Review: Sample Logic XOsphere 2

As a media composer, I get excited whenever I see a sample library that promises to make my life easier and my work faster and better. XOsphere 2 seemed like a tool that could deliver on that promise. So when an email with a steep discount popped up in my inbox, I took the leap and grabbed it. In this article, I’m going to tell you what I think of this library, now that I’ve had some time to try it out.

The content – What is XOsphere 2?

According to Sample Logic, XOsphere 2 is “the last atmosphere tool you will ever need”.  It contains more than 2000 sound sources and presets – all of them pads and ever evolving soundscapes.

The descriptors of these sounds contain terms like “dark”, “airy”, “piercing”, “slow motion”, “voices” “synth – electronic”, “echoing”, “detuned”, “organic”, “reversed”, “pulsing”, “stutter”, “metallic”, “experimental” and “build up”. Just based on that I knew that I was in for a lot of interesting atmospheric sounds.

But XOsphere doesn’t only let you load up individual presets: The default way is to load a “multi instrument”. There are four slots in each multi, so whenever you load up a new multi, four sounds will be loaded into Kontakt. These individual slots are called cores and each have their individual effect chains, including a variety of filters and FX such as EQ, saturator, compressor, chorus, cabinet, lo-fi, formant, pitch shift, stereo spread and many others. All these effects can also be automated with a built-in step sequencer.

But the feature that’s the centerpiece of XOsphere 2 is the XY pad that lets you control the blend between those four sounds. This control can be easily automated within the user interface by hitting the record button and drawing in the desired blend over time. This is not a groundbreaking feature and Sample Logic has used this on a lot of their instruments, but it’s certainly a smart idea to include this in an atmospheric pad instrument. Aside from the effects for the core instruments, there is also a master FX section that affects all cores together.

Additionally, if you like an element of surprise, XOsphere comes with a cool randomization feature that lets you randomize features such as the source sounds, the FX chains and the mix parameters.

The Sounds

What about the sounds themselves? Sample Logic have clearly hired some amazingly skilled sound designers for this library. The patches are beautifully atmospheric and cover a variety of moods and tones. There are emotional vocal pads, mysterious metallic soundscapes and tense brooding atmospheres. Most sounds are quite long, a lot of them evolve for over 20 -30 seconds before they repeat. If you then combine them with another core at a different length, you have already created an everchanging soundscape.

Although the start point for each sound is adjustable, the loop points themselves cannot be changed. So if you don’t enjoy that particular loop point you’re stuck. That itself wouldn’t be such a problem if the included sounds were relatively simple and background-ish. But many of them are pretty full-on with spotlight stealing sound design, chord changes or melodic elements. And as impressive this makes the presets sound, it soon becomes a problem when you’re looking for a sound that fits your track.

What I mean is this: The multi instruments included in XOsphere 2 could easily be their own tracks. And even if you just listen to the cores on their own, they often come with so much content that it takes away a lot of flexibility. Typically, when I’m looking for an atmosphere for a project, I’m looking for an interesting texture that fits in well with the elements I already have. And it’s not that XOsphere 2 doesn’t have these sounds, but that you have to wade through a lot of presets to get to them. A lot of them have simply too much going on, in my opinion. Often you have to stick to pressing one key and playing around with the filters and effects to get something that fits.

Obviously, these kinds of judgements are very subjective. Every composer works different and is looking for something different in a tool, but XOsphere 2 made me feel somewhat limited despite the limitless ways to change sounds and the 2000 presets.

And yes, you could always bounce these atmospheres, edit them and make them fit better, but a part of what I’m looking for in a library is that it makes my workflow simpler – I don’t want extra steps and complications.

Audio example

The following examples are “multi” instruments. Only one MIDI note was played for each of the examples. No automation was added:

The next three examples are “core” instruments (single instruments). Again, only one note was played and no automation was used:

The interface

While the interface is clean looking at the first glance, I’d recommend taking a look at the manual or watch an introductory video before you start playing around with XOsphere 2. Most elements in the GUI are self-explanatory but navigating between cores, multis and source sounds can be confusing at first.

To load up new cores, multis or source sounds, you use the internal browser which allows you to filter the presets by categories. You are also able to favorite presets and filter by favorites, which is important, because scrolling through 2000 sounds when you’re looking for a specific one can be tiring.

One issue I had when I first played around with XOsphere 2 was that the individual presets would take very long to load (we’re talking 20 – 40 seconds). When I contacted Sample Logic, they suggested I should do a batch resave of the Kontakt library. While this reduced my loading time for the most part, I still have this issue occasionally – especially in bigger projects.

One last thing I’ll note is that because of the built-in complexity of the sounds, I rarely use the XY pad. So I’d prefer if there was a simpler version of the UI that would let you load just a single core and gets rid of unnecessary UI elements.

The Rating

Should you get XOsphere 2?

XOsphere 2 clearly has a lot going for it. A sheer endless amount of high-quality sounds and the possibility to easily manipulate them with complex automated effects is the dream of every composer. Unfortunately, many sounds are too complex to fit them easily into already existing productions. I’m sure that XOsphere 2 can be a great tool for many composers who look for ready-made atmospheres to plop into their tracks. However if you’re looking for more versatility and compositional freedom, this library might not be what you’re looking for.

Pricing

When it comes to the value, at $349.99 I find it overpriced (you could get Omnisphere for $150 more). But at a sale price of $79.99, I think it’s a good deal – especially if you’re a media composer who’s looking for new atmospheric pads all the time. It might, however, not be the last atmosphere tool you will ever need.

Pros:

  • Beautiful sound design
  • 2000 sounds in many genres
  • Great for any underscore

Cons:

  • Many sounds are too complex to easily fit in the background
  • GUI can be sluggish
  • No option to change loop points

Rating

Sound quality: 10/10
Presets: 7/10
GUI: 7/10
Versatility: 3/10

Overall Rating 7/10

Value for money (at $349.99): 5/10

Requirements

  • format: Kontakt 5+ (full version required)
  • size: 13 GB

Review: Karanyi Sounds Synths-1 DX

Dani Karanyi is an award-winning composer and producer with over 20 years of music production experience. Together with a group of sound designers and composers from the US and Europe, he has been developing sample libraries under the name Karanyi Sounds. When I came across their product Synths-1 DX in 2018, I was immediately enamored with the atmospheric, nostalgic sounds of the demos – so of course, I had to check it out.

What is Synths-1 DX?

Karanyi Sounds described Synths-1 DX as an “80s inspired synth collection”. To be more precise: “SYNTHS DX is a collection of inspiring sounds for creating subtle cinematic atmospheres, deep, wide sci-fi pads for film, video game, ambient and synthwave music production. With its 60+ instrument presets you get a palette of colors for your next track.”

This description is essential, because Synths-1 DX is not a generic synth preset collection, it focuses specifically on pads and atmospheres. While a few of the included presets can also be played as leads or basses, this is really not what this library was made for. Instead, most instruments are deeply atmospheric, slow moving, thick pads that would feel at home in any 80s inspired indie film or video game.             

Although the name seems to suggest that a Yamaha DX7 was the source of the included samples, it was in fact only one of the 9 synths that was sampled. Here are the other eight synths that were use: Dave Smith OB6, Moog Minitaur, Moog Sub37, Novation X Station, Nord Lead 2, Oberheim Matrix 6, Oberheim Matrix 1000 and the Roland Super JV. So really, quite a mix!

However, since Synths-1 DX is not an emulation, it’d be silly to get overtly concerned with the sample sources, as long as they sound good. I will talk about the sound in a second, but want to focus first on what you’re getting with the library.

The content

The library comes with 17 instruments. Each instrument comes in a few slightly different versions (with different effects and filter settings). When you put all those versions together, you get 60 individual presets.

After opening Synths-1 DX, you are greeted by a beautiful and simple interface. Instead of giving you a bloated and CPU-heavy interface with a million features (which has become quite common in the Kontakt library world), Karanyi Sounds has decided to go a more minimalistic route. There are three shape options available for attack and release envelope, there’s an FX section and a “Scoring EQ”.

Both the FX and EQ section are simple but in a way brilliant. Let’s start with the FX. Instead of giving you a list of effect options, you get two FX switches, with effects that were specifically chosen for this patch. While this might not be every sound designer’s dream, it makes one thing much easier: getting started with writing music that sounds good. With only two switches, there is nothing to overthink.

According to the Karanyi website, the EQ was designed with a specific function in mind: “to ‘push back and add space’ for dialogues in film or video game production” – hence the name Scoring EQ. Again, instead of giving you detailed control, there are simply two settings that you can switch on and off.

There is another, rather big control element: the Pole modulation knob. I first assumed this was a built-in filter, but reading up on it, I learned that the Pole control blends between two layers of recorded samples. Automating the knob is a good way to get more movement into your piece, but if you want an actual filter, you will have to add one yourself.

The Sound

The sound is reminiscent of many 80s TV shows and films – but soft and tasteful. Without a doubt, Synths-1 DX also includes some rather cheesy pads, but always good cheesy, never “old keyboard from a basement cheesy“ (I think some retro library manufacturers struggle with the distinction). Like I mentioned before, this is a pad-focused library and not your 80s allrounder synth bundle. If you need rather straightforward pads that cut through in your latest synthwave dance track, I’m not sure if Synths-1 DX is the right choice – I’d rather go for Diva or an actual emulation. Instead, I see this library at the sweet spot between cheesy vibes and beautiful atmospheres. Its soft, slow moving pads make it a great tool for nostalgic and emotional underscores and ambient soundtracks.

Audio Examples

Here are a few audio examples using some simple chords:

Preset “YokohamaPlus 02 Lo-fi Power”:

Preset “TVNoir 02 Distant Crystals”:

Preset “HalfLife 01 Main”:

Preset “Tines01 04 Slow Memories”:

Preset “CapenterPoly 01 Main” without modulation:

Preset “CapenterPoly 01 Main” with Pole modulation:

Preset “Children Of Atom 01 Main” without FX:

Preset “Children Of Atom 01 Main” with one FX slot turned on:

The Rating

Should you get Synth-1 DX?

Synth-1 DX is a beautiful sample library, not just visually. The sounds are well-programmed, atmospheric and very useable. No matter if you’re working on an 80s inspired sci-fi film or are looking for some nostalgic pads for your next chillwave album, this is a great tool.

Pricing

If there’s one downside to this library, it’s that it’s quite small. But on the upside, at $30 the cost is on the affordable side as well. I’d prefer a price around $20 for a library this size, and luckily it is often for sale at this amount (I got it for around $20 as well). So, if you don’t have an immediate need for it, I’d wait!

Pros:

  • Beautiful GUI
  • Nostalgic 80s vibes
  • Smart effects section
  • Beautiful sounds

Cons:

  • Only 17 basic instruments
  • No filter or advanced effects available

Rating

Sound quality: 10/10
Presets: 7/10
GUI: 7/10
Versatility: 5/10

Overall Rating 8/10

Value for money 7/10 (at $30)

Requirements

  • format: Kontakt 5.8+ – full version required
  • size: 2.7 GB

Review: Soundtoys Devil Loc & Devil Loc Deluxe

Disclosure: Just a heads-up, I get commissions for purchases made through some links in this post. These commissions help me put more time (and money) into this site. Thanks for understanding! 🙂

In the late 60s, the Level-Loc was introduced by Shure. It was a consumer-grade brickwall limiting amplifier that was designed to keep audio in a PA system level. Unlike some other gear that modern audio companies try to re-produce in plugin form today, the Level-Loc did not become popular for what it was designed to do, but for the side effects that came with its usage: Intense, nasty, chunky, and yes, beautiful distortion. Over time, the Level Loc became an especially popular tool to dirty up drums in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Sounds like an interesting piece of gear to try out, right? Well, both original models and reproductions of the Shure Level-Loc are pretty expensive at this point in time – and maybe you don’t want another piece of hardware anyway.  This is where Soundtoys comes in.

In 2011, Soundtoys released the minimalistic Devil-Loc plugin, and followed it with the premium version Devil-Loc Deluxe a little later. And even though these plugins are pretty old by now (the world of audio effects changes quickly), they are still widely used by many composers and producers – which is exactly why I wanted to review them here.

Features

Both Soundtoys plugins are not intended to be used in the original intended way – so it would be silly to think of them as limiters. Instead, their real strength is compressing and saturating the signal in an interesting, musical way. This is done with the “Crush” and the “Crunch” knob.

Turning up Crush will increase the compression of the signal. But that’s not the only thing that happens: If you turn up Crush high enough, a saturation effect is introduced, which changes the release time (up to 22 seconds!). In practice, this can introduce a pretty intense but musical pumping effect.

Only using the compression part of the Devil-Loc (by only using the Crush knob) would defeat the purpose of this plugin, though. So let’s talk about Crunch. With the Crunch control, you can determine how hard the output amplifier stage is driven. This will add the distortion that gives the Devil-Loc (and Level-Loc) its signature sound.

Devil-Loc does not have any other controls besides Crush and Crunch and that’s one of the things I like about it. This way I can simply load the plugin, play around with the two knobs for a few seconds and see if it’s the right tool for what I had in mind. I don’t have to think about different distortion profiles or presets (even though some presets are available) – it either works or doesn’t. All I have to do is dial in the amounts. And if I use Devil-Loc on an effects track, I’m not even missing a mix knob.

If you need a little more control, that’s what Devil-Loc Deluxe is here for. Besides Crush and Crunch, the Deluxe version offers a convenient mix knob, a “Darkness” control and a release switch. The Darkness knob controls a high-cut filter that shapes the signal after the distortion. The release switch allows you to choose between a fast and a slow release of the compressor. The exact release time also depends on the Crush control.

In Practice

Working with Devil Loc and Devil Loc Deluxe is fun. Both plugins are easy to use and deliver a beautiful, unique and chunky saturation that I found hard to re-create with other plugins. While I personally enjoy the simplicity of both plugins, it means that they are less versatile than other plugins. Instead of thinking of Devil-Loc as an all-in-one saturation/compression solution, think of it more as a flavor that might be interesting to add to some of your productions.

Adding Devil Loc (Deluxe) to drums and percussion often feels instantly gratifying to me. I love how I can completely mess up a signal or simply add some subtle presence and warmness. Bass guitar is another instrument that can benefit from the crushing and crunching that Devil-Loc has to offer (obviously, this will depend on your taste and the style of music). Of course, there’s a lot more you can do with Devil Loc, especially when using it lightly.

One thing that would make both plugins a little easier to work with is an additional gain knob. That’s because turning the Crush and Crunch knobs inevitably changes the loudness of the signal. A/B testing with different loudness levels can be pretty tricky and re-balancing the volume sliders in the DAW manually is something I’d prefer not to do. Apart from that, I don’t have any complaints.

Audio Examples:

(Listen on headphones or on a good monitoring system.)

Drums:

Dry:

Wet: Crush: 4.5, Crunch: 2.5, Darkness: 0, Mix: 5

Bass:

Dry:

Wet: Crush: 1.5, Crunch: 2, Darkness: 0, Mix: 10

Synth Bass:

Dry:

Wet: Crush: 9, Crunch: 9, Darkness: 0, Mix: 10

Lead:

Dry:

Wet: Crush: 10, Crunch: 10, Darkness: 0, Mix: 2.5 (notice the subtle high-end distortion)

Pad:

Dry:

Wet: Crush: 10, Crunch: 2.5, Darkness: 7, Mix: 7.5 (notice the long tail)

Here’s a more in-depth video by ARTFX about how to use Devil Loc on drums:

Here’s another video that shows how you can use Devil Loc Deluxe on drums in the context of a mix:

Soundtoys Devil-Loc vs Decapitator

This section is for those who have been wondering whether they should get Devil-Loc or Decapitator (both are Soundtoys products). While they both have in common that they’re adding distortion/saturation to the signal, they are actually quite different from each other: Devil-Loc has been described as a “one-trick pony” by some while Decapitator is a much more surgical distortion toolkit. Decapitator comes with five different saturation models and has no built-in compressor algorithm. Devil-Loc creates a special sound on drums because of its compressor, while Decapitator is more of a saturation allrounder. The best way to understand which is the better choice for you is to test out both with the free 30-day Soundtoys Trial.

Cost and Value

As an owner of Soundtoys 5, which contains both plugins, I was a little surprised to see how much Soundtoys is charging for this. The regular price at the time of writing is $79 for Devil Loc and $129 for Devil Loc Deluxe. In my opinion, that’s quite high for a plugin that’s not that versatile.
I feel like Soundtoys thinks so, too, because I’ve seen quite a few sales on the website. I’ve seen Devil-Loc for as low as $9 and the Deluxe version for as low as $39. My suggestion is to simply wait for a sale on this plugin. Getting the Soundtoys 5 bundle is a great option as well if you are looking at several of their plugins anyway.

Conclusion

Soundtoys is a niche compression/distortion plugin that works especially well on drums and basses. While it’s not as versatile as Soundtoys Decapitator or FabFilter Saturn, it’s a great sounding plugin that will add character to any sound.

Pros:

  • Easy and fun to use
  • Unique, awesome sound
  • Pretty graphics

Cons:

  • Regular price is expensive for what you get
  • Not very versatile
  • No gain knob

Devil Loc Rating

User Interface 8/10
Sound 10/10
Versatility 3/10
Value for Money 3/10

Overall Rating 8/10

Value for Money (at $79): 3/10

Check DevilLoc’s price at Plugin Boutique.

Devil-Loc Deluxe Rating

User interface 8/10
Sound 10/10
Versatility 5/10

Overall Rating 9/10

Value for Money 4/10

Check Devil-Loc Deluxe’s price at Plugin Boutique.

Review: Echo Sound Works Sub Zero 808

There are lots of sample libraries that specialize in orchestral and scoring music. But what about modern electronic music? Echo Sound Works is a small company that covers this exciting and ever-changing niche. In this article I’m going to review their sub bass library Sub Zero 808.

Note: I tested the library using Kontakt, but the samples are also available as WAV files.

Sub Zero 808 – What is it?

As the name suggests, Sub Zero 808 is all focused on sub bass and 808 bass patches. There are 185 samples included, which are organized into four categories: “808s”, “Clean Subs”, “Future RnB Bass” and “No Kicks”. “808s” is the category with the most sounds, some of them also appear again in modified form in the “No Kicks” category, where the kick sound is removed or heavily reduced. This is great when you have found a nice sound in the “808s” category but find out later that you want to change the kick.

The features

If you need to make your own modifications, the Kontakt interface gives you the option to change the ADSR curve, the glide, the cutoff (high and low) and even gives you a unison setting.  You can have up to 8 voices, which you can spread and detune from each other. Unfortunately, when I was testing this, upping the voices led to the sound being played hard left or hard right. If you come across this problem, you could solve this by putting a mono-izer on your effects chain. 

Speaking of mono, you can turn on monophonic playing. This can be useful for a cleaner bass line and cool glides. There’s also a legato mode, although when I was playing with it, it would sometimes cut off notes.

The sound

While I wish those UI features worked a little better, it didn’t really bother me when I was using this library because the sounds themselves are top notch. My disclaimer here is that I’m not an 808 specialist. But what I mean with top notch is this: They sound good, they fit well in the mix and they are fun! They have character but not so much that they’re unusable. Whether you need something clean or something heavier, it’s all there.

When I was working on a trap/chillwave/lofi album recently, Sub Zero 808 was the number one bass library I used – simply because it was so easy to get a good sound. Maybe if you need more experimental and extreme sounds, this library is not a perfect 808 tool for you, but in all other cases, this is a great bread-and-butter 808 library. It should keep you inspired for a while.

Audio examples

Also check out this walkthrough by ADSR:

The service

One additional thing I want to mention: I bought Sub Zero 808 in March 2019. In May 2020 I received an email from Echo Sound Works that there was a free update available with 17 new presets to capture the sound of the 808 in 2020. This was a really nice surprise and makes me think that Echo Sound Works really care about their customers – and it made the library an even better deal. In fact, on their website, Echo Sound Works promises to deliver new presets every year. Let’s see!

The verdict

Sub Zero 808 is a great library that does exactly what it should: Deliver you good sounding, versatile 808 sounds and make your producer life easier.  At the price of $24, this is an all-around good deal. Sometimes you can find it even cheaper at Maschinemasters.com (I’ve seen it for $10 there) or at ADSR.

Pros:

  • great sound
  • very useable
  • different 808 categories
  • ESW promises new presets every year
  • good price
  • 14 day moneyback guarantee (when buying through ESW)

Rating

Sound quality: 9/10
Presets: 9.5/10
GUI: 7/10
Versatility: 8.5/10

Overall Rating 9/10

Value for money (at $24): 9/10

Specs

  • requires full version of Kontakt 5.7.3

Cons:

  • minor feature glitches

Review: Arturia Analog Lab 4

How often do you find yourself browsing presets to look for that one sound to inspire you? Even though I’ve become more and more independent from presets since I’ve started producing music, I still often rely on fresh sounds to kick off my creative process – especially when I’m in the mood to write something instead of fiddling around with sound design. Analog Lab is made exactly for that: Look for a sound, find a sound, start writing.

What is Arturia Analog Lab?

When I first looked into Arturia’s product line I was confused about the difference between Arturia Analog Lab and the Arturia V Collection. Both seemed to be vintage synth bundles of some sort. Here’s how they differ: While V Collection is a “regular” VST collection and comes with 24 synths and keyboards, Analog Lab is an interface with 6500 presets from those synths.

Analog Lab allows you to play with all those presets and even gives you the option to modify those sounds, but it doesn’t give you full access to those instruments. This means Analog Lab is not meant for synth enthusiasts who want to create all their patches from scratch, it’s made for composers and producers who are looking for sounds to add to their production quickly and are okay with having less control over the individual sounds.

The Content

Presets from the following synths, keyboard and organs are included in Analog Lab:

  • ARP 2600 V
  • B-3 V
  • CS-80 V
  • CZ V
  • Farfisa V
  • Jup-8 V
  • Matrix-12 V
  • Mellotron V
  • Mini V
  • Modular V
  • Prophet V
  • Prophet VS
  • SEM V
  • Solina V
  • Stage-73 V
  • Synclavier V
  • Synthi V
  • Piano V
  • Vox Continental V
  • Wurli V
  • Buchla Easel V
  • Clavinet V
  • DX7 V
  • CMI V

The “V” in the names refers to the fact that these presets are taken from Arturia’s synth emulations (they are not sampled from the actual instruments).

What makes this synth collection so interesting is that it includes widely used and legendary synths just as much as more obscure and rare synths. This mix makes browsing through the presets fun and exciting. You’ll find airy Mellotron pads next to dirty Arp 2600 sequences next to legendary Jupiter-8 leads.

Now, I’m not going to review all these instruments here, especially since Analog Lab is a sound collection, not an instrument collection. But what I do want to talk about quickly is the sound itself.

The Sound

I have to say I was bracing myself for disappointment when I first opened Lab. Why? Because I had read in a few forum threads that the sounds were thin, uninspiring and partially unusable. But after just a few minutes of playing around with Lab, I came to an entirely different conclusion: Those sounds were awesome and exciting! I had so much fun playing with the collection, that I spent the next two hours just going through the presets and playing around with parameters.

When it comes to sound quality, yes, some synths sounds may sound better than others. There’s a muddiness/lack of presence to some and I’ve also encountered some thinness. But all in all, it depends on your preference and use case. I for one loved the sound of many of those synths. They are often gritty, noisy, dreamy, otherworldly, strange and very retro.

There are a lot of exciting vintage simulations on the market right now and if you need all your synths to sound as buttery and sweet as u-he’s Repro 5 or as fat as Diva, then Analog Lab’s sound might be underwhelming to you. However, I don’t find it fair to compare Analog Lab to a high-end boutique synth. Repro 5 is currently available for about $150 in a bundle deal with Repro 1. That’s two synths with a total of about 500 presets. While this is a great deal, Analog Lab costs just $50 more, includes 24 very different vintage instruments and comes with 6500 presets. It’s just not the same.

While I loved many of the sounds themselves, I found the FX section of the plugin less inspiring. Although the built-in effects do their job, I didn’t find them very interesting for shaping the tone. Maybe this is just my shallow first impression, but to get the best sound I recommend adding your own FX.

Audio Examples

Here are some short audio examples – no external effects were used:

Arp 2600 V:

Farfisa V:

Jup-8 V:

Mellotron V:

Modular V:

Synthi V:

And to add some examples by other people, here’s a short live showcase by Arturia:

And here’s a beatmaking demo using Arturia Analog Lab 4 by Accurate Beats:

Using Analog Lab

When you first open Analog Lab, you’ll be greeted by a dialog box that asks you if you want to go through a quick tutorial. I wish more companies did this! It’s a great way to learn about the interface quickly. And while we’re talking about the UI: Using Analog Lab couldn’t be easier. You’re able to search and filter presets, save new ones, add FX and go into concert mode. If you perform live, there’s also a convenient “concert mode”, which allows you to save presets in groups so you can easily access them during a live performance.

Changing the parameters of synth sounds is easy. There is a menu with knobs and sliders, which can control setting like cutoff, ADSR, LFO amounts, waveforms, timbre and effects. What you can change depends on the synth the preset is taken from. While these controls are great for automation and for tweaking the sound, you’re not able to make fundamental changes.  There is one type of sound where that is especially problematic: Arps and sequences. You can’t change the notes or rhythms – so they’ll either fit or they don’t.

To get a better understanding of what you can expect from the interface, this video by Arturia gives you an overview:

One note on CPU use: Analog Lab can demand quite a bit of CPU power – but this depends entirely on the preset. There are plenty of presets that barely moved my CPU meter. If you have a modern computer that can run synths like Serum, most presets should run just fine.

Rating

Should You Get Analog Lab?

If you’re a synth expert and you enjoy creating most of your sounds yourself, Analog Lab might not be the right choice for you. If you are in this category but you enjoy the sound of the demos, I’d suggest taking a look at Arturia’s V Collection instead (or look at the synths of u-he and Tal for an even more authentic analog synth experience).

If you liked the sound of the demos, don’t need total control over every aspect of your sound and feel like you could really use 6500 retro synths presets, this is a great bundle. The diversity of sounds make this a collection a great deal. No matter if your next track is ambient, a retro inspired score or a creative EDM track, I bet you’ll find some interesting sounds in there.

Analog Lab sounds interesting but you don’t want to spend $200? I recommend waiting for a sale. I have seen it on sale for 50% multiple times. You can get Analog Lab here.

Pros:

  • 6500 presets
  • diverse instrument selection
  • super easy to use
  • fun!

Cons:

  • instrument quality can vary
  • some parameters can’t be edited

Rating

Sound quality: 7.5/10
Presets: 8.5/10
GUI: 9.5/10
Versatility: 7/10

Overall Rating 8/10

Value for money (at $199): 9/10

Specs

  • Standalone or plugin (VST, VST3, AU, AAX)
  • 64 bit OS required (Win 7+, OS 10.11+)


Review: Aria Sounds – LSS Solo Strings – Read This Before You Buy

When I started this site, I thought about what kind of sample libraries I wanted to review here. I looked at the sample libraries I owned and mentally divided them into the ones I wanted to review and the ones I would probably ignore. My orchestral collection from Aria Sounds fell into the category of “ignore” for a simple reason: It was pretty dated and I didn’t see a lot of people mentioning these products anymore.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an email in my inbox that told me LSS Solo Strings by Aria Sounds was on sale at a major audio software discount site. I knew I had to write about this sample library now. Why? Because I’d like to keep you from buying it. That’s right; it’s not a good sample library and I don’t want you to buy it.

Okay, you can close this article now. But just in case you want to know why I am so harsh on this library, here’s what’s up: When I started investing more money into sample libraries in 2017, I didn’t really know what was out there. Orchestral library for cheap? Cool! I bought it. Sure, the demo didn’t sound amazing, but how bad could it be? In the worst case, I could still use it for layering, right? Ugh, wrong!

What makes a good orchestral library are things like a good recording quality, consistent samples, a good amount of velocity layers, round robins, articulations, a selection of microphones, effects, etc. At first glance, the LSS Solo Strings libraries seem to check a lot of these boxes. There are five articulations and four mic positions and the recordings seem to have a nice natural sound to them—at first.

The problems arise when you start playing around with it a bit and try to program phrases. There are noisy samples (I am not talking low background orchestral noise, I’m talking loud scratching noises), there are countless out-of-tune samples, and the biggest bummer is the samples are widely inconsistent. Short articulations have different lengths, long articulations often differ in tone from note to note, sample starts vary and velocity can be unpredictable. So even if you don’t want to do fancy stuff with your strings, there will be many things you can’t play because the samples are noisy or inconsistent in volume or just really out of tune.

This is especially bad because these are solo strings. Solo strings are not meant to be drowned out in a mix; instead, they are often featured prominently in sparser arrangement or as standout instruments in a dense mix. The problem with LSS Solo Strings is not that they are just mediocre sounding, it’s because they are pretty much unusable.

Anyway, if you’re not convinced, just take a listen (ideally on headphones or good monitors).

(Note: I was going to post a bass example because it was maybe the most solid legato example of the library, but after closing and opening the project again, the bass notes started behaving weirdly, dropping in and out at random times or increasing their volume suddenly.)

Example Cello:

Here is a cello pizzicato line. What’s special about it? The quiet notes have a velocity of 107; the loud ones have a velocity of 108.

Example Cello 2:

Another cello line, this time a spiccato patch. I am only playing one note (which is repeated), so why are we hearing two?

Example Viola:

On to the viola. Are these notes supposed to be in tune? Also, please listen to the extreme scratching noise in the last note.

Example Second Violin:

It’s hard to believe, but I’m repeating a single quantized note here.

Example Second Violin 2:

Second violin, this time long articulation. The first note has a percussive noise at the beginning of the samples; the second note has another string noise in there.

Example Violin:

And, finally, first violin. A simple, quantized line with fixed note lengths:

Example First Violin:

I really didn’t want to write about this library at all, so I’m gonna stop here.

For fairness, I will include this video by ThomCofficial, however. He clearly put a lot of effort into this and shows how you can make the best out of a suboptimal sample library:

Also, here are some more opinions from VI Control.

The Verdict

There are so many great orchestral and string libraries out there these days; you don’t need to settle for this. If all you have is $40 to invest in a string library right now, you can wait, get a Composer Cloud Subscription, or check out one of Spitfire’s cheaper releases. You don’t want to spend that $40 on LSS Solo Strings because you’ll be $40 poorer and still won’t have a decent string library.

Pros:

  • natural sound on the first glance
  • multiple mics

Cons:

  • many samples are noisy
  • tuning issues
  • very inconsistent performance
  • overall not on a professional level

Rating

Sound quality: 2.5/10

GUI: 6/10

Versatility: 2.5/10

Overall Rating: 2.5/10

Value for money (at $39.99): 2.5/10

Specs

Format: Kontakt 4+ (full version is required)
Size: 16 GB

Review: Learn Monthly with Andrew Huang – Should You Sign Up?

Learn Monthly is a new, innovative course platform that offers classes in creative topics in a 30-day format. Andrew Huang’s Complete Music Production course promises to make you a versatile producer by letting you produce 3 songs over the course of a month. All you need to do is invest 7–10 hours per week. I took the class and want to tell you about my experience with it.

Why I signed up

Producing music is a very complex endeavor and that complexity is what makes producing such a challenge. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and get stuck somewhere in the production process. In my case, the result is that I have hundreds of unfinished tracks and ideas lying around. In the last six months or so, I’ve been trying to find ways to streamline my processes and sail right past everything that usually stops me. What I’ve found most helpful for this is watching other producers work.

Watching an experienced producer make a piece of music can give you a lot of insight into their habits and approaches: How do they structure their songs? How do they choose their instruments? How do they use automation? The processes they use and habits they’ve built help them maintain a consistent output of good music.

Andrew Huang is a well-known music producer in the YouTube universe and has released more than 50 albums of original music. He often receives attention for creating songs in unusual ways like making a track only using carrots as an instrument or writing lyrics where every word has to start with the next letter of the alphabet.

But it’s not just about gimmicky experiments with Andrew Huang; he has written in all kinds of styles and genres and records and plays multiple instruments. Watching someone with such a broad field of expertise produce three different tracks from start to finish seemed like a perfect way to add some know-how to my own production process—and maybe finish some tracks.

Another reason why I wanted to check out this class was because it seemed to be a community-based class.  The sales page promised learning in an intimate group atmosphere with around 20 other people and the chance that Andrew Huang would give feedback himself if you submitted on time.  That was basically the selling argument for me; I have found small communities very useful as a creator and being one of 20 people made it seem like there was a good chance to get feedback from Andrew too (more about this below).

The 30 days

I signed up 5 days before the official course start. In the days before the start, there are a few posts and videos unlocked as a sort of preparation for the class. You’ll get a long list of what tools you should own (ideally) and get access to a music theory video (I believe it’s the same video as this). Knowing music theory (or learning it through this video) is considered a prerequisite for starting the rest of the course. Not that you have to take a test on that—but it’s the first hint that this course might not be as beginner-friendly as it is sold. It’s also presumed that you get comfortable in your DAW before the course starts. There are some basic videos about Ableton Live included in the course, since that’s Andrew’s DAW of choice (and there is a free 30-day trial).

The class is organized into three parts: Song 1 (day 1 – 12), song 2 (day 13 – 22), song 3 (day 22 – 30). Song 1 is an electronically produced track; song 2 is a track you’ll produce from found sounds that you’ll record yourself and your own synthesized sounds; song 3 is a song with vocals and real instruments (if you have any).

The lessons are provided in video format and can be watched as soon as each part is unlocked. So, for example, on day 1, you can watch all videos about the first song, but you’ll have to wait until day 13 before you can watch any videos for the second song. This is a good system that helps you stay focused throughout the course.

Every few days there’ll be a task that you’ll need to complete, for example write a loop, structure your track or give feedback on the work your peers submitted. The platform allows you to upload audio, video and image posts and even has a screen/video recording option. The only thing that’s missing here, in my opinion, is the option to just create a text post. This would be nice for asking for general advice and other discussions.

In general, the platform is nicely organized with a clean design. There was one time when I uploaded a track to the wrong place, but, other than that, the site is pretty self-explanatory. There’s a feed where you’ll see everything that other class members have posted. There’s also a side bar where all your peers are listed. By clicking on them, you can check out what they’ve been doing in the course, but as far as I know you cannot send private messages to other members.

The content

Now, on to the content. The course consists of eight hours of video content in the well-edited/well-produced logical Andrew Huang style. The lessons are typically kept short, the biggest chunk is reserved for watching Andrew produce in real time.

As a struggling music creator myself, it was pretty awesome to see Andrew deal with those same struggles I face on a daily basis, not because I like watching other people struggle but because I learned a lot by watching him get past these problems.  Seeing Andrew applying tedious automation shapes or reworking a lead sound for the fifth time inspired me to dig a little deeper when working on my own track.

It was also interesting to watch Andrew structure his work. I often feel a little lost when working on new music (despite having written hundreds of tracks) and just following along step by step was really helpful.  It gave me something to work towards and is the reason why I was able to finish the first two tracks on time.

As I said, most lessons (where Andrew would explain something) were good but also pretty compact. This is understandable because music production is such a complex topic that you can’t dive deep into every single topic.

But, unfortunately, this is something that makes this course less accessible for beginners. There’s not a lot of time spent on explaining music production basics (and if there is, it’s often just a short summary), but there’s the expectation that you’ll be able to apply things like reverb and compressors anyway. Sometimes, Andrew explains a new concept using words that a total newbie wouldn’t know (headroom, waves, etc.).  Again, this is very understandable, but it seems unfitting that the class is also marketed towards absolute beginners then.

As someone with more experience, however, I was able to get a lot out of the course, especially in the later videos.

One thing I will say is that I found it hard to complete my tracks in the 7–10 hours per week that were estimated on the class sales page. If you’re okay with more basic results or you’re a fast producer, this might be a good estimate, but for me 12 hours plus seemed more realistic—at least if you want to get the most out of the class.

The social aspect

I already mentioned that you’re taking this class with other people on a shared platform. The sales page sold it as an experience you’ll be sharing with about 20 other people (in fact, the word “intimate” is used in this context twice to describe the group size). In the FAQ section, there’s also a mention of “other peer groups” that will take the class at the same time.

This feature was particularly important to me. 20 people seemed like a good number. It was small enough to support each other and get to know each other a little bit over the course of a month. Also, in a group of 20 people, it would probably be easy to get some feedback from Andrew, right?

When I finally started the course, I found that the peer group aspect wasn’t exactly as advertised. Yes, the participants were separated into peer groups, but all groups were sharing the same feed. So most of the posts I saw on a day-to-day basis were not posts from my own group. I counted more than 60 people in this feed (it could have been more, it’s just when I stopped counting). Keeping up with all those tracks every day seemed impossible. “Intimate” this was not.

A frustrating part of this was that it was easy for posts to get pushed down in the feed quickly. There also seemed more feedback and interaction during certain times—basically when I was still asleep on the West Coast. So while I got some feedback from some very nice people, I definitely would have expected a much closer relationship with my peers. And I simply would have loved to talk more to people from my group, even just to get to know them better.

What about interacting with Andrew Huang? Learn Monthly made sure not to promise anything, but the sales page stated that he would give feedback and answer questions within the student’s peer group. Well, I checked each of my 24 peers’ postings and I found exactly one comment by Andrew:

Yup, that’s all the feedback my whole peer group got.

To be clear, I don’t blame Andrew at all for this. He is a busy guy and he put a lot of work and love into this course. I just think that Learn Monthly promised too much. I saw Andrew post comments a few times a day (although not every day) and in a smaller group this would have been enough to fulfill my expectations. But in a group with dozens and dozens of active students, it simply wasn’t possible for him (or anyone) to keep up.

If Learn Monthly hadn’t been so specific about how intimate this whole experience was going to be and that Andrew would try to “reward” the most active members with his attention, I would feel better about it, I think. But to me it felt like Learn Monthly wanted to make it sound better than it really was.

The lack of community definitely led to a drop in motivation for me. I never submitted anything for the third song, not just because everything took way more time than I had scheduled but also because I felt that it didn’t really matter. And actually there was barely anyone in my peer group who submitted the third song. I can only assume that they felt similarly.

My suggestion for Learn Monthly is to either make sure they can deliver on their promise or simply not promise an intimate group setting. It should be mentioned on the sales page that, due to the group size, it’s very unlikely to get personal feedback from Andrew during the class. That would be honest.

The verdict

Would I recommend this course to other music producers despite these flaws? Yes! I actually would. The content is insightful and the format is fun and motivating for the most part. It was great to produce two tracks during this month in styles I wasn’t very familiar with. Watching Andrew demystified a lot of things and it was simply a good investment of time to learn from his workflows. I’m happy about the tracks I made and felt empowered at the end of the course.

There are two major exceptions though:

  1. I wouldn’t recommend this course to absolute beginners (except if you’re somehow swimming in money) because it’s not focused on beginner topics as much. You will simply gain a lot more from the experience if you already know how to make nice chords, what a compressor is and how an ADSR curve works. If you’re struggling with these things, the course might feel rushed to you and it might be hard to complete your tracks. 
  2. The other exception is if Learn Monthly raises the price for this considerably and you’re really looking for that personal feedback. I take courses in the $300 – $400 range all the time and they usually provide a great deal of feedback and teacher interaction. I paid around $250 for this class (I used a referral code), which was fine for what it offered. But if I had paid $500 for this (which is what apparently some people have paid), this review would be less forgiving. Sorry, I’m European and I like my education to be affordable. 🙂

Pros + Cons:

Pros:

  • very well produced
  • Andrew is a great, methodical teacher
  • insightful content
  • the format helps with accountability

Cons:

  • not great for absolute beginners
  • interaction with Andrew highly unlikely
  • community size and interaction not as advertised

Rating

Content: 9.5/10

Format: 8/10

Community: 5/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Value: 7/10 (at $279)

Discount Code

If you’re thinking about signing up, you can use my discount code when you’re checking out. (I won’t be paid if you sign up for this, but I will get Learn Monthly credits that will allow me to take other courses.)