For the past several years, prolific soundware developer 8Dio has been pumping out libraries that range from conventional orchestral titles to more sonically adventurous collections that push the boundaries of cinematic sound. In particular, their Hybrid Scoring Tools (HST) series has quickly gained favor among many media composers, thanks to the immediate usability of the instruments and creative mojo that can be conjured through the use of cleverly programmed performance controls. Even so, the territory 8Dio hopes to claim is becoming increasingly crowded. In a market with so many “cinematic” sample libraries and virtual instruments to choose from, do these Hybrid Scoring Tools bring something new to the party? Read on.
For this review I’ll look at Rhythmic Aura Vol. 1 and Hybrid Tools Vol. 1, the first two installments in the HST series, which currently comprises five separate titles. All of the collections are available in Native Instruments Kontakt format, with two of the Rhythmic titles also available in Stylus RMX format. (I’ll focus on the Kontakt versions.)
Interestingly, Aura and Hybrid Tools don’t employ Native Instruments’ third-party developer license; rather, they’re presented as open-format Kontakt libraries, which means they won’t show up under Kontakt’s Libraries tab. Instead, you’ll need to navigate to the instrument files from Kontakt’s Files menu. This was a bit of a surprise when I first installed the samples, but not a huge issue, except that it requires a slightly different workflow compared to working with many other sample products.
I should also point out that the HST instruments are download-only products. There’s no need to worry about long download times, however, since Aura weighs in at roughly 1GB and Hybrid at just under 1.5GB—relatively small footprints compared to some of the mondo-sized libraries on the market. While it is possible to access Aura and Hybrid from NI’s free Kontakt Player, this will only provide time-limited usage of the sounds, so to get the most from these instruments you really need the full version of Kontakt.
Both instruments have a similar two-page user interface that looks a lot like a dedicated soft synth. The Main page offers several tone shaping controls, including a three-band EQ with selectable mid frequency, as well as cutoff frequency and resonance for the lowpass filter (this isn’t user selectable from the UI, although you can edit the instrument’s filter type if you’re using the full version of Kontakt). You’ll also find attack and release controls, along with speed and amount settings for the audio gate, which can be applied to create cool rhythmic effects. Speaking of, both instruments feature a set of built-in effects (Aura has seven, Hybrid has eight with the addition of flanger), which you can tweak from the Effects page.
What’s more, the effects can be momentarily engaged by pressing specific keys at the top of the keyboard. This lets you “play” the effects in real time (though you can’t trigger the gate from the keyboard, which some competing products offer). It gets more interesting when you add the modulation wheel, which is mapped to filter cutoff, and the pitch wheel, which is mapped to lo-fi amount. Putting all of these performance controls together, you’re able to improvise with the sounds and create evolving passages without having to overdub a bunch of continuous controller moves. Nice.
According to the documentation, Aura is created entirely from acoustic source material that has been further manipulated to produce 540 “organic arpeggiations.” It’s not all truly acoustic material, as there are electric and acoustic-electric guitars in the mix, but the point is that the samples came from live performances of real instruments. The rhythmic patterns (“auras” in 8Dio-speak) are organized into presets by instrument type (e.g., Alternative Strings, Banjo Bass, Tuned Percussion, etc.), which I found to be intuitive and useful for easy auditioning.
Musically, the samples range from simple tonal pulses and repetitive phrases of single notes and harmonies, to full chord progressions. Most of the material has vaguely minor or “sus” qualities that would work well for evoking a variety of moods, from brooding and pensive to frantic and fearful. While everything is presented at the base pitch of D, you can easily transpose on the fly using key-switches at the lower end of the keyboard.
My only criticism is that the loops aren’t presented in a “sliced” format with individual rhythmic components mapped along the keyboard similar to a REX file. If you want to create new material by rearranging individual hits within a rhythmic pattern, I recommend purchasing the Stylus RMX version.
Sonically, these are some of the most ear-catching and musically inspiring sounds I’ve had the pleasure to play. As I was auditioning instruments during the course of the review, I kept getting distracted with new compositional ideas that would start to take shape as I layered and combined different samples. I especially appreciate that nearly all of the rhythmic performances are four-bar phrases, so they don’t get boring the way that one- and two-bar loops often can. Many other similar products suffer from short loops—kudos to 8Dio for giving us the musical goods.
As its name suggest, Hybrid Tools gives composers and producers over 900 “musical sound design” samples organized into 38 instrument presets, each of which represents a sound category. The idea is that each instrument provides a certain set of “tools” that you can add to your tracks.
Categories include Boomers (low impacts, low frequency swells, etc.), Downers (similar to boomers, but with downward pitch shifting characteristics), Impacts, Rhythms, Synths, and more. Many of the categories offer “clean” versions, referring to less distorted sounds that are meant to be “very friendly to all styles from epic hybrid orchestration to electronica and pop,” and “gritty” versions, which are more distorted and processed, making them suitable for heavier and darker styles. The samples are also provided in 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV format complete with metadata that can be read by Soundminer, a popular audio search engine and management program used by many in the audio post-production field. Format flexibility? Check.
Hybrid is brimming with the kind of high-production, up-to-the-second sound effects and ear candy that one might use to take a track from solid to stellar. Most of the presets consist of distinct samples mapped to individual keys, which makes it easy to choose a general vibe, such as “whooshes,” and then play around on the keys until you find a sample that fits best in your composition.
There are also some very nice multisampled synths that would sound equally at home in soundtrack work as well as certain electronic and pop styles. I found plenty of great drones and basses that will be making their appearance in future cues.
8Dio went the extra mile by including 67 impulse responses (IRs), which can be loaded into Kontakt’s convolution reverb. These IRs (many of which are also included with Aura) cover the gamut from custom-sampled rooms and halls to the more exotic, allowing you to create new textures and sonic landscapes.
Rhythmic Aura and Hybrid Tools are top-notch collections that carve out their own niche and take the notion of “musical sound design” to new heights. The amount of creative flexibility and production-ready quality that Hybrid Scoring Tools affords is hard to beat, and especially for media composers who produce music to deadlines, these tools are invaluable.
PROS: Much of the material in Rhythmic Aura is four bars long. Performance controls allow for easy improvisation with effects. Expert sound design and inspiring sample content.
CONS: Loop/rhythmic samples not provided in “sliced” format. Time-limited use in free Kontakt Player.
Bottom Line: Some of the best sounds for modern music-to-picture on the market.
Rhythmic Aura Vol. 1: $249 download | Hybrid Tools Vol. 1: $249 download