Pianobook Monthly Highlights: Lo-Fi Synths & Hi-Fi Acoustics August '23

Leolani Ukulele

The ukulele is among the more popular instruments on Pianobook (well, at least by samplists to sample). There are about a dozen ukulele sample packs currently available on the site, and that number keeps on growing periodically.

Presenting what is another small-scale string instrument from the guitar family, this one hits a bit different. Not because of a particularly special sound, unique feature or some new, innovative sampling approach. In fact, this Decent Sampler Leolani Ukulele does not try to give you anything that’s even close to that. It is a very raw, minimally processed and straight-forward instrument – meant to be shaped by the artist. A blank canvas, if you want.

Though, being a stripped-down, basic instrument, it does lack some of the fundamental aspects that define a VST plugin – like ADSR envelopes (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) and effects that are almost elementary in modern times, like reverb and delay. Luckily, it compensates for the absence of such essential features with a fairly workable sound.

The creator of this modest library, DavPeMa – musician and guitar/ukulele teacher from the UK – sampled two octaves of his beloved string instrument, and managed to record 4 variations (round robins) to each note. The playable range extends from C5 to B6. For some uncertain reason, the sound outputs only in mono with no stereo support.

To conclude this one off, I am going to say that I’m okay with the idea of an “untouched”, raw instrument and as a matter of fact – I actually prefer them this way (well, most of the time). Even when creating my own plugins, I always go for cleaner, simpler GUI’s. But this one, unfortunately said, is just a little too basic. Hopefully the developer will see this and come up with a much desired update.

The Kickstarter Risk – Hanago

Hanago (or “The Kickstarter Risk”) by necatuss is a free Decent Sampler folk-themed string instrument. Like several other sample packs submitted by the developer in the past, this one also provides quite of an interesting story to go along with it.

Apparently, it all starts in a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The Pianobook contributor decided to invest in some aspirational project, which promised its backers this whole new musical instrument, called “Hanago”. The original instrument, made in Korea, is officially described by the fundraisers as somewhat between a guitar and a piano, with a singular fret and a keyboard-like note layout. Looks wise, its body may resemble an upscale kalimba or some form of a zither. Sound wise, it would probably remind you more of the latter.

Ultimately, as necatuss proceeds to explain, he ended up receiving a string instrument that was not short of flaws. Despite all of that, he decided to sample it for all of us to enjoy and possibly make some use of.

A bit technically speaking, this library has quite a big variety of round robins and provides much of a user-friendly experience overall. It also has an Attack and Release controls, which seem sufficient.

My only real complain about this sample pack is that some of the notes respond rather slowly. The latency is pretty noticeable especially when playing the lower octaves. Other than that, I find it a convincingly decent and usable native sounding instrument.

4-track Music Box

This plugin by Dehli Musikk is one of my personal favorites from the month of August. It’s got a real charm about it, and a very lovely sound overall.

Yet another Decent Sampler library, the 4-track Music Box presents a multi-sampled instrument that features a cassette tape music box.

It incorporates a couple of sound sets, which you can mix and control through the dedicated mixer panel. The main, and first out of the two available sets, is the “normal speed” setting – which is the default sound of the recorded music box. The other is essentially the same set of samples, but played at half speed – resulting with sounds that are one octave below the originals. When mixed together, which is the initial setup, the sound of the instrument feels very pleasing and full.

What is probably the most intriguing feature about this music box is the Fidelity setting. It allows the player to manipulate between Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi and fit the sound to the desired atmosphere.

As far as the dynamics go, I find the Dampen feature okay-ish, but definitely not sufficient as it only provides a black or white solution. The default sustains are good, but there’s a need for a little more flexibility in order to achieve some ideally sounding shorts. The lack of proper ADSR controls does take a bit from the experience.

Some Pads and Stuff

I didn’t initially plan to include this plugin in this list as I usually do 4 recommendations, but after revisiting and assesing its actual potential I had to change my mind about it. So, here it is.

A Decent Sampler instrument, Some Pads and Stuff will generate some very nice soundscapes in no effort. According to the developer and samplist, Dima Koltsov, it is best suitable for cinematic film scoring – providing rich, evolving textures that he was able to put together using various techniques.

The GUI is clean and simplified in an appealing way – a pretty good example of a minimalistically designed VI that is also sophisticated at the same time. There are 8 available presets.

PD Big Brother

The highlight of August is without a doubt the Phase Distortion Big Brother library for Decent Sampler. This free Casio CZ-1 rompler brings a refreshing ’80s breeze to a month full of modern sounding VSTs.

Developed by alber2000, this really well put together synth-based VI showcases a selection of known and appreciated vintage tones. There are 6 sound banks in hand for you to pick from, and they’re all labeled from A to F respectively, offering a total of 64 instruments and presets.

Unlike the original hardware, one can only select a single preset at a time, as there is no internal functionality that’d allow the player to merge the varying sounds or layer them creatively – unless you do it in your DAW seperately.

A good portion of these presets are quite iconic in the realm of vintage synthesizers. You have classic sounds that are similar in style to those popularized by the legendary Yamaha DX7, Moog and the also notable and famous Wurlitzer electric piano. Other featured sounds are primarily orchestral-oriented, and they include synthesized strings, brass, winds and different organs.

The interface of PD Big Brother is nicely laid out. It has the standard VST envelope parameters such as Attack, Decay, Sustain & Release and is also paired with reverb and delay.

Worthy Mentions