Volume 2 of the Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds library follows on from Volume 1, adding well over 500 further instruments and expanding the sound palette of the first library hugely.
The emphasis this time is a little different from before, with a wide range of classic analogue and digital synths represented, while brass, string and orchestral sounds are characterised by smaller selections but greater fidelity, rather than the sheer breadth of sounds covered in Volume 1.
Sound on Sound Review, April 2016
Q Up Arts & Rhythmic
Robot strike again — and with a double whammy! I can only speculate about this
labour of love, feeding an Emulator II with a near–endless supply of 5.25–inch
floppy disks (the genuinely floppy type) then sampling every note. In the
patches where velocity is mapped to filter response, multiple samples were
taken to better capture the sound of the original filters, exploiting Kontakt’s
morphing capabilities in preference to its own filters.
While the sampling of
this venerable machine was performed at 24–bit, RR have sensibly dithered down
to 16–bit for the final package. Even with this size reduction, the two volumes
total a massive 20GB, the downloads partitioned into manageable chunks of 1GB.
(This represents approximately double the amount of data once Kontakt’s
lossless compression is taken into consideration.) I couldn’t help a wry chuckle
at the web site blurb describing the library as: “a 16–bit dither of 24–bit
recordings of 12–bit conversions of 8– bit samples.”
So what do you get?
Well, not the basic Emu sampler library, if that’s what you were expecting. The
Universe Of Sounds was a third-party collection created by Doug Morton, here
licensed for ongoing Kontakt use. Arguably, it’s these sounds that made the
8–bit Emulator II the mid–’80s sampler we lusted after. Fans of Tangerine
Dream, Thomas Dolby, Pet Shop Boys and Peter Gabriel (to name just a handful)
are going to hear much that is warm, fuzzy and familiar.
An uncluttered GUI
offers basic synthesis and effects, the highlight of which is a mid–’80s
convolved Lexicon reverb. Although effects are tastefully employed to enhance
each patch, the purist option is available too in the form of a ‘Vintage’
button. With a click you can have plain mono, effect–free sounds just as they
originally were. Alternatively, to explore the creation of new patches from
this vault of material, the SSA (Skip Sample Attack) button tells Kontakt to
ignore the samples’ distinctive start portion, leaving the sustained part for
processing by the filter and effects.
Volume 1 contains over
540 patches, divided into the categories Bass, Bells & Chimes, Brass, Drums,
Ethic & Folk, FX,
Guitar, Piano & Keys, Orchestral, Percussion, Strings, Synth and Vocal. A
batch of Multi patches have been assembled too, just for the fun of it. It soon
becomes obvious that this isn’t a collection to audition quickly; these patches
are made to be played, their odd sample transitions exploited rather than
reviled, the sometimes clicky loops taken as creative challenges.
The huge spread of
offerings begins with basses that cry ‘Stock, Aitken & Waterman’, followed
by chimes and tinkles that wouldn’t disgrace a modern library. If you’re like
me and find most sampled brass almost as tasteless as the synthesized variety,
there are beauties here that could change your mind. Amongst the scoops and
Yello–like stabs are gems such as ‘horns of doom’, its raspy bottom end
undiminished by the passing decades.
Many of the drum
samples stand as a brutal lesson in how tastes have changed but, looking on the
bright side, the cymbal rolls and bowed gongs have not aged as badly as the
thwappy, mullet–propelled toms. More varied material is found under Percussion,
its stonking metal hits a lure for Depeche Mode tribute bands everywhere. The
various shakers, tablas, resonant synth blips and assorted pots and pans are
all pretty groovy too.
Skipping past the
horror of the bagpipes, you’ll find several enduringly impressive ‘ethnic’
entries; these include a gorgeous blown bottle, the obligatory pan pipes and
classic Shakuhachi. Several of the latter’s keys trigger two layered samples,
which is fairly unpleasant — but in keeping with the ‘warts and all’
philosophy. Honourable mentions go to the thumb piano, waterphone and wine
glass, all of which are thoroughly playable.
In contrast, I doubt
the guitar and keyboard samples were ever considered highlights, but they’re
here for completeness. The orchestral samples, though, are a different matter;
they gave artists of the ’80s powerful new sounds, and the hits and chords
still sound immense. One immediate favourite patch was ‘orchestral finale’, a
keyboard’s worth of slamming samples begging for a modern context.
It gets even better
with a great selection of strings. In particular, the rich, resonant cellos,
creepy pizzicato plucks and atmospheric tremolo patches cut through
beautifully. They’re a testament to the original recordings and performances as
well as to Rhythmic Robot’s gentle noise–reduction techniques. Notable synth
samples include Solina strings, wavering PPGs, the lovely ‘Streich Choir’ patch
and a fabulous Fairlight choir.
Volume 2 is slightly
smaller, but still contains over 530 patches in the same categories. It fills
in some of the gaps of the first, contributing improved piano sounds, gamelans,
a generous dose of African percussion and yet more metal bashing. But for me
its best entries are the eerie solo strings, wood flutes, a whole host of other
strings (including Mellotron) and a superior selection of vocal samples. Were I
forced to choose just a single volume, this one’s strings and choirs would
probably give it the edge.
Fortunately, both are available
separately and if the price is rather higher than Rhythmic Robot’s usual
offerings, this doesn’t seem excessive given the sheer enormity of the task
(involving around 70,000 individual samples). By insisting on faithful
reproductions of the originals, both collections have a smattering of clicks,
crackles and glitchy loops, but despite such imperfections, they sound
fantastic! The originals pushed the limitations of the technology, memory and
media to create sounds of real character. The strings and brass, in particular,
are blessed with exactly the right kind of raw wonkiness to make them credible
instruments in their own right. Sure, not everything has stood the tests of
time, but for every cheesy banjo or saxophone, there’s a throaty Mongolian monk
or classic synth sample to love. Whether you’re writing ’80s retro tracks or
you simply love the sounds of the Emulator II, these collections should prove