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Plughugger Review

"Genres come and go, dancefloor tastes change, new influences permeate studios but some things in dance music are staples: sonic fundamentals that are permanent fixtures in the producers' arsenal. Effects are such staples."

The above is a direct quote from the manual of latest library from Sample Magic, Ultimate FX. During the last three-four years I've developed a habit of always reaching for my Vengeance effect libraries when in any kind of troubles during production. A few well-placed effects can spice up any track quite a few notches. Whatever people might be saying about Vengeance - for dance music - their effects libraries are among the best, if not the best. As being a serious effect junkie, my pulse took a bungy-jump the moment when I saw the words 'Sample Magic' combined with 'FX'. Being a fanboi is a double edged sword. I'm not only expecting to get a good library with effects, I'm expecting it to make my current libraries a thing of the past, make my upcoming 8-bit remix of Miami Porno Machine perfect and cure my aching tooth. Make no mistake you gentlemen over at Sample Magic. Fans are cool to have, but most of us are insane.

At the first glance, Ultimate FX seem to deviate little from the walked up path of dance effect libraries. We've got cymbal hits, down-falls, fills, hits, impacts, noise loops and uplifters. The usual gang. As with many releases from Sample Magic, the tempo dependent sounds come in two flavors: 125 and 128 bpm. While the tempo police and audio connoisseurs might appreciate the finer details of these two tempos, I personally feel it's a wasted opportunity. I am aware that not everybody lives in the world of simple elastic audio a la Ableton Live, so I won't take my criticism further. But still. I would have appreciated two more different tempos, such as 125 and 110. The good thing about it is that the 125 bpm sounds and the 128 bpm sounds are not the same. No wasted space on doubles in other words.

Before we start digging the bytes, let's have a closer check at the numbers.

Crash & Cymbals: 32 Falls & descenders - 125 bpm: 55 Falls & descenders - 128 bpm: 50 Fills - classic fills - 125 bpm: 23 Fills - classic fills - 128 bpm: 23 Fills - glitch fills - 125 bpm: 20 Fills - glitch fills - 128 bpm: 23 Fills - nu-rave fills - 125 bpm: 24 Fills - nu-rave fills - 128 bpm: 24 Fills - twisted vox fills - 125 bpm: 18 Fills - twisted vox fills - 128 bpm: 18 Impacts & bombs: 22 Layered fx (examples): 14 Machinery hits - 125 bpm: 13 Machinery hits - 128 bpm: 9 Noise & detail loops - 125 bpm: 17 Noise & detail loops - 128 bpm: 19 Orchestral hits: 11 Risers & lifters - 125 bpm: 55 Risers & lifters - 128 bpm: 63 Synth fx - chords: 34 Synth fx - reverse: 25 Synth fx - single: 43 Tape, vinyl & static fx: 26 Total number of samples: 661

As you can see, the samples are organized into detail. But not just that - the downsweeps and the uplifters are also marked with how many bars they play: 1, 2, 4, 8 up to 16. While looking at the file size is enough to judge on how long samples are, this make selection more convenient and the fact that Sample Magic have named each and every sample is another nice touch.

Uplifters are an all-time favorite of mine, so let's begin the tour right there. The majority of these samples are uplifters in the synthetic spirit, and by that I mean that they sound synthetic. In many cases you can clearly hear the layering of different elements. There are lots of analogue-style ufo/lfo-kind of warbling layered with noise and tonal components. It's also interesting to hear that these uplifters aren't merely volume fade-ins, but many of them evolve during time as well often with a small energizing push at the end. Although some tonal, but mostly not, I must confess I wished for more tonal upsweepers. More tonal and more complex.

Tonal upsweeps are generally more difficult to use, but I've found fading in dark atmospheric drones can be a cool trick. But my finding lack of complexity was not random and had a deeper purpose. In the manual, Sample Magic advices not to use one uplifter but layer several different on top of each other. Take one 16 bar uplifter and layer it with an 8 bar and a 2 bar - and play them all together and make sure they all end at the same spot - a trick that turns out to lightning a bowl of tequila with your fingertips. Incredibly effective. Another clever thing is that these samples are surprisingly unprocessed - no delays or reverb one these babies. Clean and ready for your own processing. Good! Sample Magic have also made a few examples to show how this technique can be used.

In contrast to many other producers I've never really understood the point of downsweeps/downfalls. Upsweeps - oh yes - but downfalls? Maybe I've got a natural talent for easing off parts and preparing them to go offline. Maybe I'm just plain dumb. But no matter. The downsweeps are in many regards the same stuff as the upsweeps but the other way around. They are synthetic, come in different lengths, not too complex by their own and most definitely can be layered, and many are built around noise. I personally liked the shorter ones best, as they can be used as softer impact sounds.

Another part where Sample Magic put a lot of their effort is with the fills. Now, if there is anything more difficult to create in a sample library than a decent non-repetitive collection of single drums, it's most definitely fills. Creating fills is an art by itself and the temptation of going to libraries for fills is hard to resist. The only problem is that it seldom works. Creating fills with drum elements that aren't anywhere else on the drum channel often sound artificial and is more like an effect.

It must be said though, that cutting in a fill with a totally different sound can be damn cool. It's like when DJing and instead of mixing hitting stop on the 1210 and get that classic vinyl stop effect and start the next song after a minimal pause (viva le 90s). Stuff that earn you cool-points for sure, but must be used sparse. If use pre-made fills too often, your productions are going to feel cheap. So try to resist the temptation of using them too often - which in this case is damn difficult. Some - no, wait - most of these fills are nothing short of brilliant and are just begging to be used. The Twisted vox fills are quite different from the rest. While the Glitch fills feels hitech the vocals are quite radical. Me, personally wouldn't really call these vocal fills, but rather Looped FX Vocals or something. They sure work as fills, but can equally be used during longer periods, such as for a shorter break.

The Impacts is a collection of 22 huge, reverb-drenched kick drum-esque sounds - usually with some layering to give them slightly more complex shimmer. Instant massiveness right out of the box - boom.

The most odd section of Ultimate FX is most definitely the Synth FX section. Here, your hard working sonic adventurer was expecting classic synth effects, analogue squeeks, zaps, rumblings and an armada of lfo-wobbling. To my surprise there was none of that. Not. One. Single. Analogue. Zap. Imagine that (rhyme unintended). No, this category consists of over 100 synth sounds and stabs and all of them are up to the high standards we are expected to see from SM. The reversed section contains reversed sounds and stabs and works great for alternative uplifters.

The Tape, Vinyl & Static section contains exactly what you expect. The vinyl crackles here are by far the most tastiest - very cool and totally authentic, as are the short static sounds from radio. Apart from a few vinyl spins, this category is like finding an old box of dusty records and a tube-driven radio.

The orchestral section contains a few handful orchestral sounding impacts - no orchestral stabs - but percussion-like impacts. When talking about impacts - although there already exists a impact category, 'Machinery hits' is a great addition, with some serious booms and impacts, loops as well as single sounds.

Interesting to note, the included booklet is more useful than normal. Instead of the usual bragging about how hot The Stuff You've Just Bought, there are a couple of pages with some useful production tips. If you've read Sample Magic's book about dance music production, you'll know that these people know their stuff and the tips here are both useful and relevant. A small thing, but sure made the Value-meter jump up a notch.

Conclusion There is no question that Sample Magic have done an excellent job with Ultimate FX. There are no weak parts - in fact, many of the sounds are selected and produced in a very conscious way giving the producer room for his/hers own processing taste: the uplifters/downsweeps are not drenched in reverb or delays - but the impact-sounds are. Just the way they should be. Although I am not a huge fan of downsweeps or pre-recorded fills - that entirely is my personal taste, and I know other producers who find them both useful and inspiring. If you are looking for a fresh injection of effects - this should be one of the first libraries to check out. Full of win."

Good: Excellent quality. Inspiring material. Useful and relevant tips in the booklet. Bad: Nothing bad.