Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Haunted House Records Toxic Beats

Product: Toxic Beats Drum Sample & Loop Library
Developer: Haunted House Records
Format: Downloadable WAVs
Price: £14.99
Demo: 30MB selection of kits and loops available on product page.

The changeover in the sample library industry to a more download-centric format has, overall, been a good thing. The fact that there are no CDs or DVDs to press or ship makes releasing sample libraries much less expensive for developers and this, in turn, means they can take greater risks in releasing more "niche" oriented products. Toxic Beats, the latest release from Haunted House Records, is an example of that, purporting as it does to focus on the industrial and EBM scene, both of which, with the rare odd exception, are pretty obscure genres to a lot of electronic musicians. Although these genres largely pride themselves on being pretty DIY, it's nice to see them getting a little love. So does Toxic Beats deliver? Read on.

Toxic Beats is split between a selection of loops at various tempos, and the drum kits used to create those loops as individual hits so you can use them to program your own rhythms. The artwork advertises the collection as containing 840 loops, and while this is technically correct, it's a bit misleading. There are actually 140 different loops here, but they are offered at 3 different tempos (128, 135, and 145 BPM) and in versions that have kick drums and versions without kick drums. That offers a nice flexibility, but I think loop slicers and programs like Ableton Live have really eliminated the need for sample developers to include the same beats at different tempos. Prospective buyers should also know that those 140 loops aren't all distinct loops either - most every beat here is offered in 5 or so variations, putting the number of distinctly different beats under 30. Again, the flexibility is nice, but I think any buyer expecting 840 unique loops is going to be pretty pissed off. [EDIT: Stephan has corrected me that the beats at different tempos, despite sharing the same names, are not, in fact the exact same beats, they merely use the same kits... a bit confusing, but indeed there are more distinct beats here than was immediately apparent to me...]

Unfortunately, the problems for this collection don't end there. I'll grant that Industrial, EBM, and Techno are pretty wide-ranging styles, but I didn't hear much in this collection that would be appropriate for Industrial or EBM at all. Yes, the sounds are distorted/filtered/ring modulated as might be expected in those styles, but the source sounds themselves appear to be primarily Roland TR-505, 707, and 909 samples. Cool drum machines to be sure, but not especially common in the current flavor of industrial or EBM, and despite whatever effects are applied here, the original character of the sounds still comes through making this sound much more homogenous than it would've if a wider range of drum sounds had been used. The TR cymbals, thonky 80's tom sounds, and hyper-active claps might be a bit more at home in the techno scene, but given how this library is marketed, I don't think it's going to be techno people primarily buying this.

Stylistic authenticity aside, the beats on offer here simply aren't that impressive. There are occasional glimpses of interest here and there, but for the most part, the programming is stiff and lacks the dynamics and drive one might expect for those genres. The production quality is also a problem. There just isn't much oomph here for the most part. The loops and sounds would all benefit from judicious use of compression before further processing occurs. Many of the loops and sounds are also desperately in need of proper EQ - many of the distorted sounds in particular are very muffled sounding.

The individual hits are helpfully organized into both folders by sound type (claps/snares/hats/etc) and into kits named after the loops they were used to create. The same problems plague the kits here, though. Not enough variation in the source material and mostly not very well produced. There are some okay sounds here and there, but for the most part, it's hard to imagine anything here that most budding electronic musicians couldn't come up with in a few hours of experimenting in their plug-in folder.

Although I strive to be honest and frank in my reviews here, I always feel bad when I have to trash something that I know someone probably put a lot of work into (and believe me, as a musician, I know all too well what it feels to be on the receiving end of a brutal review). Stephen Haunts, the creator of this collection, has released some cool collections of circuit-bent and experimental sounds before (reviewed here), so I know he's capable of decent work. I just feel like he might be a bit out of his element here. This may indeed be Mr. Haunt's own take on the industrial and EBM sounds, but when marketing a sample library to a specific genre, a more "broad brush" approach fitting the more standard "expected" sound of the genre is probably a bit more helpful. [2/10]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Free Sample Friday: Distorted Snare Drums

It's the weekend! To celebrate, here are 12 snare drum samples that have been distorted in various ways. Some of the distortion on these is so extreme that the transients are pretty much totally sheered off, so if a particular snare doesn't have the oomph you want, try layering it behind an undistorted snare. 12 stereo samples, 24-bits, 1.3 MB.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Insanely Fun (and Free) iOS App

While it's hardly new, it's new to me, so I thought I'd share an app a friend showed me the other night. This resulted in all of us downloading it and embarking on a beer-fueled "jam session" that I'm sure annoyed the holy hell out of the neighbors. The app I'm speaking of is Async's "Baby Scratch", a free app that lets you sample any sound and then "scratch" it on the on-screen turntable over a handful of selectable beats. It's an extremely simple app, but sounds fantastic and is extremely addictive. Give it a try!

Baby Scratch - Async

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Korg PS-3200 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Oberheim OB-Mx on eBay

Info at the listing...

Sweet Mother of God... Oberheim to Re-issue Oberheim 4 Voice

Daddy want. Check out the full details over at Matrixsynth...

Review: Sonic Charge Bitspeek

Product: Bitspeek
Developer: Sonic Charge
Formats: VST for Windows XP and higher and VST & AU for Intel Macs running OS 10.5 or higher.
Demo: Unregistered version functions as normal with occasional audio drop-outs.
Price: $29

Many years ago, when I tried out Sonic Charge's ┬ÁTonic drum synth plug-in, I was struck by the robotic, spoken alert that announced it was an unregistered version. The voice had a really unique quality to it that I hadn't heard before and I thought to myself that it would be really cool to have a plug-in that replicated that sound. I pretty much wrote that possibility off, though, assuming it was just one of those dorky things that only I would be interested in. Evidently, I was wrong.

Bitspeek is a plug-in that utilizes a linear prediction codec to process sound. If that went way above your head, linear prediction codecs are a voice compression technology utilized in everything from the infamous Speak n' Spell to your cell phone. It works by analyzing certain characteristics of the original audio, such as its pitch and formant, and then resynthesizes it using a combination of an oscillator, noise, and filter. The result is an eerily lo-fi robotic effect.

Bitspeek installs with your run of the mill installer. Left unregistered, Bitspeek functions as normal, but with periodic audio drop outs, thus allowing you to really put it through its paces before you decide to buy (and you will). Registration is done via a simple, unique registration code issued by Sonic Charge.

Bitspeek's interface vaguely mimiks the look of the old Speak n' Spell toys. The top third features a real time visualizer displaying the audio signal. The lower two thirds consist of Bitspeek's 8 controls.

The first of these is a sample rate slider allowing you to select the sample rate at which Bitspeek does its thing. This is independent of your DAW's sample rate and is used only for determining the rate of calculations, and thus the sound quality of the processing. Options for 8, 11, 22, and 44k are available, with the lower rates obviously making the processed audio much more lo-fi.

Next door to that you'll find the Frame Rate control. This determines how often the pitch, volume, and formants of the input material is analyzed. Everything from constant analysis to totally freezing the audio is possible, and by activating the Sync control, you can set the Frame Rate to specific note values, opening the door for bizarre rhythmic effects.

Next to the Sync switch, is the MIDI control, which allows you to "play" the effect via a MIDI controller. This function only works with hosts that allow MIDI to transmit to plug-ins, so some users will not be able to utilize it.

At the bottom of the interface are 4 knobs marked Pitch, Tracking, Detune, and Noise. Pitch allows you to transpose the incoming audio up or down three octaves in both semitones and cents. The Tracking knob controls how closely the resynthesized signal follows the incoming audio. Lower settings will give more synthetic/robotic results. Detune controls the pitch of a second oscillator that can be used to fatten up the sound by up to 1200 cents. The Noise control determines the balance between the oscillator and noise in the resynthesized sound. Turned all the way up, the plug-in will use only noise to replicate the sound giving a Kraftwerkian whisper effect.

Although the number of controls on offer here may seem spartan, Bitspeek is actually capable of a surprisingly wide range of manipulations. The quality is top notch and totally nails the sound of many a speaking toy those of us who grew up in the 80's will remember fondly. Although the most obvious application here is to process vocals with Bitspeek, you can use it on literally any mono audio signal with equally cool results. Unlike mere bitcrushers, Bitspeek can really tear apart a sound until it only vaguely resembles what you fed into it. You're damn right it's fun! If all that isn't enough to convince you, then the pricetag surely will. At only $29 even us starving artist types can add it to our plug-in folder without a second thought. Just get it already. You won't be sorry. [10/10]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yamaha CS-60 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Slick Stick DIY Synth on eBay

Octave Cat on eBay

Info at the listing...

Teaser for New Lofi Plug-in from Plogue

Ooh, this has me excited. Plogue is apparently working on a new plug-in that emulates early sampling circuits like you might find in a Casio SK-1, gaming consoles, and early computers. Unlike standard bitcrushers, this one will apparently model the entire signal paths of various devices including speaker impulses. Consider me officially intrigued!

Review: Wave Alchemy Tech House & Minimal

Library: Tech House & Minimal
Downloadable 24-bit WAVs & REX files (also available in Apple Loops, Reason, and Ableton Live formats)
Tech House, Minimal, Dance-oriented IDM
Developers Site:
Wave Alchemy
Distributed by:
On product page (A selection of free samples from the library are also available here)

"Tech House & Minimal" is the latest offering from UK sample developers Wave Alchemy. This collection contains not only the loops and drum sounds consistent with their previous offerings, but also features some outstanding multi-sampled synth sounds.

The drum loops in this collection are divided into tempo-based folders at 125, 127, and 130 BPM. If you're using the REX versions of these loops, this is less of a concern, as the loops are all sliced very well and translate over a broader range of tempos with very few artifacts. In addition to full drum loops, some "top only" loops without a kick drum are also available allowing you to customize the beats with your own kick parts. In addition to the drum-oriented loops, there's also a generous selection of bassline and synth part loops, allowing you to build full arrangements from the loops alone if that's your thing. As always, the melodic loops contain the key they are in as part of the file name, so finding compatible loops is quick and simple. The general style of the loops is very quirky, creative, and - dare I say it - light-hearted. Despite the minimal precision of the loops, I found a lot of them to have an almost cheerful tone to them. As you might expect from a Wave Alchemy collection, the sound choice and production is outstanding. While the loops trend to the lighter end of the spectrum, the sounds are all extremely clear, present, and punchy as hell.

Understanding that you'll probably want to augment these loops with some programming of your own, Wave Alchemy has included over 400 one-hit drum samples. These are separated into folders marked Glitch & FX Perc, Hats, Kicks, Snares & Claps, and Synth Perc. The sound palette here is unmistakably electronic, mixing expertly compressed and EQed electronic kicks and snares with bloops, sweeps, and tweaks consistent with the collection's quirky mood. The sounds are an interesting combination of retro analog funkiness with unmistakably modern production - tight compression, near perfect EQ, and nice stereo separation where relevant. Most of these sounds would be at home in just about any style of electronic dance music, but the percussive effects will be of particular interest to those looking to add an unusual flavor to their rhythms.

The collection would be a great value if this is all it contained, but Wave Alchemy has also included 23 multi-sampled synth sounds sourced from machines like the Korg MS-20, Moog Voyager, FutureRetro XS and more. These sounds are all great and sound as analog as you would expect from machines like these. Stylistically, they'd be useful in pretty much any style that favors vintage synths, not just tech house and minimal. I would LOVE to see Wave Alchemy release a collection of nothing but multi-sampled synths. The synth sounds share the same high production quality as the drum sounds, and I think it would be of great interest to musicians who love the sound of real analog, but can't afford the price of entry.

I keep waiting for Wave Alchemy to screw up with a sample library. Not because I expect them to be incompetent, but because their collections are so scarily consistent in their excellence. Not every library may be to your stylistic preferences, but you can be assured that what's there is going to sound great right out of the box, so you can spend your time making music instead of trying to tweak sounds to perfection. Highly recommended. [10/10]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Free Sample Friday: Extreme Stretched Drum Sounds

PaulStretch (Mac version here) has been making the rounds on the internet quite a bit in the past week with viral clips of the Jurassic Park Theme slowed down 1000%, and the previous Justin Beiber experiment. So today's selection are six drum sounds stretched 10-50x. The stretching eliminates a lot of the percussive element, so these are probably more useful as special effects than actual drum sounds. 6 sounds, 24-bit wavs, about 14.5 MB.

EDIT: Sorry for the bad link... that's what I get for waiting until late at night to put the post together. Link is fixed now.

Yamaha CS-50 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


While the new Fairlight CMI's seems a bit silly and overpriced to me, THIS I can get behind.