Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Loopmasters Sound Science - Coldcut Sample Library

Library: Loopmasters Sound Science - Coldcut
Format: Available as download or DVD.
Genre: Breakbeat, Trip-hop, Edgy Hip-hop, Chillout, Lounge
Distributed by: Loopmasters
Price: DVD (with instant download too, so you don't have to wait) £39.95, download £34.95
Demo: Audio demos on the product page.

As a big fan of the UK Ninjatune Label, I was very excited to see this title show up in my mailbox. Coldcut, if you don't know, is a duo comprised of Matt Black and Jon More who, when they're not running Ninjatune, push the music and technology envelope with ground-breaking videos, legendary remixes, and head-bobbing live performances around the world. It really is no hyperbole to say that these two helped shape the use of sampling the way we know it today. So naturally, you'd expect a sample library put together by them would pretty well done.

This library is available both as a download or in physical format as a data DVD. It contains 620 MB of samples including bass loops, drum loops, musical loops, vocal & FX loops, and all manner of single hit drums, FX, and instrument multisamples if loops aren't your thing. As is usual for Loopmasters releases, the samples come in tons of ready to use formats including WAV, REX2, Acid, Reason, Halion, Kontakt, EXS-24, Apple Loops, Emulator X2, and more. As someone who remembers the days of audio-only sample CDs where you had to sample, edit, and build your own instruments, I really appreciate having everything laid out for me and ready to go.

So let's have a listen to the sounds themselves, shall we? The loops are divided up into folders by BPM with tempos at 70, 88, 100, and 133 BPM. This isn't a library where they just pointlessly repeat the same loops at different tempos, the loops in each tempo folder are totally unique (I think there are a handful of repeats, but this is the exception and not the rule). The REX files are put together very well, so you can still use the loops well outside their intended range without much problem. All musical loops contain the key in the file name for easy mixing and matching.

We start out with a selection of bass loops. These consist of everything from jazzy double bass riffs, to electric bass grooves, to gritty synth basslines. While there's less the 40 of them, what they lack in volume, they make up for with variety. A good number of different styles and feels are represented here and the production of each is fantastic.

Far more abundant are the drum loops, which number just over 150. From a sound quality standpoint alone, these are some of the best-sounding breakbeats I've heard. Everything is recorded very well and the tonal balance between splashy cymbals and punchy lows is as good as you could ask for. Here you'll find everything from beats played on a real drum kit, to loops made of chopped-up samples, to edgy, heavily-processed electronic rhythms. Many of the loops here also offer mutiple variations or fills.

Next up, we have a selection of just over 100 musical loops. These include riffs on electric piano, guitar, vintage synths, strings & brass and everything in between. Most of the loops are quite short, so these aren't likely to be the basis for an entire track, but they work well as cut and paste bits to fill out an arrangement and all have a nice edge of grit to them that's missing from a lot of sample library music loops.

The last section of loops are the vocals & FX. Some of these would be better suited as one-shots and spot type effects than loops, but they're set up to work perfectly in loop format if that's what you prefer. Here you'll find harmonized vocal snippets, spacey dub effects drenched in tape echo, strange synth noises, and lots of other odd sounds with a very authentic 'vintage' feel to them.

Rounding out the collection are a number of multi-samples and drum kits in various formats and it was here that I ran into the only flaw I could really find with the collection. I had problems with the sampler files for all of the multi-sampled bass and instrument sounds. I first tried loading them up in Logic's EXS-24 sampler and all the instruments had an odd volume tremolo and really slow attack times on them that rendered most of them useless. I then tried loading them into Native Instruments Kontakt 2, and although the crazy tremolo wasn't there, the slow attack still was. It made me wonder if perhaps they create the instruments in one particular soft-sampler and use a translation program to write it to other formats, as I know it is not unusual for things like this to happen during the translation process. Regardless, it's a pretty significant problem, and most people don't have the luxury of multiple samplers to use in case the instrument has been improperly programmed in their format of choice. Yeah, you can manually import the raw samples and build the instruments up from scratch, but that's no why you buy a ready-made library like this, right? (UPDATE: Loopmasters is aware of the problem now and has created corrected versions of the Kontakt and EXS files. These have been fixed on the downloadable versions of the library, but if you happen to have it in DVD format, you can write to them at: to get the corrected files.)

Fortunately, the one-shot drum sounds and drum kits don't seem to suffer from this problem, which is great because there's some really nice sounding stuff here. Kicks, snares, cymbals, and percussion are all on offer here and the production quality is up to the same gold standard as the rest of the library. Coldcut has managed to find just the right balance between vintage vibe and more modern production standards and all the sounds have that paradoxical combination of new and old. This is no easy thing to do, so they deserve to be lauded for that alone.

As far as break-beat type sample collections go, it'd be hard to go wrong here. There's tons of variety, the sound and production quality is second to none, and the loops all work with one another almost effortlessly. I'm giving this a 9.5/10. The only thing keeping it from being a full 10 are the botched multisamples, but as these represent less than 20 sounds out of the collection, I'm just going to knock off half a point for the apparent lack of QC. That small problem aside, this really is a nice collection that will leave you eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

Here's a brief demo I put together using some of the factory loops in Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. No external effects, compression, or EQ was added. Everything is coming straight out of Stylus.

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