Last spring I started an ongoing series on this blog reviewing independently released SFX libraries. You can read this post to get an idea of the criteria I use for the reviews. I also invite you to look back over some of this year's posts on the Azimuth blog to read about some the other libraries I've taken a look at. You may notice there haven't been many reviews recently! This summer went by fast and work got in the way of keeping the series up to date but here, finally, is the newest installment.
This post will cover a more mainstream company, Blastwave FX. Although their operation seems much larger than the companies behind the previous libraries I have reviewed, Blastwave FX seems to be the work of just one team, based out of the Detroit Chop Shop run by Ric Viers. Blastwave offers a ton of libraries, from huge 40,000 file packages that cost thousands of dollars all the way down to $25 download packs in specific categories. I'm not going to review one of their commercially available libraries though; instead I'm going to tell you about one of their offers about which there is not a lot of info out there.
Blastwave offers a few large libraries that come with what the company calls "Comprehensive Lifetime Sound Design Solutions". One of the main selling points for these is the 'Free Updates For Life' feature. Doesn't this sound like an incredible deal? - Buy a library now and every three months for the rest of your life you will be offered more SFX to integrate into your library. Is this for real? A few questions crossed my mind:
- How many sound effects do you get in an update?
- What kind of sounds are they?
- Are they recorded well?
- How useful are the sounds?
- Does Blastwave actually follow through on this promise, or is there a catch?
I decided to give it a shot and purchased one of Blastwave's flagship products "Sonopedia"over a year ago. Now to answer some of these nagging questions, today's edition of the SFX review will put to the test the latest delivery of Blastwave's 'Free Updates for Life' - Update 07.
In order to get the updates you have to register your purchase with Blastwave FX, which basically gets you on a mailing list that informs you of new updates via email. When I bought Sonopedia it came with all the previously released updates in separate folders on the drive, so you get access to all the legacy updates with your new purchase. Each update contains 100 audio files and, for the most part, each file contains a single sound effect. The effects range from raw/natural sounds to highly designed effects and processed production elements. Each update seems to be split into two categories: Production Elements and Sound Effects, split evenly with 50 new sounds in each category per update.
In Update 7 the 50 Production Elements include whooshes, glitches, LFE impacts, a couple of UI sounds and even some full-out designed robot transform sequences. They are all of high quality and are all 'finished product' type of sounds ready to use right away. They would be great in fast turn-around situations where you need to quickly cover something in the timeline and move on. I can't however see myself using sounds this specifically designed and produced as building blocks in a larger or longer sequence.
The 50 files in the Sound Effects category run the gamut from a great B-17 bomber pass-by that would obviously be really hard to record yourself, to simpler sounds such as mud hits or rubber glove stretches. This update must have been planned during wintertime as there are a lot of sounds involving snow and ice. Footsteps, auto wheel spins, body falls, snowmobiles, and more are included among the snow-based effects.
As for audio quality, the sounds are all pristine. Everything sounds like it was captured in a sound-proof studio, so either it was or there's been some clean-up involved in post. All the sounds are delivered as high-res 96k/24bit files. The metadata included is comprehensive and well organized. One minor problem I've had is that Soundminer displayed faulty waveforms when I scanned Update 07. Everything sounds fine but the waveforms are incorrect for the back end of all the files (see image below for an example).
One thing I find a little disappointing about these updates is that each file only has one take. For many sounds this makes sense, but for others I don't see a reason why they don't have variations included. For instance there is a file called "Foley, Whip, Whoosh, Rope, Heavy" that is a great thick sounding whoosh; I'm guessing that if they took the time to set up the mic and whip a rope around in front of it that they did it more then once. So why not include a few variations in the file? If I am cutting a fight or scene with movement I need a lot of different takes to make a scene work. Giving us only one take just feels to me like like Blastwave is messing with us a bit.
Another area that could use improvement is that you have no idea what you're going to get in a new update. Sometimes I've gotten lucky and the sounds are just what I'm looking for; the rest of time I just scan them into my database and hope they come in handy one day. It would be better if there was some kind of dialogue between the customer base and Blastwave so requests could be made for future updates. Maybe that's too much to ask, but in a perfect world it would be great to be a part of the process a little more.
Other than that, "Free Updates For Life" is a pretty good little offering, especially the 'free' part. It's certainly a great feature if you consider that all of the other companies offering similar collections to Sonopedia give you exactly jack squat after your initial purchase. Yet if you don't have a need for any of the qualifying Blastwave libraries, the updates alone are not worth the investment. I would say if you are considering buying one of the products that includes the free updates, think of them as a great bonus.