If I was to ask you to name a mega-sampler, or maybe even to define that type of instrument, most of you would offer up answers like “Fairlight” or “Synclavier“. Chances are, none of you would come up with the WaveFrame AudioFrame. And I wouldn’t blame you either. When it comes to the “Uber Samplers”, this beast from Boulder, Colorado is rarely on anybody’s radar. And it’s not without good reason. Firstly, back in the day (1987, to be precise), these machines were horrendously expensive with some models weighing in at $100,000! This was in contrast to the rest of the sampling world getting cheaper or, in the case of Fairlight, spiralling towards bankruptcy, unable to shift enough of their mortgage-inducing creations of awesomeness to pay the bills. By the time the WaveFrame came on the scene, EMU with their Emax & Akai with their S1000 had stolen a march on high quality and affordable sampling for musicians. But the AudioFrame was destined more for the post production industry, rather than the creative musical industry that machines like the Fairlight and Synclavier had been used so heavily in.
Founded in 1986, WaveFrame started to make their AudioFrame, initially with music production in mind, but soon realised that audio post production was a better market to aim for and therefore the AudioFrame became popular in that realm. That’s not to say that musicians weren’t using it. Perennial early adopters like Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder had models, Gabriel using his extensively between ’89 and ’92 on his album “Us“.
But for musicians, there were far more affordable and portable solutions emerging all the time and the AudioFrame was pretty much overlooked by them. WaveFrame continued to develop and release further iterations of their tool, which was essentially a large rack module into which you could slot in individual racks containing ultra high end components and DSP cards, featuring 24bit technology long before it was common place.
Waveframe changed owners a number of times over the nineties and noughties, becoming a piece of dedicated audio software running on “approved” computer systems meeting certain specific criteria. Originally, WaveFrame made the dedicated hardware as well as the software to control it and harness all that power. In recent years it has stopped making the hardware and concentrated on developing the software, making it reliant on certain third party audio I/O units. It’s a bit like Sega ceasing manufacture of games consoles but still producing games for specific devices. It’s just not the same, I guess. But the brand, now owned by Cybermation, LLC of Portland, Oregon, now appears to be dormant, suffering from a lack of cash flow. It’s website shows little sign of life beyond 2010, with most entries on its blog being spam and no movement on development beyond version 7.3. Whilst doing some research for this post, I happened upon a WaveFrame users forum where one of the current owners, Michael Bard, responded to questions & suggestions about the future of WaveFrame in 2010 with this…
“We agree with all of your suggestions. We have been trying to create these changes, however engineers cost cash, and recently our revenue stream has dried up. We have begun a dialogue with SSL to try to create a .dll enabling their ProConvert software to directly import and export WaveFrame 7 native files. I think we will make that happen.Also, we are about to release a version of the original AudioFrame Sound Library, that we hope will create a new revenue stream which we intend to funnel into the development of WaveFrame 8 which will run on modern OS platforms and modernize the graphic user interface.Thank you for your continuing support. We at StudioBard use the WaveFrame every day , and we know there are many faithful users still out there who realize that this is a tool MADE for post audio, not adapted from a consumer application. We have a good user base in the UK, and we are hopeful we can bring the WaveFrame user experience into the 21st century.”
To be honest, I was surprised they had survived that long, given the huge amount of more affordable competition. Nowadays, such high end systems are made by companies like Symbolic Sound and their Kyma system or the new Fairlight Instruments CMI30A. But, it would be nice to see the WaveFrame rise from the flames. I guess it’s just a sign of the times, especially in a world dominated by Pro Tools and other bespoke systems more than capable of doing what the WaveFrame AudioFrame could do, only better and probably cheaper.
For those nostalgia bugs amongst you, UVI have shared the original WaveFrame manual and I provide a link to it here…
In Michael’s response, he mentioned that one of the new revenue streams was the impending release of the AudioFrame library and this is what I have here to review. It’s been out for some time, but in my recent research and reviews into the UVI product range, I saw this library tucked away and asked the guys in France if I could review it as it would fit in very nicely with my passion for retro behemoth samplers of the past! Thankfully, the lovely and ever helpful Elisabeth at UVI sorted me out with a copy and I’ve been playing with it all evening.
As this is an older UVI sound library compared to their stuff that I have reviewed of late, there is no fancy interface like Electro Suite or Emulation II, but that’s not to say there is no interface at all. Instead, we have a simple and generic set of controls, typical for the UVI range, for amplitude, pitch and filter envelopes, LFO, modulations, Drive and other small tweaks. Each patch uses the built in UVI Workstation effects, which can easily be tweaked or added to by switching to its FX rack page.
So, what’s in the WaveFrame library? Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there is a lot of stuff, that’s for sure. And all of it sampled very neatly, as this library weighs in at a very manageable 356.2MB. I say “sampled neatly” but I imagine that the samples have simply been converted from the original data and this seems to be borne out by a comment on the WaveFrame site, crediting Chicken Systems, the producer of the Translator range of sample conversion tools, for their help.
So, back to the content. If you wade through a library conversion of something like an Emulator or Fairlight, you’ll find lots of fairly unique patches, alongside a raft of “standards” such as string, brass and woodwind material. The WaveFrame on the other hand is definitely more focused on sampled instrumentation of the “standards” variety. There are no hybrid sounds, no drum or instrument rhythmic loops or such like. No, what you get is 13 main categories covering keyboards, guitars, basses, strings, brass, woodwinds, synths, ethnic instruments and drums and percussion. The most peculiar section is the Effects & Test Tones section which is a handful of car and weather samples and a slew of test tones. Everything else is pretty standard stuff and when I first scanned the contents, my heart sank a little. I’ve got more piano or string samples than I could ever possibly use in a lifetime, more brass and ethnic clobber than you could find on a market stall in Camden Town. I don’t need any more. But there is something quite special about these sounds that might just attract you to buying them. Allow me to explain.
Whenever I go on about Fairlights or Synclaviers, one of the arguments against owning one nowadays is that today’s technology is far superior, far easier to use. And yes, that is true. But it’s also far too clean, too perfect and lacking in discernible character. And that’s what a Fairlight, say, did best. Because of its technological limitations, a sampled piano sounded more like any synthesized piano of the time, but it was far from perfect. The DAC’s and circuit boards sonically coloured the samples, giving them a character and essence of their own. It’s like the current trend in photography where you can buy an app like Hipstamatic or Instagram and take pictures but then apply a range of filters that introduce a range of imperfections that then give the otherwise sterile image some much needed character. And even though the WaveFrame possessed some of the finest audio technology of its day, it still wasn’t quite where we are now. But this is not a bad thing. Oh no. This is a GREAT thing! This means we have all these “standard” sounds but with the essence of a WaveFrame on them. And that makes them sonically very interesting. You can hear audio artefacts in there. the imperfections in the multi-sampling can be heard, in some cases quite obviously, but rather than detract from the sound, it makes it unique and pleasing. In this increasingly accurate world of sound and vision, we have come to realise, as a race, that it’s the imperfections, the quirks and oddities, that engage us, make us listen or look and please our brains by offering up something familiar yet with an interesting hook of unpredictability.
I found myself drawn in deeper to the contents, discovering some excellent string and brass sounds, all of which sounded very real, but with a sheen of grittiness. in the late ’80s and early ’90s, these samples would’ve been at the top of their tree, and some of the best you could get, coupled with high powered DSP and an on screen computer editor. They would’ve provided a more than adequate replacement for the real things to musicians who could not afford the real thing, but nowadays, they stand out as an eminently usable collections of sounds with character, body and uniqueness.
So, would you want this library? Well, if you love the sounds that these beasts made, then yes, without a doubt. It’s only $99/€99 and uses the free UVI Workstation (iLok required for the library) and you get a lot of presets. And if you’re looking for something traditional but with an edge, this could rightly appeal too! Yes, there are countless other libraries offering this range of instruments, some cheaper, some not so, but almost none of them will have this layer of tarnishing, and it’s that which makes these sounds stand out from the bloatware libraries of today.
Ignore this at your peril 🙂
Here are some audio examples (all 100% WaveFrame Sound Collection)…
And of course, the now obligatory video review… 😉