*Developer: Sample Magic
*Formats: AU/VST/AAX Instrument
*DRM: Unique serial number
*Price: £79.99 MSRP
The scope: Sample Magic has rightfully earned a respectable reputation as one of the finest sample providers and also received lots of praise for their nifty Magic A/B plug-in, but this time they’re stepping up to offer their first virtual instrument. Stacker is a drum layering powerhouse equipped with three sample slots, one analog-like oscillator and a plethora of sound-shaping tools. It's focused on delivering the essential drums building blocks for electronic music with high quality kicks, snares, hi-hats and percussions. This is a mono-timbral instrument in the sense that when it receives a note it will trigger all three samples and the oscillator simultaneously, so it’s all about stacking and layering samples with the oscillator and a bunch of effects, envelopes and modulations.
In use: Setting up Stacker is quite a breeze - you can either manually load each slot with the provided samples or use your own samples or you can simply pick one of the 1208 (!!!) presets from the right-side menu and it will usually load samples, oscillator and effects settings. Having done that it’s just a matter of writing down the notes - Stacker is velocity-sensitive response and capable of automatic note transpose so you can freely change the tune of your drum on the fly. If you want to dig deeper into sound shaping then you’re set for quite a ride, as Stacker offers many possibilities. The three sample slots offers basic editing of the length and the oscillator slot works like a mono synth with variable waveform, noise and envelopes for both.
Each of the samples and oscillator slots comes with its own set of pitch, amp and modulation envelopes, HP/LP filters, stereo widener/mono maker sliders and the interesting “Scatter” function, which can delay (freely or in-sync) each sample/osc and spread them on the stereo field for interesting rhythmic and/or widening effects. It doesn’t stop there as each slot is also equipped a bit crusher (“Digitize”), filtered distortion (“Clip filter”) and time-based modulators (“Zero-Flanger” and “Mod Shift”). The two final slots houses a delay and a impulse-response based reverb. Both effects are full-fledged tools with their own LP/HP filters and 3-band EQ and an interesting “pump” envelope for more creative strokes. Stacker also offers four freely-assignable macro knobs with variable depth and two polar modes. In order to get things under controls Stacker offers a very slick interface with a mixer for all slots on top and tabs to house the parameters of the mod, amp, pitch and effects sections.
There’s also a global tab that enables access to all LP/HP filters from the slots for quick edits. Overall the workflow is very good and there shouldn’t much of a problem with operation, so it’s basically down to stacking good samples and tweaking to taste!
Sound quality: Stacker is one excellent sounding instruments, with high quality samples, a fun to use drum-oriented oscillator, extremely flexible envelopes, useful effects that are also good sounding and interesting innovations such as the “Scatter” feature. Given Sample Magic’s sampling expertise it was kind of expected that the sound content would be awesome, the remaining questions would be if the sound engine was up to the task and if the overall quality of execution of the instruments would be on par with today’s competition. Both questions were fully answered, without any shadow of a doubt. It’s safe to say that we have a new and strong contender in the virtual instrument game and I’m looking forward to see what Sample Magic does next.
Ease of use: This plug-in had all the elements to be a bit overwhelming, but it manages to neatly organize all its features in a rather uncomplicated way. The interface is clean and allows for an intuitive operation, I just wish the faders for each slot were a bit bigger but that’s hardly an issue. Stacker is also very light on resource consumption, both on CPU and RAM consumptions low enough to allow basically any computer built in the five years to run a few instances without any issues. It’s quite a rewarding to use plug-in and achieving the desired sounds will be rather easy.
Features: Hard to complain in terms of features as Stacker packs a ton of goodies. The sample selection is very good, there are many envelopes, modulators and effects to shape the sound. It provides nearly everything one could ever wish for when building drum sounds. The only aspect that I find a bit underwhelming are the audio routing options as it lacks more outputs and we’re down to a single stereo output - I think that at least one mono output for each individual layer would be nice to have and that would enable more mixing possibilities in the DAW-level. Nevertheless, what Stacker offers is more than enough to keep producers entertained for a long, long time. One particular features that I’d like to highlight are the seriously flexible amp and pitch envelopes, which are extremely effective and also very easy to tweak.
Bang for buck: For modern and electronic-based music production Stacker is an awesome one-stop solution for any single drum shaping needs. It boasts an incredible number of awesome features and the results you can obtain with it are superb. Easily one of the very best tools to build excellent sounding rhythmic foundations.
Recommended for: Anyone producing electronic music, be it Hip-Hop, EDM or experimental styles and any of the zillions of possible sub genres. Mixing engineers can also benefit from Stacker when doing drum sound replacement or reinforcement tasks.
- Sounds really good
- Wide range of possible sounds
- Superb pitch and amplitude envelopes
- Easy to use and light on resources
- Single stereo output
- No demo
- More outputs!
- Drag and drop samples from file browser (Explorer/Finder)
- I can envision a “X-Stacker”, with four, six, eight or whatever number of stacks. It would be really cool to have a true polyphonic version of this plug-in. Increase the GUI height a bit to house the instrument selector, have each stack on its own MIDI channels, with a bunch of possible outputs....a man can dream!