Big Fish Audio | Recording Magazine Devon Brent | First Call Horns Product Review
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First Call Horns | Recording Magazine

Reviewer: Devon Brent Back to First Call Horns product details

Most brass sample libraries over the years have focused on providing articulations more appropriate for orchestral arrangements. This decision has left composers of jazz, big band, rock, and other assorted styles a bit out in the cold. Thankfully, the people over at Big Fish Audio saw this shortcoming. With the introduction of First Call Horns (FCH), it seems we are ushering in a new era of 'alternative' brass libraries. Is it worth parting with your hard earned dollar for this library? Read on!


FCH is one of many recent libraries to use the Kompakt Player by Native Instruments to power its plug-in. The samples are offered in 24 bit/44.1kHz sample rate only. The plug-in provided is available in VSTi and DXi for Windows, AudioUnits for Mac OS X 10.2.4 and up, and RTAS and a stand-alone version for both platforms. Sample abusers take note: The samples are only compatible with the bundled Kompakt Player and Native Instrument's Kontakt 1.5x/2.0. The library is divided into sections by class of instrument: Alto Sax, Baritone Sax, Flugelhorn, French Horn, Piccolo Trumpet, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Trombone, and Trumpet. Except for the French Horns and Soprano Sax, all the instruments are available in solo and section form.

The articulations are varied and plentiful, depending on the instrument: vibrato and non-vibrato, swells, falls, various mutes, staccato, legato, bend-ups, trills, flutters, and more are all included in this library. A full list of the articulations for each instrument is provided on Big Fish Audio's website.

Installation/Copy Protection/Documentation

Installation of FCH from the single DVD-ROM disc took only a few minutes. The copy protection consists of a serial number that's printed inside the slimline DVD case, as well as the typical Native Instruments standard web challenge/response system. Registration of the library was easy and took only a few minutes.

The documentation for this library is pretty much nonexistent. A total of 6 HTML-based pages to read are all that is provided. One page explains the articulations and how to use the library, while the rest covers the license agreement, how to install the library, etc. While I can easily print out the HTML document, I feel expecting a printed manual at this price point is not unreasonable.

The Legal Bits

Anyone who has dealt with sample-based libraries over the last decade or so should not be surprised with the included licensing agreement: You are granted an exclusive license to use the sample content, but you actually do not 'own' the samples themselves. This means you can use the samples for commercial or non-commercial productions, but only you, the purchaser, have the rights to use the sounds. Keep in mind since you do not own the sounds, you cannot sell the library at a later date either.

In use

Brass samples over the years have been synonymous with 'cheap', 'plastic' and 'synthetic' sounding. It hasn't been until the last few years that the level of quality has really improved. Happily I can say FCH does not disappoint in this department, as the sound quality of this library is simply sublime. Not only does FCH sound fantastic, the attention to detail with the numerous articulations really makes this a great library. The abundant coverage of Harmon, straight, and cup mutes really pushes the usefulness of this library that extra mile.

The samples themselves are fairly 'dry', but still hold a bit of air in the recording. They take quite well to even healthy doses of quality reverb. It's also so nice to play with a brass library that's not hyper-focused on orchestral arrangements. Since the saxophone is decidedly not an orchestral instrument, the exclusion of the saxophone family from most brass libraries is very typical. FCH really picks up the ball and delivers a wealth of good quality and playable saxophone samples.

The 21 improvisation and riff patches are both a blessing and a bane: A blessing because it's nice to have small, ready-made riffs when you need a small bumper sound in a hurry, and a bane because they're so wonderfully dynamic and emotional - a level of dynamics that's hard for the end user to recreate using this library and the tools that come with it. That's a problem because it shows you just how far sample libraries still need to come. For example, this library doesn't even incorporate full mod-wheel crossfading of crescendos and decrescendos that give you complete timing control like the PROJECT SAM Orchestral Brass libraries. Even with mod-wheel crossfading, true dynamic expression still has a ways to go.


First Call Horns is a fine example of a brass library done right. Finally, all of those Harmon, straight, and cup mutes you've been dying for are at your disposal and presented in their 24-bit glory. If you've been itching to jazz up your jazz, big band, and rock pieces with a little brass, this is one library that should not be overlooked.

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