Product Review | VI.ONE

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Article Author
Sound On Sound Magazine John Walden
Two trends continue aspace in the world of sample libraries; first increasing use of dedicated front-end and second, increasing size. Vir2's VI one fits in with both of these trends. It uses NI's Kontakt Player 2 as front-end and has 21GB of sample content representing over 2000 instruments. These instruments cover a broad musical palette and the library is intended very much as a 'one stop sample shop' for the computer based musician. In this context, it is up against two other obvious competitors; the 32GB EWQL Colossus (reviewed in the July 2005 issue of SOS) and USB's 8GB Plug Sound Pro (reviewed in June 2007). PSP s identically priced to VI one, while colossus can now be bought for under half its original selling price of £650. So for those needing a complete sample library in a single box, is VI One the one to buy.

One to One with One.

NI's various sample and loop playback engines have proved popular front end choices for many sample library producers.
While Kontakt Player 2 included here, lacks much of the detailed editing control available within the full version of Kontakt 2 (reviewed in the July 2005 issue of SOS) it is a well-organized working environment,. The sampled instruments are organized into 19 categories - Various basses, drums (including some loops), guitars, pianos and keyboards, orchestral and synth categories are all present and correct. Whatever musical genre you work in there will be something within the VI One sound palette that will be in the right basic ballpark.
Vi One Is supplied on three DVD's accompanied by a short printed manual. The first DVD includes the PC/MAC installers for Kontakt Player 2 in a stand alone format, as well as VST, AU, RTAS and DXi plug-in versions for the appropriate OS platform, The installation process is straightforward, although it is probably worth making a cup of tea before you start. Providing you computer has an internet connecting, registering Kontakt Player 2 via the NI Service Center application is also easily done.

We have Kontakt

The Kontakt Player 2 interface is split into two parts, on the left is a browser window, where instruments or multis (groups of instruments) can be selected. On the right is the instrument rack, where each instrument appears, along with associated settings for its output channels, MIDI channels and so on. If your host supports 64 virtual MIDI channels to the same device, up to 64 instruments can be held within the rack and these are tabbed in banks of 16 - otherwise you'll need to run multiple instances for Kontakt Player 2 if you want simultaneous access to more than 16 instruments,
The strip above the instrument rack provides access to the master tempo and tuning functions and above this are buttons which access other functions (for example the browser button, to toggle the Browser display on or off - more on these buttons later).

Useful displays indicate the number of notes currently playing, RAM usage, and current ~CPU and disk loadings. The user can also toggle to a small display footprint, via a button at the top right of the window. The control set of each instrument is fairly streamlined, with an upper strip providing settings for the audio output, MIDI channel and maximum polyphony as well as mute, solo, tuning, pan and volume controls. Clicking on the Vir2 button on the extreme left of the instrument opens a lower panel containing reverb, envelope and EQ settings. This control layout is identical for the majority of instruments. However, one or two other parameters do occasionally appear. These include a filter knob for some of the synths and basses, and knobs for blending overhead and room mics for a number of the acoustic drum kits

One (big) Library.

Given that this library contains over 2000 instruments, even auditioning the contents of VI one is a pretty significant undertaking. While these instruments are split into 19 categories, there are some related groups (all the orchestral sounds for example_ and, for the purposes of this review, ill deal with those larger groups,. The drums and drum loops categories contain most of the contemporary drum materials ( other drum and percussive sounds can be found in the ethnic and world orchestral percussion categories).
Literally hundreds of different drum kits are provided and while some of these are duplicates with different processing applied, the selection is huge, The drum kits are subdivided by type and each kit contains all the basic elements needed to create a full drum performance - kick, snare, rim shot, various toms, hi-hats, and a number of cymbals. Usefully, the layout follows GM conventions and all the samples are also mapped in a second section of the keyboard, so that fast rolls and so on can be more easily created, The larger (in sample terms) acoustic kits feature plenty of velocity layers,. As well as having access to the close-miked dry sounds, you can achieve more ambient effects via knobs that blend in overhead and room mics, and adjust the degree of ambience very easily. The acoustic kits are excellent but there are also some very good electronic kits and these include a number of iconic drum machines, the percussion group also contains some good instruments, including a very nice gong. While I'm sure there are drum libraries available that provide more detailed sampling, as a single resource for a range of drum sounds and styles VI one does an excellent job. Some 380 drum loops are also provided, organized by style and spanning break beats, dance, funk, hip-hop, jazz, RnB, rock and FX. When loaded each loop is tempo matched to the project and also mapped in a beat sliced format from C3 upwards, making it easy to construct your own loop variations, There is nothing too radical in terms of content but the material is very usable and seems well played and recorded. The breadth is maintained within the piano and keyboard & EP categories. Various grand pianos are provided in each case, with a slightly different sounds, and in each case there is a dry versions plus a number of 'ambient' versions (labeled 'chapel, 'cathedral', 'hallway' and so on, to indicate the different characters). The 'Big Grand" is perhaps the highlight : a side by side comparison with the PSP and Colossus pianos suggested that VI one can certainly hold its own in this category. The keyboard and EP group offers the usual Rhodes, harpsichord and Wurlitzer instruments (plus some variations), as well as some generic electric pianos. For me the highlights here were the Rhodes and Wurlitzer, which are warm at low velocities and getting brighter and a little more aggressive at higher velocities - all very playable. For those with a taste for the unusual, VI one also has a category called prepared pianos. A prepared piano is a piano tat has been 'modified' in some fashion to make it sound, well, less like a piano. This usually involves placing objects on the strings or dampers, and was a tactic made popular by John Cage, who attempted to make the piano sound more percussive by attaching metal objects or rubber dampers to the piano mechanism - and, yes, Vi One includes an instrument titled 'John Cage Prepared'; it sounds as odd as you might expect. The bass category is split into acoustic, electric and both monosynth and polysynth types. All the usual suspects are presented here, forming a solid and dependable collection, whether you need low end for acoustic jazz or full on techno. The organ category is almost totally dominated by a range of B3 based patches. These are good but perhaps a little polite, even the 'B3 rockin patch' required some additional overdrive to get things really cooking. In all these patches, the mod wheel switches the Leslie speaker effect from slow to fast. However, perhaps the big surprise in this category was the omission of a church organ - although, as described below, there is one within the GM category.
Guitars are covered in two categories, acoustic and electric. While there are well sampled, they suffer exactly the same problems as any sampled guitar instrument (unless you are using something like Music Lab's Real Guitar) and it takes some real dedication in terms of MIDI programming to disguise the sampled of nature of the sound source. That said, the banjo, mandolin and nylon acoustic instruments are very capable of creating some nice single note lines. The orchestral instruments are split into the obvious brass, strings, woodwinds and percussion categories. While I wouldn't be tempted to retire my dedicated orchestral sample libraries on the basis of what is here, Vir2 have done a creditable job off giving the budding orchestral composer the basic tools of the trade, For example, the strings include a range of articulations covering all the major playing styles and, usefully, there are also some very useable key-switch programs, both for sections and solo instruments (although I did find myself lengthening the release on some of the string patches to create smoother legato lines). The woodwind and brass categories are also generally well covered, while the percussion category includes, amongst other, a nice harp and some suitably robust timpani. The sampling is perhaps not as detailed as a dedicated library, but at this price point that is only to be expected. Of the remaining categories, I could have managed without the Pop Horns and Brass but the others - FX, General MIDI, ethnic and world, and synths (modem and Vintage) all have something useful to offer. For example, the Ethnic and World category includes Australian, Celtic, Indian, Middle Easters, pacific and Southern African Instruments. The coverage is variable but there are a few goodies (for example the Celtic harp and the bodran hits).
The two synths categories both have an abundance of instruments, The vintage set includes sampled sounds from classic ARP, Korg, Mood, Oberheim and Roland synths amongst others, while the modern group covers a large selection of lead, bass, pad an rhythmic-style sounds. You are clearly limited by the Kontakt Player 2 interface in terms of sound editing, but there is still plenty to get your teeth into, finally, the GM category (like the equivalent instrument groups in both PSP and Colossus) provides a GM compatible sound set. Vir2 have kept the sample sizes down here, so while the instruments will probably out-perform the average soundcard, they certainly will not hog too much RAM, Oh and this is the only place I could find a church organ, which sounds fine!!

In Use

There's not much to say about VI One in use, as it operates pretty much as advertised, and my testing using the VST plug-in within cubase 4 proceeded without incident., The option to resize the VI one window and toggle the browser on or off means that, once instruments have been selected, that plug-in can be made very compact. As with a number of NI instruments, I did find myself needing a squint occasionally - the text size is pretty small. My only other minor gripe is that for some of the bigger sample sets, several seconds can elapse between making a selection in the browser and the progress dialogue appearing to show that the samples are loading. I was often left wondering whether Id actually completed the selection process correctly. I'm not sure what is going on in those few seconds, but it is a minor irritation rather than any major functional problem.

Is this "The One"?

Like colossus and plug sound pro, VI one is most obviously going to appeal to those at the early stages of establishing a sample library. It provides the same sort of approach covering a broad spectrum of musical needs. There are differences between the three products, however; both colossus (at 32GB) and VI One (at 21GB) are more substantial in terms of content, and this is probably reflected in the detailed sampling within some of the instruments (for example, more velocity layers). However PSP, while having a smaller library (at 8GB), offers more features for working with loops and probably has an edge in terms of the number of sound processing options provided. VI One is certainly up to the competition offered by the likes of Colossus and PSP. Given that the pricing of all three is not radically different (with colossus being the most expensive), potential purchasers in need of a complete sample library in a single box, now have an additional and very credible - candidate to add to their list for consideration. VI One is most certainly worthy of an audition.

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