Overall Rating: (5/5)
Sound Quality: (5/5)
Programming & disc layout: (5/5)
Recently, I have been noticing a definite upward trend in the innovative steps that sample developers have been taking to not only embrace new technologies, but also in their conviction for creating ultra-realistic sampled renditions of traditional orchestral (and no-so-traditional) instruments. This is an interesting time for us sample users my view. Almost a turning point if you will, from the (g)olden days of sampling where single or dual velocity layer, non-chromatically sampled instruments were the rage to what is being introduced to the market now: richly detailed and expressive chromatically sampled , multi-velocity layered instruments, sometimes weighing in at over several hundred megabytes in size for one instrument alone.
Enter Dan Dean Solo Brass from Dan Dean Productions (creators of Dan Dean Solo Woodwinds, Dan Dean Solo Strings and the Dan Dean Bass Collection). Solo Brass is a 10 CD-ROM set focussed on capturing solo brass instruments for an orchestral setting designed for use with Gigasampler or Gigastudio (at the time of this review, AKAI format versions are also on their way). Solo Brass features French Horn, Bass Trombone, Trombone, Cimbasso, Euphonium, Piccolo Trumpet, Trumpet and Tuba. Each instrument in fact is on its own CD, with the exception of the Piccolo Trumpet and Trumpet, where two CDs are used for each: one for a version with sampled vibrato and one without vibrato.
The solo French Horn in Solo Brass is perhaps one of the highlights of the library (notice that I said one; there are more). This beautifully expressive multi-sampled instrument is sampled in detail with eight velocity layers, on both sustained and staccato samples (ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff). All notes have been sampled chromatically from A#1 to F5 in stereo with an extensive selection of sampled articulations to choose from. Each articulation can be loaded in through one of 43 preset variations and include the basic non-vibrato legato samples, staccato, portato/mezzo staccato with long, medium and short forte to piano crescendo with presets that even allow you to choose how you want to access the sampled articulations. Mr. Dean has not skimped on the length of the sustained French horn samples either - each chromatically sampled note at each of the eight velocities is on average about 7-8 seconds in length (none of the sustained samples are looped).
The French Horn presets allow you to switch to your desired method of controlling dynamics, with versions that allow for both mod wheel and breath control. Key-switching is also used extensively to allow you to switch articulations on the fly as well as to trigger certain velocity layers. For instance, if you want to only use the mezzo forte horn samples, you can load up the key-switched patch that allows you to access (and stay within) any of the available sampled velocities. As an example, the sustained non-vibrato French horn key-switched patch: I was sequencing part of a French Horn line that I wanted to be played as mezzo piano, but with slight crescendo and decrescendo. So, I was able to pick out the mezzo piano velocity layer through a key-switch and sequence it, knowing that the mezzo piano samples will be triggered exclusively for that specific timbre I wanted to hear, while retaining control of subtle dynamics through the expression controller. This is actually possible with all of the brass instruments in this library.
But lets get back to how the French Horn sounds and performs, shall we? I found that the non-vibrato patches are quite capable of performing most anything, from subtle to dramatic; transparent and silky in the ppp to mf range, bold and commanding in the f to fff range. Quite suitable I found, for not only blending transparently, but also for those epic Wagnerian anthems or John Williams style fanfare melodies (think of that prominent horn theme from Jurassic Park or his famous NBC Nightly News theme). The attacks on the sustained samples are done tastefully and are consistent to allow for a range in the style of playing, but the patches are not so legato that they turn into mud when you try to trigger them very quickly. I found the staccato and portato samples to be very even and exceptionally easy to perform with as well (both of which have eight sampled velocities of ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff as well). The sampled crescendo patches are of a single velocity and are good as well, although I should say that I'm a bit biased here, since I prefer to create and control my own crescendo unless there are circumstances where a sampled crescendo fits. A minor thing that I had noticed with some of the crescendo notes is that they all don't necessarily reach their climax at the same time, making it difficult to play in something like a 4 note chord for instance, since one note will swell before the other, or one will "lag" behind. Understandably dealing with live players it's probably almost impossible to get each note to sound exactly the same so that they "line up" when you play multiple notes together, so it's not really a big deal and you can still use these solo. Again, if you don't like the crescendos here, you can always create your own with the sustained samples. Special "ensemble" presets are available to allow for the mimicking of a French Horn ensemble, and control of the ensemble patch is handled through the Mod wheel. When the Mod wheel is pushed all the way down, you hear the softest dynamic layer by itself; as you push the Mod wheel up louder dynamic layers are added (up to a total of four) to create an ensemble-like effect. Ensemble presets for both staccato and non-vibrato sustained are available.
Trombone & Bass Trombone
The 584 megabyte Trombone has been chromatically sampled from E1 to C4 and the 576 megabyte Bass Trombone has been chromatically sampled from E1 to F4. Like the French Horn, both the Trombone and Bass Trombone have been sampled with eight velocities of ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff. Eighty patch presets allow you to take command of over 1,000 samples on the Trombone (86 presets and over 1,200 samples on the Bass Trombone), with samples that include sustained non-vibrato, mutes (sustained and staccato), non-mute staccato, portato/mezzo staccato and long, medium and short crescendo samples. The non-vibrato sustained and sustained mutes are not looped and each chromatically sampled note is about 7 seconds in length on both instruments.
Control over the Trombone and Bass Trombone samples again proves to be very flexible. The multiple dynamic layers of each articulation can be loaded in a variety of different ways through the use of presets, either with key-switching, through the use of the mod wheel, through breath control or simply through touch. The mute samples have been sampled in eight velocities for both staccato and sustained. A key-switched patch for switching between non-vibrato sustains and sustained mutes on-the-fly can also be loaded. Likewise for the staccato and portato/mezzo staccato samples, where you can load up a key-switched patch to allow you to switch from non-vibrato sustains to either staccato or portato/mezzo staccato.
Now, I mention both the Trombone and Bass Trombone together not only because they are of the same instrument family and will likely be used together, but because the patches and the layout within are both very similar. That also brings me to my next point, about how the Bass Trombone and Trombone samples sound and play. The thing that I like about these Trombone samples is that they work - they are thick and rich and they are lovely in an ensemble together. They only stick out when you want them to and can cover a wide range of timbre and dynamics from a warm, subdued ppp to mf to a face-ripping fff. The Trombone as a solo instrument does not disappoint; it is as capable as a solo instrument as it is as part of an ensemble. Both the Trombone and Bass Trombone also have ensemble presets in staccato and non-vibrato sustained, as well as mute. Like the French Horn, the dynamic layers of the ensemble patches are controlled through the Mod wheel. The long, medium and short crescendo samples are of a single velocity and presented in the same manner as they are with the French Horn patch. Although there are sustained trombone mutes as mentioned earlier, there are no crescendos recorded here that feature mutes.
Cimbasso & Euphonium
The Cimbasso and Euphonium patches are the smallest in this set at only around 100 megabytes and 370 megabytes in size respectively. Both are on their own CD, despite the fact that they could probably fit on one CD together although undoubtedly kept separate to accommodate the purchasing of each instrument by itself (more on that later). Both instruments have been sampled chromatically (F1 to C3 with the Cimbasso and E2 to G4 with the Euphonium) both featuring sampled articulations that include legato sustains, staccato, portato/mezzo staccato, and long, medium and short forte-piano crescendos. The Cimbasso has 5 sampled velocities, which include p, mp, mf, f and ff. The legato sustained non-vibrato Cimbasso patches actually have eight velocity layers (sharing the 5 sampled velocities), while the staccato and portato patches all have four velocities of p, mp, mf and f. The Euphonium has 8 sampled velocities of ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff across the board for all of the legato sustain, staccato and portato patches. Like the French Horn and Trombone patches, the creators of DDSB have allowed for a number of options when it comes to exerting control over the instruments and the sampled articulations. Dynamics can be controlled through velocity switched presets, through key-switching, breath control or through mod-wheel control. Both instruments have "ensemble" mode presets along with the ability to load presets that let you switch from non-vibrato sustains to either staccato or portato samples on the fly (again through either key-switching, or mod-wheel). There are 49 presets available for the Cimbasso and 68 for the Euphonium. On the sustained notes for each instrument (which are not looped), you have approximately X seconds of actual recorded sample in each velocity per chromatically sampled note note. What you get are wickedly satisfying Cimbasso and Euphonium samples (especially the Euphonium), expressive and resonant with each successive sampled velocity capturing the timbre of the instruments.
There are two types of different sampled Trumpets featured on Dan Dean Solo Brass: one with sampled vibrato built in, and one without (both on their own CD). Both are large patches in size at just over 730 megabytes per instrument with several notable differences between the two (besides being non-vibrato and vibrato). Of the two, the non-vibrato Trumpet contains more in the way of samples (just over 930 as opposed to 441) and more sampled articulations such as portato and staccato. While the vibrato Trumpet does not have portato or staccato, it does have straight mutes in addition to the vibrato sustains (the non-vibrato trumpet does not have mutes). The other difference between the non-vibrato and vibrato Trumpets is in regards to velocity layers and sampled velocities: the non-vibrato Trumpet has eight (ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff sampled chromatically from E3 to F6) and the vibrato Trumpet has four (p, mp, mf and f) sampled chromatically from E3 to F6. Both instruments also feature the same mod wheel-controllable ensemble presets as found in all of the other instrument patches. Also built in is the ability to control dynamics through your choice of breath control, mod wheel control, through touch in a layered patch or with the velocity layers in isolation through key-switching in all of the sustained, staccato/mezzo staccato (NV trumpet only) and straight mute (V trumpet only) patches. With the vibrato trumpet, you can choose to load either the straight sustained vibrato by itself or the mutes with vibrato by themselves as well as both mutes and vibrato in one patch with your choice of control when it comes to switching between vibrato Trumpet and vibrato Trumpet with mutes. For instance you can use key switching, to switch on the fly or the mod-wheel (set to zero engages regular vibrato sustains, set to 127 engages the vibrato sustains with mutes). On the non-vibrato trumpet, switching from the non-vibrato sustains to either staccato or portato is handled in the exact same way (a continuity displayed throughout the entire library). You can also load up a non-vibrato/staccato velocity switched patch that has the sustains in the lower velocities, with staccato in the top layers that come out when you pound at your keyboard.
There are also long, medium and short crescendo samples (single velocity) for both the vibrato (without mutes) and non-vibrato trumpet. Both vibrato and non-vibrato trumpets feature lengthy samples for all notes and for all velocities: some of the notes in the ppp layer can last up to 20 seconds while the fff layers are up to 7 or 8 seconds in length. Certainly no corners have been cut here, and it shows. The attention to detail and consistency also shows when it comes to what the vibrato trumpet and non-vibrato trumpet put out when you dig in and start playing. Although there are no staccato mute trumpets (just regular staccato and mezzo staccato for the NV trumpet) for either the non-vibrato trumpet or the vibrato trumpet, the staccato trumpet samples sound very nice. With intense and brilliant attacks, they make me want to put on my fanfare-writing hat and go to town. The documentation indicates that there are straight mutes on the non-vibrato trumpet, but it seems to be the other way around as they are on the vibrato trumpet instead. The reason for this, as explained by Dan Dean: "We originally had an LFO type of vibrato set up either as aftertouch or ModWhl. It was the beta general consensus to drop these because they didn't add that much to the overall instruments. In cases where there was natural vibrato (trumpets) this LFO vibrato became superfluous. The printing had already been sent out at the point I decided to lose these presets."
The Piccolo Trumpet is presented here in very much the same fashion as the Trumpet, in two versions (each on their own CD): one with sampled vibrato and one without. The Piccolo Trumpet patches share much in common with the Trumpet as far as sampled articulations, sampled velocities and programming is concerned. For instance, the non-vibrato Piccolo Trumpet has six sampled velocities (over eight layers) on its sustained, staccato and portato samples (ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f) while the vibrato trumpet has four sampled velocities of p, mp, mf and f. Both vibrato and non-vibrato Piccolo Trumpets are sampled chromatically, with a sample duration on each note and within each velocity layer of up to 25 seconds in the quietest layers and up to 15 or 16 seconds in the forte layers. Both non-vibrato and vibrato piccolo trumpets have been sampled chromatically from D4 to F6. There are 56 different presets to choose from in the non-vibrato Piccolo Trumpet patch alone, again allowing for all of same controls over accessing the sustained, staccato, portato/mezzo staccato, long, medium and short crescendo samples. The Piccolo Trumpet samples here are in the same class as the Trumpet samples; excellent all around. A good tone has been captured here, especially with the sustains. I'm no trumpet player (nor am I a very good piccolo trumpet player), but I can appreciate how difficult it can be to get a good tone that is in tune on a picc trumpet at an appropriate volume level based on how astonishingly bad I've sounded every time that I have tried.
Finally, we have the non-vibrato Tuba. A patch weighing in at just under 500 megabytes, it features eight sampled velocity layers for its sustained, staccato and portato samples of ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff and fff (sampled from C1 to C4). It, like the other instruments, also features forte-piano long, medium and short crescendos and 74 presets to allow for multiple aspects of control (similarities here include the ability to control dynamics through velocity, key-switching, breath or mod-wheel control as well as an ensemble patch). There are also presets to allow you to control the switching between the non-vibrato sustains and either staccato or portato samples. Continuing in the tradition of the other instruments in this library, switching on the fly can be done either through key-switching, velocity, or mod-wheel control depending on what you prefer. A special "Tuba Czar" preset is included, which combines the ensemble preset differently than the other ensemble presets. It uses adjacent pitches rather than layers to create the effect. "It was kind of an experiment," Dan explains, "but I liked the result so much I left it in the final version."
This is a really great sounding Tuba with a very thick, characteristic sound in the legato sustains (which work exceptionally well for doubling, I might add) and it has respectable, but (but not muddy) staccato.
Throughout the entire library, the sound quality of all of the sampled instruments is simply outstanding, with masterfully recorded samples capturing the rich details of the instruments. None of the instruments are 'pre-panned', to simulate what you would hear in regards to the positions of the instruments in a concert hall for orchestral music. This has distinct advantages and the samples have been left this way to allow for the utmost flexibility for both solo and full orchestral situations. You can pan the instruments yourself to get the results that you want and you can EQ them and process them as you wish. Further, the samples are dry and allow for application of reverb. The recording process of the samples in this library is explained in the documentation by the creators of the library. They explain that the instrument samples were recorded in stereo with minimal room reverberation and the instruments were miked moderately close to allow for flexibility, but to also allow sonic detail to be captured in the recording.
The recorded samples are pretty much flawless, the only glitch I noticed was with one of the notes in the forte French Horn (G4), there is a tiny click or pop about 2 seconds into the sample.
The programming and variety of presets throughout all of the instrument patches is also consistent, with the ability to choose between legato, staccato, portato/mezzo Staccato, forte to piano crescendo in short, long and medium durations through multiple presets. Straight mutes are available on the Trombone, Bass Trombone and non-vibrato Trumpet patches. Both vibrato and non-vibrato versions are available for the legato Trumpet and Piccolo Trumpet patches, non-vibrato legato is available for the Trombone, Bass Trombone, Cimbasso, Euphonium, French Horn and Tuba patches (no sampled vibrato).
Breath control is supported throughout (another reason to buy a Wind or breath controller!), and the extra key-switched presets that allow you to choose not only between different articulations on the fly but also between different velocity layers is simply superb when it comes to controlling these samples. Essentially, every sampled instrument here can be controlled in the same way. You are presented with key-switched versions with access to individual velocity layers, or you can trigger the velocities through manipulation of the mod wheel or breath control. Or, you can simply load up the "main" vibrato (where applicable such as on the trumpet and piccolo trumpet) or non-vibrato patch where you control the four to eight velocity layers through touch. Play softly and you'll trigger the ppp samples; pound the keys and you'll trigger the fff samples. Any of the presets can be loaded independently - you don't have to load the entire several hundred megabytes in one shot if you don't need the rest of the samples. If you just need the non-vibrato sustains, or the staccato or the mutes, you can load exactly what you want and leave the rest out. The flexibility and variety of control available here is essential to making these samples as usable as they are. A special preset for each instrument also allows you to control the speed of the attack on the sustained patches. The speed of the attack is controlled through the Mod wheel, so for instance pushing the Mod wheel all the way down to zero will result in your regular attack - pushing it up with gradually bring in a faster attack, while retaining the sustain.
Be forewarned - these samples are polyphony eaters, especially if you load up the non-light versions. For instance, the "FastAttack" Mod wheel controlled Trombone patch, where the speed of the attack to the non-vibrato sustain can be controlled seems to initially eat up 8 voices per note when you first trigger a note (regardless of whether the Mod wheel is set to 0 or not).
For the times when you need to make the most of your memory, there are two "light" versions of each of the presets for each of the instruments. The difference between the two light versions are as follows: one version contains all of the dynamic layers of the original "non-light" patch, but instead of being chromatically programmed, they are programmed in minor 3rds. The second light version presets are programmed chromatically, but feature half of the velocity layers of the original (scaled down to about 4 layers usually).
One attractive feature that I would also like to mention is in regards to the added flexibility that has been offered here, when it comes to investing your hard earned dollar into the library. The creator of the library has thoughtfully taken into account that not everyone has the budget to unload $649 on the entire set, so each of the instruments can be purchased separately. For instance, if you really need the French Horn but you don't need the other instruments, buy the French Horn. If you need Trombones, or Trumpets, then you can buy just the Trombones or Trumpets at $119 per instrument (note that the vibrato Trumpet and non-vibrato Trumpet count as two separate instruments, the same applies to the vibrato/non vibrato Piccolo Trumpet). Like Dan Dean Solo Woodwinds, the full 10 disc library ships in an attractive yet practical CD wallet-style case, allowing for easy and safe storage. No more will I curse aloud as I drop a multi-disc CD jewel case on the floor at 3am, watching in horror as it cracks and shatters into a million pieces. These bounce! I wish more libraries would ship like this.
Another one of the really great things that I have found with the instruments sampled in this library is their ability to blend into existing sampled orchestral arrangements seamlessly. Sure, a sample of a French Horn is one thing - but a French Horn sample that has the ability to transparently and realistically weave itself into a sampled orchestral sequence is another. I found that this is also the case with the rest of the solo brass instruments on this library, especially the multi-sampled sustain patches. They just sit right, and they act well for subtle texture just as easily as for a gutsy, full-bodied brass section. In certain instances where I wanted a "thicker" sound, I also found it useful to double up the instruments with brass or ensemble samples from other libraries - a really great way to compliment your existing samples. Dan Dean Solo Brass covers basic articulations of legato sustained, staccato, portato/mezzo staccato, so if you're looking for brass FX (runs, trills, glisses and the like) you won't find it here. DDSB is instead comprised of completely playable and completely usable samples in every regard - there is no fluff, just really great sounding solo brass instruments. For anyone doing orchestral writing with samples, or even if you are doing orchestral or ensemble mock-ups and you want to put a heavy emphasis on expressiveness and realism, Dan Dean Solo Brass should not be missed.