Big Fish Audio | Electronic Musician Marty Cutler | First Call Horns Product Review
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First Call Horns | Electronic Musician

Reviewer: Marty Cutler | Rating: I highly recommend the set. Back to First Call Horns product details

First Call Horns ($299.95) from Big Fish Audio is a sampled horn collection suited for classical music and orchestral scores by providing instruments for Jazz, Latin, and Pop styles. The package's single DVD holds about 1.4 GB of 24-bit brass and woodwind instruments in solo and ensemble configurations alongside samples of improvisations. The performances exhibit specific playing techniques that would be too difficult to emulate with modulation controls alone.

Native Instruments' Kontakt Player is the sound set's host plug-in instrument. The multitimbral (up to eight parts) plug-in lets you create your own ensembles, add to existing ones, or build ensemble and solo-instrument combinations. Surprisingly, it is considerably less flexible than the Kompakt instrument, another Native Instruments vehicle for sample playback.

I tested First Call Horns on a dual-1.42 GHz G4 Power Mac with 2 GB RAM and OS X 10.3.9. Host programs included Ableton Live 4.1, Granted Software RAX 1.2.3, MOTU Digital Performer 4.6, and Steinberg Cubase SX 2.2. The installer provided VST, RTAS, DXi, and AU versions of the instrument.

Horning In

The Kontakt player's interface displays eight slots just below the strip of logos at the top of the virtual keyboard. To select an instrument, simply click in one of the slots, click the Load Button at the keyboard's right side, and select a patch from the drop-down list that appears. You can also move through patches one at a time with the up and down buttons that flank the main button's center. Either way, it takes only a moment to load the sample set.

Every instrument (with the exception of soprano saxophone and French horn) includes a corresponding folder of "section" samples: multiple instruments playing in unison. There is a French Horn Duet patch, but it's hard to hear the presence of a second instrument. In every instance, samples are not looped and envelopes are as originally played; the Kontakt Player provides no envelope controls of any kind, nor does it supply filters. For the most part, that's not a problem, although it does impose limitations.

Most Important, the samples and articulations are superb. The included reverb, saturation, and EQ controls, although minimal, add a modicum of sound-shaping capability, but due to the absence of synthesis parameters, there is little else you can do to adapt the instruments to your own needs. For example, ensemble swells play out as recorded, so if they fade out too early or too late, there is little you can do. Typical modulation assignments for filters and vibrato rarely sound convincing with a single layer of samples, but considering First Call's abundance of solo instruments, the absence of envelope and Legato mode controls is a disappointment. Hopefully, they can be included in a future update to the playback engine. It's hard to create authentic-sounding horn solos when the envelopes retrigger with each note.

Horns Of Plenty

Still, there's an awful lot to like about First Call Horns; the beautifully played and recorded, key-switched instruments feature realistic-sounding brass and woodwinds with a variety of articulations created by the authentic playing techniques. The patch TPT SEC KEYSW, for example, loads trumpet-section patches that you can switch with keys assigned below the range of the instrument. These patches include section swells, falls, Harmon-muted sections, and staccato performances.

You also get a nice assortment of combined-instrument ensembles, such as swells with alto sax, trumpet, and trombone. The soprano sax instruments are about the best I have heard, and there's a wonderful collection of solo lines grouped by instrument and key. With the addition of a modest set of envelope controls and Legato mode, First Call Horns could be the killer collection of pop-oriented brass and woodwinds it was meant to be. As it is, I still highly recommend the set.

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