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Sunday, October 15, 2006

VSampler 3 - a *very* nice piece of music software

I recently finished composing and producing the music for a film, and throughout the whole project (25 music cues of varying lengths), there was one piece of audio software that kept on shining and was so useful for me, that I felt I wanted to write some words about it in my blog: VSampler 3.

VSampler 3 is a software replacement for an outboard/hardware sampler. I have a very nice hardware sampler -- an E-Mu E5000 Ultra with two ROM-boards fitted (i.e. 1000 preset sounds) in addition to 128 MB of sample RAM, a built-in harddisk, external SCSI CDROM drive and the whole shebang. This is a pretty powerful piece of sampling machinery for which I paid a couple of thousand dollars or more -- but the fact is, with VSampler 3 installed on my PC, I didn't even feel the need to switch on my hardware sampler once during the composing and production of this film soundtrack. At a tiny fraction of the cost, VSampler 3 is -- for me -- so fast, powerful, intuitive, stable and easy to use, that it has made my expensive hardware sampler completely redundant -- and very soon up for sale!

I know it must probably sound like I've been paid by the creators of VSampler to write this. I haven't, though :-). I simply used this software so much in my latest project, and it was such a joy to work with, that I kept thinking the software deserves more attention than it seems to be getting.

I have worked with other software samplers, notably Native Instruments Kontakt, but I feel VSampler 3 is much more straightforward, much more logically laid out, much easier to find your way around (especially if you are used to working with hardware samplers), and not to mention... it's a lot cheaper.

VSampler 3 can import samples and sample banks from lots of different formats, including Akai, Kontakt, Wav/AIFF, Sf2 (Soundfont), Gigastudio, Halion, DLS, Battery, Recycle REX, and other formats. Or, one of my favourite uses -- simply drag and drop a WAV file from the Windows explorer onto VSampler, and it automatically creates a "default" instrument from that sample.

Adding volume envelopes, filters, effects, LFO's etc. to the sounds is so simple that if you're already used to using a few other pieces of audio software, you can just dive in and do all of this without even reading a single line of instructions. It's just so intuitive, straightforward and clear.

There are lots of other, heavier features like Beat Slicing, built-in synthesizer features, remote control and automation etc., but let's face it, 99.9% of the time, you just want to quickly build (or load) an instrument or set of samples, add some volume envelope and maybe a filter, and start playing. This whole process is done, literally, in about 5 seconds in VSampler.

One really great way of working with VSampler that I have developed is that I have used Nero Burning ROM to create "image files" of all my Akai sample CDs. These "image files" are typically about 600 MB each and each one is simply a "mirror" file of the Akai CD it was copied from. These image files can be "mounted" on the system using Nero ImageDrive. By simply double-clicking on one of these image-files, that causes that Akai CD to be "virtually inserted" into a CDROM drive on the PC. You can then click on the "Akai" button on the VSampler 3 import page, and it displays all the programs that are on that Akai disc. So if, say, I want to load a sound from my "Drum Tools" Akai-CD, I don't have to find the actual CD and put it into the PC. I simply double-click on the image file of that CD, and the PC "thinks" that the CD has been inserted. I then click the "Akai" button in VSampler 3, and swish, all the programs from the Drum Tools CD is displayed, ready to import one or several of the programs into VSampler. So really, swapping between several different Akai sample CDs and loading samples into VSampler is just a matter of a couple of mouse clicks and takes less than 10 seconds!

One other thing I have to mention is the "anti crash" safety net. If you drive VSampler very heavily and perhaps there is a read-error on an Akai disc, at the same time it's receiving masses of MIDI signals and you're changing screens like mad, then a crash might occur -- just like in any other Windows program. However, VSampler doesn't actually crash! It pops up an error message window which will say something about the error (cryptic stuff, not for you or I to understand). The pop-up window gives you the option to Copy this information to the Windows clipboard, so that you might send it to VSampler tech support. You can then "clear" the pop-up window, and return to work! Amazing. At this point, though, I felt it was probably a good idea to save everything and re-start the audio program (not the whole PC), to avoid any potentially worse problems.

The way I got introduced to VSampler was quite a while back, when a version of it came for free with the Cakewalk SONAR music arrangement and recording software that I use for all my composing/productions. I have to admit, VSampler was just "lying there" on my harddrive for a long time before I really started using it. I just didn't think it would be that good.

I have since upgraded to the latest version, and I use VSampler 3 as a virtual instrument (a DXi plugin) in SONAR v5. I'm planning to upgrade to SONAR 6 in the near future.

This probably sounds like one big long advertisement for VSampler by now, but actually nobody asked me or encouraged me to write any of this. I've just never had that much good use for a piece of software this cheap, ever.

I'm now going to sell my hardware sampler and for anybody who are looking for a powerful, yet very simple and easy to use, software sampler, I can strongly recommend that you take a look at VSampler 3.