In which: A brief distraction last night turns into a fun experiment (with downloadable musical artifact), and some extreme frustration with the state of my sampler software. If you’re just interested in the music, feel free to skim the technical details and download the mp3.
One of my main home-recording distractions hobbies is recording myself singing with sampled instruments in Logic’s EXSP24 as an accompanist. It’s nice to have decent piano, harpsichord, and organ samples, to at least keep up appearances. (Harpsichord and organ are especially useful for Bach repertoire.)
I came across the Post Musical Instruments Organ Toolkit last night and was amazed by the demos; it’s something I’ll have to pick up some day. (Listen to the swellbox in the second Meistersinger demo!) Their harpsichord disc, while also quite impressive, is more expensive and slightly less sonically versatile.
I decided, harpsichord-wise, that it would be wisest to plan on making do with what I had: the $10 SampleTekk harpsichord (which EXS24P converted from GigaSampler format) and the free Campbell’s harpsichords from hammersound.net. I thought I’d throw together a quick demo to see how well each worked.
My first frustration came quickly: the EXSP24 that comes with Logic Express does not handle “release samples,” which the SampleTekk set includes. As a result, the harpsichord sound is less realistic. (A harpsichord makes a sound when you release the key; most good samplers allow you to specify that a sound will be played when a note is released.) This is a horrible oversight, Apple — if you’re marketing something as an EXS player, it should support all of the features of the EXS sample format and any sample format that it purports to import.
I took a sequence of Couperin’s Baricades Misterieuses (which has been a favorite piece since childhood) and split it into four-bar segments, alternating each between three harpsichord sounds to get an easy comparison. (The Couperin is not the best piece for putting a sample set through its paces — there’s little rhythmic or dynamic variation — but it’s an acceptable start.) You can judge for yourself in a minute, but the harpsichords all have strengths and weaknesses.
I figured that I may as well not stop at just three different samples, so I used the Couperin piece to audition twenty more-or-less appropriate samples, including keyboard instruments, mallet percussion, and guitars. You can hear the results in this 3.5 mb mp3 file; in order, the samples used are:
- SampleTekk Harpsichord (from sampletekk.com)
- Campbell Harpsichord Upper Manual (from hammersound.net)
- Campbell Harpsichord Main Manual (from hammersound.net)
- AKAI Splendid Grand Piano (a Steinway; available from Sound Creations)
- Yamaha Grand Piano (the GarageBand piano preset, dry)
- “Carnegie Hall” Piano (the Logic Express channel strip preset, with inserts disabled)
- Clavinova (from Güray Dere)
- Honky-tonk piano (from Pete Thomas)
- Jeux d’orgues flôtes 4′ 2′ (from hammersound.net)
- English organ flute 4′ (from hammersound.net)
- English organ Diapason 8′ 4′ 2′ (from hammersound.net)
- Jeux d’orgues principaux 8′ 4′ 2′ (from hammersound.net)
- Marimba (Logic Express factory sample)
- Eli Krantzberg Vibraphone (from chickensys.com)
- Yamaha Grand Piano (Logic Express factory sample)
- Rougin nylon guitar (from rougin.com — site appears to be down; link goes to archive.org copy)
- Epiphone Broadway jazz guitar (from naturalstudio)
- Classical guitar (Logic Express factory sample)
- Nylon-string guitar harmonics (Logic Express factory sample)
- Steel-string acoustic guitar (Logic Express factory sample)
At the end of the file, you can hear the sustained terminal chord played by each sampled instrument. This exposes the release envelope of each sample (some are more realistic than others!) and also exposes some terrible loop artifacts in the otherwise-excellent Jeux d’orgues sample set. This is frustration number two: the looping artifacts are not present in the Soundfont versions; it appears that the EXSP24 introduced them upon import.
EXSP24 seems to be largely useless for high-end sample libraries (including most purchased content or samples of “art music” instruments) due to poor support for advanced features, is frustrating for free samples due to an occasionally-bungling data import feature, and has been crippled further in Logic Express 7 due to removal of the rudimentary instrument editor that was included in LE6. (This means that I can’t make my own sampler instruments, no matter how simple they might be. Redmatica will introduce a standalone instrument editor soon, but it won’t overcome the limitations of EXSP24 vis-a-vis the full playback capabilities of EXS, like release samples.) Add to this the general impression that EXS as a sampler has been left behind by progress in the industry — making it senseless to upgrade to Logic Pro just for the full version of EXS — and it looks like I’ll be saving my pennies for the soon-to-be-released version of Native Instruments Kontakt (hopefully, academic pricing will still be available).