Pro Sound Effects Hybrid Library Review: A Sound Designer’s Point Of View (+ Deals & 2017 Update!)

Are you wondering what do sound designers, editors and engineers rely on to create the sound behind favorite films, TV shows, games?
Many of them swear by the Hybrid Library by Pro Sound Effects, a general sound effects library with 55,000 sounds (297GB) on a hard drive, with free annual updates and full online access.

Is this the be-all and end-all of commercial sound design? Let’s find out…

NOTE: while the review covers the 2016 version, the Hybrid Library has just been updated today with +8000 new sounds (bringing its size to 350GB!) and a bundled search software, read more below in Price and Availability.

The Hybrid Library is designed for freelance and independent sound designers, giving them access to highly curated, professional sound effects and helping them finish projects faster and produce better sound.

Features include

· 55,368 broadcast .wav files (now 63,000)
· 297GB on 1TB hard drive (now 350GB)
· Full Online Access: 24/7 from any computer
· Rich metadata: optimized for pinpoint search
· 293 Categories: spans the sonic spectrum A to Z
· Curated from PSE’s world class recordists
· Free Annual Library Updates: digitally delivered
· 100 downloads from our Online Library of 175,000+
· 100% Royalty-Free
· PSE Warranty: includes 3-Year Data Replacement

My Way
For the purpose of this review, I established a 2-part method: a detailed one where I listened through a lot of files in the library, going thoroughly through some folders, file formats and metadata tags in order to get an accurate overview of some of the 55000 sfx I could listen to. For the most part, I worked by searching a tag to see what kind of variation and quality the Library offers. The next step was to find basic – but good – construction elements in order to understand how can one freelancer rely solely on the Hybrid Library for most of her projects.

I will not be analytical with the file formats, as this has been already noted by very experienced sound designers. So this review has been written from the practical point of view that a sound designer can look forward to, both with the sound effects that are expected to have none or very little flaws and also add some emotional content to one’s project, when adequate.

On a first glance, looking through the 287 Category folders that came with the hard drive, I could see a very organised structure, which really seemed to cover a variety of events – from test tones, to chairs, to jungle ambiances, to NES cartridge insertion and toddlers talking; among many many others.

Digging In
And so I started to dig in. Being also a field recordist at heart and practice, I was immediately curious to check the Ambience folders.  

Just the Ambience – Battle folder provides the sound designer with 1.86 GB of carefully crafted war scenarios: civil wars, zombies, World War II and Modern Warfare to mention a few. I appreciated how the file names were kept simple and consistent (as one can see immediately from the parent folder structure) but I noticed then some loose ends, for example the three sound effects named AmbGunBattle include zombie screams and growls which one wouldn’t expect at first, if not looking immediately to the metadata; particularly since scrolling down the list then we see the AmbZombieApocalypse sound effects (by Blastwave FX) where we find more or less the same content but with obvious focus on the zombie growling and horror. There seemed to be a clear distinction between the Battle named sound effects: the ones with the prefix / suffix Amb include human sounds – mostly screams – in opposition to the sound effects with Battle in the name only include machinery such as guns and cannons.

In some of the files, the use of very present musical / drone sounds (as in AmbZombieApocalypse_BW.11908) made me wonder about the versatility of it. It sounds good in itself but it can definitely compromise the use of this file. Unless someone is also looking to portray a whole atmosphere quickly and happens to like it and drops it in the timeline, but I would find the odds of this to be rare. I noticed later that another file from BW has the same approach. Perhaps it’s the compromise one needs to reach when setting up a 300 GB sound effects library that includes impressive thematic libraries.

Some of the files of Battle are also loop-able which can be great for lengthy backgrounds and games.

And again, some files have too much and, in this context, erroneous information such as PLAYGROUND_DRINK_FOUNTAIN_WATER where there is no audible indication of a playground.

In the Ambience – Industrial folder I was sincerely impressed with truly beautiful sounds, namely fluorescent light & electric hums with very attractive harmonic content. Which made me think that there is a lack of emotional description on the metadata in these categories, thinking that many ambience sounds can provoke and evoke a lot of emotions. Perhaps it’s just a personal preference, but I wouldn’t mind typing creepy or eerie, for example, and that my search comes back with a variety of backgrounds that could possible match that feeling. In this Library you will find over 50 AmbFactory sounds and while some are pure mechanic, others have a serious dark and almost scary tone and rhythm to it, so why not tag them on this perspective?

When it came to trucks, cranes and big machinery, I was again very impressed with the cleanliness showing a highly controlled recording, with nothing disturbing the main object; this makes work very agile and clear. On the other hand, a couple of AmbFactory sounds do have some walla on the background, which is, of course, fine in itself, but there is no metadata indicating it; but I should not complain as there are also others that are clear from human sounds.
Regarding Electronic Ambiences, I consider it incomplete (I found one from BW but it was just a drone), but surely one can use the 100 extra download credits that come with the Hybrid Library to get some more.

I listened through the Game category and was thrilled to find a detailed and complete coverage of, for example, arcade games. Every button or break, maintenance sounds and even vintage games are included. For example, with SLOT_MACHINE_SOCCER_TABLE_1940_OPERATE03 we hear some voices in the background, but I assume it’s one of those situations where for the opportunity and perhaps rarity of it we need to have it. With the Board Games category one is safe to edit their own sound design for Stranger Things. The nostalgic feeling of dice rolling, pieces moving on the board, etc., is all there.

To get even more into the 80’s and early 90’s, there is a whole section for the Monopoly game. All good, except that I wouldn’t agree with adding “hotel” as metadata, referring to sound of moving the specific plastic pieces. It would have been better to be avoided, as probably 99.9% of the searches for “hotel” won’t be about the Monopoly game. And the same for “house”. But what about one clean minute of pinball play sound? Yes, you got it. We also have sounds handling a NES that brings back more good memories. And a Nintendo Wii starting (which could also be tagged as computer machine starting, since it does not sounds that specific). Regarding the very amusing video game sounds, “8-bit” in the metadata could have helped a search based on those concepts as well. Though I must say most of the sfx featured under video game are truly great. Again, I found something that could be improved: there is a super nice song, VideoGameBossBattle_BW, and indeed adequate for a boss battle, but this very specific definition cuts out the use for the sfx in another situation. I find that “melody” could absolutely be included in the metadata info, as it is now it feels slightly reduced. This would apply to any melodic song or jingle. Casino sounds were not missed, although effects specific for Las Vegas are represented only by one file.

In the Children category, I found a lot of sounds truly amusing; be it fun or almost creepy, you have it. Voice clips seem like awesome picks for commercials and alike. The Hybrid Library includes toddlers and groups of children saying “merry Xmas”, “happy thanksgiving, etc, but “trick or treat” is missing for the Halloween. One or two of them have some very slight distortion, but we are talking about a very high-pitched powerful scream you might not want to have your kid recording.

Speaking of tricks and Halloween, there is an entire folder of Creaks, which for sure will be your paramount for your next horror with its 313 creepy wooden, metal, plastic creaks (to mention just a few). There are also some design elements, perhaps too few, as they are easy and quick sfx to use.

There is a huge deal of foley type sound effects in the Hybrid Library within the 3 Foley folders. In the Cloth category, a sound editor is sure to mend the little bit missing from the foley or even supplement something not very extensive. I felt very lucky because a short film I am working on presently had some foley missing and I could easily add some, actually saving me some time and cash.

I realised how well structured the HL is, with the 38 Misc categories / folders including a number of effects that in most cases would not require some specific or super designed sounds, or are harder to put in a major category. From aircraft to insects, and even to music; the Misc category presents over 600 files and you can use retro, 80’s keyboards or even fun guitar riffs. These would be better stated with more descriptive file names, other than just “action” or “comedy”, etc.. But moving through the folder, we find fusion / ethnic, live music on the streets of Melbourne, Tibetan Bowls, Orchestral and a general catch of usable things in commercials, horrors or comedies. Of course, a large majority of these recordings have a very good quality that will not leave a sound designer wishing for better.

So, only very few of the hundreds of files I listened to did not have really good quality; I’d say this was an insignificant part and it would not keep me from buying the Library. There was not a single general entry I could search for that I could not quickly find a match for and it even features a reasonable deal of very specific recordings, like the Borneo orangutan.

As mentioned above with a few examples, I would wish the metadata to be more accurate where it’s not and include just a few tags for the evocative side on the Ambiences. However, we are talking about a freelancer price of $1995 (on sale for $1495 through the Freelancer Program in December) – including the very fast hard drive – for a package that will for sure cover entirely the vast majority of a sound designers projects.

It’s true that independent sound recordists are raising the level of special and original sound libraries and they often are very pleasantly priced. But I feel that we earn the right to have separate niches and now that I’ve looked through hundreds of sounds on the Pro Sound Effects Hybrid Library, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it, knowing it’s one of those life investments, a part of the gear.

*Reviewed on a MacBookPro 2,6 GHz Intel Core i5, El Capitan

2017 Version – Price And Availability
The timing for this review couldn’t have been better: today Pro Sound Effects released the Hybrid Library 2017 – the latest edition of their best overall value, general sound library. Designed to enable media creators to tell the best story through sound for any project, the Hybrid Library 2017 now offers 63,000+ sound effects with rich metadata, full online access, and free annual updates. New features include over 8,000 additional feature film sound effects and bundled search software.

To celebrate the release, a limited number of Hybrid Library 2017 licenses are available for $1495 (reg. $3995) through December 31st exclusively to independent media creators through the Pro Sound Effects Freelancer Program. Only 150 licenses are available for $1495 until December 31st, and the Freelancer Pricing Application is free with no purchase commitment.

For companies with multiple users, annual licensing options start at $1795 per year.

Written by Melissa Pons
Melissa is a sound designer and sound recordist based in Sweden, after starting off in her hometown in Porto, Portugal.
Having worked with a variety of films, series and TV on both sides of the production, as well as sfx library editing, she is multidisciplinary, with the main focus of delivering good and meaningful sound. You can read more about her here.

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