Up until a few years ago, one of the first pieces of gear everyone would save up for was the oh-so-popular $3000+ keyboard workstation such as a Triton, Motif, Fantom, etc. These all have a large built-in set of basic sounds that are of pro-studio quality and a multi-track recorder/sequencer so that one can slap a song together pronto. But this was before computers came into the picture. The previously disfavored computer is now the central piece of the studio, along with an external MIDI keyboard or control surface of some sort. A lot of studio owners are holding off on pricey hardware investments in favor of a more elegant software based solution. Many of the best sounds from the most popular keyboard workstations have been exhausted, used by numerous producers on countless hits.
To this note Big Fish Audio offers VI One. VI One is a 20GB software-based sound library with over two thousand instruments to choose from. It's a no-brain, one-stop upgrade for your studio, and it sounds better and costs less than any big-name, rackmount hardware unit I've heard to date. It comes in all the latest flavors (RTAS, VST, AU, DXi or stand-alone) and was built to compete with the big boys, like the Yamaha Motif, Roland JV/XP series, Korg Triton, etc. It covers a lot of ground from pop, rock, electronic, hip hop, jazz, world, orchestral, sound effects, GM and more.
VI One is created by a new division of Big Fish Audio called Vir2 (www.vir2.com), which seems to focus on creating "higher end" sample libraries of professional-studio usability. The libraries use a custom-script version of Native Instruments' Kontakt 2 Player, (www.nativeinstruments.com) but they also work with the full-version of Kontakt. VI One ships on 3 DVDs so you'll need at least 20GB of space. Huge sample libraries eat RAM like crazy so 1GB is recommended, with 512MB being the minimum. A single 1.4 GHz processor (G4 for Mac) is the minimum spec but I'm sure a lot of you will have more power than that. VI One can be used in AU, RTAS, VST, DXi or stand-alone formats, which means you can use it by itself or with Sonar, Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Acid, Live, Garageband, etc. It works with Windows XP, Vista (32-bit), Mac Intel or Power PC. The license agreement allows you to install VI One on two computers at a time. Support is promptly done via email and Vir2's website forum. As usual, visit the website for more details and for the latest updates/downloads before you start.
The installation was fairly easy - you just pop in disc 1 and do the "I agree, next, next, next, finished" dance, but don't forget which folder you installed to, because you have to manually drag the other 2 DVDs into the same folder. On my Windows XP machine it was in C:\Program Files\Vir2 but you can choose any location you want during the install. Putting sample libraries on a faster, secondary hard drive usually helps performance and the samples load faster. The files took a while to copy onto my drive, as it is a hefty 20GB.
Before you use any Native Instruments product you have to authorize it with their software called NI Service Center, which ships with VI One, and all NI products. To authorize VI One you just open NI Service Center (which opens automatically if you try to use VI One without authorizing) and it will connect to the internet and ask you which NI products you would like to authorize, then you click next and that's it. If you don’t have internet then you can authorize by telephone or it gives you a file to do the authorization on another computer.
My box shipped with a small printed manual and larger, more up-to-date digital .pdf version that installs with the software. The skimpy printed manual simply tells you the knob functions, options, and describes the sounds included. I highly recommend reading the digital version because it also has much needed instructions on how to use Kontakt Player 2, and makes it quicker when searching for stuff.
Each patch loads with on-screen controls for reverb, 5-stage AHDSR envelope, and simple parametric EQ with adjustable mid. The drum kits load with two extra knobs to control the level of overhead and room mics, and the synth patches have a filter cutoff knob. The controls are quite simple, but it's a nice touch to be able to fatten your sounds with a few knob twists. If you want further tweak power, you can assign MIDI CC #31-40 to some knobs on your keyboard. MIDI CC #31-34 controls reverb predelay, color, dampening, and stereo width. MIDI CC #35-39 controls the bandwidth and frequencies of the fully parametric EQ. MIDI CC #40 controls the filter resonance on the synth patches.
Clicking on the triangle next to the word "instrument" or the patch name reveals a drop down menu listing bass, drums/drum loops, ethnic, fx, GM, guitars, keyboards/EP's, orchestral, organs, pianos, pop brass, and synths. The sound quality of this library is exceptional for its price tag. Each instrument is served in plain vanilla, and then a few versions with processing/fx or a different style of playing. The sounds in each patch are unique, so you won’t find the same sample rehashed in three different categories. As of patch 1.1 Keyswitching is limited to the orchestral sections, but you can get similar realism through overdubbing.
The bass guitar section contains acoustic, upright, fretless, Musicman, Fender Precision, and "gospel" bass patches. It also has synth bass patches which have lots of juice. My favorite by far has to be the "Musicman phat" patch, which is a sweetly pumped Ernie Ball bass sound. I found the acoustic bass to be a bit thin, but those things sound thin in the real world as well. Fret and string noise galore.
The "drum loops" section contains loops that play in perfect sync with the tempo, even at extreme settings. Each loop is also split into single hits, so you can rearrange your own coolness. Funk loops are played dangerously well by a live drummer with a mix-down that suits the classic, tight, piccolo snare sound. Jazz loops have a nice amount of room and R&B drums are well-programmed. Oddly named "dance" loops seemed almost uninspiring when placed next to the authentic thickness of the vintage-sounding breaks and Manny Fresh-type hip hop cuts, which could shine on a track with no further processing. The "rock drums" recording would make Weezer proud, but the playing is often a bit too funky for that straight forward rock feel.
The drum kits have 2 outstanding "acoustic premium" kits which offer full control over direct, overhead, and room mics. They are also the largest of the drum kit patches and take a few seconds to load. There is also a nice set of urban snares, kicks and hats that are not taken from the loops. A percussion section is included with congas, djembe, claves, etc.
Ethnic and world section is sparse but still useful for odds and ends like the berimbau from Brazil or the Celtic fiddle. Categories include: Australia, India, Celtic, Middle East, Pacific, and South America. The India section strangely has no melodic instruments like the sitar or saranghi.
Guitars are clean and crisp, they have beautiful sustain and are great for adding that elegance, or plucked sound to your tracks. While I could fake Nirvana''s Heart-Shaped Box riff, I found it impossible to get a rhythmic strum going, as there are no keyswtiched samples or strumming samples. The metal guitar section does have sustained power cords with majors and minors, and those work well if you want a little guitar hero in your life. Lots of processing and the inclusion of banjo, mandolin, and ukulele is a nice twist. Authentic string and fret noise, even on the banjo.
The EP section has a nice burly Rhodes and some soaring Wurly presets near the end of the list. A patch called "Rhodes warm compressed" made me feel like I was Bob James. Variations with fuzz, phaser, and chorus are a welcome sight. There are also some pop pianos here that fully cut through any mix.
As mentioned earlier, the latest 1.1 update gave all of the orchestral patches keyswitched versions, which made them a lot easier to work with. The samples sound great, though the velocity layering and default release times could be a bit more elegant. I found the brass section to be fairly expressive and fun to play. Strings are looped well with marcato, pizzicato, muted, staccato, tremolo, and sustained versions. Grace notes and trills make for some silly cartoon fun in the woodwinds section.
The small but powerful B3 organ section had me cranking out Pimp C lines in no time. Patches like "B3 old radio" have lots of key click, while "B3 club sandwich" offered enough beef to take out any crowd. I saw some psychedelic swirly stuff playing around with "B3 cycles."
There are 5 pianos: White Grand, Black Grand, Big Grand, Saloon, and Vertikal Jazz. Black Grand has smooth, velvet quality, while White Grand has a brighter, more resilient sound. The Big Grand is rich and full-bodied with the characteristics of the other two. All three have superb realism with a small footprint. Saloon piano sounds ghostlike but can be a little too ethereal at times. The Vertikal Jazz has a faithful upright sound, though a bit heavy on the room sound. These are better pianos than I’ve found in any hardware unit, and are useful live or in the studio. There is a slew of evocative John Cage prepared piano noises that sound like someone dropped a piano off the second story and continued to use it.
The modern synth category is cool with it's Virus/Waldorf type sounds, but the "vintage synth" category is really where the money is. The Vintage Synth category offers a few select patches from a number of must-have classic and rare gems of the past, including the Arp 2600, Odyssey, Roland Jupiter 8, Juno, and JX series, Oxford OSCar, Oberheim OB-Xa, Sequential Circuits Pro-one and Prophet VS, Korg DW8000, Mellotron, Memorymoog, Minimoog, Yamaha CS80 and a few more rare ones, such as the Synergy/Crumar series, RMI, or the Clavioline. These patches load fast and sound excellent, I think my favorite are the Oberheim OB-Xa, Moog, and Jupiter patches. Great stuff.
They Want FX
Kontakt Player comes with a large list of NI-quality effects, EQ, reverb, and filters, including filters lifted off of other NI soft-synths such as the Pro-53. It has an uncluttered, easy to use layout, and offers options for up to 32 outs (RTAS/AU versions have 16), and support for surround. You can stack/layer/split up to 64 patches at once, creating huge, layered setups. There are numerous options for the nitty gritty, such as disk streaming and voice stealing allocations. If you have the full version of Kontakt you may also open VI One from there, which is even better because the full version allows you to hardcore edit and tweak the library including scripts, adding effects, changing the velocity response, rearranging samples, etc. There are an additional 4 slots of effects you can put on each output, plus there are four aux sends with 4 effect slots each. That's a minimum of 20 simultaneous effects possible on each patch. The effects include compressor, limiter, distortion, lo-fi, stereo width, phaser, flanger, reverb, 1-3 band EQ, and a long list of filters. For some reason, though, I could not get the default presets for the effects to load. I was able to save my own presets, but there was no way to load them. Not really a big deal, since you can save the entire settings for the whole player as a patch, but it would help. I’m sure NI will fix it.
This library covers a lot of range for your money, and I think you'll find the sound quality up to par for all your productions. Hands down, this is one of the best "all-in-one" libraries I've ever heard at this price tag. Some other competitive products come to mind, such as East-West Colossus, which also offers a large, universal format sample-based library for a similar, albeit more expensive price. With this one library upgrade you will have an arsenal of kicks, snares, strings, synths, guitars, bass, pianos, EP/organs, and percussion under your wing. And they all sound good too. Not much to loose if your current sample library is getting boring. Please check www.Vir2.com for audio demos of VI One and a muzak version of a J Dilla classic.