CHICAGO, May 4, 2016 – Our quest to assemble a high quality and affordable digital orchestra brings us today to Soundiron’s Symphony Series Brass Ensemble. For both notation software and DAW applications, this virtual instrument offers a great deal of flexibility in a very simple and attractive package. It comes in ensemble, solo and combination configurations, with the ensemble package being the subject of our review today.
Soundiron’s Brass Ensemble menu loads straight into Kontakt’s library menu, offering subfolders for trumpet section, horn section, trombone section (including bass trombone range), and tubas. Each menu contains standard articulation patches (legato, staccato, sustain, special effects) as well as a catch-all keyswitch instrument.
The slick looking front panel for each instrument (above) contains a large dial to control a wide dynamic range, automatically set to MIDI controller CC 1. Beneath this are slider controls for attack time and tightness, which, when used in tandem, can really shape the transient of the note. The release control functions as expected, while the “motion” control seemed to have an underwhelming effect on the pitch center of each section.
Other useful controls include the highly idiomatic “repetition” tool, a useful setting to create realistic articulations before a held note. If set at “4x,” for instance, it will begin a held note with four repeated articulations before holding the body of the note, an approach far more realistic sounding than manually re-articulating a single pitch. In terms of round robin, the front panel also allows users to switch between two and a deep eight round robin layers.
One area where Soundiron provides enviable customizability is in its key-switches. In the general brass ensemble patch or in any of the “catch all” keyswitched section patches, simply clicking the arrow near the articulation panel brings up a list of available articulations.
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Not only can unneeded articulations be unloaded, but open key-switches can take advantage of a substantial list of articulation options (above). There were over 30 articulation options for the trumpet section alone, with mutes available for every section save the tuba. Such customizability for key switched patches is something not offered by many more expensive packages from larger companies with greater coding resources. Soundiron should be applauded for this composer (and available memory) friendly innovation.
The general timbre and character of the Soundiron brass is warm, having something of the Hollywood scoring stage as well as the concert hall in its ambience. The instrument also gives users a simple but powerful four slider mixer for microphones. The default stereo microphone will satisfy most users, though any combination of close, mid, and hall mics is possible.
In practical application the Soundiron Brass Ensemble was fine in both Sibelius 7.5 and Logic. Users willing to play with a few key-switches and manual CC control settings will find the instrument highly expressive in both settings. In Sibelius such dynamic controls are easily entered as a text item like “~C1, 100” to give a dynamic of 100 out of a possible 127, with continuous control changes are available in the “play” menu plugin drop-down setting.
Only one complaint emerged from our test flight of this otherwise lovely instrument. Users wishing to employ this ensemble as a sound source in Sibelius may find that notes hang if playback is turned off before the note terminates in Sibelius. At this time, no solution could be found to remedy the problem.
The video included with this review (below) – the “Soundiron “Kitchen Sink” Fanfare” – consists of one loaded instrument per section. Where lines are visible, a midi CC1 was used to control dynamic fades and rises, while remaining effects emerge from key-switches. While the standard sustain patch was sufficient for sketching and composition ideas, this video demonstrates that it only takes a modicum of effort to coax a great deal more expressive potential out of the instrument.
With all the options you need and none of those you don’t, the competitively priced (399.00) Brass Ensemble packs a real punch. For one hundred more dollars, users can purchase the “Brass Collection” package containing both ensemble and solo instruments. Soundiron’s Symphony Series Brass Ensemble certain deserves your consideration.
Rating: *** ½ (3.5 out of 4 stars)