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Sonic Implants Symphonic String Collection

Manufacturer: Sonic Network
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided DigiFreq with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
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I love the sound of orchestral string instruments. The blending of the 1st and 2nd violins along with the viola, cello, and bass strings is a heavenly delight for the ears. And string instruments are no longer restricted to the classical genre. These days you can hear strings in rock, pop, jazz music and even hip hop and rap! Of course, hiring the string sections of a classical orchestra to play on your latest tune can cost literally thousands of dollars. If youíre a music superstar with a major label record deal, then maybe you can afford to hire all those musicians, but most bands canít. Thatís where sampling technology can even the playing field with products like the Symphonic String Collection from Sonic Implants.

Sonic Implants Symphonic String Collection
Contained on 20 CD-ROMs or 3 DVDs, the Symphonic String Collection is one of the largest orchestral string sample libraries on the market. Contained in this collection are recordings of the five string sections of an orchestra: 1st Violins, 2nd Violins, Violas, Cellos, and Basses. Provided for each of these sections are samples of a number of different articulations (playing techniques): Legato (a sustained tone, bowed smoothly with a long fluid motion of the bow), Espressivo (sustained tones with a slower attack and deeper vibrato for more emotive phrasing), Con Sordino (a muted sustained tone, bowed smoothly with a long fluid motion of the bow using a mute to yield a slightly glassier tone), Tremolo Ordinaire (a sustained undulating tone created by a rapid succession of down and up bows), Tremolo Sul Ponticello (identical to tremolo ordinaire in method and tonalities but bowed close to the bridge of the instrument to yield a slightly harsher, brighter tone), Whole Step Trills (a sustained tone with rapid fluctuation between two notes pitched at a whole step interval), Half Step Trills (a sustained tone with rapid fluctuations between two notes pitched at a half step interval), Pizzicato (a tone created by plucking the string with the fingers), Staccato (a short, detached bowing technique commonly used for fast, accented or martele phrases), Spiccato (a detached bowing technique, allowing for very fast and light musical passages), Col Legno (short, detached tones played by striking the string with a combination of the wood and hair of the bow), Bowed Natural Harmonics (a sustained tone played using harmonic intervals from the open strings), Bowed Artificial Harmonics (a sustained tone played using harmonic intervals from non-open strings), Pizzicato Harmonics (plucked harmonics played by plucking the string while fingering the harmonic positions), Effects (special string effects included to aid the composer in creating unusual sound textures).

Each articulation of each instrument is contained in a separate GIG (Gigasampler) file. Installing these files onto your computer is a fairly easy process, although I recommend getting the Collection on DVD if possible. Itís much quicker swapping out three DVDs than it is to do the same with 20 CDs. Installation requires a one-time name, address, and serial number form to be filled out and then the file copying commences. This information is stored on your computerís hard drive. An Internet connection is not required for installation, and thereís no need to deal with the idiocy of an authentication (challenge/response) copy protection scheme that some other manufacturers are employing. Each sample string section is installed into a separate folder, all of which are stored within a Sonic Implants folder for a nice and organized collection of files.

Also included in the package is a 32-page Userís Guide. This Guide provides information on installation and updates, how the sample collection was designed, a description of articulations, information on how the files in the Collection are organized, some basic information about using the Collection in the Gigasampler software, as well as some basic sample naming and instrument naming conventions. In addition, there is a 32-page Addendum booklet that provides more detailed information about the naming conventions used and a detailed list of instruments and MIDI controller assignments.

The Making Of The Symphonic String Collection
The Sonic Implants sound design philosophy is as follows: 1) Hire the absolute best musicians you can find and record them in their natural playing positions. 2) Go out of house and record in the best recording studios and halls. 3) Hire recording engineers who specialize in the instruments you are recording. 4) Keep the signal chain as small as possible with the best equipment possible. 5) Do as little signal processing to the recorded material as possible. 6) Play, play, play the instruments while designing them.

In keeping with this philosophy, Sonic Implants turned to Kareem Roustam to recruit some of the finest string players from the Boston Pops and Boston Ballet Orchestras. They spent several weeks scouting locations and decided upon the Sonic Temple Studio in Roslindale, Massachusetts for its ideal dimensions and exquisite acoustics. To get the cleanest signal possible, they used B&K, Schoeps, and Neumann microphones. These were routed to Benchmark pre-amps, which were then routed to Troise D/A converters before the signal was finally sent to a Tascam DA98HR digital multi-track recorder. Everything was recorded using specs of 24-bit, 48kHz and then edited using Waves Restoration X-Noise and X-Hum (for noise reduction and artifact removal) and Sonyís Sound Forge 5 (for trimming, looping, and file maintenance). Finally, Tascam High Definition HD-1 Dither was used for the 24-bit to 16-bit conversion needed to conform to the Gigasampler file format. Sonic Implants is also planning to release the Collection in other sampler formats using the original 24-bit resolution files. [Addendum: Sonic Implants tells me that the Collection is already released in EXS format in 24-bit. The Kontakt format will also be 24-bit and should begin shipping in 2-3 weeks. They will also release a Giga version in 24-bit, once Giga 3.0 begins shipping.]

Symphonic String Collection In Action
All the hard work that Sonic Implants put into this Collection definitely paid off. You can hear this for yourself by listening to some of the demo songs posted on the Sonic Implants web site. But getting this sound doesnít come without some level of professional knowledge. The Symphonic String Collection gives you the means to get that wonderful orchestral string sound, but you still need to know what you are doing when it comes to composing for strings. The documentation that comes with the Collection provides the information you need to know regarding what instruments you have at your disposal. For example, 1st Violins Col Legno CC80> Open Strings means that this instrument provides a 1st Violin string section sound with a Col Legno articulation and allows you to use MIDI controller number 80 to chose between an open or closed string sound. Putting this sound to work in your composition is up to you.

To make things a bit easier for the composer who needs a quick string sound fix, Sonic Implants has included a group of Ensemble instruments. These instruments have all the different string sections mapped over the entire keyboard so that you can just sit and play with the sounds to your heartís content. The Ensemble instruments sort of give you instant gratification and allow you to create quick Ďsketchesí of your string compositions. The only drawback Iíve seen to the entire Collection is that the articulations come in separate files. This means that with the instruments provided, you canít crossfade or easily switch between different instrument articulations, which is definitely called for in many string compositions. In this case, you will need to program your own instruments, which means youíll have to know how to use your sampling software for more than just sound playback. Thereís a good reason for not including different articulations in each of the instruments though. It would have meant storing multiple instances of the same sample data on the CDs or DVDs included in the Collection and probably would have added to the cost of the package. So having to program some of your own instruments is a small price to pay. [Addendum: Sonic Implants tells me that they are currently considering creating an update with .art (articulation) files that could be downloaded from the web site easily (since they contain only the programs and no samples). This update would allow for switching or crossfading between articulations. However, the biggest limitation to doing this is within Gigasampler itself - with the limit it has of 32 dimensions (layers) in a program, a lot of the things they might like to program can't be done, unless they use fewer velocity layers and/or not use the release samples. This limitation on the number of dimensions is supposed to go away with Giga 3.0.]

Orchestral Strings At Your Fingertips
If you listened to the demos I mentioned earlier, Iím sure you will agree that the samples included in this Collection are without a doubt very convincing and provide a sound that you could not get unless you actually hired the string sections of a live orchestra. To musicians who are not composing music as a profession, this Collection may be out of reach at a cost of $995. But believe me when I say that it would cost you much more to hire a real orchestra. However, Sonic Implants understands that musicians are not the richest group of people on the planet, so theyíve also come up with a scaled-down version of the Collection called Symphonic Strings MINI, which is based on the same great sample set but only comes at a cost of $449. Either way, you as a modern day composer are getting a tremendous deal. Just a short while ago, a sample collection of this magnitude wasnít even possible. If you can remember the old days before computer software based samplers, you know that without actually hiring real string players, there was no way you were going to get that wonderful string orchestra sound that we all know and love. The Symphonic String Collection from Sonic Implants makes almost any string composerís dreams a reality.
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