Soniccouture Electro-Acoustic by Diogo C
Format: Kontakt Library - Compatible with free player
Size: 14.81GB (unpacked)
DRM: Native Instruments Service Center
Price: $179 (US Dollars, MSRP)
The scope: Soniccouture takes the age-old concept of sampling vintage drum machines to new and unexpected directions with Electro-Acoustic, a Kontakt instrument that approaches both sound shaping and rhythm creation in quite unique ways.
Let’s start with the sonics: here we have 15 vintage drum machines, thoroughly sampled with all the quality Soniccouture is known. The machines range from the usual suspects like Roland’s X0X and LinnDrum to more exotic pieces such as the Bentley Rhythm Ace, all recorded with five round robins for greater authenticity. Each piece of the kit can be taken from any given machine, so you can combine classic 808 kicks with a Simmons snare and a Boss DR55 hi-hat and so forth. Now here’s the real twist: as these machines were recorded through 11 special signal chains, and some are quite unusual to say the least - from classic and overdriven mic pres and compressors to mic'd club-style PA sound system and a bass cabinet. Here goes the complete list of channels for the Drum Designer: Dry, Neve 1073, EMI TG12345 Desk compressor, Ampeg Bass Amp, Thermionic Culture Rooster preamp, PA mics HiGH, MID, LOW, State Of The Ark Studio Room mics, Monnow Valley glass room mics, Drum resonance mics, Drum shell rattles. The microphone list is also impressive and includes some coveted high-end mics from Neumann and AEA to name a few. All these channels are ready available on the lower panel of the Drum Design Engine, which also houses a mixer overlay that provides faders with peak meters, pan, mute/solo, EQ/Comp, saturation, reverb aux and a stereo bus with EQ/Comp, tape saturation and limiter. The mixer also enables output routing to different Kontakt channels, so each drum can go on its dedicated output to your DAW’s mixer, which adds to the flexibility. The Drum shell rattles and Drum resonance mics samples are quite interesting - these are acoustic drums and percussions and also weird stuff such as a box full of screws and tins that can be blended along the electronic drums for some unique results. According to the Electro-Acoustic user manual they’re a “selection of small sonic artefacts that could be triggered with drums at a low level to give a real life, organic recording feel”. Combined with the drums machines this is a very wide rhythmic palette, so we can go from vanilla drum-machine sounds to super rich sounding beats combining both natural and synthetic elements - this instrument really lives up to its premise of “electro” and “acoustic”.
SOTA Studio set for the Electro-Acoustic recording
The counterpart of the Drum Design Engine is the second tab of the main interface, which houses the Beat Tools, the musical and rhythmic side of Electro-Acoustic where we have three very interesting sequencers. First is the Beat Shifter, which may look like a regular step sequencer but it features some brilliant movement and randomizing options per lane that can makes for some fantastic variations and very uncommon beats. Second is an Euclidean Beats, which is based Godfried Toussaint work. Lately there seems to be renaissance of this concept, especially amongst the eurorack crowds. It’s quite an intriguing concept, so I suggest reading this paper followed by this free online tool to learn more about it. Third and final sequencer is the poly beats, which generates polyrhythms as the name suggest. Visually it’s similar to beat shifter and closer to a regular sequencer, but each drum can have an unique number of steps and there's a global randomize function that affects all its lanes. I honestly found the Beat Shifter the best of the pack as I’m not that much into polyrhythms, but combining a regular four-on-the-floor beat with Beat Shift with some complementary percussions from Euclidean and Poly can lead to some very interesting and odd-sounding results, there’s really a lot to explore here in terms of beat creation. Also important to note that there’s MIDI drag and drop on all three sequencers, so you can send the beats directly to your arranger and order/edit them accordingly. Also worth mentioning that you don’t need to use Beat Tools, as Electro-acoustic also supports MIDI control, which ready to use out of the box, and there’s a second overlay on the Drum Designer that allows the user to make his own note assignments and polyphony settings, which facilitates DAW-based programming and playing through a hardware controller. Overall this is a very well-conceived instrument, Soniccouture was quite clever on its design and the end result is greatly polished.
Sound quality: Electro-Acoustic is one of the coolest virtual drum machines out there, bringing a fresh approach to an otherwise exhausted concept. There are zillions of recreations of vintage drum machines out there in all shapes and formats, but nothing quite like this one, and that’s down to two things - its special signal chains on the Drum Design Engine and the very creative sequencers with the Beat Tools. It’s the combination of those aspects that makes Electro-Acoustic a great sounding library, but even without all those “extras” it’s still quite great - it’s done by one of the best teams out there when it comes to sampling, so the sound quality comes as no surprise if you’re familiar with Soniccouture and their laudable work over the past decade. Having said that, the processed bits are quite interesting, combining the classic vintage gear with amps and a mic’ed club PA can result in very unique and interesting sounds.
Ease of use: A very easy and straightforward to program instrument, with an interface that intuitively divides the sonics from sequencing facilities on two main tabs that are readily accessible. The learning curve here should be relatively smooth depending on your background, but it’s mostly a pain free experience. Swapping and shaping each piece of the drumkit with the processing chain is very intuitive, the mixer is very well organized and should be familiar enough to use. The beat tools are also relatively easy to use, with the Beat Shifter being the easiest due to its layout, which is more common for most people, but even the stranger Euclidean Beats should be rather okay to understand after a few minutes and with the drag-and-drop MIDI to DAW you can build songs more easily as the sequencers are limited to 16-steps (more on this in a moment). Resource consumption is surprisingly low, with a drumkit never taking more than 400mb, so you can run plenty of instances on basically any half-decent machine. Important to note that Electro-Acoustic is delivered on a single instrument that uses Kontakt’s snapshots facilities, which to the eyes of this reviewer is a much better choice than having a bunch of instruments on a folder. Despite its initialization being a tad slower this system speeds up all subsequent loading processes, but I can understand if some users think otherwise. Last but never least, there’s a 20+ pages PDF user manual that not only covers all functions and but also brings a great deal of information about the recording process of Electro-Acoustic, which is quite a fun read.
Features: Hard to find anything to complain here as plenty of sound-shaping and beat making options are offered. However, I do miss a couple of things on the beat tools, which is a pattern bank system and a song-mode, which would make these sequencers a lot more fun to use as it would avoid the back and forth with the DAW arranger. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Electro-Acoustic has a lot to offer and it opens up a wide range of interesting possibilities. I really like the fact that each drum piece can be routed to a different channel on the DAW, which is great since I can have hands-on control over everything. The MIDI drag-and-drop on the Beat Shifter is another fun feature, especially if you keep playing with its random and step-shifting functions, which allows for a bunch of variations if you keeping dragging those MIDI parts to your arranger. There’s also a wealthy number of presets, neatly organized as dry, electro-acoustic, hybrid and overdriven, which intuitively mirrors Electro-Acoustic’s special channels and are useful to showcase some of the included sounds and beat possibilities.
Bang for buck: Superb value at $179 (MSRP) and it works with the free Kontakt Player, so there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s fresh sounding, fun to use and highly versatile. However, the most important aspect here in this reviewer’s opinion is how this is an instrument rewards creativity, and that’s both on the sonic and on the beat making aspects. You almost certainly have a bunch of samples and other plug-ins doing old drum machine sounds, but not quite like this one does. You might also have some great sequencing tools, but probably not under the same roof as your samples. This combination of unique sounds and sequencers that are fun to use is probably the biggest selling point here - you might be able to achieve similar results using a bunch of different tools but it won’t probably be as fun as Electro-Acoustic.
Recommended for: beatmakers and producers looking for a drum machine that sounds fresh and rewards creativity.
*Unique sounding, with many options to shape the sounds
*Intuitive and straightforward to program
*Beat Tools that are actually very fun to use
*Relatively affordable and runs with the free Kontakt Player
*Beat Tools can only handle one pattern
Click below for full-resolution screenshots.