MOTU Ethno Instrument 2

December 1, 2010

Ethno_2_Image_1Like all good sequels, Ethno Instrument 2 promises more of everything that made the original (reviewed Sept. ’07) a hit. For their follow-up, MOTU took an already feature-packed instrument and improved on the overall usability, adding capabilities such as better-sounding time stretching and the ability to search patches, which is a welcome addition, especially considering that the content has been expanded from 8GB to a whopping 21GB. So is everything in Ethno 2 bigger and better?


Ethno 2 is a specialized software instrument that comprises a diverse and impressively recorded set of sampled “world” instruments, loops, and phrases, all wrapped in a proprietary software workstation that provides a ton of flexibility for tweaking, massaging, rearranging, remixing, and re-contextualizing the existing sample content to fit into a wide range of musical applications.

The emphasis seems to be on the looped content, as there’s now a staggering amount of phrases and loops to work with. Whether you’re in the mood for klezmer wedding band, kilt-approved Celt riffs, hypnotic African dance grooves, saucy Spanish flamenco flavors, vibe-inducing Indian beds, tranquil Asian soundscapes, or any otherworldly ethno-organic combination, Ethno 2 delivers the goods. The wealth of new multisampled instruments represents a giant leap from version 1—just one example is that Taiko drums are on board, which were absent in version 1.

I do wish MOTU had gone the extra mile to organize this deep rabbit- hole of excellent material into construction kits. If all you want is an accent from some other continent, it’s easy to dive into the browser and search by geographic region, or use the new-and-improved search to find loops or instruments that match your criteria. Looking for balalaika? No problem. However, there’s so much within each category (Africa, Asia, Australia, Celtic, Eastern Europe, and the list goes on) that I found it difficult to assemble related material quickly that would work together nicely, e.g., complimentary grooves, rhythm parts, and melodic passages. If you’re going for authentic music performed by a full ensemble, complete with rhythms, melodies, and harmonic parts, expect to do a fair amount of trial-and-error patch loading before landing on what you’re after. It would have been nice if multis were provided that comprised a bunch of related loops in a particular style.

EthnoBox1Musical Tools

One of Ethno 2’s unique selling points is that unlike most other “ethnic” collections, which are typically packaged to work inside of another soft sampler or player, E2 gives you not only great raw content, but a custom virtual instrument packed with tools to manipulate the content in a variety of musically useful ways.

By default, looped material automatically beat-maps to your host sequencer’s tempo; you can create longer phrases by triggering different loops from your MIDI keyboard, or if you prefer working with audio, samples can be dragged-and-dropped in audio file format directly from Ethno 2’s interface into your host. Time compression/expansion is applied automatically. For even more flexibility, you can have E2 slice its loops into discrete elements a la ReCycle. When you go this route, E2 creates a MIDI file for each loop; you can then drag-and-drop those files into your host, rearranging the MIDI notes and rhythms to suit your needs, or playing slices from a keyboard in real time.

When I reviewed the first version, I cited a lack of dynamics with some of the instruments, due to the presets having very few velocity-switched layers. Some of these instruments still remain. However, this time out MOTU has provided more articulations and more velocity-switched layers for many of the instruments, making it possible to coax a higher level of dynamics and expression from these samples. What’s more, using Expert mode, you can create layered presets that let you define velocity ranges, keymap zones, and even keyswitches to individual patches within a multi (a combination of multiple patches). By exploiting Expert mode, I programmed presets that let me achieve the kind of realism you’d expect from an exhaustively sampled instrument. Nice.

Other sonic sculpting tools include a high-quality convolution reverb that boasts a nice set of hall, room, cathedral, and “extreme” impulse responses, a multimode filter (per part), three-band EQ, and an LFO that can be set up to simulate natural vibrato, tremolo, and timbral change. There are even microtonal tuning scales to achieve non-western tuning with any instrument. If you know your world instruments, these will facilitate historical and regional accuracy in your productions.


Ethno 2 puts a staggering amount of world instruments, loops, and phrases at your fingertips at a budget-friendly price. With the original Ethno, the bang-for-buck factor was high. With Ethno 2 it’s through the roof. But more importantly, the content is highly usable and flexible, the collection is rich with inspiring and widely applicable loops and phrases, and it’s packaged in a software instrument that lets you stretch these sounds into all manner of authentic and hybrid musical contexts. If you’re in the market for a world/ethnic sample collection, Ethno 2 should be at the top of your list. With a Key Buy award, it’s sure at the top of ours.

All Ethno 2 demo videos in one player.


PROS Massive amount of loops and phrases. Built-in controls make it easy to rework existing content to fit a wide range of musical applications. Highquality EQ and convolution reverb included. Low CPU load.

CONS Some legacy instruments from version 1 have only one or two velocity-switched layers, making them less dynamic.

CONCEPT World instrument sample collection wrapped in a specialized virtual instrument based on UVI’s latest technology.

FORMATS Mac or PC. AU, VST, RTAS, and standalone.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Mac: 10.4.11 (or later), 10.5, or 10.6; G4 1GHz or faster. PC: Windows 7, Vista, or XP; Pentium 4 1GHz or faster.
Both: 1GB RAM, 21GB hard disk space.

PRICE List: $395
Approx. street: $375

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