ProjectSAM True Strike Pack

Review by Carlos Garza


From suspenseful “heartbeats” to creepy scraping and pounding rhythms, no instrument family speaks with as much authority and dynamic range as percussion. In part two of our percussion roundup, we’ll look at a pair of products from a Dutch company known as ProjectSAM.

True Strike  and True Strike 2 — sold together as True Strike Pack — cover a variety of instruments and ensemble sizes. Together they feature orchestral, world, mallet instruments and unique effects for sound designers.

Quantum Leap’s, Storm Drum 2, is a close competitor to True Strike Pack. We’ll compare their features and see if there is a clear winner. This review is part of a percussion library round-up, which also included a look at Flying Hand Percussion. See reviews on this site.

Features

True Strike includes 51 instruments and requires 17 GB of space. TS2 has 59 instruments and needs 14 GB. The 24-bit, 44.1 kHz products are delivered on DVD-ROM and are integrated with the free Kontakt player.

ProjectSAM True Strike

TS focuses on symphonic instruments with timpani, gran casa ensemble, toms, snares, cymbals, tams, thunder plate and brakes. The melodic instruments include marimba, xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel, celesta and a handful of ethnic crossover instruments. Samples were recorded with close range, stage and large hall ambience.

TS2 adds percussion effects, bowed cymbals and vibes, 7 Asian instruments, including taiko, Turkish, European and over 20 African instruments. Samples were created with close mics and either room or stage ambience. The Cimbalom and prepared piano are a unique bonus.

In Use

In January of 2010, the True Strike products were re-released, dropping integration with several previously supported players to focus on the free Kontakt player (screen shot below).  The move is described as a win-win.  While allowing ProjectSAM to focus their development and support efforts, the move reportedly improves round-robin alternation, navigation, streamlines ADSR control and provides better reporting of articulation features.  See also the review of Flying Hand Percussion on this site, which makes extensive use of scripting features in Kontakt.

The EXS-24 version that I tested in 2009 uses the same sample set as the re-released product. I tested under Logic Pro with Mac OS 10.5 and listened critically on Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

I tested both sets in an action film score I’m composing. I found the toms and bass drum ensembles blended perfectly with strings and brass from Vienna Symphonic Library. I could have chosen to place all the virtual instruments in the same ambience by using the TS close mic samples with Logic’s convolution reverb but the stage ambience of the TS samples was too good to pass up.

The bass drum is stunning. These massive “thwacks” are detailed and expressive and the softer sounds are sublime. Concert bass drums can sometimes be unwieldy in a dense mix due to overtones and long decay. Thankfully, the tasteful producers at ProjectSAM have crafted a modern sound that works exceptionally well in dramatic symphonic works.

True Strike 2 with Kontakt Player

TS has an excellent collection of snare drums, including a thin concert, a deeper drum and the field drum, which gave my action cues that “official” military sound. The swells in the snare ensemble are wide and detailed.

I had mixed feelings about the mallet instruments. The marimba with stage mics and full hall is spot-on but I wanted more tonal variety — soft and medium mallets, for example. The vibes in TS are useful but the damper sound, while realistic, is present enough to be noticeable when soloed. On the other hand, the bowed vibes in TS2 are wonderfully eerie and the effects sounds and prepared piano are great for suspense cues.

The U.S. company, Quantum Leap, set the standard for thundering ensemble samples in their original Storm Drum 1 product. Naturally, the 24-bit thundering ensembles in TS2 (and the new SD2) have a greater depth and clarity than the 16-bit SD1. ProjectSAM has their own take on the concept and these sounds are perfect for creature features, action game scores and dramatic pop productions.

ProjectSAM also did an excellent job of capturing the nuances in African and Turkish drums. In fact, there is enough variety to make a convincing performance – not always the case in world instrument samples (and never in keyboards). The mind-bending timpani effects will work in game, TV and film scores and contemporary concert works.

As with any sample library, there is a learning curve for playing the instrument. Once you get used to where the single hits, flams and rolls are, you can quickly create a great sounding track. A small gripe with True Strike is the mapping of some non-pitched sounds to a single MIDI note. This is fine for a drum pad but not so great for keyboard triggering. It would be nice, for example to have the four toms available an octave or two apart with left and right hand samples.

These minor negatives do not diminish the overall product value. Using these drums in a compositional setting really paid off for me. The sounds are very musical and composing with them is effortless.

So how does the True Strike Pack compare to Storm Drum 2? The recording quality is excellent in both products. I loved the stage ambience in the TS drums, especially the concert toms and bass drums. It’s a beautiful sound that shines in spare arrangements.

SD2 has more sound effects but there is no redundancy between the two and if you are serious about effects percussion and large ensembles you’ll want the TS Pack and SD2 in your arsenal. TS covers the contemporary symphony very well but SD2 adds royalty free MIDI tracks. TS Pack integrates with your favorite sample player software while SD2 uses the proprietary Play engine.

Summary

The detailed 24-bit recordings and spacious ambiance make these sounds come alive. I found that the recording clarity really helps in a dense mix and the snare roll crescendos made me feel like the drum was being played right in front of me (kind of scary actually). Some alternate sample mappings would help with certain playing styles but this is an inspiring world-class collection in any case.

This is also a versatile collection. The dystopian sounds and range of ethnic percussion make True Strike 2 a valuable resource for film and video game sound designers. Some of Hollywood’s top composers are using True Strike and it’s easy to see why. This is an awesome product.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film and electronic game scoring, pop production, contemporary orchestral realization, arranging and music education.

Key Features:  24-bit symphonic, world and effects percussion samples. Compatible with major sample players for Windows and Mac OS.

US Prices approx.   USD $399 each or $799 for True Strike Pack

Contact: Project SAM + 31-30-2314500, www.ProjectSAM.com, info@projectsam.com; Available in the US from:  HouseofSamples.com West L.A. Music (www.westlamusic.com)

Product Points

Plus
• Great sound quality
• Beautiful hall ambience
• Compatible with major sample player apps

Minus
• Keyboard mappings could be expanded
• Greater mallet variety needed

The Score

True Strike Pack offers pristine audio quality in a reliably useful collection. The recent price drops make this a great buy.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Apple Logic Pro 8

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


I use logic for soundtrack composing and pop production. Over the past 4 years, I’ve shifted from using MIDI modules and keyboards to streaming sample players and software synths. Logic’s integrated music production environment is now the starting point for all my composing projects.

I’ve used Logic since version 5 and, as I’ve mentioned in previous PAR reviews, was eager to see Apple simplify and beautify the user interface.

logic-studio-screenshot

The consolidated Arrange window with pop-up panes for the mixer and piano roll editor and the sliding pane for the media bin and instrument/loop library are a welcome improvement. However, I still use the separate score and environment windows when I need to focus on those tasks.

The transport and status bar — centered along the bottom of the main window — worked well, even stretched across two 19” standard displays. The Mackie/Logic Control that I’ve used since Logic 6 worked fine, as did the Unitor8 MIDI interface.

The Studio Sound Library, instruments and effects plug-ins are the heart of Logic Studio for composers. The sounds and loops cover many genres including pop, world, R&B and strong support for classic and modern electronic music. The sound effects and ambiences are well suited to indie film and stage productions.

Logic Pro 8 (LP8) makes sound picking easier than pie. Select a software instrument track in the Arrange window and click in the library browser to instantly audition thousands of pre-built instrument channel strips. For example, “gated synthesizers” combine soft synths with effects locked to tempo.

The symphonic instruments won’t fool your music teacher or put the high-end sample libraries out of business but are more than adequate for pop production and symphonic sketches.

I had no trouble loading Logic 7 project files. In fact, once I started using LP8, I found almost no need to go back to 7. One exception, Vienna Horizon instruments use a VSL plug-in for EXS24 and some settings can be used, but not edited, in LP8.

I frequently use QuickTime clips for film scoring. The new small movie pane in the consolidated Arrange window is a great idea and full screen mode is just a couple of clicks away.

logic-studio

To investigate the surround features I used Logic’s surround-animated component modeling synth, Sculpture, and other instruments in surround channels. I added a Sound Designer convolution reverb with one of the new surround impulses. Next, I picked a surround setting in the new Delay Designer and added Logic’s Surround Compressor with the “Atmospheric Master” preset in the master output.

The MultiMeter adds a surround signal viewer and a goniometric display to show coherence and phase relationships between stereo pairs. All together, a powerful combination of tools for surround production. You can burn your surround mix to DVD-A format directly from Logic or bounce to PCM for Dolby Digital encoding with the Compressor utility.

In summary, LP8 packs a huge bang for the buck. Mature audio and MIDI tools along with the extensive loops, samples and software synthesizers make LP8 a must-have tool for rock, pop, urban and new age producers and a cornucopia for film, TV and game composers.

Carlos Garza composes music for films. His music has appeared on Image Entertainment DVDs, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Apple Logic Pro 7

Apple Digital Audio Workstation Software

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally Published in Pro Audio Review


Apple’s professional digital audio and MIDI production environment has been updated with new sounds and a new look.  As with other Apple offerings, it is available in both Pro and Express editions.

Both versions of the program integrate digital audio and MIDI recording with software synthesis, sample playback and notation.  With version 7, the improvements include user interface, workflow enhancements, new instruments and effects and, with 7 Pro, distributed processing for networked Macs.

Both products retain their previous list prices of US $999 for Logic Pro and $299 for Logic Express.  Upgrades from previous versions are available and a $19.95 upgrade from Logic Pro 7.0 to 7.1 was recently released.  This review will focus on the features of Logic Pro. 7.0

Logic Pro 7

Logic Pro 7

Features

The core of Logic’s flexible environment is the Arrange window, where recorded regions are visualized and where most editing takes place. MIDI and audio can be edited side-by-side in the Arrange window or in dedicated editing windows. Logic has extensive formatting features for notation printing. Logic incorporates synchronized playback of QuickTime video formats including playback to FireWire devices.

Logic Pro 7 includes four new software instruments. Pro 7.1 adds an additional pair of hybrid synth instruments. Sculpture, a component-modeling synthesizer, simulates the physical properties of acoustic instruments. Models starting with strings or woodwinds are modified by selecting materials, such as steel, nylon, wood or glass. Software “Exciters” are added to the model to modify the sound based on how a sound is actuated — picking, blowing or bowing, for example.

Ultrabeat is designed after the drum machines that were popular in the 1980’s. Sounds are generated through sample playback, virtual analog synthesis and FM for bass sounds. Ultrabeat is capable of 25 voices and incorporates filtering and distortion effects along with swing and human factors quantization. The 7.1 upgrade adds the ability to export patterns from the drum machine to the Arrange window.

Both products include EFM1, a software based FM synthesizer, and a set of instruments from GarageBand. Some of the Apple Loops provided with GarageBand incorporate the original MIDI note information in addition to the segmented sound data. Dropping this type of loop onto a MIDI track allows substitution of the loop segments with new sounds. GarageBand songs can be imported into Logic.

There are several new audio processing plug-ins, including Guitar Amp Pro, a plug-in incorporating tube amplifier and speaker emulations for electric guitar. Pro 7.1 adds a Bass Amp plug-in.  Ringshifter combines a ring modulator circuit with a frequency shifter. The Vocal Transformer separates fundamental frequency from its overtones allowing male-to-female and female-to-male voice changes.

The Pitch Correction plug-in takes a monophonic sound source and enforces pitch conformance to a musical scale with adjustable tuning.  Using an extremely fast setting creates something akin to Cher’s “Believe” effect.

The 7.1 upgrade includes plug-in delay compensation for native plug-ins, support for nine additional control surfaces and a number of performance and workflow enhancements.

The Distributed Audio Processing capability now lets users supplement the CPU resources of a G4 workstation or a PowerBook with the resources of additional networked G4 and G5 machines.  The user picks a lower powered machine as the workstation and then enables distributed processing for plug-ins on selected tracks.  Audio is routed through the Gigabit Ethernet port to the node machines for plug-in processing and routed back to the workstation host for mixing.

Among the workflow improvements is the ability to import audio from Final Cut Pro with XML metadata describing placement of audio clips on the time line.  Logic 7 can detect movie cuts to place markers in the global tracks, import QuickTime movie soundtracks and insert soundtracks in existing QuickTime files.

Interoperability with other DAW applications is expanded through support for Advanced Authoring Format (AAF), which includes information on the placement of audio files in the project.  Bouncing to AAC is now supported along with enhanced ID3 tag editing for bounced MP3 files.

The Arrange window has been enhanced with several new editing modes.  Control of the shuffle and snap modes is available at the top of the Arrange window.  A new cross fade mode automatically fades between regions that overlap on the same track.  A track solo feature is now available in the Arrange window.  While previous versions had a single Autoload (template) song, users can now pick from a set of templates predefined for various project types.

Logic Express 7 has the same visual workspace as Logic 7 Pro and includes 26 software instruments and more than 40 effects plug-ins.  The software instruments include the EXSP24 sample playback engine with a modest sample library, a variety of software synths including analog and FM emulations.  Effects include a preset version of the Multipressor multi-band compression, Guitar Amp, pitch and time effects, reverbs and supports audio resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz and QuickTime synchronization.  Logic Pro 7 supports audio resolutions up to 24-bit/192Khz.

In Use

I tested Logic 7 Pro on a G4 dual 1 GHz under OS X v10.3.7.  The audio interface was a Digidesign 96 I/O going into a Pro Tools HD|1 card.  I monitored through a pair of Mackie HR824s.

I found that Logic pro offers a number of improvements in both the “getting started” stage of a project and the polishing stage.  GarageBand instruments make a nice starting point for sketching out arrangements.  Rather than spending valuable time sifting through hundreds of sounds or hundreds of parameter settings, with the GarageBand instruments you just pick the instrument family and perhaps tweak a few basic settings and you’re making music.  And yes, they sound nice.

The new filmstrip in the Global Tracks is far easier than the older thumbnail tracks.  The improved ability to edit tempo changes graphically against the bar lines and filmstrip was a huge timesaver for me in matching hits to video events.  A lot of my film music uses odd meters to help me line up cues and hits.  Seeing the meter in the Global Track along with the filmstrip was very handy.

The main thing that distinguishes Logic Pro 7 from other professional tools is the sheer number of musically useful instrument sounds that are incorporated.  Anyone looking to Logic 7 for sound design features will be in audio heaven.

The first stop for sound designers is Sculpture.  The random tremolos and otherworldly breath effects make these sounds come alive.  The accelerating and decelerating tremolos are very tempting.  Imagine a plucked string instrument with the attack of a coin rolling on the table or a bouncing ball.  The edgier sounds based on breath models are well suited to film score and alternative music.

I set out to explore the different ways of using Logic as a composition tool.  For example, what if I want to approach writing songs like I did in the 80’s, using a drum machine and a keyboard?  Logic gives you a number of drum and keyboards options that would work in rock, pop, hip hop or electronica.  Ultrabeat has a variety of acoustic and electronic kits.  A word of warning, the ultra low kick drum sounds in the electronic kits will seriously rattle your speakers.

Support for Apple Loops has been expanded to allow more flexibility in importing GarageBand songs into Logic.  However, you can just as easily start in Logic.  I found a jazz/rock drumbeat that worked well with a reggae bass line loop.  But it needed some electric guitar.  So, I turned to Guitar Amp Pro.

Most of the preconfigured settings work fine but you will want to tweak things to work with your guitar and playing style.  The crunchy Woodstock setting put some meat on my Strat copy and enough bite to cut through the swirling electric piano part I had going on the EVP88.

Next, I ramped up an instance of the EVB3 organ emulation.  The “Whiter Shade of Pale” sound would have been perfect in the right setting.  In my case, a grittier sound was needed and EVB3 came through with some excellent sounds.

The Apple Loops drum beat that I picked worked well with the GarageBand fretless bass.  The gritty EVB3 organ and the edge from Guitar Amp Pro made the mix more authentic and much less “MIDI band”-like.  And all of this without waking the kids.

Summary

There are enough sound making and shaping tools in Logic 7 Pro to keep an army of sound designers employed for years to come.  The Space Designer convolution reverb and the EVOC vocoder continue to amaze me.

The workflow enhancements from Garageband song file imports to environment templates make this the user-friendliest version of Logic yet.  The new Arrange Window settings for region placement and crossfading of audio regions make for more efficient editing.

I realize that some may find the price tag of Logic 7 Pro a bit on the high side but I can’t say it’s over priced.  It’s actually a bargain when you consider the extensive features for sequencing, high-resolution audio recording, notation and video synchronization.  I had no trouble on a G4 Mac but if you like to use a lot of plug-ins and a lot of tracks you should consider a G5.

Logic has matured into a very productive and versatile environment.  Logic 7 Pro offers a wealth of features that will be useful to composers, musicians and arrangers.  Both products are a great way to awaken your music and sound design creativity.

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

(c) 2007 Carlos Garza

DVD Studio Pro and Motion 2

Apple Final Cut Studio (part 2)

By Carlos Garza

With all the new outlets for music video these days, it almost feels like 1981 all over again. Music and video artists have more outlets than ever before and greater need for an integrated set of audiovisual postproduction tools.

Apple Computer has combined the three previously available applications and one new application into an integrated postproduction suite. Final Cut Studio comprises Final Cut Pro 5, DVD Studio Pro 4, Motion 2 and Soundtrack Pro. DVD SP4 is available within the $1299 Final Cut Studio product suite, or separately for $499 US. Upgrades are available for $199 US. Motion 2 is available separately for $299 US. Upgrades from Motion are $99.

In part one of this review, I looked at Final Cut Pro 5 and Soundtrack Pro. In part two, I will focus on new features in DVD SP 4 and take a quick look at Motion 2. Part 1 of this review appeared in the October 2005 issue. We reviewed DVD Studio Pro 3 in  2005.

Features

Looking at the box that Final Cut Studio is packaged in you will notice a few things. First, it’s a heavy box with Final Cut Pro 5 documentation in four separate volumes and the DVD SP4 manual taking almost 700 pages by itself. The next things you’ll notice are the big letters, “HD” on the side of the box.

The message is simple: HD is here. You may have already noticed this from Apple’s support for the H.264 codec in QuickTime 7. H.264 is mandatory in both the Blu-ray and HD DVD specifications.

DVD SP4 can be used to author standard definition titles for release on single-layer, DVD-5 and dual layer, DVD-9 media. DVD SP4 can also write the HD DVD format to conventional red laser recordable media.

Authoring for dual layer SD titles includes control of the break point between layers. Authored titles can be burned (space permitting) to dual layer DVD-9 or written to DLT. DVD SP4 supports the following red laser recordable formats: DVD-R, -RW, +R, +RW and +R DL.

DVD SP4 continues to support DDP 2.0 and 2.1, CMF 1.0 output formats. Video title set files can also be written to disk for SD and HD DVD. HD content can be previewed in full screen on an Apple Cinema Display using Digital Cinema Desktop.

Extensive scripting may require extended memory registers that Apple provides through partitioning of General Purpose Register Memory (GPRM). Complex DVD titles can use up to 112 register partitions for advanced interactive authoring.

The new VTS editor allows authors to create additional Video Title Set (VTS) folders and move assets between folders to optimize disc performance. VTS allocation provides a way for disc authors to combine audio or screen formats on the same disc.

Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD SP4 can take advantage of networked G4 and G5 computers for distributed encoding. The updated encoder, Compressor 2, provides encoding in H.264 (aka MPEG-4 Part 10), which support HD content.

Previous versions of DVDSP used a separate utility, A.Pack, to encode AC-3 (Dolby Digital) audio files. Compressor 2 now includes Dolby Digital (AC-3) encoding, and is Dolby certified. Video compression includes 2-pass VBR encoding. In addition to a growing number of presets, DVD SP4 allows the user to create droplets — drag-and-drop desktop objects pre-configured for specific encoding or format conversions (for example, NTSC to PAL).

Motion 2 boasts a Real-Time Design Engine that is scalable across available CPU, graphics processors and RAM. Motion 2 can address memory above 4GB and supports GPU-accelerated 32-bit float rendering. The ability to work in larger address spaces means less rendering during project creation.

The Replicator tool, well, replicates graphical objects, shapes and movies. The Key Frame Editor offers greater precision over the previous implementation. Object movement along a path can now be controlled with finer detail.

If you’ve worked with audio applications under OS X, you are probably aware of Apple’s “Core Audio” architecture. Core Audio provides a framework for third party development of effects plug-ins and software synths. Apple extended the concept to a broader set of Core Media technologies.

Motion 2 includes over 500 filters, particle presets and effects. New filters include 3D Rotate, Extrude and Vignette. Apple has opened the door for third party effects developers through their FxPlug architecture, which includes parameter automation.

MIDI devices, including mix controllers and keyboards can be used to control parameters such as filters and transforms. Knobs, faders and music keyboards can all be used as real-time performance controllers.

Round-trip editing is possible using other Final Cut Studio applications as well as Adobe After Effects. For example, Motion 2 particle effects can be linked into Adobe After Effects projects.

Motion 2 has a built-in browser for iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums. Native HDV is supported in Motion 2 and can be passed between Motion 2 and Final Cut Pro 5 and DVD SP4.

In Use

You’re probably wondering why anyone would want to make an HD DVD when (at the time of this writing) there are no HD DVD hardware players. Simple answer is that you CAN play red laser recordable discs authored with HD content on a G5 with Mac OS X v 10.4 and Apple DVD Player 4.6. In fact, with DVD SP4 you can author discs with both standard and high definition content on the same disc so they would be compatible with today’s DVD players and play HD content on a suitably equipped G5.

As of this writing, the standard capacities for HD DVD are 15GB for single layer and 30GB for dual layer replicated discs. However, a fully compliant HD DVD title set can be written to lower capacity DVD-5 and DVD-9 media. In theory, these discs will play on HD DVD hardware players when they become available. You can also take your HD content and create an SD title with it now, then substitute the HD content later.

All of the applications in Final Cut Studio sport a familiar look and feel. The user interface remains unchanged, and that’s a good thing. Anyone familiar with Final Cut Pro timeline will feel at home with DVD SP4.

In DVDSP3, I found myself wishing that I could view the DVD at a larger size in the Simulator. With DVD SP4, the user can now preview HD content and SD content scaled to HD on a G5. The Simulator in DVD SP4 now supports external monitors, which allow previewing the picture at the intended resolution in a YUV color space.

I’ve been thinking about putting some of my film scores out on a DVD. Yes, they are already on a DVD, but I want to make a music project — perhaps a CD and DVD with high quality PCM audio. The DVD-Video spec allows for stereo PCM audio tracks at resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Some of my recent recordings have been at this resolution and I was anxious to hear how they sound on hi-fi systems outside of my studio.

My first task was to find my 24/96 Pro Tools project. The Spotlight feature in OS X Tiger came to the rescue. I’ve accumulated project files spread across three FireWire drives. Fortunately, I always try to put the name of the project in the file name somewhere. The Smart Folders feature of Tiger is simply a saved search for a keyword. But Spotlight looks inside of files too so it’s like having a search for file name contains your keyword plus a Unix grep command searching for the word inside of files. The best part is the fact that the smart folder stays up to date as you add files that match the criteria to your system. Pretty smart.

Adding the 24/96 WAV file assets into a DVD SP4 project was a piece of cake once I found the file I was looking for. Next, I found some images to match my video, and dropped them into the slideshow window. I then added the 24/96 file to the audio track in the slide show.

This isn’t as obvious as you would think. Looking for a timeline? You won’t find one. Slides are stacked vertically top to bottom in sequence order in the Slide Show Editor. Audio files are added by dragging and dropping them from the Asset Manager into a little “bucket” at the top of the slideshow editor.

It’s not difficult to use but there is no graphical feedback on the duration of each slide. A waveform display would also be a big help when using DVD SP4 for music projects. As I said in my last review, some basic support for audio levels and fades would also enhance the experience for those of us who use DVDs to showcase our music. By the way, if you are doing work in 192 kHz stereo or high definition audio in surround, you will need to find another program. This is a DVD-V world only.

Here’s a tip for graphic artists using Motion 2:  Get a USB MIDI controller! A two octave MIDI keyboard like the Midiman Oxygen 8 that I used, works fine and you don’t need piano lessons. All you need is an animation subject — a graphic or image — and some time to play. I’m not kidding here, tactile control of graphics can be a lot of fun.

I took one of the sample objects provided in the Motion 2 tutorial, a little alien character. I found that I could easily animate his arms and legs and make his eyes pop out (anything for a laugh). The magic started with I synchronized the character’s motion to a piece of music I wrote. With a few background effects, I ended up with a very catchy piece for my demo reel.

I intend to return to Motion 2 and use some of the generous supply of particle animations, including smoke, sparkles and fire effects for another demo reel piece. The license free text animations are another big plus. LiveType, which is included in Final Cut Studio, has some very fun text animations and some very dynamic and modern royalty-free fonts. I was able to create a bouncing version of my band logo using LiveType and had plenty of time left over to create some video loops for the menu.

When it was time to put it all together, the new Motion templates were there to get me started. I added two short video clips to a Motion template and instantly had a very professional looking loop for my DVD menu, complete with moving graphics and text.

Summary

Once again, Apple is one step ahead of the game. HD disc players are just around the corner. No one knows which format will win the public’s favor but Apple has developed an authoring tool that puts HD DVD authoring in your hands today.

While I’d like to see more features designed for audio-only titles, I also have to say that it works quite well for video and is a worthy investment. The added power of VTC editing, advanced scripting and combination SD/HD titles will be of use to commercial DVD authors as well as musicians, composers, visual artists and filmmakers.

The price for DVD Studio Pro 4 is the same as version 3. With all the added features, DVD SP4 is well worth the price — either separately or bundled with Final Cut Studio.

Motion 2 has some stunning effects and unique features, such as MIDI control that make it a standout application. The support for HD video and the integration of products for workflow improvement make Final Cut Studio an extremely valuable set of tools. At a price of $1299 US, that’s going to be hard to beat.

At a Glance

DVD Studio Pro 4
Applications: SD and HD DVD authoring for professional applications, including films, episodic video, music videos, industrial/educational films and commercial event videography.
Key Features: HD DVD authoring, professional templates, distributed encoding, advanced scripting and VTS editing.
Price:  $499 (US), upgrade $199 (US)

Motion 2
Applications: motion graphics, special effects, text animation, broadcast, DVD
Key Features: Real-time design engine, MIDI control, native HDV support, templates, particles
Price: $299 US, upgrade $99
Contact:  apple.com (800-MY-APPLE)

Product Points

DVD Studio Pro 4

Plus
– HD DVD Authoring
– VTS allocation
– Advanced scripting
– Powerful Drag and Drop Authoring

Minus
– No filmstrip view in track editor
– Support for DVD Slideshows (i.e., music titles) could be expanded

Motion 2

Plus
– MIDI control of animation
– Advanced particle generator
– Templates

Minus
– none

The Score

Both applications are intuitive and pack enough features to satisfy professionals. Both products are an excellent value, especially when purchased in the Final Cut Studio bundle.

(c) 2007 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

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

Aphex Systems Model 204 Aural Exciter

By Carlos Garza
Originaly Published in Pro Audio Review.


Aphex Systems, celebrating 26 years in the pro-audio industry, has unleashed a revitalized version of its famous Aural Exciter. The Model 204 Aural Exciter with Optical Big Bottom is a big name for this single rack space box that packs a lot of flexibility into an affordable package. Engineers are constantly dealing with customers who want the loudest mix. “It has to go to 11 and have a big bottom.” Aphex was obviously listening and came up with a pair of effects that create the impression of a cleaner, louder mix without dangerous side effects.

204Face700x063

Features
So, what’s new in this replacement for the original Model 104? The new model adds frequency and dynamic control of low-end response, a revamped front panel and an internal power supply. The new millennium shiny finish and slightly textured knobs add a bit of sex appeal. The rear panel has a pair of operating level switches allowing independent selection between -10dBV and +4dBu. Inputs and outputs now include XLR connectors in addition to the 1/4-inch TRS found on the older model. Both inputs accept unbalanced inputs as well.

The manual is loaded with useful information on cable wiring and avoidance of ground loops. This includes diagrams for “pseudo-balanced” wiring of unbalanced equipment (for example, 1/4-inch TS to XLR).

The Model 204 also has separate controls for the Aural Exciter and Big Bottom. This means that you can use one channel as a low-end enhancer and the other as a high-end enhancer and bus each channel into separate effects sends on your console. The Aural Exciter and the Big Bottom sections each have a tuning knob that lets you select the range of frequencies for processing. You have to refer to the manual if you want to know exactly which frequencies you are selecting. A continuously variable knob is used to select the amount of harmonics added by the Aural Exciter.
The Tune control for the Aural Exciter sets the corner frequency for the high-pass filter. The lowest setting enhances frequencies from 800 Hz on up. Turning it completely clockwise means that you are only enhancing frequencies above 6.1 kHz. Likewise, the Tune control for the Big Bottom sets the highest frequency for bass enhancement (from 49 to 197 Hz).

The big story is the Optical Big Bottom circuit. This new circuit features a Light Dependent Resistor (LDR) that allows coupling of a controllable light source to a variable resistor. After passing the signal through the low-pass filter, the signal is fed through the adjustable drive circuit, which feeds the LDR. In principle, the LDR reacts immediately to the bass signal but fades slowly like a long release on a compressor. If you have the drive knob set correctly, you should hear more sustain from only the loudest notes. This is designed to produce a dynamic and resonant bass without a big increase in peak level.

In Use
I set out to restore some 1980s-era garage band recordings that originated on 1/2-inch 8-track and were mixed to 1/4-inch 2-track. I transferred the tracks into Pro Tools at Pepperland Recording and attached the Model 204 to the Digidesign 888 I/O using the balanced XLR connections. I created an effects loop using channel sends and an auxiliary bus for the return.
On some tracks, I wanted to bring out the vocal so I dialed in the lowest frequency on the Aural Exciter tuner. In cases where the vocal presence was fine, I went for enhancement of higher frequencies with the single goal of getting more “air.”  The manual says the 204 can “restore presence and clarity, improving transient response of individual tracks or the whole mix.” The 204 did not disappoint in this regard. Some of the tracks suffered from a distant and muted-sounding snare drum. The Aural Exciter made the attack transients brighter and sharper.

Of course, it will not fix a bad mix, but it can help produce a cleaner overall sound. When bypassed, I felt like I had to work to hear all of the instruments. With the effect in, I had no trouble hearing each part. The whole mix was up front, wider, and more balanced. Every instrument seemed to sit more consistently in its own space. The guitar had more bite, the keyboards were shimmering, the vocal was present and the words more intelligible.

One important aspect of the Aural Exciter and the Big Bottom is that the effects are more perceptual than physical. It sounds like there is a lot more bass and high end than is present on the signal meters. I found myself using less EQ in general. The Model 204 can also be used to preprocess tracks for low-quality playback. Listeners can be fooled into not missing the high frequencies that are lost in typical MP3 and cassette recordings if the high end that they do hear is enhanced.

I created some MP3 files and found that the effect was less noticeable than I had hoped. Cassettes had a more noticeable improvement (possibly because I used a high-grade tape). Some of my customers ask me to prepare backing tracks for dance and vocal competition. The final product, which goes out on cassette, has to sound clear and big. I found that the Big Bottom added a lively punch on most mixes.

Some of these sessions are rush jobs and it’s nice to be able to quickly see the when the input signal is being processed by the Big Bottom. I started with the Tune set at “12:00” and drive knobs turned all the way down. I then raised the drive slowly until the LED showed that the effect was active on most of the bass hits. Then I adjusted the Big Bottom Tune to focus the effect on the kick drum.

The result was more interesting than just adding low end EQ. The louder notes seemed to hang a bit more than the quiet notes. The intelligent transient sensitivity also made a muffled kick drum on one track sound crisp and clear. The effect was like changing a soft beater to a wooden beater. This is a very musically useful effect.

I only had a few quibbles with the 204: I would like to see the frequencies labeled on the front panel for the tuning knobs. I can imagine in a mixing situation dialing in frequencies on a shelving EQ and wanting to adjust appropriate frequencies in the Aural Exciter.
I also wish there was more control of the Big Bottom effect. Specifically, a release control for the low-end enhancer would really help tailor the effect to the tune/tempo.

Summary
I have had several studio customers that wanted to digitize and “restore” old recordings. Remember that a processor like this will not put back something that has been lost. When an analog tape has lost its high end, it is usually gone for good. However, the Model 204 can put a lot of life into a dull sounding track.

The harmonics that it constructs are useful and musical. You will hear each part with more clarity and presence. The versatility of inputs and separate channel processing makes this a worthy addition to any studio rack or live sound rig. At a suggested retail price of under $400, it is something to get excited about.

At a Glance

Applications:
Tracking; mixing; restoration; broadcast; webcast; live sound; dance clubs.

Key Features:
XLR and TRS I/O (+4 and -10); independent channels; independent control of aural Exciter and Big Bottom processing.

Price:
$399 MSRP
Contact: Aphex Systems, 818.767-2929, www.aphex.com, or circle Reader Service XX.

Product Points

Plus
• Independently operable channels for effects bussing
• Safely adds perceptual loudness
• Improves attack transients
• XLR connectors

Minus
• Front panel lacks frequency indicators
• No Big Bottom effect release control

The Score
Versatile effects in a refined package for a reasonable price.

(c) 2001 Carlos Garza