East West/Quantum Leap Colossus
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This is capable of both and bit operation and sports a decent interface. Welcome to EastWest Studios. Located in the heart of Hollywood, the studios have given rise to some of. If you’re using a bit computer, such as a modern Mac or high-end Windows machine, Play is able to address as much RAM as you can stuff onto the motherboard up to 32GB with the Mac Pro , making for a massive ‘live’ sound-palette. Of course, when using Goliath as a plug-in, you’ll also need a bit host sequencer, such as Cubase or Nuendo 4.
EWQL Libraries with More Recent Kontakt?
Size, however, isn’t everything — or is it? As shown by reviews of recent products from both East West and Zero G, custom versions of NI’s Intakt and Kompakt are becoming popular choices for developers as the virtual-instrument ‘front end’ for their sample libraries. While ‘Colossus’ might have a number of meanings, it’s a pretty safe bet that East West are referring to size as much as sound, given that the samples arrive on a total of eight DVDs and require approximately 32GB of hard drive space for full installation!
While a fixed front-end has both pros and cons for the user, one key advantage for the developer is that it offers some degree of copy protection — the samples can only be accessed via the bundled Kompakt or via the full versions of NI’s software-sampler applications and on-line registration is required via the NI web site, preventing more unscrupulous users from passing the library around their local recording community. In advertising Colossus, East West make comparisons with the way a hardware keyboard workstation attempts to span all common musical styles by providing a wide range of Instrument types.
The manual also suggests that Colossus might be considered a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ for composition, given the breadth of its coverage. In essence, with Colossus, East West seem to be trying to create a one-stop sample shop — a single library that, for some musicians, might provide the larger part of their bread-and-butter sounds.
The manual also suggests that the library might appeal to live musicians. And if you are not brave enough to depend upon your laptop at gigs, then there is a hardware rackmounted version of Colossus in development, based on Muse’s Receptor hardware. Having cleared out enough hard drive space for installation and laid in sufficient provisions to explore a 32GB sample library, it was time to find out whether Colossus could deliver the goods Epic Installation Colossus runs on both Macs and PCs, and has a surprisingly undemanding minimum spec for such a vast library.
As already mentioned, Colossus is supplied on eight DVDs. Installation is, however, very straightforward — if a little time-consuming, simply because of the volume of data involved. Colossus is supplied with a slim printed manual covering the operation of Kompakt, but all other documentation, including a full list of the sampled instruments, is supplied in electronic format. The final stage of the installation process requires authorisation of the library based upon the combination of a supplied serial number and a system-specific ID number generated by the installer.
This can be completed on line within a minute or two and worked without a hitch on my test system but authorisation can also be completed from another computer or by post. To briefly recap, Kompakt is a slimmed-down version of NI’s flagship sampler instrument, Kontakt for more on this application, check out the review of version 2 on page 82 of this month’s issue.
As you can see from the screenshots accompanying this article, East West have retained the cool blue Kompakt colour scheme seen in Vapor. The screen layout is divided into five main elements. The top portion of the interface is split into two of these; the Multi section and the Instrument section. The Multi section allows up to eight sample sets to be loaded each termed an ‘Instrument’ from the library.
Highlighting any one of these in the Multi list then allows its tuning, filter and amp controls to be adjusted within the Instrument section. While no Multis are provided with Colossus, users can save their own Multis for later recall once they’ve loaded a particular set of individual Instruments into the eight slots. This is particularly useful for groups of orchestral sounds, for example, where several different string or brass sample sets might often be used together.
The Reverb, Chorus, Delay and Master Filter in the Effects section are basic but effective, while the Modulation section provides three envelopes and four filters. Given the size of some of the sampled instruments, the DFD extension for Kompakt is essential when using Colossus. This allows samples to be streamed from your hard drive rather than fully loaded into memory. Once installed, settings for the DFD function can be made via the Options menu within the Multi section of the user interface , although during testing, I had no problems using the default values for the DFD streaming.
Before turning to the sounds themselves, three observations about the Kompakt playback engine are worthy of a reminder. First, as I observed when reviewing Vapor, it is not possible to assign hardware MIDI controllers to any of the other on-screen parameters when using this bundled version of Kompakt, aside from volume, pitch-bend, pan and modulation.
Write-enabling the Kompakt automation track within Cubase SX my plug-in host of choice does allow real-time mouse twiddling of the on-screen controls to be transmitted to Cubase for recording, although this is obviously not quite as musician-friendly as using a proper hardware controller. Second, while the supplied version of Kompakt does offer considerable playback and processing capabilities, it is not able to import samples from outside the Colossus library.
Thirdly, the sounds in Colossus, rather like those in a Reason Refill which can only be accessed from Propellerhead’s software studio, can only be accessed via NI products — either the supplied version of Kompakt, or one of the full versions of NI’s software samplers. Of course, you can deal with all three of these issues by purchasing a full version of NI’s Kontakt, for example, but committed users of samplers such as Halion, Gigastudio or EXS24 need not apply!
As mentioned above, East West’s intention with Colossus is to provide musicians and composers with a single library that can meet all their basic sampled instrument needs. As a consequence, the samples in Colossus are organised into 19 Instrument groups listed in the box on the last page of this article , amongst which nearly Kompakt instrument patches are spread — although this number of individual Instruments is both an over- and an underestimate.
Some Instruments appear twice, as there is a GM-compatible group see the ‘GM Crop’ box for details that contains a collection of sounds taken from other groups. On the other hand, a good number of Instruments particularly amongst the synth sounds feature sample layers containing very different sounds, with mod wheel-controlled morphing between them.
However, given East West’s wide ranging catalogue of existing sampled instruments, it would be surprising if some existing material did not also make an appearance in something as extensive as Colossus — and that is indeed the case. All of these existing samples have apparently been reprogrammed to take the best advantage of the various features of the bundled Kompakt front end.
For the purposes of this review, it makes most sense to consider the 19 Instrument groups in a smaller number of associated types for example, all the drums and percussion together so, without further ado, let’s dip into the sounds themselves.
The Acoustic sets are pretty much what you would expect and provide a varied selection of kits suitable for everything from pop, funk, jazz and rock. In contrast, the Electric sets are based around heavily processed acoustic sounds with plenty of options for more dance-orientated sounds. For most of the kits, the sounds consist of kick, snare, rim-shot, hi-hat, toms and other cymbals, with the occasional clap, cow-bell and tambourine included.
Usefully, these sounds are mapped to the keyboard in a standard GM fashion. Usefully, to save screen real estate, Kompakt’s Modulation, Effects and keyboard sections can be minimised. The Acoustic Kits are uniformly very useable.
While the manual gives very little away in terms of the detailed sample structure of any of the Colossus instrument groups, these kits seems to feature a sufficient number of velocity layers to provide a performance with convincing dynamics. This is great for drum rolls, as it avoids the same sample being repeated over and over again in rapid succession the ‘machine-gun’ effect.
The cymbals are also very good, with plenty of splash and sizzle, and the samples are long, so the tails to the crash cymbals don’t feel truncated in any way — the DFD LED keeps flashing for some time after the crash cymbals are triggered.
All the acoustic kits seem to have been recorded either fairly dry or with just a touch of room ambience and, for my taste at least, this is spot on — just enough ‘air’ to give the sounds a little life, but plenty of scope to process further with reverb or delay without the ambience of the sample getting in the way. The kits’ names reflect the style of the individual sounds and these vary from the fairly dry and clinical ‘Studio’ and ‘Pro’ kits through to the big and bold ‘Stage’ or ‘Metal’ kits.
However, my particular favourites were the ’60’s Vintage’ and ‘Old School’ kits, both of which featured nice tight snare sounds that would work in a variety of styles from pop through to punk.
Other useful additions include two funk kits, jazz kits with both sticks and brushes and the wonderfully named ‘Sushi’ kit. While you could undoubtedly buy better individual sampled drum kits than this collection with Colossus, East West seem to have all the key musical options covered here in a very playable format.
The Electronic Kits group includes the ” and ” options, targeted very obviously at particular classic drum machines. As indicated earlier, the majority of these kits are based upon heavily processed acoustic drum sounds but there are also some more off-the-wall sounds to be found. Things That Make You Go ‘Oooh’ Given the sheer size of the Colossus library, it would be almost unbelievable if a few gremlins were not to be found within the samples or their editing.
During the review period, I have to say that these were very few and far between. However, on a very few occasions, I did stop and go ‘ooohhh’ Another instance was the harpsichord from the same group. While the sound of the instrument itself is very good, several notes contain an audible sound at the end of the sample as the note is released.
This sounds like a mechanical noise related to the original recording, and while you might argue that it adds a ‘realistic’ element to the sound, it is somewhat distracting, and could perhaps have been addressed with some suitable editing.
Some notes within the piccolo instrument also contained rather too much breath for my taste — again, this was a little distracting when heard as a solo instrument.
My only other minor criticism would be with the occasional instrument where the transitions between velocity layers were a little sudden. These comments aside, from a technical perspective, East West and their programmers ought to be pretty satisfied with a job well done. Like many musicians whose weapon of choice is the guitar, while I’ll occasionally turn to samples for solo guitars or basses, I almost always find it easier to record a real instrument for chord work.
That said, amongst these three groups, there are both solo and chord instruments that are capable of some good results. The Acoustic Guitar group contains 10 instruments. Three different versions of a Washburn acoustic are included — fingered, picked and strummed which, oddly considering its name, doesn’t contain any strummed chords as well as a nice classical guitar.
However, for me, the best of the bunch were the banjo, mandolin and ukelele and for fast picking parts think bluegrass styles , these all worked particularly well. One obvious omission here is a string acoustic — either picked or strummed — which is surprising given the overall size of the library. All these acoustic instruments are supplied with a number of velocity-sensitive layers. These include performance features in some instruments; for example, the ‘Acoustic God’ instrument includes both stopped notes and slides into notes at higher velocities.
These performance features obviously take a little practice to use but can produce some very effective performances. Automation of Kompakt’s on-screen controls can be recorded and edited within its host sequencer. This is what the process looks like in Cubase SX.
Of the 45 instruments within the Electric Guitar group, about one third have been taken from Quantum Leap’s 56 Strat library. These provide a mixture of performance types for example, lead, mute, ‘chug’ and ‘power’ chords with bridge and neck pickup choices. There is also a nice ‘Effects’ instrument that contains all sorts of slides, hammer-ons and various plectrum noises — these could make nice embellishments to a lead line constructed from one of the associated 56 Strat instruments.
The remainder cover a range of clean, blues and rock-oriented sounds with a mixture of lead and chord-based instruments.
Some of these more easily lend themselves to the creation of a convincing performance as opposed to something that is supposed to sound like a sampled guitar. For example, ‘PRS Chords’ includes clean major, minor and seventh chords mapped across different sections of the keyboard and, used as part of a backing track, a simple chord progression can easily be created.
This instrument features nu-metal-style damped fifth chords as a low velocity layer but with undamped fifths at higher velocities. This combination makes it fairly easy to create some crunching Metallica- or Linkin-Park-style riffing. For me, another highlight was the simple, but very effective ‘Lapsteel’ instrument.
While it won’t put Al Perkins out of work, used with a combination of a volume pedal and the Mod Wheel to control brightness, it is possible to create effective chord or lead lines. The electric sounds are solid without being overly exciting — although Kompakt ‘s effects options can add a little more movement when required.
The Upright Bass is a more inspiring. The basic ‘Upright Bass’ patch sounds really nice with a high velocity layer adding some fingerboard noise for interest. The other instruments add extra expression, vibrato and various effects up and down slides and combining these allows some very convincing acoustic bass lines to be constructed — ideal if you like to add the occasional touch of jazz to your tracks. Pianos While the Pianos and Electric Pianos group has a number of special-effect style instruments for example ‘Creepy Piano’ and ‘Psychedellic Rhodes’ , the highlights are the more conventional instruments.
The two main acoustic pianos — the Steinway B and Fazioli F — both sound excellent, with very transparent transitions between the various velocity layers. The Steinway B is somewhat brighter sounding than the Fazioli and it presented fairly dry. Both have a certain amount of ambience from the hall in which they were recorded but this is not overdone, and the result is a convincing and playable instrument which gets slightly brighter as the keys are struck harder. Of the electric pianos, the ’80s E-Piano’ and ‘Rhodes 88 Suitcase’ are the clear standouts.
Both of these get brighter at higher velocities. The former starts fairly warm but quickly changes to much brighter tones with a nice ring to them when pushed harder. The Rhodes is also warm at low velocities and, while it does brighten up a little when played harder, the sound never gets too top-heavy.
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