IK Multimedia SampleTank 2 XL full review
IK Multimedia’s SampleTank 2 XL is a 16-part multitimbral sample-playback plug-in with a large library of samples to get you started.
You can also import WAV, AIFF or SDII files, and the program can read Akai and SampleCell formats directly. The plug-in is supplied in AU, VST, RTAS and HTDM formats, so it works with just about anything, including Pro Tools and Logic.
SampleTank 2 offers 32-bit and 96KHz quality playback with up to 256-note polyphony – depending on your hardware. It is supplied in two versions – L and XL. The sample library in the L version comes on four CDs while the XL version comes on eight – including more than 1,500 sounds, encompassing loops for house and techno, a decent selection of electronic and acoustic drums, percussion, ethnic instruments, choirs and voices, synths, guitars, basses, strings, brass, woodwind and keyboards – just about everything you might need to put music togetherSampleTank 2 now features three synthesizer engines that provide much more flexibility than most of its competitors. Besides conventional sample playback, you also get a pitchshift/timestretch mode that lets you independently control pitch and tempo for loops,
like ACID or Live. And the new SampleTank Time Resynthesis Technology (STRETCH) engine provides even more control over the tempo, pitch and harmonics of the samples – so when you transpose a sample into a different musical key or run a loop at a different tempo, it still sounds natural. Stretch mode preserves formants as you shift pitch, offering enhanced realism while bending notes and gliding or playing polyphonic chords with phrases. So you can bend a singer’s voice using the pitch wheel on your synth and the voice will follow without the chipmunk effect. And if you play chords, the notes within the chord will all end at the same time – unlike with a conventional sampler.
The interface is straightforward, which makes it easy and quick to use, and it has everything you need in one compact window. All the available library instruments are listed in the centre of the interface window, which functions as a browser. I was stunned at how fast the sounds load – just double-click on any instrument and up it comes in the selected multitimbral part in the Mix section to the left of the browser, ready for you to play almost instantly.
The Mix area has been expanded to let you control the 16 multitimbral parts. Here you can set the MIDI channels, switch the solo and mute functions, set the volume and pan controls, and choose the polyphony for each part. I particularly liked the new one-click Loop Sync feature that lets you sync any loop to your sequencer’s tempo – it couldn’t get much easier than this. The MIDI control features are also excellent. Any of SampleTank 2’s controls can be mapped to any MIDI source, and any MIDI program change message can be mapped to any SampleTank 2 sounds for instant recall.
Typical synthesizer controls – filters, LFOs and envelopes – can be used to create new sounds using the library samples as oscillator waveforms, which is ideal for creative sound designers. A pop-up selector switches each instrument between polyphonic, monophonic, and monophonic legato playback modes. A special Macro controls section is also provided. This has up to four controls that control different parameters depending
on which instrument they are associated with.
The Effects section provides 32 DSP effects and up to five of these can be used with each instrument. You get all the usual suspects here, including reverb, ambience, delay, filter, wah-wah, chorus, AM and FM modulation, flanger, autopan, tremolo, rotary speaker, lo-fi and distortion, along with the EQ, compressor and limiter from T-RackS and the preamp, tone control and cabinet simulations from Amplitube.
A feature missing from the original SampleTank has now been added – a mini keyboard to display the notes being played, and let you play using the mouse. You can even play chords with one click, selecting the chord type from the pop-up to the right of the keyboard. A click on the Zone button reveals how the samples are mapped on the keyboard using different colours.
The TR808 samples are the best I’ve heard – and I have a real TR808 to compare with. The acoustic drum kits all have long-decaying cymbals, full-sounding toms and very useable sounding bass and snare drums – and the Studio kit does sound exactly like a kit played in a small, dead studio. The DX piano sounds just perfect, and the acoustic grand piano is very useable. The Pop Violins sounds just like the cheap string synth that I used in the 1970s, and the B3 organ sounds very much like a B3 – and, again, I have a real Hammond to compare it to.
There’s a great percussion selection as well, with ethnic instruments such as the darbuka and dumbeck, triangle, tambourine, shakers, and great congas. The best thing about these is that you get several different types of slaps and hits, unlike most samples that just provide two or three main sounds. On the other hand, I found the orchestral samples rather disappointing.
The solo strings and woodwinds were far too noisy for my liking – although they were of comparable quality to similarly priced sample libraries such as the Garritan Personal Orchestra.