Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Samplephonics 808

Product: Samplephonics 808
Developer: Samplephonics
Format:  24-bit WAVs available in 44.1k, 96k, and 192k with mappings for Ableton Live, Logic ESX-24, NI Kontakt 4, NI Konakt 5 (with a custom GUI and sequencer), Reason NN-XT, FL Studio.
Price: £49
Demo: Audio demo on product page.

Along with its older brother the TR-909, Roland's legendary TR-808 is probably the most famous drum machine ever invented.  It's been featured on tens of thousands of tracks from the early days of synth-pop and new-wave to the latest hip-hop club track.  Yet, for as much as it has been used over the decades since its release, it shows no sign of losing its popularity.  It's not difficult to see why.  For all its limitations, each sound was damn near perfect.  The kick boomed like nothing had before it, the snare had a punchy snap that had been missing from many previous drum machines, and the cymbals had a metallic sizzle that refined the nastier 606 cymbals into something more widely useable.

Unsurprisingly, there have also been countless sample collections attempting to capture the spirit of this classic instrument for those who couldn't afford the $2400-$3500 prices the real deal goes for.  So, what does Samplephonics offer that others haven't?

Samplephonics 808 is a sample library recorded as 24-bit WAVs in 44.1k, 96k, or 192k varieties.  The same samples are mapped into three kits (Clean, Dirty, and Tape) each consisting of 17 sounds.  Samples are velocity-mapped so, for example, your kick drum can get boomier the harder you hit it, the snare drum gets more snap, etc.

All but one of the formats maps the samples out in interface of whatever sampler you are using.  The exception here is the Kontakt 5 mapping, which consists of a custom GUI, extended functionality, and a built-in sequencer modeled after the one found on the real deal.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I tested this in both Logic EXS-24II and Kontakt 4, so I was not able to judge the custom interface and sequencer in the K5 version.  But more about that in a bit.

The sound quality of all three kits is extremely nice.  The Clean Kit gives you a good starting point for processing the sounds to your own taste and captures the beautiful punch of the 808 very well.  The Dirty Kit adds some really tasty overdrive that shines especially on the kick and the snare.  Meanwhile, the Tape Kit offers a nice middle ground between the two adding some warmth and harmonic richness while maintaining more of the dynamics.

The sounds are mapped in order by type.  I have to admit, a more "General MIDI" mapping of the drums here might have been more useful in terms of auditions the sounds into an existing arrangement.  Instead of several variations on each of the 808's sounds, you are presented with a single version of each, with an interesting difference.  These are velocity-layered (obviously not something possible on the original 808) so that on some sounds, such as the kick and snare, the sounds start as lighter and shorter, and get longer and punchier/boomier as you play harder.  This adds a nice level of expression not available through the crude "accent" dynamics on the hardware 808.

Here's the thing, though.  In my opinion, what's costing you £49 here is the Kontakt 5 mapping.  And, from what I can tell, it's well worth it for the ability to adjust panning, volume, and tone on some instruments, not to mention the extremely cool-looking sequencer.

But if you don't use Kontakt 5, you're paying £49 for 3 variations on the same 17 basic sounds.  Yes, there is the some nice velocity-mapping I mentioned, but you're not getting the full 808 experience given the amount you could vary the basic sounds on the hardware version.  Perhaps it would be more reasonable to offer the Kontakt 5 version as a "premium" version at £49, while the other versions without the fancy interface and sequencer could sell for half that?  At those price points, I would have no reservations recommending this library, but honestly, as good as the quality of sounds are, I can't recommend it as a very good value for those using the other formats.  Yes, they sound nice, but when you read the marketing that says, "This is quite simply the last collection of 808 samples you will ever own" and "4,599 samples", I think it is a fair assumption that the average person imagines there to be a lot more variations on the sounds than are presented here.  On the other hand, if you just want a simple, pre-mapped instrument without having to worry about auditioning different samples, perhaps the convenience is worth it to you.  So, I've got to give this one 2 different scores... If you have Kontakt 5, that version appears to offer enough extra cool features to justify the price [8/10 - still could use more varied samples)], but for the other formats, this seems a bit extravagantly-priced despite the nice sound quality [5/10]  As I mentioned before, offering the other formats at a reduced price would bring it up to an [8/10].


Anonymous said...


And to add to your well written and accurate summary, the mapping for Ableton's Sampler doesnt work well. I've taken the time to map it to a drum rack with macros, but as you stated, for $49 it should be plug and play for the supported formats. It would be best if the custom interface was a Au or VST plug for all users to enjoy.

Having said that, the samples themself are beautifully detailed with rich harmonic tones through all the pieces. This sample pack serves well when further processed by your favorite plugs, although not always necessary because of the high quality of sound!

Emmett Cooke said...

Its currently on sale at 50% off on www.VSTBuzz.com - well worth it :)