Output Analog Brass and Winds – Organic Synthesis
With another addition to the already excellent lineup of sample-based synth libraries, Output introduces the much-anticipated brass and woodwind edition based on the Analog String platform released last year. So can a re-skin and a new sample set provide enough interest to entice producers and media composers again?
(Review updated May 2021 ) If someone suggested to you that it was a good idea to take classically recorded orchestral brass and woodwind samples and then morph squash, stretch and chop them into unrecognisable synthetic sounds you might think them slightly mad. Since Output is the same company that was responsible for the spectacular Rev a few years back, where the entire library played samples backwards, it is no surprise that their subsequent product releases continue to push boundaries.
Anything new from these guys promises to be groundbreaking, so I’m excited to explore the new library created by one of the most innovative developers in the game right now. Their website and promotional material are prime examples of how branding is done well and I expect the software to stand up to its own hype.
Output Analog Brass and Winds is a Native Instruments Kontakt-based library similar to Analog Strings released last year. The interface features the same layout and workflow, with only cosmetic changes to reflect the new sample sources. Analog Brass and Winds work with the free Kontakt player and only requires 7 gigabytes of hard drive space with some rather low CPU requirements, so we’re off to a great start.
The 18-piece brass and 18-piece woodwind ensembles were recorded specifically for the library, focusing more on interesting and unusual phrases rather than traditional shorts and longs. In addition, a bunch of analogue synths and interesting vintage effect processors have been used to produce a rather eclectic curation of core samples to choose from.
It is possible to call up somewhat traditional-sounding brass and woodwind patches, but this would totally miss the point of the library. Though the instrument is very complex, the clever front-end main screen contains most of the control elements you will need to perform with the presets. The preset browser contains a huge selection of choices categorised by style – ambient, synth orchestral etc.
With the default intro patch ‘Destructive Brass’ loaded on startup you are presented with four unique brass-themed sliders, each with an individual control unique to the patch. This patch has more, pulse, filer and glide controls. ‘More’ means more ‘oomph’, pulse being a rhythmic LFO, the filter is a hi-pass and glide is portamento. You become more familiar with the language the longer you spend using the instrument.
At the bottom of the GUI is the twin sample player area, present globally throughout the instrument. Here you will see the two sample engines, each with its own grid-style browser, tuning controls and loop settings.
There is a good amount of control over the sample playback, from reversing, and changing the playback start and end, pitch tuning and interesting glitch tape loops. A simplistic mic selection is here for choosing either close or far on the instrument recordings, though in practice there is not a massive tonal difference between the two sets.
Without even delving further into the synth, the front page offers quite a flexible number of controls to morph and wreck the samples. Swapping out samples is as easy as clicking the sample name and choosing another presented in a grid browser.
The edit section is where it’s possible to modify the envelopes for each of the sample engines. Though these controls will be familiar to seasoned synth users, Output offers a couple of really unique features.
The ASDR includes an extra ‘curve’ control for the attack, which I found to be surprisingly effective on brass samples. A second pitch envelope features an ‘amount’ control on its ADSR for overall pitch level, great for making natural-sounding swells even on very synthetic patches.
Flutter controls are used to create tremolo-type vibrato with a lot more control over the amount and depth than you would normally see.
Finally, stereo spread and pan control with an option for converting the sample to mono and full legato mode. The advanced settings are for setting the keyboard trigger range and portamento settings.
Most interesting is the clever ‘colour’ control, oddly hidden away in the advanced menu. This control transposes the samples up or down, then offsets the keyboard to compensate for pitch, offering some really interesting and varied results. It can be a little hit-and-miss to find an exact timbre, depending on the sample you’re applying it to, but some really dramatic shifts can be heard, particularly on natural brass and wind samples.
Generally, taking the level lower slows the sample and darkens the sound, higher speeds it up and brightens the sound.
Output Analog Brass and Winds comes packaged with an extensive selection of effects to choose from, nothing too weird, but all the basics are covered.
A filter with high and low pass, 3-band EQ, guitar amp style distortion and a basic compressor. The motion effect includes both a phaser and chorus, both sounding really nice. A dual-engine delay unit is here, each channel containing time, feedback, pan and wet controls.
Finally, there is a nicely featured reverb section with selections of convolution or synthetic style, all of which sound nice.
Though there is nothing overly groundbreaking here, rather impressively you have these effects as either global AND replicated for each sample engine – effectively offering three individual FX sections. The individual sample FX features the same effect types as the global section, but each is more tailored for single samples.
The distortion, for instance, offers extra tube, drive or lo-fi bit crushing-type options, each with its own micro-controls. The reverb offers only algorithmic options, the compressor has no limiter, and the delay has only a single repeater. This might sound a little limiting, but remember there is one of these FX sections now on each sample, plus the global FX over the top, so certainly no limits to FX possibilities.
The extremely customisable rhythm section features multiple waves or stepped LFO shapes, each controlling any number of modulators in the FX section. Each patch can assign two of these rhythm machines to each of the two layers, each with totally independent controls, tempos and FX. You could assign the same sample to both layers and have effectively 4 rhythm generators in action for some extremely complex results.
The control section is a little daunting at first but it doesn’t take long to get to grips with the workflow and to start inventing your own modulations.
I appreciate the rather blocky layout here as it feels quite instinctive to use, especially when experimenting. The controls are all within mouse reach and clearly labelled and identifiable.
The wave filters include a large selection of LFO shapes as you would expect, but the included step sequencer is a stroke of genius. There is a huge selection of patterns to choose from and of course, you can draw in your own creations. Handy pattern invert/flip and randomise buttons are here, plus you can offset patterns one click at a time as well, which is a nice touch. You can choose up to 32 steps and there is a smooth control for rounding off the attack time and creating a quasi-LFO-type effect when turned to full.
Locking any of these controls to a MIDI controller gives you extraordinary levels of expression. I found adding subtle movement to pad sounds can excite a somewhat vanilla sound and introduces a deeper level of complexity to your arrangements. Fortunately, you can save your custom rhythm arrangements as presets, so I found it well worth the time to make a bunch of nice little enhancers to apply to other patches I used. Of course, if you are stuck for inspiration there are a lot of presets here to try out as well.
The curious ‘Flux’ control requires some serious study to understand and perfect. In essence, it is an 8-channel independent sequencer. This device allows you to assign a rhythmic groove to each of the 8 slots which it will play through in order. It is also possible to offset the start point, allowing totally crazy and almost random-sounding results.
All of the rhythm section controls are brilliant on their own, but considering that you have two available for each sample engine (!) the complex possibilities are pretty much endless.
On top of Output’s dual-engine arpeggiator, a 32-step animator section that sequences patterns allows you a selection of many shapes from basic up and downs through to very complex rhythms. You can affect the duration, swing feel and number of octaves used by the shaper, as well as the overall tempo.
Anyone familiar with arpeggiators will have no trouble in this section. By itself nothing to write home about, but along with the hugely flexible rhythm section, it provides many more creative possibilities to adventurous producers.
Output Analog Brass and Winds is generally quite aggressive sounding, as one might expect from a brass section. This is not to say everything is bombastic. There are plenty of soft ambient patches and light woodwinds, but the instrument feels more comfortable wrecking and mangling sounds than subtly whispering them.
I felt that the earlier Analog Strings library tended to blur the lines between synth and orchestral strings too far, presenting more of a pad synth than a recognisable string instrument. Analog Brass and Winds doesn’t suffer the same lack of character. Even the most mangled patches still have a strong hint of ‘brassiness’ about them, and though some are mostly lost in the chaos, on the whole, I always felt like I was playing a brass or woodwind instrument.
The brass instruments, in particular, respond best to the synthesis treatment because of the very nature of the instruments’ sharp timbre.
Whereas Analog String appeals, in my opinion, more to sound design, Analog Brass and Winds can also easily fit with more traditional orchestrations as an underscore to emphasise existing brass lines, or simply for upfront impact. This can easily fit in with your traditional scoring libraries to bring a more contemporary sound.
As with the previous Analog String library, there are fewer system demands for loading massive sample banks and more focus on clever internal rhythm generators and FX, making the entire library feel snappy and responsive.
Our test system showed around 4-8% DSP load on a fully animated duel-sample patch, which for a Kontakt instrument at this level is pretty amazing. Even fully mapped via MIDI to our Akai controller with 18 assigned controllers I didn’t notice any discernible lag or glitching.
Though each patch requires a few seconds to load, the overall library loads in around 10 seconds. Each patch ranges from 20 to around 500meg, depending on the complexity. Even a low-end modern PC will have no trouble running this.
Output Analog Brass and Winds is successful thanks to the instrument retaining much of its organic timbre. Other than the very esoteric pads and synthetic textures, the patches are all quite recognisable as brass or woodwind sounds.
Output has preserved the character of the raw samples while creating a cutting-edge and contemporary instrument. Of course, there a plenty of ways completely to mangle the basic sample building blocks, but I found that retaining much of the natural character of the brass and wind samples with tasteful amounts of synthesis applied still allowed me to incorporate this with my orchestral arrangements.
I particularly like the workflow of both Analog Brass and Winds and Analog String libraries. I find the macro assign system and extremely flexible rhythm controls amazingly simple to use and can often elevate even basic patches into totally different soundscapes. If you are a composer who wants to impart the biting characteristics of brass instruments with an updated edge, this is perfect for you.