Sample Logic Cinemorphx review

A massive set of samples and an even massiver set of ever-morphing sounds for Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5

Product: Cinemorphx
Manufacturer: Sample Logic
Web: https://www.samplelogic.com/
Price: $599 (cross grades available)

Sample Logic Cinemorphx main screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx main screen (click for larger image)

 

First things first. It’s a big download at around 30Gb so possibly an overnight job if you don’t have a fast internet connection.

So is the wait worth it? Let’s find out.

Cinemorphx is billed as The Complete Composer’s Toolkit.

It’s a combination and expansion of three of Sample Logic’s legacy products – AIR (Ambience Impacts Rhythms), The Elements and Synergy.

As you can imagine from the names, the packs are aimed at film, TV and game composers so that might give you an idea of the types of sounds you’ll find here.

The morph the merrier
And the sounds are big! And they evolve or morph. In fact, morphing is one of the software’s main features. The name gives it away, doesn’t it?

Cinemorphx runs in Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler and can operate as a plug-in. It can even run in the free Kontakt Player if you don’t have or want to buy the full version.

There is only one instrument which can take a while to load initially. There’s much to be said for using a SSD when using Kontakt or any sample-based instrument.

From this one instrument you can access all the presets, and save and load new sounds.

The user interface is attractive in a sci fi sort of way and relatively easy to navigate. The 27-page manual quickly explains the operation and buyers can access a free set of tutorial videos, too.

At its core
Essentially, Cinemorphx works like this:

There are four soundcores located at the four corners of the main screen. Each core can hold two sounds (a set of keymapped samples) and a “3D Mixer” enables seamless morphing between the four cores.

There are around 6000 presets accessed from the Instrument Browser. They are divided into Single Core and Multi Core. Single Core is simply one soundcore (one or two keymaps) whereas Multi Core is all four (up to eight keymaps).

The presets are broadly divided into four categories: Atmospheres, Instrumentals, Loops, and Percussive. The Multi Core category has an additional One Note Combo.

If you were to audition each one for about 15 seconds each – and many take longer than that to evolve – it would take over 24 hours to listen to them all!

Sonic distractions
But you won’t be able to run through them one after the other anyway because you’ll get distracted by the other features. Guaranteed!

For example, the most tempting button is the XY control in the centre of the screen. It’s switched on for some sounds but not others so you’ll want to try it with those.

The XY control morphs between the soundcores. There are 20 morph presets and several adjustable controls if you want to delve deeper. You can make every sound move and evolve if you wish.

Very effective
At the bottom of the screen are six effects boxes which can each display one of 20 effects such as EQ, formant control, compression, saturation, delay, chorus, phasing and reverb. These are easily selected, adjusted and switched on and off.

It’s easy to change the presets on any of the cores so you can quickly change the sound mix.

And these are just the obvious controls.

In Step
In a second screen, the Step Animator is a multi-step sequencer – up to 128 steps – which can control several parameters including velocity, length, arpeggio type, duration, stutter effect and pan. There’s a Swing control, octave and transposition settings.

This can totally change the character of a sound as well as letting you create little riffs, movements and arpeggios.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx step animator

Sample Logic Cinemorphx step animator

 

Quoth the Raven – Ever Morph
And there’s yet more.

With the Morph Animator you can change the mix between soundcores and record morphs between them.

There’s also an FX Animator which morphs, yes, the FX.

And if you delve into the XY control a little more you’ll find a range of controls for adjusting the way it performs, too.

Yes, the morphing just goes on and on.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Morphing screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Morphing screen

 

Roll a six
And in case you’re searching for inspiration or are just feeling a little lazy, there’s a superior Random function.

Virtually all the main parameters – and many minor ones – can be selected for randomisation. This includes, of course, selecting the samples for the soundcores and an additional filter lets you specify the category (Atmosphere, Instrumentals, and so on) they come from.

Just about every setting in the Step Animator can be randomised, too.

Heck, you just have to set everything to random to see what happens! That’s a week’s worth of experimentation alone.

The guys at Sample Logic calculated that there are about an octillion sound combinations (yes, I had to look that up!) Whatever that is, it’s a lot!

Niggles?
Yes, a few little ones.

The main categories – Atmosphere, Instrumentals and so on – each have five or six further subdivisions but that’s as deep as it goes. The sounds have cute/interesting names but they don’t tell you what type of sound they are which makes it difficult to home in on a specific sound you might want.

When presented with so many sounds, you appreciate the comprehensive tagging in Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol and Maschine.

See also “Making MorphX” for more about sound selection.

And if we’re being picky then it’s slightly frustrating that the mouse wheel doesn’t scroll through the sound list; instead you have to click and drag on the scroll bar which is pretty thin.

Also – this is the last niggle – there is a degree of similarity between some sounds but given the nature of the instrument perhaps that’s to be expected.

Summary
Cinemorphx is unbelievable fun!

Some sounds could easily stand on their own or as a track that you could build a song or sound segment around. Movie composers could possibly create sections of a score simply from one key press!

Aside from the fact that it would take an age to explore the presets alone, it will take even longer to explore the range of options offered by the adjustable parameters.

But note, it’s just the wealth of possibilities that will take time to explore; the system is not at all difficult to use or to fathom out.

Although the name suggests Cinemorphx is for cinematic producers, to restrict it to those genres is to do it a disservice. Anyone working in electronica or EDM could undoubtedly draw inspiration from it – see “Making MorphX”

Is this a desirable piece of kit and do you want it?

Yes!

Apart from the issues around sound selection, the major negative is the price. However you look at it, 600 bucks is a lot for a piece of music software. You can buy complete orchestral instrument sets for less.

It firmly puts it in the high-end category and defines the type of musician and composer that Sample Logic expect to use Cinemorphx, and for those it will be sample/cinematic/atmospheric/sound design heaven and how do you put a price on that?

But it’s difficult to imagine any type of music or composer that wouldn’t salivate over this set of sound generation possibilities. I was listening to it with half an EDM ear and there were beats and build-ups all over the place.

If you’re a fan of evolving, changing textures it’s something you need to check out.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Browser screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Browser screen


Making MorphX

Given the range of sounds in Cinemorphx, I thought it would be interesting to try to create a piece of Dance Electronica using nothing but the presets.

The first task was to find some suitable drum, bass and effects loops. There were many candidates so the second task was to see which ones fitted well together.

Next job was to find melodic loops that fit. I could have created them with the Step Animator but I wanted some ready-made.

I confess I probably haven’t been though all 6K of the presets but most patterns were more sequence-like than melodic (if you see what I mean) but I found a few I thought I could use.

Finally there were the fills and toppings and several presets offered a range of different hits keymapped across the keyboard.

Then came the fun part of putting them together in some kind of song format.

I used nine presets in total, unmodified with no additional effects.

If you like it – great – if not, blame me, not Cinemorphx.

Oops!
I did experience one problem. After a ‘mishap’ for which no piece of software can be blamed, I needed to load the presets again.

I knew the names but not which sections they were under or even if they were Single or Multi Cores.

Nope, there’s no search function, nor can you list ALL the presets. So if you want to find a particular sound, unless you know which Core and category(ies) it’s under, it could take a while. It took me almost two hours!

Lack of a search function, good tagging, an ‘all presets’ list, and mouse scrolling make for poor preset navigation and take a lot of shine off a superb sound set.

With hindsight, of course, I should have saved the presets individually and the whole as a Multi as I was going along – guess what I did second time around! – but having to note preset locations distracts from the workflow.

Audified-MixChecker-Review

Turn your studio monitors into a range of alternative playback devices at the click of a button.

MixChecker by Audified

Product: MixChecker
Manufacturer: Audified
Web: http://shop.audified.com/
Price: $149
Here’s a thing – if you read just about any book or article on mixing (or cast your mind back to the last you did) it probably suggested that you listen to your mix on as many different types of playback device you can find from hi fis to smart phones, and car radios to laptops.

And it’s good advice because although you may spend hours – or days – creating the perfect flat mix, no one is going to listen to it on your set-up – except, perhaps, your Mum.

The (rather sad) fact is, that for all the hours professional engineers put into perfecting a mix, most music is listened to on ear buds and other very lo fi devices.

And the problem, as you undoubtedly know, is that the music will sound different depending on what you listen to it on.

So, to save you transferring your mix to numerous devices, copying it to USB sticks and burning it to CDs, Audified has developed a neat solution.

Acting on impulse
MixChecker models a range of playback devices which you can select at the push of a virtual button to simulate different listening experiences.

It does it by measuring the frequency responses and behaviour of the devices and imposing this on the output signal.

Getting a bit more technical, it’s based on impulse responses, a method which became prominent many years ago to impose the ‘ambience’ of a room on a signal to create naturalistic reverbs.

Play it back, Sam
There are 12 ‘playback’ systems: classic studio monitor, classic cube monitor, on-ear headphones, smart phone, tablet, laptop, car audio, TV, micro hi fi, radio, desktop speakers, and in-ear headphones.

So MixChecker gives you an idea of what your mix will sound like when played on these device.

But the question is – does it work and how well?

Ok, that’s two questions.

The answers are – yes and quite well. But of course, with caveats.

Does my mix sound big on this?
If you play your mix on your hi fi, laptop or phone, it’s unlikely to sound exactly the same as the MixChecker output. That should be obvious.

The models Audified used to create the simulations will probably not be the same as your devices so the sounds will be different.

MixChecker Simulation options buttons

For example – and your mileage may well, indeed, vary – on my system each device seemed to lose some part of the signal. Many were light in the bass, even the studio monitors, but some also lost the mids and/or highs while some, of course, highlighted those areas.

It’s a complex subject.

Also, you may be thinking that as there are variations between different types of studio monitor, what you hear on your system will not be the same as Joe Blogs’ – or Kayne West’s – system.

Compensation culture
And you’d be right. MixChecker produces different outputs depending on what you’re playing it through.

It compensates for this a little with a, er, Compensation section which includes 5″ monitors, 8″ monitors, and headphone options. Select the one closest to what you’re listening on.

MixChecker Compensation buttons

Oddly, no 6″ option which seems one of the most popular monitor sizes. But there is an Off button which you use if you’re listening on ‘high quality’ speakers, although the manual doesn’t specify what ‘high quality’ might be exactly.

Theme and variations
One of the problems at the moment is that the system adjusts for volume with RMS which isn’t necessarily (or likely) to produce the same perceived volume.

Which means that there is some perceived loudness variation when you switch from one device to another which makes it a little more difficult to home in on the tonal differences.

In fact, every option seemed quieter than the straight output. Audified is considering adding a volume control which would help make comparisons easier.

So these are all things to bear in mind but to get caught up in the minutiae and nuances of the thing is, I think, to miss the point.

If you don’t have a range of alternative playback devices in your studio for quick A/B comparisons, what do you do? Copy to other devices, burn CDs?

MixChecker saves you the hassle. It gives you a ready-made one-click way to ‘try’ a range of playback devices to hear how your mix might sound.

It’s certainly a time saver and, at times, an eye-opener.

Summary
You’d still be advised to run a reference check on other devices and not take its sounds as gospel, but as a quick and easy way to see how your mix might sound on other devices, it’s definitely worth a look.

And it will save time and effort transferring audio mixes.

However, you might think MixChecker is a little pricey.

Unless you’re making money with your music it’s more a considered purchase than a no-brainer but you can demo it free of charge for 30 days to see if it’s a good fit for you and your music. After that, you might just not want to mix without it.

All You Need Is A Computer!

Life can be so unfair. Just because you can’t sing or play an instrument, why can’t you be a rock star?

Well, those shortcomings didn’t stop lots of ‘stars’.

But let’s turn it down a notch and say you wanna make music. Maybe you haven’t yet learned to play an instrument but you have lots of ideas. Can a computer help? You betcha!

Most songs have a similar structure with sections such as verse, chorus, middle eight, instrumental and so on. Take a look at The Quick Guide To Song Structure for more info.

You’ll know instinctively which parts of the song are which – the verse is the catchy bit, just in case you’ve recently arrived from Mars – and you don’t have to be a classically trained musician to be able to ‘feel’ the beat or groove.

There are dozens of pieces of software to help you put your musical ideas down on, er, digital paper. And you don’t need a degree in music to do it!

Traditionally, music sequencers were organised like multi-track tape recorders, mimicking the hardware recording systems they aimed to replace.

However, the advent of computers enabled software designers to expand the limits of conventional sequencing and many music composition programs now use a building block approach to music creation.

They come with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of loops and samples which you can arrange in one- or two-bar patterns to form a song. It’s easy and fun!

The samples are usually of extremely high quality and you might be amazed at how easy it is to produce great-sounding music.

Garage Band
Apple’s Garage Band is one of the most well-known pieces of music composition software. It runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Unfortunately, it’s not available for other operating systems.

However, if you have one of the above devices, it’s one of the best such programs available and currently it only costs £4! Yes, read it and buy one!

Maschine
Maschine is billed as a groove production studio. It’s by Native Instruments who produce a superb range of software instruments and effects.

The original Maschine is a hardware unit but NI has produced a software version called iMaschine which, as you can tell from the name, is another Apple-only product.

However, again, at only £4 it’s a cheap, easy and fun way to start building beats and making music.

If you don’t have an Apple device – and even if you do – there are many other software options for both Mac and PC computers.

Ableton
Ableton made its name with the eponymous Ableton Live, designed for music production and performance. The best thing is, you can try it for free and it’s available for both Mac and PC.

Sequencing
If you want to go completely off road with 100% control over all the sounds and patterns, you need a sequencer. These are now commonly called a DAW – Digital Audio Workstation.

They require a little more musical ability and work best with an input device such as a keyboard connected via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). They allow you to create and manipulate patterns, change sounds and tempo, and arrange the patterns on virtual tracks.

There are dozens of sequencers on the market catering for every type of music, musician and pocket. Some of the more popular ones include Cubase, Logic, Magix, FL Studio, Acid Music Studio, Cakewalk Music Creator and Reason to name but a few.

There are many more and it’s worth taking time to decide where your musical interests lie and what type of software would best suit your needs.

And if you want to know how to bring it all together into a Hit Song, have a read of this post.

I finally succumbed to the temptation (see this post) and upgraded my laptop with a Crucial 512Gb M4 SSD.

UK Readers:   Crucial 512Gb M4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III)
USA Readers: Crucial 512Gb M4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III)

It’s fast! The old drive had a Windows Experience Index rating of 5.9 and was the slowest part of the system. The Crucial rates 8.1 and is the fastest. The slowest parts now are the graphics but as it’s not used for gaming this isn’t a problem.

System Info with SSD

Startup time to the login page seems to be much about the same but to get to the Desktop only takes 30-40 seconds as opposed to 3-4 minutes with the old HD.

The disk light no longer flashes near-continuously, programs launch noticeably faster and, well, the thing just seems that bit more zippy!

Transferring files is so much faster, too. I have an external USB 3 HD attached to the laptop and data transfer between the two is incredibly fast. I also have some USB 2 drives and they are certainly the bottleneck when transferring data.

So even if you can’t run to a SSD, if you use external storage it’s worth looking for USB 3 drives rather than USB 2.

Oddly, although USB 3 has been around since 2008, manufacturers have been slow in adding USB 3 ports to their machines. That’s changing now although most PCs have more USB 2s that 3s.

A press release from the USB group revealed plans to update USB 3 to 10Gbit/s to put it on a par with Thunderbolt by mid 2013. But if past performance (sorry about the pun!) is anything to go by it will be a good while before manufacturers catch up and we start seeing 10Gbit devices as the norm.

I was a bit greedy with a 512Gb SSD but you can buy smaller drives. I went for this size simply because the old HD was 1Tb and there was already a lot of data on it. I’ve trimmed it considerably and the new SSD is only half full.

That’s it – I’m hooked! My other PCs with normal HDs seem impossibly slow.

So beware – once you try a SSD you won’t want to go back!

SSD (Solid State Drive) discussions have become a semi-regular feature here at Making Music and, as usual, we defer to the On Test expertise of Tom’s Hardware. Their round-up of the best value-for-money SSDs for October is here.

As SSDs develop, the question is no longer Do You Want an SSD? – Answer – of course you do! – but which one?

You probably don’t need a SSD for recording music as modern HDs are large and fast but a SSD will certainly speed up boot time and perceived computer speed.

However, a HD is probably the biggest speed bottleneck in your system and if you want to increase the speed of your PC, a SSD will add go-faster stripes!

If you do a lot of on-disk audio (or video) processing which results in a lot of disk thrashing, you will see a marked increase in speed with a SSD.

There are drives to suit all requirements and budgets from £50/$60 boot drives, up to £300/$450 high-end 512Gb drives. And, of course, lots inbetween.

 

After banging on about backing up, I had an email from JJ Jefferson saying he got himself a USB drive to backup his audio data and music files – good going, JJ – but now his computer can’t see the drive when he plugs it in.

This seems to happen with some drives but not others. I don’t know exactly why it happens but there is an easy fix. The problem seems to be that Windows hasn’t assigned the drive a drive letter.

I’ll run you through the process using Window 7.

1 Plug in the drive. You should hear a ping as the system acknowledges the connection of a USB device. If you don’t, it means the USB connection isn’t working or the drive is faulty. A faulty drive is another scenario altogether so we’ll assume the drive is ok and the connection is fine, except the drive doesn’t appear in Windows Explorer.

2 Right-click on My Computer then click on Manage from the drop-down menu.
The Manage menu

3 This opens the Computer Management window. In the left pane, click on Disk Management under Storage. This shows the disks connected to your computer. They may or may not show names in the top part of the window but if you click on a drive there, it will highlight in the lower part of the window. Disk 0 will, more likely than not, be the main drive in your computer.
The Computer Management window

4 Notice that in the lower part of the window, all the drives have an associated drive letter, except for the problem drive, but it does appear as a block so you know it’s there.
The drive has no drive letter

5 Right-click on the disk block in the lower pane and select Change Drive Letter and Paths from the pop-up menu.
Change Drive Letter and Paths

6 Click on the Add button.
Click on the Add button

7 The ‘Assign the following drive letter‘ radio button will probably already be selected. Make sure it is then select the drive letter that you want to use. The system will usually offer you the next available drive letter, according to how drives are attached to your computer, but you can select any letter you like. Don’t select a lower letter as this might already be taken by an existing drive and you’ll have to reassign drive letters to several drives.
Assign a Drive Letter

8 Now when you look at the Computer Management window, you’ll see the drive has acquired a letter. Its name, if it has one, will also appear in the drive list at the top of the window.
The Drive Letter has been assigned

Headphones or monitors? The question used to divide much of the mixing community – and probably still does – but recent developments in music-listening habits have placed the subject back in the headlights.

At one time, virtually all professional mixing engineers would have said don’t mix on headphones full stop, but many are now relaxing their position. A little. In addition, many home studio owners don’t have any option but to mix on phones, or at least do most of their mixing on phones, so are these mixes doomed to failure?

Speakers vs Phones

The fact is, the sound you get from speakers is quite different from the sound you get from headphones. If a song is mixed for one playback system and listened to on that playback system, it’s not necessarily better or worse than the other. But a mix created on one system and played back on the other will sound at best different, and at worst pretty bad.

Some classical music recordings have been made using a binaural recording system which simulates the way we naturally hear sound, and simply sparkle when listened to through headphones.

What’s strange about current rock and pop music is that the vast majority of it is mixed with speakers but it’s listened to with ear buds! This is also true of dance music. While loudspeakers, preferably in a club, are its natural environment, you hear enormous amounts spilling from open-bud headphones on every street.

And it’s not as if the headphones/speakers difference is particularly subtle. You would imagine that even the most undemanding listener should easily be able to tell the difference between speaker and headphone playback. In fact, with favourite records, they may listen on phones when out and on speakers when in.

That might lead you to believe that the majority of listeners either simply can’t tell the difference or they simply don’t care. Not everyone is a musician – they simply like the tune or the beat or the sound, so my money is on the latter.

But that doesn’t mean that, as musicians and audio engineers, we can or should adopt the same attitude. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that to ignore headphone playback is to sell your music short and do an injustice to your listeners.

Science of stereo

There are several reasons why listening to music on headphones is different to listening to music on speakers so let’s get the science out of the way first.

The main difference is to do with spatial separation. With stereo speakers, the sound from the left speaker hits the left ear before it hits the right ear, and then the left ear gets a slightly-delayed sound from the right speaker. And vice versa, of course. Just to spell it out, both ears hear sounds from both speakers but the sound from the opposite speaker is slightly delayed.

In addition, the sound bounces around the surroundings adding ambience or the ‘room effect’. In small rooms or studios this may not be much but it’s there. It can have an effect on the frequencies, which affects our overall perception of the sound.

Then there’s the phenomenon of masking which is to do with the way we process sounds. If two identical sounds are played from the left and right speakers but one is around 15dB louder than the other, we hear the sound as if it were coming from the louder speaker alone. In other words, the quieter sound is masked.

Why headphones sound different

With headphones, the left ear only hears sounds coming from the left, and the right ear only hears sounds coming from the right. To produce a masking effect on headphones, one sound needs to be 60dB louder than the other. That’s a lot. You can imagine how that will skew a headphone mix when played through speakers. And the other way around, too.

Stereo positioning is particularly problematic with headphones. With speakers you can hear a sound move across the stereo image as you pan it and you can get a good idea of the width of the sound stage.

With headphones, the sound is more ‘in your head’ rather than ‘in front’ as it is with speakers. When you pan a sound using headphones it tends to ‘stick’ around a central position and then moves quickly to one side.

In addition, with speakers, the stereo image or sound stage is perceived as being around 60 degrees. With headphones it is 180 degrees.

On headphones, the sound doesn’t bounce around the room so there is absolutely no ambience. It’s like listening to music in an anechoic chamber. It’s not necessarily worse but it’s not natural.

Monitor speakers are designed for a flat frequency response and will usually produce a more accurate bass response. Normal hi fi headphones aren’t designed with a flat response in mind (although there are headphones designed for mixing) and colour the sound.

On the other hand, you often get greater clarity with headphones as the sound isn’t ‘muddied’ by left/right delays or room ambience. They can, therefore, often pick up clicks and noises that are hard to find or that go unnoticed on monitors.

Finally, ear fatigue is likely to set in more quickly with headphones so you need to take more breaks.

Mixing on headphones

So, looking at the pros and cons of mixing on headphones, you’ll see that headphones do have a few pros!

1. Headphones make it easier to spot clicks and noise.

2. If the material will be listened to on MP3 Players, it makes sense to mix – or, at the very least, check the mix – on headphones.

3. Even if you don’t expect the material to be listened to on headphones – it will be! So, again, check it on phones just to make sure it’s not totally out of whack.

4. If you’re mixing in an unfamiliar room, use headphones to listen to your reference material. Some engineers take their favourite headphones to a new mix and listen to their reference material on them. They’re familiar with the material, and comparing the headphones to the monitor playback helps get a feel for the monitors.

Problems with headphones-only mixes

1. Difficulty with accurate stereo placement.

2. Lack of bass end response.

3. Different frequency perception.

4. Wider sound stage (which may or may not be problematic).

5. Lack of ambience may make you overcompensate.

6. Headphones are likely to colour the sound more than good monitors, although some headphones are designed specifically for mixing – new models are released regularly so check Google for news and reviews.

Bottom line

Use headphones to check for noise during the mix, and check your mix for your listeners who will play it on MP3 Players.

If you’re constricted to headphones because of your environment, try to test the mix on monitors, too. Leave stereo positioning till last and try to do that on monitors.

Here’s a radical thought – why not create two mixes – one for speakers one for headphones?

What do you think? Leave a comment below.