It’s another set of classic synths bundled together and reworked for the computer musician. But is it indeed epic? asks Andy Jones.
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Minimum system requirements – Kontakt 5 (free) – PC Windows 7 – Mac OSX 10.7
You wait 20 years for classic synths to either come down in price or for someone to record them and present them to you in easy-to-use sample libraries and then, all of a sudden, several come along at once. We really are spoilt for choice when it comes to these huge sample libraries and I’ve been trying many of them out of late. This one is on the larger side at 12GB (although nothing on Hans Zimmer’s, which Keith Gemmell reviews on p73).
Epica comprises 600 presets (all accessible through the free Kontakt 5 Player) of synth sounds – pads, basses, sequences, effects and leads. They are all recorded from synths including the ARP Odyssey, Sequential Pro-1, Yamaha CS30, Access Virus Ti and Roland D-50. (Yes the Virus is now a modern classic and the D-50 also considered a classic and I’m half-pleased for the old fellow…)
Installation is now fairly standard: either download or buy the physical copy, add the library through the Kontakt interface and you are presented with nine types of sounds to choose from or dozens of multis – ie, layers of these sounds (which we’ll come to later). Before we hit the sounds, there are a couple of notable features to discuss that take Epica beyond some of the more standard sample libraries.
You get a full set of controls for each of the sounds, including filter (choose from six types), volume and pitch envelopes, three LFOs (assigned to pitch, filter and amp), note velocity (assignable to filter or amp) and a useful delay effect. The final notable section here is the Startpoint Mod, which attempts to make the sample playback sound more natural and analogue by applying a small measure of randomness to the start point of the sample playback. So if you get a filtered sound, for example, it makes the sound start at maybe the ‘wa’ bit and then the ‘we’ bit and then the ‘woo’ bit, if you get my drift. The important thing to note is that it does actually work – check out some of the acid-like presets if you can.
So the synth control is important, but the recording of the original samples is worth noting too as Sam used a great list of classic hardware from manufacturers including Neve, Thermionic Culture, Lexicon and Eventide. You might well think, ‘well so he bloody should have’, but it’s not always evident what sound designers use. There’s a certain sheen to this collection that shines through thanks largely to its recording, which we’ll come to now.
It’s difficult to actually avoid using the word ‘epic’ but I’ll try to save it for later. First up is the Instruments section, and it’s hard to convey how good they are. Beware, though, this is all about very electronic music, so just perfect for me. Brought up on a diet of everyone from Tangerine Dream (early) to Jarre, Vangelis to Orbital, Prodigy to Numan, this collection absolutely shines for me. It’s clean, shimmering and beautiful, inspiring almost at every turn – I could spend an age with it.
The pads are to die for, the Bright section displays rawness and punch, and the Soft section displays a more mellow and gentler side. The Bass section has a more contemporary feel – this isn’t just for old farts – and the Effected section is just ‘out-there’ enough. The only relatively weak section is the Plucked – which isn’t so much bad, but sounds slightly out of place among all the electronic goodness.
I’ve saved the word ‘epic’ for the Multis section, though. I don’t really have to say how good so many of them are as you can simply take my comments above and multiply them, because that’s what most of these do.
So you can see I love Epica. I warn, again, that my musical upbringing almost forces me to dive into this kind of stuff like some happy, hippy, electro dolphin, and if you are not like me you might find it a little too ‘electronic’. But if you’ve ever had your heart plucked by the sound of the synth, then buy it, come and find me, thank me and tell me it’s the best £113 you’ve ever spent