It’s fair to say that I like samples. From a very early age, I’ve appreciated how flexible and empowering this form of sound generation has been. In the early days, sampling was limited by the restraints of technology. All the necessary hardware components were either in their infancy, incredibly expensive or both. RAM was at a premium and analogue-to-digital/digital-to-analogue (ADC/DAC) converters barely existed at all. So samplists had to work within a very tight framework. Some years later, whilst I was under the unofficial tutelage of the late, great Steve Howell (of Akai, Alesis and Hollow Sun fame), he taught me the ways of what he called “Bonsai Sampling”, or how to get the best sound from the smallest data footprint. This was important both in the early days, but also in the more recent, cost conscious years.
However, as technology rapidly advanced, we saw exponential increases in storage capacities, both in terms of RAM and of hard drive space, meaning that sample library developers could use this new freedom to create huge, sprawling samples with almost eternal reverb tails or release settings on the envelopes. These bloated libraries were often sold on the basis that their size equated to their quality, i.e. bigger was better. Which it frequently wasn’t.
So it is refreshing to see some developers bucking that trend, using their skills and techniques to deliver incredible authenticity and playability whilst running efficiently within the user’s working environment. This is very much the case with the latest library from AcousticSamples, a small but prolific sample library developer whose content is exclusively available for UVI‘s sample format, employed in their free UVI Workstation, as well as their Falcon instrument.
VTines weighs in at a mere 90MB of lossless FLAC samples when extracted from its zip file. I genuinely thought my download had possibly crashed part way through, but sure enough, 90MB was correct. If you are familiar with AcousticSamples work, either by owning some of it or reading some of my earlier reviews, you will know that they create some beautifully sounding content but also do some great work with their scripted front-ends. VTines is no exception. But what is exceptional about VTines is that it is a brilliant combination of sampling and modelling techniques that fully drive this powerful, yet svelte library. Loading it up into Falcon or the UVI Workstation takes just two whole seconds on my Mac. But I can tell you right now that size is most definitely NOT everything!
The scripted front end is pretty simple, but then so was the front end of the Rhodes Mk.1 that this instrument is based on. However, there is more than meets the eye with four discrete buttons that offer immediate access to Amplifier, FX, MIDI and Global Preferences pages. Each of these offer up simple, yet beautifully realised pages of options that allow you to shape your sounds with consummate ease. Of particular note is the PREFS page, with its animated visualisation of the internal workings of the Rhodes, depicting the tine, hammer, tone bar and pick up. A series of rotary controls allow you to change a number of related settings, such as pickup distance, tine height or tone bend, some of which animate the diagram shown on screen so you can see exactly how your settings relate to the physicality of the machine. These settings can be applied to individual notes or all notes at the same time. There’s even a note-by-note function that gives you the ability to draw in your settings across the range of the keyboard which is a really neat way of quickly setting all of the parameters. Furthermore, there is a very handy velocity auto adjustment tool that can learn how you play your keyboard controller and then provide a velocity map setting based on what it has learned to suit your personal keyboard and playing style.
The FX section features a collection of eight stompboxes that include Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, Wah, Delay, Rotary, Saturation and Reverb. These all have their own settings and can be turned on or off in any combination.
Finally, the Amp section offers a wide variety of microphone positions and distances around the virtual Rhodes, as well as amp noise and ambience settings and an option to dial in some authentic amplifier noise.
There are also 50-60 different presets, all of which feature unique settings of the features described above, with the ability to save and load your own creations as a data file on your computer.
Furthermore, the scripted front end offers 5 dual function direct access rotaries that allow the user to adjust the volume on both the acoustic and electric parts of the piano, EQ, vibrato and reverb settings, as well as being able to turn the amp on and off from a single switch. And there’s some lovely chrome and Tolex surface graphics to give you the visual reference to the source of the sounds contained therein.
So how does it sound? Sadly, or not, from my wife’s point of view, I don’t have an original to compare with, but I’ve heard a few of these in my time and I can honestly say that this is definitely one of the finest emulations I have ever heard. The expressiveness is incredible and the variety of tones that seamlessly blend based on continuous velocity is superb. And the depth of control on offer is just amazing. I’m no expert Rhodes player, but I can’t think of a possible setting that has been missed here. Every option is catered for with the ability to make the instrument go from the sublime to the ridiculous in its tone. The use of modelling to “fill in the gaps” means that the amount of samples is greatly reduced whilst at the same time, increasing the range of flexibility and delivering ultra rapid load times. There’s no key-switching necessary at all on this thing. You literally load it up and go. And it costs just €99 (or €79 during its initial launch period!)
It is a remarkable feat of instrument design that really ought to become your first, and probably only, Rhodes emulation.
Like the Rhodes, I don’t have an actual organ to directly compare the B-5 Organ to. In fact, I think I can count the times I’ve been in the presence of one on the fingers of one hand. What I do remember is how amazing a Leslie speaker cabinet sounds in the flesh. It’s a proper chest-moving, air-shifting thing. And here again lies one of the beauties of sampling. For a fraction of the price, and zero loss of floor space, one can now have such things in their sonic arsenal, at their disposal at any time. It will never require calibration or repair. It won’t require a team of roadies to move and you won’t have a cardiac arrest when they do.
But it’s not like there haven’t been a multitude of Hammond and Leslie emulations already, so what makes this one stand out? Well, aside from the blatantly obvious low price of €99, and the fact that, unlike other scripted sample libraries designed for the so-called “industry standard” Kontakt, you can use a fully featured free playback system in the form of UVI’s Workstation to use every single feature without restriction or time limitation, aside from those rather key and unique selling points, it not only sounds amazing, but has the trademark level of depth and tweakability that one has come to expect from AcousticSamples. Just like VTines, this library combines high resolution, accurate samples with modelling techniques to truly deliver a Hammond & Leslie experience that is as close to the real thing as possible. And not just one real thing. You get to choose from a 1968 B3, a ’60 and ’69 C3 and a 1965 A100.
Unlike VTines, there is a ton of stuff to get stuck into when it comes to setting up your B-5. Luckily, there are a couple of hundred presets for some instant gratification and for you to use as starting points for your own configurations. But should you want to dig in, every possible parameter is there for you to be able to adjust to your heart’s content. Starting off with the obvious, there are all the standard drawbars for both upper and lower manuals, percussion, vibrato & chorus settings and rotaries that allow control over tube distortion, acoustic and click volume and reverb. Every single one of these can be assigned to a control surface using MIDI CC numbering and the user can manually assign every feature using a MIDI learn function. Furthermore, the two manuals and bass pedals can be assigned to three separate MIDI channels so that you can use three controllers for the fully authentic experience. And, of course, this degree of MIDI implementation allows for full automation control through your DAW.
Just like a real Hammond, the speaker control is a movable lever that moves between Chorale and Tremolo with a Brake option in the middle. And just like the real thing, there is the noticeable transition in the sound as you move between the settings. And whilst we’re on the subject of the speaker, AcousticSamples have, yet again, employed a delightful animated visual representation of the Leslie internals, along with other speaker cabinets. Rhodes, Mesa, Fender and Gibson cabs are all well represented, but the Leslies are just superb, with the ability to change between horn and drum, adjust room size and noise, as well as move mic positions, angles and distances. The depth of sampling and modelling here is just superb.
Advanced settings cover things like drawbar and tone generator volumes, robbing and stealing amounts and other fine tuning settings with intuitive input methods that range from numerical values through rotaries and switches, to the ability to draw in timbre adjustments. Already have a controller or stage organ with MIDI capability? Then you are catered for too. Keyboards such as Hammond’s XK’s, Nord’s C1/C2/Stage, Korg’s CX-3 and Crumar Mojo’s all have custom mapping presets, making the B-5 an instantly rewarding alternative to the built in sounds of your existing organ rig.
I have probably missed out some things, such is the wealth of features on offer, and for that I apologise, but check out the AcousticSamples website for the definitive detail. It is nothing short of astounding at this price point.
VTines Mk.1 and B-5 Organ V2 are just two more excellent additions to the AcousticSamples catalogue, which also features equally brilliant libraries of guitars (acoustic & electric), basses, drums, pianos and other electro-mechanical keyboards. And they are all priced at amazing levels. There are people out there paying three times as much for poorer sampling and fewer features than you will find in AcousticSamples products. For me, sampling was originally about creating new and previously unheard of sounds. But it soon became apparent that its ability to mimic was always going to be the thing that drove and sustained the method. It was only when we reached a level of ability, technologically, that allowed us to accurately model the finest of details and present those to the user via customised scripted front ends that we truly saw how sampling could deliver the very finest of emulations in the most intuitive ways. And AcousticSamples are truly at the vanguard of this. VTines and B-5 both possess deeply accurate sounds and controls that deliver near perfect authenticity. And for them to do this at a mere €99 per product, and a fraction more for some others, is quite unbelievable, and thoroughly deserving of infinite praise.
Furthermore, their use of the UVI format means that the user is not forced down a path of ownership of someone else’s host product to make full and complete use of these libraries. Unlike NI’s Kontakt, UVI allow libraries to be run in their free UVI Workstation host, which is 64bit, VST, AU and AAX compatible, as well as having a standalone version. This alone makes these libraries even more desirable. UVI’s Workstation comes with a ton of FX units, a built in arpeggiator and allows for for separate libraries to be loaded simultaneously for complex combinations and multis. Of course, if you’ve done the sensible thing and bought UVI’s class-leading workhorse, Falcon, you get even more ways of working with these libraries, but it isn’t essential or required.
I have now used VTines, B-5, some of their guitars and pianos and, quite frankly, I now want them ALL. Whilst the majority of people simply buy into a format that their peers tell them too, I seem to be part of a more exclusive club that is sitting on one of the best kept secrets in scripted sample libraries. As lovely as that might be, I intend, nay pledge, to change that and tell the world about this stuff. I am starting here, but I urge you to do the same. Your ears and wallet will love you forever!
VTines Mk.1 and B-5 Organ V2 are available now from AcousticSamples, priced at €99 each, although at the time of going to press (October 24th 2018), VTines is currently on offer at €79 for its initial launch. All AcousticSamples libraries require a free iLok online account for activation and authorisation, or an iLok hardware key. Each instrument is allowed three separate authorisations on three different machines as long as they are running the iLok Manager application or have the iLok key installed.