SoundIron Apocalyptic Percussion Ensemble review

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Soundiron have recently released a large percussion library for Native instruments’ Kontakt 4 (5 supported). Featuring large percussion, the Apocalyse Percussion Ensemble seems to be intended mainly for cinematic film and trailer scoring, but could easily be used in many other situations. APE is a 14GB bundle of solo and ensemble drums, ethnic percussion and cymbals set out in over 200 library presets. For each category, there is a solo and ensemble version. So for example, there is a snare ensemble patch, and also 6 solo patches of different snares, each giving a unique tone and timbre. As with many Kontakt sample libraries these days, there are several memory-size versions of the patches to account for computers with varying capabilities, and for the largest patches you’ll need to be running a 64bit setup with at least 8gbs of ram.

A run through the sounds:

All the presets come in 3 memory sizes – Hi memory, DFD, and lite. DFD is the recommended, as it uses Kontakts streaming engine to load the first little bit of the sample into ram, then it streams the rest from disc. This is usually the setting that I’d use. If I could afford the power, I would prefer the Hi-Memory versions, as they load entirely into ram, and you don’t get the occasional slow down or disappearance of samples when the disk you’re streaming from has gone to sleep.

The instruments sampled are:

Bass drums
Cymbals
Dhol
Doumbek
Drumsticks
Frame drums
Riq drums
Snare ensembles
Toms
Bongos
Roto toms
cajon solo

Most of these ensembles and solo instruments are recorded in three mic positions – close, mid/wide and far. More on that later. The sampled instruments are sorted into three folders:

Master presets

As the name suggests, these are the primary patches for this library.

The Apocalypse Ensemble is essentially everything loaded into one patch. There are two versions – close and far mic’ed. If you’re feeling brave, you can load both patches for additional power and soundstage placement. But you may need a separate computer running your samples for the appropriate power.

Straight away, the sound quality of these drums impress. They are warm, full recordings – the close mic’ed position especially. To me, it seemed that they got the balance of reverb just right on the close mics – just enough to sound natural, but not enough to get in the way, or sound too much if they were exposed in the mix. They are also deeply layered samples, so you feel like you’re really playing an instrument, with all the dynamic nuances you’d like to hear from these kind of libraries.

I really liked the fact that despite the title, the size of the sound wasn’t too over the top – it was possible to have big fat slamming Toms and Bass drums, but they weren’t the washed out ‘ huge thunder’ kind of sounds that are popular in cinematic scoring at the moment. There was largeness, but also a lot of definition that cut through on a mix.

There really aren’t any clangers in the selection of sounds. Great sounding percussion with lovely transients, and thick body. I really liked the unique take on some of the patches. ‘Drumstick patches’, multiple layered samples of drumsticks hitting each other is a lovely sound. Also, the cymbal library was excellent. Not your usual orchestral sounding smooth crashes and rolls – but a bit more clashy and clangy.

The megamixer matrix patch is an excellent idea for the master presets. It’s essentially a bank of 12 empty modules that you can fill with the exact sounds you want into that preset. You can choose from any soundbank in APE, and each module has it’s own volume and edit functions to balance the sounds. The edit function allows adjustment of tone, root note and layer range, to position the sounds where you want them on the midi keyboard. Of course you can do this all in Kontakt, but it’s nice to be able to set it up so quickly with a couple clicks of the mouse. In fact it was so useful that I was wishing for the ability to save the preset I’d created within the patch. It would be fantastic to create a bunch of presets that I’d use often, and have them within one-click reach of a drop down menu. Again, you can save the presets within Kontakt, so you can create your own custom library that way. But If you have a particular set of drums that you’re always preferring to use in your set up, the megamatrix patch is essential.

Continuing the matrix idea, Soundiron have included some ‘sub group’ matrix presets in this folder, each containing 4 pre-selected drum modules that complement each other. It’s the same idea as the mega mixer, except that Soundiron have chosen the particular sounds for you, and you can’t change them. There’s also less control over editing options here than in the Megamixer, but there are some useful smaller drum groups that you might refer to if you’re in a hurry.

Mics Mixed & Mics free

These patches are my favorites. For most of the different percussion instruments recorded, all 3 mic positions are available, showing slightly different timbres of the hall it was recorded in. Some of the far mic recordings contain various room noise, which according to Soundiron were deliberately left in to add character without taking away from the integrity of the recordings. With the ‘Mics Mixed’ patches, all the mic positions are loaded, and you can blend between them with volume faders. The ‘Mics Free’ is interesting – instead of using volume faders, all the mic positions are laid out next to each other on the midi keyboard, so you can directly play whichever position note by note, either separately, or together. Useful if you want a particular mic position for just a couple of moments.

Both of these patches are available solo and ensemble for pretty much every instrument, and I would say that these presets are the ones to use if you’re wanting to focus in on one particular drum sound. I kept coming back to these patches. The mic placement element enables you to quickly place an ensemble tom patch further back in the soundstage, and have a solo snare drum right up at the front of the stage. It creates a really deep stereo image. Lovely for quick positioning of instruments in the sound stage.

Bonus ambiences

There are also ambiences – another standard from Soundiron that really is an excellent addition to their library. They are a mix of pads, textures and soundscapes. There’s a cross blended layer option, so you can play two textures and blend between them. Really very useful when you’re needing instant ambient atmosphere for score tracks.

Here’s a video of Mike Peaslee, the owner of Soundiron, running through some of the sounds in APE:

Common GUI parameters:

On the bottom of each patch GUI are these elements:

Performance

This window is tailored slightly depending on what patch is loaded, but usually contains parameters such as Attack, Release, Offset (interesting way of starting further into the sample to change the timbre of the sound) Stepping (globally change the pitch of the sounds), Keyswitch toggle, and Shuffle/Round Robin cycling. I liked Shuffle mode. It’s the default selection of the two, and instead of Round Robin, where the samples are just cycled through in order, the samples order is randomized, thus removing the rhythmic patterns you get from cycling through the same 12 samples over and over, especially at higher tempos. It definitely adds more realism to the sounds.

Custom Convolution – as with many of the Soundiron products available now, there’s a convolution reverb included, with a mix of reverb FX, and some really lovely impulse responses to add some character and depth to the percussion. I’m not really sure why there is also an option for a simpler algorithmic reverb there, as the convolution is just so good, it makes the other fairly unnecessary. I guess it uses less CPU. Again there are special FX reverbs handy, to turn the percussion ensemble into a more of a throbbing sci-fi beast than a drum ensemble. Very cool sounds – I particularly liked the Pipe reverb, and the Iron door reverb. The iron door was like a bizarre plate reverb with inharmonic overtones that really scifi’d up the sound of the drums. The pipe narrowed the frequency bandwidth and had a low throbbing echo that added drama to the sound.

Tone/FX

Scripted in to the GUI are great use of Kontakts built-in effects. There’s a 3 band EQ with gain, bandwidth and frequency position for each band. And there’s a Lowpass and Vowel filter, each with cutoff and resonance. Simple, but useful. Would have been nice to have maybe a couple of different options for the filters there – like a band and high pass.

The Uberpeggiator

Another thoughtful addition to the library is the uberpeggiator. Turn it on, and your percussive notes are played in patterns. There’s a fair amount of control that you would find in any arpeggiator – on/off, subdivision choice, note order, swing. There are a limited number of arpeggiation patterns. however, the ‘as played’ means that you can essentially create any pattern you want with midi information. There’s a duration setting, enabling you to shorten the length of the notes played, which is useful for fast tempo pieces where you want to keep the transients clear and separate.
The most useful section of the arpeggiator was the Velocity Graph (the bars on the right of the pic), which enables you to quickly set the velocity of each note played. If you have it turned off, it plays the velocity you played the midi note at. I really liked this feature – it was inspiring when creating rhythmic accents that typically drive percussive patterns. As with the megamixer, I think it would be nice to be able to store the velocity patterns you create.

Conclusion


If you’re familiar with EastWest’s Stormdrum, or Project SAM’s true strike, then the sort of sounds that APE makes will be familiar to you. Excellence of sound quality is a requirement nowadays, and SoundIron excels, with clean, clear samples of all the instruments across the board.

However, I feel that APE differs from the aforementioned libraries, in that I found the sounds of this library to be more focused – there are less percussion instruments than some of the libraries, but by narrowing the instrument options (while still covering the bases) it’s enabled them to go deeper into the layering, tonality, and flexibility of the select instruments. Take the snares for example: There are 6 different kinds of snare, all with different timbres, and loads of different kinds of hits, from rim shots, flams, to accents, and snare-off hits. The sample layering is deep, and combined with the mic positions, makes them a real joy to play. I found a lot of the instruments easier to place in the mix, with the different mic positions available.

To me, Soundiron Apocalyptic Percussion Ensemble is a fresh take on the massive percussion instrument. Overall it is extremely flexible and useful for mixing easily into the soundstage. The recorded sound is pristine, and there are many thoughtful additions such as arpeggiation, different kinds of mic mixing, solo and ensemble versions, and the ‘megamix matrix’, that really make this library a useful addition and perhaps contender for Big Dog of the Big Drum libraries out there! Highly recommended. It seems Mr Peaslee and his crew have put a lot of thought into this setup, to make it extremely useful, intuitive and accessible to composers wanting to use the large percussion sound in their music.

Here’s a quick track that uses some of the ambience, bigger drums, and a solo snare drum towards the end:

Price
$199

…I found the sounds of this library to be more focused…. by narrowing the instrument options (while still covering the bases) it’s enabled them to go deeper into the layering, tonality, and flexibility of the instrument

Product page

PROS

  • Fantastic responsive sounds with deep layering
  • Custom patch building tools, and an arpeggiator!
  • Great mic mixing positions.

LOVE IT OR HATE IT

  • If you’re looking for a huge percussion section for those action sequences, this guy will take some beating for the money. If you haven’t got at least a fairly powerful machine, you might not be able to get the most out of it

CONS

  • A lot of the bigger patches are huge memory hogs. 64bit is a must.
  • Unable to save the megamixer presets and arpeggiator velocity presets
  • Some included midi performances would be nice?
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