Soniccouture - Electro-Acoustic

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  • By and large, the drum machine samples we work with are simply made. They're usually recorded into a line-in input on an audio interface, perhaps with some outboard effects inserted into the chain. On the other hand, good acoustic drum samples demand a meticulous recording process utilising well-placed arrays of microphones. So what would it sound like if you applied that same rigour and attention to detail to a drum machine sample library? That was the general concept behind Electro-Acoustic, the latest Kontakt instrument produced by the London-based sampling specialists Soniccouture. The library was recorded last year across multiple studio sessions, using vintage gear like an EMI TG mixing desk. Each sound was simultaneously recorded through 11 different signal chains using various preamps, mixers, amplifiers and room mics. The result, they hoped, would be a drum library that would stand out among the many choices available to producers. In addition to the high-spec recording setup, Soniccouture also set out to capture the full range of each drum machine's sound. They sampled multiple hits of each instrument while passing through every parameter and then utilised Kontakt's round-robin layering to provide as much of an analogue feel as possible. For example, with the TR-808 kick drum, combining the various decay and tone knob settings, normal and accent mode and the different signal chains results in 13,000 samples and 1GB for that drum alone. In total, Electro-Acoustic weighs in at 14GB (with NCW compression) and includes a selection of 15 vintage drum machines, including obvious choices like the Roland TR boxes and the Linn Drum LM-2 mixed in with lesser-known machines like the Bentley Rhythm Ace. Like many large sample libraries, you first download a small installer from Soniccouture's site, which then handles the downloading, avoiding the issues inherent in downloading large files via a web browser. Once the Electro-Acoustic library is installed, you need to add it within Kontakt and then activate it via the NI Service Centre / Native Access tool. Soniccouture also provide NKS support for Electro-Acoustic, which means it's automatically mapped for users with Maschine or Kontrol keyboard hardware. This is especially nice on the Kontrol keyboards where the light guide helpfully shows the notes that are mapped to each drum hit.
    The first thing you'll notice about Electro-Acoustic is how long it takes to load its samples. This is to be expected with a large library, but it's a disadvantage if you're trying to get something done quickly within a session. Once the instrument loads, you're greeted with a well-designed Kontakt interface centring on a CGI drum kit with a paint job that changes based on the drum machine currently loaded. You can use this virtual kit to select the different hits for editing in the lower panel but I found it easier to leave the mixer page open and select channels by their name rather than trying to remember that a clap is considered percussion and is therefore selected by the picture of the maracas. Once a sound is selected for editing, you can shape it according to its original hardware knobs, which are displayed in the drum machine panel in the lower left. From there you can use the knobs and sliders off to the right to dial in the levels of the 11 different recording chains. You'll find four unique knobs modelled from their hardware counterparts, which include a Neve 1073 preamp, a Thermionic Culture Rooster, EMI desk compressor and an Ampeg bass amp. Each brings its own colour to the dry signal, with the EMI specialising in high-end attack and the others providing different flavours of distortion. Next are four knobs that let you add in the sound of the recording room and various objects. Three channels were also recorded from a PA system in different ways to provide high, mid and low signals. Finally, the parameter panel on the rightmost edge allows you to control the pitch, envelope, filter and velocity sensitivity of the sound. This can be for all of the channels at once or for each individually—a surprisingly powerful feature. For example, you could choose an 808 kick and have the signal from the valve pre-amp pitched lower with its own envelope settings for additional low-end thump.
    If Soniccouture had stopped there, Electro-Acoustic would still be worth the price of admission. But if you click the Beat Tools tab at the bottom of the Kontakt window, a new panel opens to reveal three types of Soniccouture-developed sequencers. This includes Beat Shifter, a step sequencer that lets you draw in velocities and introduce the ability to shift the steps in each track forwards or backwards. Euclidean Beats provides a circular grid that distributes notes according to an algorithm developed by Euclid around 300 BC. The last of the three is Poly Beats, which gives you a way to divide a musical bar into arbitrary subdivisions and achieve polyrhythmic bliss. These three tools are well designed and provide a perfect way to quickly knock together interesting drum patterns. Once you find something you like, Electro-Acoustic also provides drag and drop MIDI so you can easily pull the pattern into your DAW for arrangement. There's a lot to like about Electro-Acoustic. The only things I found myself wishing for were some parameter modulation options, but that can be done with host automation. That small complaint aside, if you're looking for a very well-produced library of drum machine sounds that can give you a live-room feel, look no further. Ratings: Cost: 4.1 Versatility: 4.5 Ease of use: 4.0 Sound: 4.5