IK Multimedia SampleTank 2
Sampletank 2 has come a long way since its inception in 2000. It's a software-based sample player that operates as a VST, DXi, RTAS, MAS and Audio Units plug-in under Mac OS and Windows operation systems. It ships with a library of about 4.5 GigaBytes of sampled sounds including Bass, Brass, Drums, Ethnic, Guitars, Loops, Orchestral, Organs, Percussion, Piano, Strings, Synths, Vocals, Woods and Winds. That about covers the whole gamut of sounds you would want from any sample-player! Sampletank 2 also introduces STRETCH (Sampletank Time REsynthesis TeCHnology) which gives complete sonic control over the tempo, pitch and harmonics of samples for excellent sample pitch transposing and loop synchronization to your host program's tempo.
Although not as in-depth or complex as a GigaStudio, Sampletank does offer the software-based musician everything he/she would want in a do-it-all instrument. Each instance of the plug-in offers 16 parts. You can assign any sound in its library to each part to create richly layered sounds, an entire band ensemble or even an entire orchestra! Each of these parts can be assigned to any MIDI channel (1 to 16) so you can have independent control over each sound or control multiple parts at the same time. Each part also features independent solo and mute buttons, panning, volume and output assignments (up to 16 audio outputs available). This allows for extremely flexible creation of ensembles, multi-patches, layered sounds and performance oriented patches that can be stored and recalled at the click of a button (and a little bit of a wait as the samples are loaded into memory).
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Each of the sound categories features an extensive amount of samples covering pretty much any style of music and you would be hard pressed not to find what you are looking for as long as it's not too far out there (see Sonik Synth for that). Each sound you assign to a part has its own editable set of straight forward synth parameters like filters, envelopes, LFOs, etc. and these are all easily tweakable right from the front panel of the plug-in or via MIDI controllers. In fact, each sound/part has two envelope sections, a multi-mode filter, two LFOs, a synth section for tuning & pitch-bend amounts, and velocity controls. All these tweakable knobs appear in one convenient location and switch depending on which part is currently hi-lighted or selected. There's even a multi-effects processor that can assign up to five different effects to each part! There's enough easy access controls to really modulate and manipulate each sound you assign to a part to make it your own.
Some extra cool features in the interface include a color adjustment (if red is too, red; we went for the orange look pictured above), luminosity adjustment for those darkened studios or on stage, and saturation controls. Customize its color scheme to suit your needs! Also, keyboard mapping, layering and zones, portamento (mono, legato & poly modes), global pan, level and chord memory features round out this excellent and low-cost but high quality sample-player.
As a plug-in, Sampletank kicks some serious butt! It's easy to use, fully MIDI controllable, visually pleasing and totally intuitive. So the only major point of debate with such an instrument is the quality of its sounds. Well a majority of the samples are great and totally useable! Samples can also be imported from Akai, SampleCell, WAV, AIFF and other formats too. If you have trouble trudging through the vast amount of sampled sounds already available, a nifty little search field can help narrow your search. The only limitations of this plug-in is that it is CPU intensive and complex ensemble patches can bog down your system if it's not up to snuff. Therein lies the rub, but it's a livable limitation for the price and quality of sounds you can get out of this package. Online audio and evaluation demos are available from IK Multimedia.
Demos & Media
Images from Vintage Synth Explorer.