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Entries in Gear Review (12)

Monday
Mar122012

SFX Library Review: Rabbit Ears Audio ROCKETS

Rabbit Ears Audio is an indie SFX Library run by Michael Raphael out of New York.  Rabbit Ears has released a total of nine highly specific libraries in the last two years. In this edition of the Azimuth SFX Library Review, I'm going to review the one I have got the most use out of so far - REA001 Rockets.  If you have not had a chance to do so yet, please read this post to get an idea of what I use the libraries for and what my criteria are.

 

REA001 Rockets is a library made up of launch sounds recorded from model rockets, but don't let that description mislead you. I know when I think of model rockets my mind conjures up images of middle-school kids setting off 12" toy missiles with cherry bombs stuffed into them.  That could not be farther from what has been recorded here.  These are large and powerful rockets that are technical wonders.  This collection features rockets rated up to M class, only two steps under the highest rating there is among amateur rocketeers: O class.  According to Wikipedia, these rockets "customarily use composite propellants made of ammonium perchlorate, potassium nitrate, aluminium powder, and a rubbery binder substance contained in a hard plastic case. This type of propellant is similar to that used in the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle."  Clearly these are big-boy toys, adult supervision required!

Finding out that this whole realm of hobbyists exists is fascinating, but the real question for this exercise is: do these rockets SOUND good?!  The answer is: yes! They sound amazing. This library has some great, powerful-sounding launches.  I have used them for sci-fi vehicles, weapons, and pass-bys many times.  They also impress when being manipulated into fantastic ripping whooshes and even cartoon-style ricochets.  One of my favorite things about the library is that I get to type “Rabbit Rocket” into my search software to find these sounds.  There is something about the idea of a rabbit rocket that always gives me a little chuckle when I am loopy from too many hours cutting away in my dark little edit room.

The sounds are all recorded and delivered at 96kHz and 24 bit, so they have a lot of data to withstand heavy manipulation with plug-ins.  The set comes with 113 files, with each file containing a single launch sequence for one rocket.  Each filename includes the rocket's class, ranging from G to M, with the rocket motors getting bigger as you get further into the alphabet.  The rockets do sound more powerful as you move up in class, with the G class rockets sounding much thinner than the K class.  There are also a couple misfires included that have a nice unique character to them as well.

You get multiple perspectives of each launch, in mono and stereo, as recorded by different microphones.  A Schoeps MK 4/8 pair and a DPA 4060 pair provide the stereo perspectives, and a Sennheiser MKH-60 and a Sanken CUB-01 give the collection mono takes.  Personally, I'm partial to the the DPA recordings, but they all have something to offer.  

Every file comes with complete metadata that makes sense and is fairly easy to navigate.  Files are all named with rocket type (Class G to M), propellant type (composite or nitrous), microphone model, and recording location (California or New York).  


In terms of the actual sounds you are getting, I've found them to be really useful.  A  warning though; these rockets have a great crisp initial launch sound but they die off quickly and abruptly.  Since I had no knowledge of how these rockets work I contacted the man who recorded the rockets, Michael Raphael, to find out why the decays are so short - and here is his response:

"The rockets have a certain amount of dry propellant in them, and the ignitor burns through that propellant within seconds. What you are hearing is the ignition and then a very quick burn. A missile has fuel that continues to burn while it flies, but the rockets have a fixed amount of propellant that burns off rather quickly. The force generated from that ignition and burn is what propels them up."

So it makes sense that the sound cuts off as soon as the propellant has been used up, but there are times when you really want these great air-ripping launch sequences to last a lot longer.  Luckily with some work in editing, and by adding some 'verb you can make these sounds stretch out, but they are not going to work as well when a long, sustained sound is needed.

Another plus for this library is that Rabbit Ears Audio has great customer service. The owner of the company responded to my email right away with a straightforward answer to my question and was very helpful in general.  I recommend following Michael Raphael on Twitter (@sepulchra) because he often posts discounts on new releases.  Thanks to these sales, I've purchased quite a few of the Rabbit Ears libraries at discounted rates of up to 20%.

This collection works out to be on the more expensive end of the scale for SFX libraries at around 44 cents per sound effect. (For comparison, Sound Ideas' flagship products average out to 15 cents per file.) In this case though, it seems like the higher price is merited.  These rockets are not something that can be easily recorded.  Planning and travel were needed to get these sounds, as they were recorded on both coasts of the US, in California and New York state.  I personally don't mind paying a bit more for something I really have no hope of ever capturing myself, especially when the quality of the recordings is so high.   

Take a listen to the demo for the Rockets library.

Rabbit Ears has also just released a brand new collection called REA009 Antique Engines that looks like it will be a great addition to any SFX editor's library.

REA_009 Antique Engines from Michael Raphael on Vimeo.

 

 

Check Previous posts in the SFX Library Review Series:

Arrowhead Audio's Swishes

Blastwave FX's Free Updates for Life - Update 07

Tonsturm's Electricity

Chuck Russom FX's Rock Sound Library (No longer available)

Boom Library's Creatures Construction Kit

The Recordist's Ultimate Mud

 

Wednesday
Jan252012

SFX Library Review: Arrowhead Audio Swishes

This is part of Azimuth's Blog’s ongoing feature of SFX library reviews. Take a moment to read the Ground Rules if you have not had a chance to do so yet, to get an idea of what I use the libraries for and what my criteria are.

Recently a new category has emerged in the world of boutique independent SFX libraries. I'm not sure if anyone else has come up with a name for it yet but I've been referring to these as Budget Indie Libraries.  These are libraries that are putting out quality sounds but doing so at extremely low prices for the end user, including pay-what-you-can.  They tend to focus on sounds generated with collections of props, recorded in a studio environment - so they would be effects you could create on your own with a little time and energy.  But at the low prices at which these are offered, it might be worth your while to save the effort and just buy the library.   This article will explore one of these Budget Indie libraries: Arrowhead Audio's Swishes.

Along with Affordable Audio for EveryoneArrowhead Audio seems to be at the forefront of the Budget SFX trend.  Based out of England and run by a fellow named Fred Pearson, Arrowhead has released five libraries so far.  The libraries are sold in three levels: Lite (£2 or approx. US$4) Full (£4 or approx. US$7) and Max (£6 or approx. US$10.)  As the price point goes up, both the number of files and the technical quality increase, with Max versions offering 24bit/96k resolution.

I purchased the Max version of the Swishes collection which came to US$9.72.  It's a simple download from the Arrowhead website after paying through Paypal.  The Max version comes with 332 files, each containing a single sound event; multiple takes are included of every prop but each take has been broken down into individual files.  The quality is very high, with zero BG noise, so the whooshes are pristine.  Sixteen different props are used to make the whooshes, ranging from the usual whooshy suspects (bamboo, broom handles) to more obscure objects (rubber toys, baking trays.)  Some props have insane coverage with up to ninety takes while others have as little as two takes, depending on the amount of character a prop has to offer.  Single, double, and multiple swish takes are offered for most props.  

Each file is also offered as both a mono and stereo file so the download actually consists of just over 660 files.  The metadata is not as full as other libraries but is filled out enough to be easily navigated.  When I purchased the collection I ended up going into the "Admin" function in Soundminer to globally fill in some of the columns that were blank (for ex: Short ID, Source, Category.)  The description field is simply a copy of the filename, causing a doubling up of information, but understandably, since there just aren't that many descriptive words for the 14th take of a wooden spoon swish.  So, wisely, each file is named first by prop, then the number of events (single/double/multiple), followed by speed (fast/slow) and a descriptor (Short/flutter/Hard/Soft/Long etc.)  Rounding out each file name is channel layout (MONO/STEREO) and the take number.  So a typical file name would look like: SWISH_WOODEN_SPOON_SINGLE_FAST_SHORT_MONO_011.

There have been a lot of Swish/Swoosh libraries released in the last couple of years, including Hiss and a Roar's Swishes, Tonsturm's The Whoosh, and to a certain extent Boom Libraries' Cinematic Trailers.  Arrowhead's offering is not the best of all of these (Tonsturm might have that distinction) but I don't think that's what Arrowhead is aiming for, as it has priced its collection at about an eighth of the cost of the competition.  At those prices it does not have to be the best to be a worthwhile addition to your SFX database.  It's a solid collection, and at roughly three cents per file it's a bargain, keeping in mind that Sound Ideas' flagship products average out to fifteen cents per file... so this really is a great deal.  

These sounds are useful to have in your library as they can fill out fight sequences, sporting event movements, graphic motion effects... and anything else you can think of.  

You can download ten files from the collection as MP3s to get a sample of what you can expect should you decide to purchase the collection from here.  Another good way into the Arrowhead Audio world would be to grab the free library called Balloon Squeaks and Creaks.  It features 172 files, again for free, so you really can't beat the price!

Here is the demo of the Arrowhead Audio Swishes Collection:

 

Arrowhead Audio has also just released a brand new library called Rivers.

Monday
Dec122011

SFX Library Review: Blastwave Free Updates For Life

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.

Monday
Jul182011

Waterfall Bouncing and Hydrophone Review 

About 6 months ago I ordered an H2a-XLR hydrophone from Aquarian Audio, but because of the frozen weather during the Canadian winter and my busy work schedule through the spring I hadn't really had a chance to put it through its paces. I recently found myself with some time to kill on a sunny Saturday so I decided I would take out the hydrophone and see what I could capture with it. I went out to a dirt road way north of the city and found a great spot to experiment with underwater recording.

First I put the hydrophone in the water at the edge of a river, behind a pile of rocks, so the mild current of the river would rush over the rocks and over the submerged microphone. It did not make the sound I was expecting but it was an interesting sound all the same.  Here is a video clip with the audio feed from the hydrophone and footage of the camera going underwater.

Next up I found a spot where a small feeder stream had been re-routed to make room for a road that was built across its path.  The stream fed into 2 large corrugated steel culverts passing under the new road.  At the downstream end of the culverts the water tumbled out and created a small waterfall about 8 inches high.  

 

My plan was to place the hydrophone about a foot away from the base of this little waterfall to see what I would get.  I climbed up on top of one of the corrugated pipes and sat down with my legs hanging over the opening and started getting the gear ready to record.  While I was untangling some cables I was unintentionally dipping the hanging hydrophone into the tiny waterfall.  The current of the water was pushing the hydrophone out of the water flow and the mic would swing like a pendulum out into the air a bit and fall back into the stream of water, only to be pushed out again by the current.  Each time the capsule hit the current it would make a weird "splosh" sound followed by a sound almost like a backwards splash as it was boosted back out of the current.  

I quickly changed my plan and hit record to capture this sound.  I found I could change the sound a lot based on how hard and fast I let the capsule hit the water.  The sound this maneuver produced was extremely loud and if I gave the mic anything more than a gentle swing the limiters on my recorder would kick in fairly hard.  At first I was trying my best to avoid this, but after some experimentation I realized the limiters were helping to shape some of the unique sounds I was getting - so I just went with it.  Here is a video that can better explain how I was creating the sounds. 

With some tight editing, EQ and gating I've minimized the sound of the waterfall before and after the capsule impacts, creating isolated sploshes, splashes and soggy impacts.  I cut together a few of the different kinds of sounds I got in sync with the above video.

All this was working out great until the black flies found me and started taking big bites out of me.  One got my foot while I was recording and while wildly trying to kick it away I instead kicked off my shoe, which went floating downstream.  I managed to rescue the shoe but I had to slog my way back to the car with a soaker that lasted the rest of the day.  But before I left I did grab a quick recording of the stream just beyond the little waterfall.

 Take a listen: Hydrophone 1ft past 8inch Waterfall by azimuthaudio

 

Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR Mini Review

First I should be clear up front and say that this is the only hydrophone I have ever used, so I have nothing to compare the H2a against.  I have found it to be a great product so far.  I was pretty sure I was going to be happy with it as I did a fair bit of research on it before I purchased it and all the reviews I read were glowing.  

One of my first observations was that this mic is sturdy.  In my initial experiments with it I was tossing it into rivers but overestimating the depth of the water, so the capsule hit rocky riverbed fairly hard more than once. The H2a seemed no worse for wear.  It's heavy enough that it can sink into the water and sit still - it seems to have the perfect ratio of weight vs being too heavy and cumbersome.  

As you can hear in the recordings above, the sound it captures is quite bright. I was initially surprised by this, since I was half expecting that cliché 'underwater' sound that's all low-end and heavy. Apparently not the case: there's plenty of high frequency sounds to be heard. According to the specs, the H2a picks up frequencies from 10Hz to over 100kHz, so I stand corrected as to what it really sounds like down there. 

Aquarian Audio offers a surprising and useful accessory for the H2a: a Contact Mic Adaptor that turns the hydrophone into a contact mic, and a really good one at that.  The adaptor is a little rubber cup with a flat bottom. You slide the H2a into the cup and then place the flat part on any surface... and you've got a fantastic contact mic with almost no noise floor.

All this for under $200 (US) including the adaptor.  Now that's bang for your buck.  The fellow who runs the company seems really invested in his products; when I ordered mine online I got a phone call soon after from the owner, who wanted to go over my order to make sure I was getting the right product for my purposes. Apparently they sell a lot of these mics to sound recordists as well as to marine biologists, and he wanted to be sure I was using it for SFX gathering - since the length of cable I ordered would not be suitable for scientific studies.  

All in all I am very happy with the H2a.  The quality you get for this price is a pretty fantastic deal.

 

Wednesday
May252011

SFX Review: Boom Library Creatures

This is the first SFX library review I am doing here at the Azimuth Blog.  Please take a moment to read the Ground Rules if you have not had a chance yet, to get an idea of what I use the libraries for and what my criteria are.

I am going to kick things off with “Creatures” from Boom library.  Creatures came out last fall and has been my go to starting place when I need to build an animal or monster ever since.  There are two components to the version of this library I purchased, the “Creatures Construction Kit” and the “Creatures Designed” you can buy these separately or purchase them together, making the “Creatures Bundle”.  

The “Designed” product is a collection of 300 sounds all ready to go, they have been processed, layered and are meant to drop on your time line and let you move on.  For quick situations these work well and are a much needed injection of new monster sounds to your library but I am going to focus mostly on the “Construction Kit” because that is where you can really make some magic.

The Kit is made up of all the elements (plus more) used to make the “Designed” sounds in their original unprocessed state, so you can build you own scary monster roars and attacks.  The files are organized so that multiple similar sounds are in each audio file with a few seconds of silence between.  Creatures are categorized with metadata by type of vocalization (Roar, Growl, Breathing, ect) as well as a secondary vocal description or sub-category, then creature size (Large, Medium, Small) then length of sound (Short, Average, Long) followed by type of attack envelope (hard or soft) and finally pitch (High, Mid, Low).  So a typical file description would look like this:

GOBBLE - EAT - SMALL - LONG - HARD - MID

This would indicate a small creature eating, over long takes, with hard attacks in the mid frequency range.

So this method of metadata is extremely helpful, you can punch in a general query, ie: large roar - and you will get back 51 files (each with 5-11 individual sounds).  Within the roars the metadata further breaks it down into Snarls, Hisses, Growls, Bellows, ect. and even a Ruckle (I did not know what a Ruckle was so I looked it up: to make a hoarse, rattling sound).

A similar query could be looking for a medium sized monster breathing, so I would search: Medium Breath - comes back with 45 files varying from Pant, Snore, Exhale, Gargle and another new one to me: Nicker (of a horse, Give a soft, low whinny)

So finding sounds is pretty quick with Metadata this detailed and consistent.  A couple of minor complaints would be that I don’t always agree with their labels for the attack envelope of a sound, sometimes I think what they have labeled as hard is pretty soft and vice versa, but this is minor as it is not something I am searching for primarily.  The main function for metadata is to help me find what I am looking for quickly and efficiently and the people at Boom have succeeded at this, so the metadata gets full marks.

The collection is more then just vocalizations, as it contains lots of tiny creature movements, and slimly squishes and wet slithers (search under slobber).  Something it does lack is large creature footsteps, but I did not think I was getting any when I purchased so that was not a surprise. 

I have used this collection quite extensively since acquiring it.  I am currently working on a animated series that has lots of giant monsters running around and almost every episode I have worked on since getting “Creatures” has featured multiple sounds from this collection.  Also I have been able to build sounds for real animals from this set too, another animated series I work on, has a grizzly bear as one of the main characters and I have mined a lot of sounds meant to be more for sci-fi monsters and used them as elements on the bear to great effect.  Same goes for a dangerous wolf in another project, the wolf ended up being terrifying in the final mix and actually had to be thinned out at the request of the director so as not to be too scary.  I have also used the collection to create tiny little insects, the sounds of ants walking is a tough one because obviously you can not hear an ant normally, but I found some great tiny movement sounds that really fit the bill in this library.

The sounds are great for giving a monster a full range of emotions, instead of using the same roar 20 times.  One thing I was hoping for was more straight up loud scary roars, simple 2 second long fast attack roars.  The collection seems to be focused a lot more nuanced and detailed sounds, so you have to edit them to get a nice tight fast roar.  In other situations the same details and nuances are what save you though.  Sometimes the sounds start to become similar but all in all there is a wide variety and where there is processing it is rarely taken too far.

The library is easy to get also as it is a simple download of the Boom website (www.boomlibrary.com).  The Creatures Bunndle is a big download though, with the final package being 1111 files at 96k/24bit taking up over 10gig on your hard drive.  The download process has the files ZIP-ed into 10 sections you can pull down separately in smaller doses, so you are not pulling down one massive file.  The price point for the bundle is 229 (translates to $322.50 American) and that is not chump change, but it is also not out of this world for what you are getting, 7,900 sounds total.  This works out to about .04 cents per sound, the big publishers work out to much more then that per sound, so it is a good deal. (Sound Ideas new “General HD” library works out to .16 cents per sound) Plus Boom tend to offer discounts on pre-orders for upcoming libraries so you can even knock off a few bucks if you plan ahead, not really relevant to this review though as it is a catalog product now.

Another thing to mention quickly, I have had two minor problems with Boom Library products, one was a technical thing that was no fault of theirs and one that was a server issue on their end.  I emailed them letting them know I was having problems pulling down my purchase and only three minutes later I got an email back asking me a few questions to try to help figure out the problem, I quickly replied and they sent me a link to pull down the files another way from their web-support guy and I was on my way.  The amazing thing is that since Boom Library is based in Germany they did all this tech support for me at midnight their time.  I was expecting to hear back the next day but they went the extra mile and got me fixed up right away.  In the case of the other problem, this one not their fault, they sorted out my problem and sent me a preview of a  couple files from their next release as well.  So they seem to really care about their products and customers which is something that puts them right over the top in my book.

In the end my reviews are based on if the product makes my job easier and my work of higher quality and this collection does both.  I highly recommend it for anyone that needs these types of sounds.  

Here are demos from Boom’s sound cloud:

Creatures by BOOM Library

 

Also there is a quasi companion piece called “Wild Cats” that they have released since “Creatures” that extends this collection further.

Wildcats Tigers&Lions by BOOM Library

Editors Note:  Yes this review is pretty glowing.  They won't all be this way.  I just wanted to start out with the reviews with a solid dose of positivity before I come out swinging with the negativity some future reviews will require.