Steinberg’s HALion makes an ideal choice if you’re looking for a software sampler to use with VST-compatible music applications. Each HALion plug-in that you load adds a virtual instrument with up to 256 voices that will play-back parts on up to 16 MIDI channels simultaneously – and in Cubase, you can load up to eight of these.
HALion supports file resolutions from 8-bit up to 32-bit, and can import Akai, EMU, REX and several other useful sample file-formats. Comprehensive filters are provided, along with extensive modulation features, and a high-quality sample library is there to get you started. This consists of four CD-ROMs containing acoustic piano, nylon guitar, acoustic drums, percussion, finger bass, various electronic instrument sounds from Wizoo, and a selection of useful drum loops, music loops and vocal effects. All these sound very good, and I particularly liked the nylon guitar samples. However, you’ll definitely need to use other sample libraries to give you the more comprehensive selection that most of today’s music producers require.
HALion’s unique feature is that, unlike other samplers that have to load the entire samples into RAM, it can play-back samples of virtually any length – regardless of the amount of RAM installed in your computer. This is because HALion can play-back audio direct from a hard disk. But samples can never be triggered instantly from disks with any software sampler, so, with HALion, the initial portion of the sample is preloaded into the computer’s RAM. This way, only a small fraction of a longer sample will reside in RAM, while the rest is streamed directly from disk.
There are seven pages within the plug-in – selectable using the strip of buttons along the bottom of each plug-in window. The Waveloop page is similarly easy to use. Here you can set sustain and release loop-points for a sample – either graphically or numerically. The Envelope/Filter page features two envelope generators, a filter section and an amplifier section. The Modulation/Tune page lets you apply several modulators, and also contains two LFOs, tuning controls and a Voice Grouping section. The Options page lets you import external file formats and make memory settings, while the Channel/Program page shows the settings for HALion’s 16 MIDI channels and its 12 virtual outputs. So, there’s lots of controls, but these are all laid out very clearly and logically.
Because of its ability to play-back samples from the hard disk, HALion has advantages over rivals such as the Emagic EXS24 or Bitheadz Unity DS-1. And HALion’s third-party sample-file format support is the best available.