A new de facto standard, these libraries take cinematic percussions to the next level.
Pros – Uncompromising, bigger than life sound – Customization options
Cons – Not cheap (but worth every dollar if you’re a pro)
Just before Christmas in 2012, Spitfire Audio’s Christian Henson received a call from Herr Zimmer, the godfather of Hollywood’s epic sound (think Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Dark Knight, Inception, etc.). Zimmer, an admirer of Spitfire’s work, proposed Henson to create a percussion library together. In a matter of minutes, the deal was sealed. Fast forward a couple years and the result of this collaboration sees the light of the day. The Hans Zimmer Percussion is a gigantic collection (both in terms of sound and size), split into three different libraries – HZ 01 London Ensemble, HZ 02 Los Angeles (feat. Jason Bonham) and HZ 03 London Solos. Like other Spitfire Audio products, it may take days to go through every detail. In this article, I’ll highlight the main features of HZ01 and HZ03 (to me the most intriguing products of the package) and why this collection is, in my opinion, a must have for every serious sound-designer – and deserved to win one of our Sonic Joy 2014 awards.
Facts and figures Recorded at Air Studios (HZ01 and HZ03) with a luxurious signal chain. 96 esoteric microphones, Neve Montserrat preamps, the world’s biggest Neve 88R desk, HDX and Prism converters running at 192k. Top musicians and sound engineers (the same ones that work with Hans Zimmer on his soundtracks, and Zimmer himself). Up to 9 round robins and 6 dynamic layers per hit! Over 60 Gb of samples in total. All the libraries are Kontakt Player compatible, so you can run them even if you don’t own Kontakt.
The Real Thing The London Ensembles HZ01 library is a perfect example of Hans Zimmer & Spitfire Audio’s approach. A-m-a-z-i-n-g attention to details, unparalleled sound quality and flexibility. We often hear the expression “this is the real thing…”. Well, let me tell you, THIS is the real thing. If you’ve always wanted/tried to reproduce Hans Zimmer’s ‘wall of sound’, look no further. The first time I’ve opened this library and tried a few patches, I had one of those rare ‘wow’ moments that speak volumes about the quality of this collection. These are huge, spectacular, high-resolution sounds that truly embody a cinematic quality (make sure you’re not waking up the neighbors though). The low hits are what caught my attention at first. It’s something hard to explain, very physical and yet somehow magical. The low booms, the Surdo and, of course, the Taiko are exactly what you would expect from a library that carries the Hans Zimmer signature. The other, lighter/brighter sounding percussions are a perfect complement to these low-boomers (the Metal Hits are another favorite of mine, so powerful and very detailed). HZ03 London Solos (including Bucket, Snare, Crusher, Paper Djun, Tombek, Dohl, Darbuca, Surdu and Darbucket) is an ideal match for the Ensemble library. Same quality (the percussions are played by Frank Ricotti, long-term collaborator with Hans Zimmer), but solo instruments instead of ensemble, for those times when you want a subtler, smaller sound. These are great for layering, and why not, other simpler purposes. I find that these patches can be very useful not only to soundtrack composers, but to musicians and producers as well (think ambient, electronica, dream-pop, world-music productions, etc.).
Flexibility The engineers’ work and the high number of microphones used during the recording not only help in terms of quality and ‘tridimensional’ sound-space. Blended with Spitfire Audio’s smart programming skills, they give these libraries a unique flexibility. You can literally re-shape the sound (starting from the easy tweaks parameters, see pic below) and create your own mix, just editing a few parameters (so to have, for instance, a close sound or a roomier one). This video will guide you through all these options.
I’d recommend spending some time with the interface’s parameters, so to be able to customize the library according to your needs. Also, make sure you explore all the alternative patches: the additional mic and the extra mixes considerably extend and enhance the sonic possibilities of this collection. Talking about the interface, I must say I love the functional yet sleek design. Everything you need is there and easy to grasp without even reading a manual. Unfortunately (and this is not Spitfire Audio’s fault), Kontakt GUI doesn’t support resizing, so even using a large font size, some of the elements on screen are definitely not easy on the eyes (especially if they are aging like mine).
Between additional mics (Bottle, Mid-stage, Gallery, Overhead, Stereo Pair and Contact microphone perspectives) and multiple mixes from several engineers, some users may find Spitfire’s approach almost overwhelming (honestly, I’m not that kind of guy who likes to spend a considerable amount of time listening to many variations of the same sound, especially when the first option I’m given sounds THAT good) but for more analytical sound-designers this is heaven. Such flexibility also means a larger file size – it’s a good thing that hard drives are quite affordable nowadays. Also, you’ll need a speedy DSL (or better) connection to download this massive smorgasbord of sounds in a reasonable amount of time. Spitfire Audio servers are fast though, so as long as you’re not in a hurry, it’ll be fine.
Conclusion It may sound cliché, but the Hans Zimmer Percussion London Ensemble & Solos take cinematic percussions to the next level, becoming a new de facto standard. The killer mix of sound quality and flexibility makes them essential tools for composers and producers that aim at reaching Zimmer’s larger-than-life sound, as well as for more ‘adventurous’ musicians and songwriters. These libraries don’t come cheap (£399/£199 respectively), but they are professional tools created with a no-compromise approach and work ethic. It’s also worth mentioning that Spitfire Audio keeps improving these products: since I’ve installed them a few months ago, I’ve already received several updates (through the handy Spitfire Audio software manager). If you’re not sold yet, make sure you check out the other videos (behind the scenes, tutorials, etc.) and sound demos on Spitfire Audio’s website.
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About The Author
Founder & main editor here at ANR, 'non-musician' and music-tinkerer. His first keyboard was a cheesy Yamaha PSS-270. He still loves it.