Review: EastWest Hollywood Brass

Review: EastWest Hollywood Brass

EastWest's Hollywood Brass Gold edition packaging.
EastWest's Hollywood Brass Gold edition packaging.

CHICAGO, September 13, 2014 – A long awaited update to the venerated Symphonic Orchestra, EastWest’s “Hollywood Brass,” may be the best sounding brass samples on the market, with enough solo, chamber configurations, and full sections to please most musical ears. Yet despite offering incredible sounds and loads of options, these mighty samples may not satisfy every user’s needs.

We reviewed the Hollywood Brass Gold Edition, which provides a sizable instrumental palette including 2 French Horns, 2 Trombones and Bass Trombone (in a single sample), 2 trumpets, 3 trumpets, 6 French Horns, Low Brass (a sampling of the low brass section), as well as solo Cimbasso, French Horn, Trombone, Trumpet, and Tuba sample collections.

From the outset, we must remind prospective users that each item of the “Hollywood” series is among the most memory-intensive packages on the market. For instance, on an iMac with a 3.4 GHz i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, a number of individual samples immediately issues memory warnings. An older laptop, by way of comparison, didn’t even have a prayer of deploying this package without serious shortcomings.

Beginning with the solo samples, we encountered an intriguing mix of items to both praise and critique. The sounds themselves are simply beautiful, recorded with a welcome dry presence (as opposed to the inherent dark ambiance on the previous Symphonic Orchestra package). Better yet, they sat well in a number of orchestrations within Logic and Sibelius. Combined with EastWest’s critically acclaimed “Spaces” IR Reverb, this brass package truly sparkled.

Among the solo instruments, the trumpet proved a vibrant highlight, while the Solo French Horn had all the moodiness and wide expressive range to render it an eminently playable instrument. With careful use, such solo instruments can be left completely exposed yet absolutely believable.

The following YouTube video offers a trumpet preview:

In the section instruments area, the Low Brass family provided a satisfying and meaty collection of samples, with “Inception” type low brass rumbles immediately attainable. A counterpart to this is a collection of samples pairing 2 trombones and 1 bass trombone in a traditional orchestration, making it one of the most useful configurations in the collection insofar as classical composers are concerned. As with a number of other patches, however, several performances are marred by intonation problems that will hopefully be addressed in a future update.

Using this package, composers can also carefully build sections with the option to add groupings of one, two, and three instruments, which permits great precision in orchestration.

One significant issue with these solo instruments, as well as with a number of other configurations in this library, is the sporadic application of velocity. New users may find themselves baffled as to why certain instruments respond beautifully to velocity on their keyboards, while others play at a single dynamic level.

This outcome relates to EastWest’s decision to use velocity to control a number of other factors aside from actual volume in certain instruments. While this choice opens the library to a number of innovations – such as mod-wheel controlled swells – ultimately a toggle off would be a welcome addition for those seeking to use these samples in a notation setting.

For those seeking to use Hollywood Brass along with other sample packages in notation software, an incredible amount of tinkering may prove necessary to achieve balance and believable expression. The ultimate price for this package’s attempted advance in velocity and dynamic control is a reduction in compatibility with other non-Hollywood instrument packages.

Another issue relates to instrument selection. For example, while it can be effective to employ a Cimbasso, orchestration-wise, to cut through a dense low brass orchestration in a film setting, does it make sense to include such an instrument and not include a solo bass trombone sample?

Yet despite the high quality of sounds available in the package, EastWest seems to have departed here from their sensible Keyswitch configurations, which made their older Symphonic Orchestra virtual instrument so immediately usable in notation software configurations.

The selection of alternative techniques in the existing keyswitches can be strange. For instance, why is a mariachi sus included in the solo trumpet configuration while a simple straight mute is not? 
EastWest could easily remedy this glaring problem by allowing their otherwise wonderful PLAY engine to create custom keyswitches. Indeed given the depth of this package, there is no reason why users should not be able to combine their favorite individual techniques into a single, playable patch.

EastWest assures this writer that developers have this ability already, while expanded keyswitch capability is planned for a future release of PLAY. But until EastWest is able to implement such a common-sense feature, composers may find this instrument unsuitable for use in a notation software setting, with the result that EastWest will remain out of a potentially sizable market eager for such great sounds.

One common refrain in both the EastWest and Sibelius user worlds is the repeated advice to purchase Jonathan Loving’s EastWest “soundset” from

Having recently worked with this product, this writer finds that it does indeed—after a somewhat complex install, aided by the always available and very pleasant Mr. Loving himself—alleviate a number of the issues noted above.

Unfortunately there is no real choice of techniques, such as “which sforzando (sfz) do you really want?” As such, you’re ultimately paying to use a limited group of sounds from a massive library, while missing out entirely on the full power of what EastWest has created. It appears clear that keyswitch customizability will ultimately be the only way to bring this package to a wider audience.

It seems like the Hollywood Brass package, given its high memory requirements, is a tool that composers will need a few years to grow in to and master. That provides plenty of time for EastWest to adjust this package’s particular quirks, repair several audible short-cuts, and add those custom keyswitches. Without a doubt, such a package would be worthy of a perfect rating.


Rating *** (3 out of 4 Stars)

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