epic Horns

By Carlos Garza

Choosing a symphonic sample library used to be so much easier.  Dedicated hardware samplers from the likes of Roland, Yamaha, Kurzweil, EMU and Akai once ruled the studio and stage and sample libraries were designed around limitations of the hardware — memory and processor speed being the chief constraints. Price and sound quality were the key discriminators.

The sound quality expectations are higher than ever but another battle ground has risen around the software features of disk-based streaming sample players. Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL), GmbH, based in Vienna, Austria and distributed in the US by ILIO, is one of the leading contenders in this market. VSL was one of the first to build a controlled recording environment has developed a proprietary, real-time performance control mechanism compatible with four major sample players covering Windows and Mac.

Our look at the Horizon Series began in the October 2005 issue with a review of the Opus 1&2 Orchestra bundle, a selection of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments. In this review, we uncover the Solo Strings, Chamber Strings, Woodwind Ensembles, Epic Horns and French Oboe.

VSL Horizon Series

VSL Horizon Series


All products in the Horizon series are available for Apple Logic’s EXS24 sample player, TASCAM’s GigaSampler/GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt.

Some of the Horizon products include samples from the Pro Edition while others are completely new. For the most part, these are single-note instrument samples rather than phrases. All Horizon products covered in this review are 16-bit/44.1kHz stereo. VSL claims an average of 95 dB signal-to-noise ratio. (See the Opus 1& 2 review for more recording details.)

Solo Strings includes 50,000 samples requiring about 29GB of hard drive space and ships on five DVD-ROMs. It includes samples from the Pro Edition and new samples. Each instrument, violin, viola, cello and double bass, is represented in a number of articulations. There are more articulations for violin than the others but all include: short notes, staccato détaché, long notes (with and without vibrato), dynamics, tremolo, trills, pizzicato, Bartok pizzicato, col legno, performance-legatos and repetitions.

Woodwind Ensembles contains around 14,000 new samples (6.1GB) and ships on a single DVD-ROM. It includes ensembles with 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets and 3 bassoons. The French Oboe set contains over 13,000 samples (7GB) and ships on a single DVD-ROM. It also contains instruments for “French style” English horn, small E-flat clarinet and piccolo runs. Epic Horns ships on a single DVD using 2.7GB for about 5,900 all new samples.

Chamber Strings includes almost 32,000 new samples (17.8GB) and ships on four DVDs. It includes programs with 6 violins, 4 violas, 3 celli and 2 double basses.  Each instrument group includes short notes, sustained notes, tremolo, pizzicato, trills, harmonics and other articulations. The performance articulations include legato, with and without portamento, and several styles of repeated notes. Also included are ensemble instruments, incorporating combinations of string families.

All reviewed sets include the samples (taking most of the disk space) and the EXS24 and Giga instrument programs on the DVD-ROMS. HALion and Kontakt instruments can be downloaded from the VSL website after registration.  Updates to Instruments and samples and the performance tool can be downloaded by registered users.

The performance tool, which is included with all of the products in this review, supports smoothly connected legato playing and key switched articulation selection for on-the-fly substitution of samples.  For example, users can switch between various short notes, staccato, long notes or pizzicato samples while playing in a single phrase.

In Use

I tested the VSL Horizon products using the EXS24 sample player plug-in under Logic Pro 6.4.2 and 7.1 under OS 10.3.7. Early testing was done on a 1 GHz Dual processor G4 Mac with 1.5GB RAM. The G4 was monitored through a Pro Tools HD|1 with a 96 I/O and Mackie HR824 speakers.

The samples were loaded on an OWC Mercury Elite FireWire 400/800 enclosure, which I attached to the G4 at FW400 speed. I later acquired a Quad G5 Mac running OS 10.4 “Tiger” with 4GB RAM and attached the OWC drive using its FireWire 800 port.

A few years ago, my group, Silent Orchestra, recorded a surround score for the Image Entertainment DVD of the silent vampire classic, Nosferatu. Most of my symphonic sounds came from a Kurzweil PC88 keyboard and two Akai S2000 samplers with the Miroslav Vitous mini set, Roland Strings and the Peter Siedlaczek Advanced Orchestra.

I’m fond of the Akai samples I used but the S2000’s 32MB memory and the limited real-time performance controls are a hindrance to realism. Instead of simply remixing and editing the score for CD, I decided to see just how much better the strings, woodwinds and brass could sound using the new VSL products.

Our score uses a solo cello melody as a leit motif for the vampire. I found the edge I wanted in the forte performance-legato cello from the Solo Strings collection. The automatic features of the VSL performance tool made it effortless to create an animated part with smoothly connected notes and subtle slurs.

The VSL products are not a panacea. Effective realization of symphonic arrangements requires an understanding of each instrument in the orchestra and a willingness to explore the capabilities of the product. A combination of articulations (varying the note length and dynamics) help create a more realistic performance. Since the VSL samples were recorded dry, you can create any acoustic environment you can imagine through EQ, panning and reverb.

One section of our score features woodwinds. I used Opus 1’s solo flute with the Woodwind Ensemble clarinets, oboes and bassoons for the accompaniment. I put a very quiet Epic Horn part in the upper register to add weight to the high parts while the bassoon section held down the low end. The blend was sonorous and so convincing, that Rich O’Meara, co-writer of the score commented, “it sounds like a real orchestra.”

VSL products have potential in non-symphonic settings. For example, I was hired to write solo cello and violin parts for an alternative rock recording. The parts were to eventually be recorded with a cellist and violinist. Plans changed when they heard my mock-ups using the Horizon Solo Strings. Time and money may have been factors but I like to think it was the striking quality of the samples and the convincing performance-legato programs.

I decided to try the Chamber Strings in an arrangement for another rock band, Red Racer. One piece called for an aggressive part based on a guitar riff.  A solo cello wouldn’t have had the impact I was looking for. The détaché celli in the Chamber Strings set had just the right combination of attack and weight.

The “French style” English Horn and the French Oboe — both are from the French Oboe set — are the most evocative woodwind samples I’ve ever played.  In this pop setting, the English horn added a stately quality but it would be equally at home in a world music arrangement or a moody film score.

The guys gave me complete freedom to experiment so I put the “French” English Horn, Chamber violins, violas and celli and a soaring Epic Horn solo on one track. The Epic Horns are majestic, powerful and inspiring while the English Horn and strings are seductive and enveloping. It feels like a hit.

VSL’s studio team has done a great job of capturing the instrument sounds.  The extended frequency response is generally a huge advantage. The winds and horns are detailed and airy. The strings are bright and crisp. The horns are commanding.

All VSL samples are recorded in a “silent stage” with standard articulations making for a very compatible sound across all Horizon products. Some performance features are very straight forward, For example, programs using the mod wheel to cross fade between dynamics are very easy to use. The performance tool features is very effective but some features require a bit of study. Most of my problems resulted from running too many EXS24 tracks on my G4 and maxing the 1.5GB of RAM. I had no problems on the Quad G5 with 4GB of RAM and the FireWire 800 interface.

There is plenty of depth in the articulations but I’d like to see more atonal effects — perhaps a single product incorporating spooky and amusing strings, brass and woodwinds. The alternate English horn and oboe are fantastic but more alternative instruments would be welcome. Wouldn’t it be nice to have another identically recorded solo violin for duets? How about a rock or jazz flute?


These Horizon products score high marks in sound quality and ease of use. They are expertly recorded, beautifully played and offer exciting ways of creating realistic performances. You’ll want a fast G4 or a G5 with plenty of memory if you plan on sequencing many tracks. A fast drive is also recommended.

The recent price reductions have created a bargain situation for all but the Chamber Strings, which is priced closer to Opus 1 Orchestra than the other Horizon products. Chamber Strings is still worth the asking price, it’s just not the bargain that the others are. Solo Strings is a steal.

VSL offers discounts on certain 24-bit Vienna Instruments for owners of First Edition and Pro Edition products and some related Horizon products. See the discount calculator on the VSL web site for specifics.

Whether you are scoring for stage, TV, film or pop arrangements, these VSL Horizon products are a fabulous resource and highly recommended.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Final Cut Pro 5 & Soundtrack Pro

Apple Computer Inc.

Final Cut Studio Part 1

By Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


Video post production has never been easier or more challenging than it is today.  Easier because of all the tools available, but also more demanding in terms of the complexity.

Broadcast video and optical discs are making strides towards High Definition (HD). TV shows are increasingly being produced in HD with surround sound with more and more network affiliates broadcasting in digital. Motion graphics are everywhere from DVD menus to the evening news.

Apple Computer looked at the workflows involved in video post and integrated a suite of products to address the escalating demands. Final Cut Studio ($1299) comprises three upgraded products, Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, DVD Studio Pro 4 and a new product, Soundtrack Pro (all products available separately).

This review will focus on Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack Pro. The remaining products will be covered in part 2.


Final Cut Pro 5 (FCP5) supports editing in a variety of formats from DV up to uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit HD video. Native editing is supported for long GOP MPEG-2 (HDV), DVCAM, DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO050, Panasonic P2 and Sony IMX.  SD and HDV can be transferred to DVD Studio Pro 4 with markers.

High definition video can be previewed on a high definition monitor or it can be downconverted to standard definition for previewing on SD monitors. External video output devices, such as a second Apple Cinema Display, permit previewing of HD video with real-time effects. The primary monitor remains available for editing windows.

FCP5 supports frame rates ranging from 23.976 to 60 fps. The timeline can display timecode as well as frames and feet for film projects. Audio waveforms with level overlays are displayed in the timeline.

FCP5 allows real-time editing from multiple clip sources. Up to sixteen clips can be viewed at one time and a total of 128 clips can be edited on-the-fly.

Real-time effects processing minimizes the need for rendering and is supported for DV, SD, HDV, DVCPRO HD and uncompressed HD video. Playback quality and frame rate are adjusted dynamically to scale performance based on CPU availability and user settings.

FCP5 supports up to 24 channels of audio for input and output at resolutions up to 24-bit 96kHz.  Each track has level, pan, mute and solo controls.  More than 25 audio filters are built-in.

Many of the products in Final Cut Studio (FCS) are integrated by “round-trip” processing. For example, audio can be sent from FCP5 to Soundtrack Pro for non-destructive editing. Likewise, video clips can be sent from FCP5 to Motion or Shake for non-destructive processing.

FCP5 can control FireWire devices and supports various capture modes. Video clips can be captured on a single workstation and shared by editors with access to an Xsan consolidated storage pool.

FCP5 supports film editing through Cinema Tools 3 and includes support for 35mm 3-perf, 35mm 4-perf, and 16mm-20. 24-fps Edit Decision Lists (EDL) can be converted to and from 29.97 fps. Output includes cut lists, change lists and audio EDL.

FCP5 uses an XML interchange format to export projects to other editing environments, asset management systems and other post production applications.  Audio tracks can also be transferred to Apple’s Logic Pro with XML metadata or other systems using OMF.

The bundled, Compressor 2, provides distributed encoding for MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 and H.264 encoding and performs 2-pass variable bit-rate encoding.

Up to 99 audio and video tracks are supported in addition to 99 levels of undo. Window arrangements and keyboard commands are customizable. The included LiveType application provides animated text and includes a royalty-free animated content library.

Soundtrack Pro (STP) is designed for editing, processing and mixing of multi-track audio sets.  It can be synchronized with MIDI but it is not a MIDI sequencer.  Soundtrack Pro also supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit, 96kHz.  Multi-take recording is possible but with only a single mono or stereo track at once.

Its real-time processing and audio editing features can be applied to mono/stereo files and multi-track projects.  The interface has a timeline view, a global waveform view, a frequency spectrum view, actions list and a waveform display that features animated waveforms. Both FCP5 and STP provide a console mixer interface and support control surfaces using Mackie Control protocol.

Soundtrack Pro uses flexible “action lists” for non-destructive signal possessing. Actions can be rearranged, bypassed or removed from the processing sequence. There are over 50 effects plug-ins, including the Space Designer convolution reverb, Match EQ and a multi-band compressor. Both products accept Audio Units plug-ins.

Other features include time compression/expansion without pitch change, and audio restoration features, such as broad-band noise reduction and “find and fix” for clicks, pops and power-line hum. Room tone can be copied and pasted into or added to sections to maintain consistency.

A library with 5000 or more sound effects and musical Apple Loops is provided. The effects were licensed from third party libraries include Foley effects and ambiences from mostly real-world environments. An Apple Loops browser is included.

In Use

I tested Final Cut Pro 5 (FCP5) and Soundtrack Pro (STP) on a Dual 2.7 GHz. G5 with 4 GB of RAM and Mac OS 10.4.  The control surface testing was performed with a Mackie Control Universal and an Unitor8 MKII MIDI interface. I monitored through a pair of Mackie HR-824s and Sony MDR-7506 headphones.

When I took piano lessons all those years ago, they didn’t tell me I would one day be editing films and producing DVDs. That was a long time ago and I guess one thing leads to another. Thanks to our friends at Film Preservation Associates and Image Entertainment, our scores appear on two surround sound DVDs of classic silent films. We also have an upcoming CD and a film score demo reel.

In addition to the classic silent films I’ve scored with my group, Silent Orchestra, I’ve also become an experimental video producer – in fact, we are producing new silent films for live performance and DVD.  The Final Cut Studio (FCS) suite of products is ideally suited to my demo reel project and to cleaning up the audio of student film projects that were shot on my Canon Elura II mini-DV camera. I love the compact size of this camera but the built-in mic picks up a lot of motor noise.

My first goal was to add some pizazz to an abstract video that we’re scoring. The new 3-way color correction effect was intended to fix colors that aren’t quite “right” and it does a good job of it. In my case, I wanted to actually turn my footage into something that was not quite right. The results were stunning. My muted black and white imagery was bursting with color. If you remember David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes music video, you’ll get the idea. Of course, it also works well for less dramatic uses, such as making snow look really white when it’s “kind of blue” or, um, yellow.

Next, I chose a set of colorful clips of roughly similar length and made a working “multiclip.” While the sequence ran with my music track, I dropped video onto the timeline by clicking in the frames of the multiclip. Once the editing pass was complete, I tweaked the edits and added some artistic cross fades.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my cross fades without rendering. The improved real-time processing, and the dual-processor G5 cut my work time drastically.

Other work flow improvements in FCP5 include “edit overlays” or contextual menus similar to what I saw in the previous version of DVD Studio Pro.  Now when you drag a clip onto the canvas and hold the mouse button you will see a menu of things to do with the clip — insert, replace, fill to fit, etc.

Using the multiclip editing feature is an efficient way to cut video to audio, especially rhythmic audio. Editing a music concert or sporting event footage locked to a common timecode is another great use for multiclip editing.

I added some sound effects tracks and launched the console mixer. The on-screen controls and vertical meters are simple but effective. I had no trouble using my Mackie Control to mute and solo tracks, ride the volume and control the transport.

Soundtrack Pro is not designed to replace high-end DAW applications such as Logic Pro, Nuendo and Pro Tools. The limits on simultaneous track recording and the lack of MIDI support make this clear. But Soundtrack Pro fills a void. First, it’s a resource-friendly waveform editor for mono or stereo files with a boatload of DSP.

Secondly, it’s a multi-track editing and mixing utility — a valuable tool for video post production. Editors dealing with multiple dialog tracks, Foley, ambiences, sound effects and music stems are frequently faced with more than just a mixing challenge.

Apple has made round-trip transfers fairly straight forward. Here’s how it works: A set of audio clips is selected in FCP5 and “sent” to STP as a multi-track project. After editing and processing, the mix is exported (bounced) to a new mix file (usually mono or stereo).  The new mix is imported into FCP5 and added to the timeline, replacing the original clips. When you want to edit the mix again, you just control-click the mix file in the browser and FCP allows you to open the multi-track project that created the file. Individual audio clips can also be sent to the STP waveform editor for editing and cleanup.

I tested Match EQ by recording a few sentences with an AT4033 large diaphragm condenser and again with a Shure SM58 microphone. The recordings were done on a Pro Tools HD|1 with a 96 I/O and transfered as 24-bit 96KHz audio files to Soundtrack Pro. I used the Match EQ in STP to set the template EQ based on the AT4033 recording and then let the Match EQ learn the characteristics of the SM58.

I then played the SM58 recording using the match button and sure enough, the complex EQ curve that was drawn caused the SM58 recording to sound much closer to the AT4033. Obviously, there is more to matching a mic sound than the EQ but this is a very valuable tool.

The spectrum display is a useful way to visualize the effects of EQ and can show parts of the signal that you can’t hear. For example, I saw bands of high frequency sound above 22kHz in my 24-bit 96KHz Pro Tools recordings.

The room tone repair feature is brilliant. It’s as easy as copying a sample of background sound and using it to replace a section of silence or merging it, for example, with a voice-over that was recorded in a dead room. This is a nice feature but I think it could be made even more automatic than it is.

I recorded myself speaking in front of a computer fan to test the noise reduction. I couldn’t use the G5 for this because, it was too quiet! Then I selected a bit of pure noise as the sample and applied it to the whole track for reduction. I listened closely on my Sony MDR-7506 headphones and the results were impressive. My voice remained full and natural sounding while the background was reduced significantly. Albeit, I only did one small test but from what I heard, this feature is comparable if not better than software costing far more than the price of Soundtrack Pro itself.

I tested time stretching with a rhythmic pop mix and slow legato strings. The new length can be specified in samples, seconds, frames or HH:MM:SS. One annoyance was having to change the default specification of “samples” to “seconds” each time I wanted to change the length. You can also drag the selected region with the stretch tool but this works better for shortening than lengthening.

The New Frontier by Donald Fagan served as my rhythmic test sample. After adding roughly 10% more time, I heard only the slightest warble in the tremolo electric piano part. Pushing the length to 150%, resulted in surprisingly listenable audio. The vocals were smooth and the tempo was even but some of the instruments were showing the tell tale warble of time expansion.

I then tried a four part symphonic string arrangement of my own music realized with Vienna Symphonic Library.  At 10% longer, there was almost no degradation in quality.  At 20%, I heard a bit of warbling grunge but it was very minor.  By comparison, time expansion of both pieces in Pro Tools was un-listenable at 10% longer.

I found that reducing the length of a stretched selection sometimes results in a stray tone at the end of the selection. Soundtrack Pro also crashed once when I was deleting an Action. I expect these to be fixed in a future release. (I tested version 1.0.1).

STP can export a multi-track project directly to AIFF with bit-depth and sample rate changes but no dithering. Using Compressor, you can export to AAC, AIFF and Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 (AC-3). In the case of 5.1, you can map each track to a specific speaker. Very nice but why no support for exporting to the cross-industry standard, Broadcast Wave?

The sound effects files and loops provided with STP cover a wide enough range to be useful in many projects. If you are looking for a specific engine or gun sound or an unusual animal sound (bat sounds please), you may need to supplement the set but there are plenty of basics here. I really liked the ethnic music loops, especially the Gamelan loops and ethnic strings.


While it’s not something everyone needs (yet), Apple’s extensive support for native HDV in its products is already in demand. There are good reasons why FCP is so popular with film and video editors.  Version 5 brings support for a host of new HD formats. The enhanced real-time effects, work flow optimizations, multiclip editing and round-trip integration make Final Cut Studio a great value.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Apple has come up with so many cool ways to interface with software.  From the pen-based gestures and MIDI control of Motion 2 (more on this in part 2) to the action scripts of Soundtrack Pro, Apple continues to innovate user interfaces that make complicated tasks easier.

I found Soundtrack Pro to be very useful for audio clean up tasks, especially the kind of problems I found in location productions. Noise reduction and other audio cleanup chores are quick and simple. The ability to view video in a small window was a plus when editing audio from FCP5.

This is a bountiful set of tools at a very reasonable price. The room tone filler, noise reduction, convolution reverb and multi-band compressor make Soundtrack Pro a real bargain.

So, yes, there’s more the think about but like I said, it’s never been easier.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library – Opus 1 and 2 Orchestra

Orchestral Sound Library

Review by Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review

Vienna Symphonic Library (VSL), GmbH is based in Vienna, Austria and is distributed in the US by ILIO.  Their main product lines, First Edition and Pro Edition, are symphonic orchestra libraries for Windows and Mac OS Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs).

Our look at the Horizon Series begins with Opus 1 and Opus 2 Orchestra, a selection of string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments from the Pro Edition.  Opus 1 and 2 are available individually and bundled.

All products in the Horizon series are available for Apple Logic’s EXS24 sample player, TASCAM’s GigaSampler/GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt.  The EXS24 instrument programs were tested for this review.


Opus 1 covers the standard instruments of the modern symphony orchestra.  Opus 2 expands on the articulations in Opus 1 and adds instruments.  Note the use of, “Instrument” for VSL sample programs and lower case “instrument” for real-world objects in this review.

Opus 1 Orchestra contains around 1,300 Instruments using over 40,000 samples (25GB) and ships on four DVDs.  Opus 2 Orchestra includes almost 400 Instruments, using around 13,000 samples (9.3GB) and ships on two DVDs.

VSL reports that the samples were recorded using Schoeps mics through a Millenia Media HV3D preamp and a Daniel Weiss ADC1 MK2, 24/96 AD converter.  They created the original 24-bit/96kHz.recordings on their “silent stage” with minimal room ambience.  The samples have  the same resolution as the Pro Edition, 16-bit/44.1kHz.

The Instruments are nearly identical for all platforms with only small differences based on sample player features.  EXS does not support release velocity, for example, while GigaStudio does.  The unique Performance Instruments are powered by VSL software that integrates into EXS24 and runs as a standalone utility for the other environments.

VSL Opus 1

VSL Opus 1

Opus 1 includes solo harp and ensembles with 14 violins, 10 violas, 8 celli and 6 double basses with articulations including staccato, tremolo, pizzicato, trills and more.  The “bonus files” include major scale runs on violin and viola and harp glissandi.

Opus 1 includes Performance Legato Instruments for all woodwind, brass and string instruments, except harp.  Opus 2 includes solo violin, viola and cello and bass with basic articulations.  It also includes sixteenth-note repetitions and harmonic minor, chromatic and whole tone runs for ensemble strings.

Opus 1 woodwinds include solo piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, English horn, bass clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon in a variety of articulations including Performance Legato.  Opus 2 adds looped solo woodwinds including piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon and performance legato bass clarinet and contrabassoon.

The brass family in Opus 1 is represented by solo tuba and solo and ensemble trumpet, trombone, and horn.  Opus 2 adds muted solo and section trumpets and trombones, and a stopped horn section.

Opus 1 includes a comprehensive percussion section with timpani, snares, bass drum, cymbals, gongs, thunder sheet, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, celesta, assorted hand percussion and, of course… TUBULAR BELLS (couldn’t resist).  Opus 2 adds marimba, vibes, cencerros (Brazilian cow bells), waterphone, plate bells and timpani glissandi.

The Performance Tool included with each version of the product must be registered to activate its features.  This tool, created by VSL’s engineering team, creates a more authentic sounding performance through real-time sample substitution.

In Legato Mode, the tool substitutes samples of notes played in succession in place of individually played notes.  The Repetition Tool substitutes alternate samples to avoid the “machine gun” effect.  Alternation Mode allows switching between different articulations in a single phrase or performance.  Notes outside of the instrument range are used to select the articulation change dynamically.

In Use

I tested VSL Horizon products with Logic Pro 6.4.2 and 7.1 under OS 10.3.7 on a G4 2x1Ghz Mac with 1.5GB RAM and a Pro Tools 96 I/O.  The sounds were monitored through Mackie HR824 speakers.

All installation DVDs contain both EXS24 and TASCAM GigaStudio Instruments and audio files compatible with all formats.  Installation is accomplished by dragging the compressed Instrument and sample archives to appropriate hard drives and folders and uncompressing them.  The sample files can be stored on any fast drive — preferably not the system drive.  I used a external FireWire 400 drives for the samples.

HALion and Kontakt Instruments can be downloaded from the VSL website after registration.  Updates to Instruments and samples can be downloaded by all registered users.

A good way to get a feel for the range and power of VSL products is to download a MIDI file and a corresponding MP3 demo from the VSL web site (  MIDI files and MP3 demos are posted by VSL on their public site and by users on the Forum.

I chose a realization of Ravel’s “Little Ugly” posted by an Opus 1 user because it uses articulations and performance features in several instrument families of Opus 1 and includes around 60 Opus 1 Instruments.

I imported the standard MIDI file into Logic Pro, moved each region to an Audio Instrument track and assigned the recommended Opus 1 Instrument in the EXS plug-in.

In a large arrangement, you could have thousands of sample files open at once.  Before I could load all the Instruments and associated sample files I ran into an OS X limitation on the number of open files.

I could have bounced a few Audio Instrument tracks to regular audio tracks and removed some EXS24 instances.  However, a less compromising solution is available with EXSManager from Redmatica, which performs a number of useful chores for owners of large EXS24 sample sets.

One function takes a large number of sample files for an Instrument and merges the audio into fewer yet larger files.  Also, EXSManager drastically improves the initial load time for Instruments with many sample files by pre-linking the Instruments and samples.

Once the MIDI tracks were active, I could hear the sounds individually and see the mod wheel and volume data that makes the sounds come alive.  The mod wheel controller was used extensively in this realization to cross-fade samples with different dynamics.

Several things became clear after trying several MIDI files and my own pieces.  First, a great amount of knowledge went into the generous selection of Instruments and articulations.  The VSL creative team clearly understands how each instrument and section functions in the context of a symphony orchestra.

Secondly, the VSL samples are very well played and recorded.  The MP3 demos on the site are a useful preview but compression loses the full quality of these gorgeous recordings.  With the performance features and a nice reverb, you have the makings of a very realistic sound.

The realism in the Performance Legato Instruments is a major breakthrough.  The Performance Tool is not snipping note starts as other sample libraries do.  This is real legato playing.

The woodwinds and strings are detailed and expressive.  The English horn in the Opus 2 set practically sings with joy.  The performance legato contrabassoon and bass clarinet are positively spooky.  Hitchcock would have loved these sounds.

The brass instruments are resounding.  I was disappointed in the lack of muted brass until Opus 2 came along.  The muted trumpets and trombones are going to get a lot of use in my next animation score.

There is plenty of variety in Opus 1 — strings for every occasion and percussion to launch an army.  The variety of articulations in the cencerros  and waterphone in Opus 2 is a real plus for anyone interested in exotic percussion effects, especially suspense, sci-fi and horror composers and sound designers.

Another favorite from Opus 2 is the “flautando string” sound.  It’s mysterious but not as edgy as tremolo.  The solo flute with vibrato in Opus 2 is beautifully executed and includes a graceful embouchure change with a progressive vibrato.  Lovely touches like this have been very hard to find in orchestral samples at any price.

The lowest octave in the grand marimba in Opus 2 is an awesome sound.  My only gripe is the bottom two notes, which sound a bit on the bright side compared with the rest of the octave.

The vibes were programmed with a long release, which makes it impossible to vary the length of each note.  I’d rather use the sustain pedal to get longer notes.  Maybe this will be fixed in an online update or another user will post a version without the long release time.

Note that VSL customers are free to swap Instruments but not the underlying samples.  This is a good move as it has allowed the VSL products to be improved by their user base.

Another gripe — 24-bit/48 kHz samples would benefit those of us working in higher resolutions for audio and video production.  I realize that would turn a 6 DVD set into a 9 DVD set and require faster drives and more memory but I suspect the sound would be awesome.


Opus 1 is an impressive collection and combined with Opus 2 it’s even more remarkable.  The nuances in the playing and tone quality of the recorded instruments make these sounds come alive.  The sound is nothing short of beautiful.  Articulation playing requires new playing skills and possibly some patience to perfect but the payoff is astounding.  Realism has never been this close in sampled instruments.

But you are wondering, are they worth the price?  Opus 2 is roughly half the price of Opus 1 but is closer to one third the size.  To quible about this would be missing the point.  Opus 2 combines some basic articulations of instruments from other Horizon sets and adds articulations and instruments not found in Opus 1 and the First Edition.  The highlights include basic articulations of solo strings, ensemble flute and clarinet, muted brass, looped sustained woodwinds, French oboe, marimba, vibes and percussion effects and the phenomenal Epic Horns.

The Opus 1 and 2 bundle canno be compared with the two to three hundred dollar mini-sets because it so broader and deeper in every instrument family.  User feedback went into the selection of sounds in Opus 1 and 2.  It is also priced well below the Complete Orchestral Package, Pro Edition, which lists for $5990 and the First Edition, priced at $3690.  The combined bundle has enough variety to fill the needs of composers and arrangers working in almost any genre without breaking the bank.  If you need a comprehensive orchestral set and are just jumping into the Horizon series, then the two together are a excellent value.

Opus 1 and 2 are the cornerstone of VSL’s Horizon line.  In other reviews we will look at how other Horizon products such as Solo Strings, Chamber Strings, Epic Horns and the Woodwind Ensembles expand on this versatile library.

Fast Facts

Applications:  Symphonic and pop composing and arranging, television and film scoring, music education.

Key Features:  Opus 1:  Over 25GB of symphonic instrument programs for Apple Logic EXS24 sample player, TASCAM’s GigaStudio, Steinberg HALion and Native Instruments Kontakt.  Opus 2 adds 9.3GB of instruments.  The sets include strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.  Performance Tool adds realistic legato, note repetitions and dynamic performance.

Price:  Opus 1, $895 USD; Opus 2, $495; Opus 1 & 2 bundle, $1,295

Contact: ILIO at 800-747-4546,

VSL web site:

Product Points

VSL Opus 1 & 2


–         Impeccable recordings of stunningly beautiful instruments

–         Large variety of articulations and instruments

–         Performance Tool is a major innovation in realism

–         Purchase cost applies fully towards upgrade to Pro Edition

–         Opus 1 and 2 together form an extensive orchestral library


–         Requires DVD drive to load samples

–         A fast computer with at least 1GB of RAM is recommended (3GB is better)

–         Higher resolution samples would benefit the post production and high resolution audio communities

The Score

An outstanding value for a very complete and versatile collection of professional symphonic orchestra samples.  An affordable way to get started with the Vienna Symphonic Library.

Carlos Garza composes music for films.  His work has been heard on DVD, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art.  He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza

DVD Studio Pro 3

Apple DVD Authoring Software

By Carlos Garza

With all the buzz about Apple’s new hardware products, it’s easy to forget that Apple is also a software company.  Final Cut Pro is probably the best-known member of Apple’s family of postproduction applications that includes LiveType, Cinema Tools, Soundtrack, Motion and Shake.

The recent upgrade of Apple’s DVD-Video authoring application, DVD Studio Pro 3, brings new features and new levels of integration.  With considerations towards workflow efficiency and a rich set of features, Apple has raised the stakes for professional DVD authoring on the Mac.


DVD Studio Pro 3 (DVDSP3) sports three customizable layouts.  The main windows are the menu editor, the track editor, the Assets tab, the Palette and a graphical project overview.  The product also includes two stand-alone compression applications.

The Palette has a collection of templates, styles and graphics that can be used in projects.  The pre-built interfaces are suitable for a variety of professional projects including industrial, wedding and entertainment titles for film, video and music producers.

The Menu Editor is where you arrange the buttons, text, background images and video clips that create the user interface for your DVD.  In some cases, multiple tasks can be accomplished in a single step.  For example, holding the mouse button while dragging a graphic yields a context-sensitive “Drop Palette,” or menu, where you can select options such as creating a button or simultaneously creating a button and a track and linking the two.  Graphical elements can be placed in drop zones to build a composite image for the menu background.  Buttons and drop zone graphics can be resized.

The Assets tab is simply a listing of graphics, video clips and audio that has been imported into the current project.  Audio clips can be added to your project via the Assets tab or pulled from the iTunes library via the Palette.  Apple Motion projects can also be imported and used for animated menu graphics or Alpha Transitions.

The bundled A.Pack application encodes PCM audio into AC-3 with channel configurations up to 5.1.  The Compressor program supports batch processing of video into several MPEG formats, including MPEG-2 with one and two pass encoding.  Compressor encodes HD video sources directly into MPEG-2 and stereo AC-3 audio with bit rates up to 256 kbps.

Audio can be imported into DVDSP3 from MPEG-1 Layer 2, AC-3, DTS, WAV and AIF sources.  Note that DVDSP3 does not provide a means for encoding DTS audio but it can be integrated in projects.

DVDSP3 imports MPEG-1, MPEG-2, D1 and QuickTime video formats.  Several new features are aimed at integrating DVDSP3 with Apple and third party applications.  For example, DVDSP3 can work directly with layered Photoshop files, it can import iDVD4 projects and chapter markers are read from Final Cut Pro/Express and iMovie.

Alternate languages are supported with up to 32 subtitle streams and up to 8 audio streams.  The “stories” feature provides alternative sequences for your video clips.  This could be used for alternate endings or selective scene skipping by the viewer.  DVDSP3 is compatible with PAL and NTSC video standards and supports up to 9 video angles.  It also supports dual layer discs.

Slideshows can be created with up to 99 still images.  The durations of each image can be set globally or on a per-slide basis.  Individual slide durations can be automatically set so the length of a group matches the length of an audio track.

DVDSP3 supports writing to DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW.  Professional authoring formats, such as Data Description Protocol (DDP 2.0 and 2.1) and Cutting Master Format (CMF 1.0) can be written to DLT or hard drive.  Copy protection is supported through APS, which requires a license from Macrovision and CSS, which is applied by licensed replicators.

Thirty adjustable transitions are available for menus jumps, buttons, slides and still images in a timeline.  Graphics can be customized through direct launching of Motion and Photoshop.  Alpha Transitions, a new feature in version 3, add the use of video clips to the transition options.  The compositing engine can preview transitions without an extra rendering step.

In Use

I set out to create a film score demo reel using segments from my two commercial DVDs and a few short films I’ve scored.  I used DVDSP3 on a 1 GHz G4 Dual with 1.5 GB of RAM and OS 10.3.7.  The audio came from Pro Tools sessions created on my HD|1 system and Logic Pro 7.  The video clips were prepared in iMovie and Final Cut Pro 3 (FCP) and saved as QuickTime or MPEG-2.

The menus are very easy to set up especially with the Apple supplied templates.  The film-themed backgrounds and pre-made buttons saved me the trouble of trying to be something I’m not – a graphic artist.  I found it handy to be able to type text directly into the background of the menu and directly onto buttons.

My Demo reel became more complex as I added sub-menus for specific types of projects and a slide show with biographical information.  The Graphical View is helpful for visualizing the hierarchy of menus and relationships between menus and tracks (and the graph can be printed).  I also found the graphical view was the easiest way to navigate the project while I worked on different sections.  Follow the tree, click on a menu or double click on a track and it comes up in the menu editor.

Occasionally I hear complaints from people about the lack of a second button on Apple’s factory supplied mouse.  A second mouse button could, for example, put a contextual menu on the screen where you are pointing.  DVDSP3 answers this call to a certain extent through the Drop Palette.  Once I set the preference for the Drop Palette to appear faster, and got used to holding the mouse button, I found this feature to be a real time saver.

Aside from the standard dissolves, wipes and fades, DVDSP3 also has transitions that fade through color, a water splash effect and a generous assortment of spinning, flipping, melting and zooming effects.  The new Alpha Transitions feature adds some nice eye candy.  One of my favorites was a short clip of scratchy old film that makes a perfect lead in for a classic film title.  I found that judicious use of transitions made my project look far more professional.

I wanted to test the menu navigation before burning a DVD.  After dealing with video editors that require rendering with each little change, it’s a pleasure to see that you can see moving graphics and transitions in the Simulator without the extra step of rendering.

The DVD-Video format allows surround audio only in compressed formats.  I used the bundled A.Pack utility program to encode my surround stems into AC-3.  My source files were 24-bit, 48 kHz WAV and DVDSP3 supports up to 5.1 channels of 24-bit, 48 kHz AC-3.  I fed the 5 stems of the 75 minute score into A.Pack and had a 5 channel surround AC-3 file in no time at all.

While the DVD-Video specification does not allow for surround mixes in PCM formats, it is possible to incorporate stereo PCM with sample rates as high as 24-bit/96 kHz.  I took advantage of this to sweeten a slide show with a dropped in section of high-resolution audio from Logic Pro.

DVDSP3 is not intended to replace the audio and video editing features of programs like FCP and Logic but you can trim audio and video to an extent.  There are restrictions to keep in mind.  For example, video trimming is restricted to Group of Pictures, or GOP boundaries.

I feel that a bit more attention could be given to the features and information in the track editor.  For example, the ability to fade audio streams in and out would avoid a lot of outside editing.  It would also be nice to be able to set a level for an audio stream, at least when PCM audio is involved.

The video display in the track timeline is an opaque blob with a single thumbnail image at the beginning and a solid color indicating the length of the video.  The inclusion of a filmstrip view such as found in Logic Pro and FCP would be a big help in placing subtitles and audio clips.


Apple has taken the user-friendly interface to a new level with the addition of contextual Drop Palettes.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to work much more quickly than I would have otherwise.

Apple’s extensive support for the DVD video specification and the ability to create professional authoring formats make DVDSP3 well suited to professional applications.  Considering the rich visual features, the batch encoding and the ease of use, I have to say that Apple has come up with a winning solution at a great price.

At a Glance

Applications: DVD authoring for professional applications, including movies, shows, music videos, industrial/educational films and commercial event videography postproduction.

Key Features:  streamlined workflow, templates for professional applications, Alpha Transitions, batch encoding, familiar interface, supports DDP and CMF writing to DLT

Price:  $499 (US), $199 (US) upgrade from DVD SP 1 or 2
Contact: (800-MY-APPLE)
Product Points

– Workflow enhancements
– Professional Templates and graphics
– Batch encoding of MPEG-2 and surround AAC
– Extensive support for DVD specification
– All standard writable DVD formats supported

– No filmstrip view in track editor
– No audio level controls or audio fade options

The Score

A very well designed application that streamlines complex DVD authoring chores while providing a very extensive set of options for authoring.

Carlos Garza is a film composer who produces and engineers surround scores for broadcast and DVD and is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2005 Carlos Garza