Project Sam – Symphobia 1 review…
If there is one orchestral sample library developer whose products computer based composers can’t fail to have heard of then Project Sam would certainly be at the top of the tree.
To apply a botanical analogy , Project Sam libraries and in particular the legendary Symphobia series of libraries are among the hardy perennials which continue to blossom year after year, provide outstanding results and hours of pleasure…. ok no more indulging in creative writing, or making plant based comparisons I promise!
The Symphobia series consist of three libraries, Symphobia 1, Symphobia 2 and Symphobia 3 LUMINA (the latter could perhaps be considered a subtle or more toned down orchestral scoring tool compared with the upfront scene stealing sounds present in the first two outings).
Symphobia the one, the only!…
Our focus for this review is on Symphobia 1, the original library and one that has been used in countless TV, game and Cenematic music compositions, despite it’s age, thanks to several updates in both content and scripting, it remains as fresh and viable as a serious scoring tool today as many newly released products, some of which still fail to achieve the same level of instant out of the box playability and dynamicism.
This Kontakt based product has received several major updates during it’s lifetime since it’s inception in 2009, the last of which being version 1.6 in December 2017,
The library will occupy 14.6Gb on your hard drive (Kontakt compressed format), with the samples being recorded at 44.1Khz 24bit quality. All the content remains consistent having been recorded throughout in the same concert hall in Budapest.
You will find 142 preset snapshots present in the Komplete Kontrol browser, and a generous 64 Kontakt multi’s with which to score your musical universe.
Installation was satisfyingly simple with dedicated download application software being available, or as was my choice, the option for a direct browser download via links in your Project Sam account, a facility I wish more vendors would adopt.
The Project Sam Concept…
Project Sam are one of the pioneers of orchestral ensemble sample library recording, believing that rather than composers having to build their orchestral projects from the ground up using individual solo nstruments, Symphobia instead features high quality samples of complete orchestra sections playing together. Strings, brass, woodwind and Mixed Orchestra are all available and then go on to include a further variety of per patch keyswitched articulations such as legato, staccato and pizzicato to provide a full compliment of natural and realistic sounding musical playing styles and effects.
The articulation and keyswitch approach not only reduces the number of physical patches required to load, but also greatly assists in the creative workflow and in the case of live performance the need to quickly jump between presets, which could be precarious.
Aside from the traditional orchestral ensemble patches, Project Sam are renowned for providing a whole bunch of additional and very usable extra content which are very much the cherry on the cake of an already hefty package. You’ll find dystopian FX, clusters, crescendos, trills and grace notes, a large amount of cinematic style FX and thrills for each instrument section, as well as some great heart stopping hybrid hits and risers.
There are some drum and percussive elements included, however there is no single standard orchestral percussion patch with Timpani, Snare or Cymbals, similarly there is no solo piano, although some patches use bass piano notes and/or Timpani strikes for accent purposes.
Stepping briefly outside the comfort zone of our Komplete Kontrol world, it would be hugely remiss of me not to mention and make readers aware of Project Sam’s amazing Kontakt multi instrument patches. Unfortunately Komplete Kontrol is not able to load Kontakt NKM files, although it would be convenient to have access to them within our cozy KK wrappper, we can nevertheless load them into Kontakt when obstantiated on it’s own.
Multi’s make use of Kontakt’s ability to load sample patches into Kontakt’s instrument slots, and this for Project Sam is where the extended fun begins.
In the Multi’s folder within the Symphobia master folder, lay a whole host of theme specific multi patches in their own genre titled folders, everything from action to Ambient, Suspense, Drama and Horror, they are all here and very sonically inspiring they are to.
You feel like you could score a whole movie just with these patches alone, so whatever you do always check out Project Sam Kontakt multi’s, as you’ll quite likely have as much enjoyment playing them as the Project Sam sound design team clearly did in creating them!
The Grand Tour…
In time honoured KK-Access review and tradition let’s take a walkthrough both the library browser and edit pages, before getting our hands dirty and delving into a more detailed explanation of how things work…
Knob 1 – Vendor
Knob 2 – Product
Knob 3 – Banks consisting of Brass Section, Dystopia, Mixed Orchestra, String Section, Woodwind Section,
Knob 4- Sub Banks (Only in relation to Dystopia bank) Hits & Kits, Taps & Spheres,
Knob 5 – Types (which relate to instruments in the bank section) Brass, Sound Fx Dystopia (see above) Sound FX, Soundscapes, Mixed Orchestra, Bowed Strings, Brass, Sound FX, String Section, Bowed Strings, Sound FX, Woodwind Section, Reed Instruments, Sound FX
Knob 6 – Sub Types (Variable dependent upon previous selections) Brass Ensemble, Sound FX, Big & Bad, Other FX, String ensemble, Orchestra, Wind Ensemble
Knob 7 – Mode consisting of Long/Evolving, Processed, Sample based,
The parameter mappings for the majority of the ensemble instrument patches are as follows:
Page 1 – Performance and Mic Mix
Knob 1 – Articulation,
Knob 2 – Dynamics
Knob 3 – Expression
Knob 4 – Unallocated
Knob 5 – Mic Mix – Morph
Knob 6 – Close Mic Volume
Knob 7 – Stage Mic Volume
Knob 8 – Unallocated
Page 2 – Envelope, DSP & EQ
Knob 1 – Env Attack
Knob 2 – Env Release
Knob 3 – DSP Reverb
Knob 4 – Limiter
Knob 5 – EQ Low
Knob 6 – EQ Mid
Knob 7 – EQ High
Knob 8 – Unallocated
Other presets such as those which include time based elements such as phrases and runs have relevant knobs substituted on the performance page to include a direction control (where a phrase or melodic trill can either go upward or downwards musically) and also speed which makes use of the Kontact time machine algorithm to adjust the speed and timing of a phrase without altering pitch, there is also an Expression knob.
Other presets such as those found in the Dystopian section, are hybrid Orchestral and synth patches which have more appropriate controls as follows:
Page 1 – Envelope, FX & Delay
Knob 1 – Attack
Knob 2 – Release
Knob 3 – FX Reverb
Knob 4 – FX Saturation
Knob 5 – Delay Time
Knob 6 – Delay Feedback
Knob 7 – FX Mix
Knob 8 – Unallocated
Page 2 – Compressor & Stereo
Knob 1 – Threshold
Knob 2 – Attack
Knob 3 – Unallocated
Knob 4 – Stereo Width
Knob 5 to 8 – Unallocated
It would be somewhat churlish of me to criticise any shortage of parameter mappings or the number of available pages in a library such as Symphobia. The truth is the main parameters are there for what’s required in an orchestral library. We have attack and release which in my experience has been an important one in orchestral libraries, nothing worse than a sloppy staccato that fails to hit the beat!
There are two microphone positions to mix between or use individually depending on your requirements. Stage being the hall perspective and thus the more reverberant, and close being the well, close mic, there is still a small tail on the close mic however it’s not too long to adversely effect putting your own reverb on if your project demands it. There is an imbuilt DSP reverb available to augment the baked in natural hall ambience, and the inclusion of the low, medium and high eq is a welcome addition to further tailor your sound.
There are generally 5 articulations available for the ensemble presets, usually to be found starting at F6, there is also a dedicated articulation knob assignment on the first performance page. You can for example on some patches slow down the speed and thus timing of say a brass envelope which can dramatically alter the sound, switch to another articulation and then switch back and it will retain the alteration you had made which is a useful feature.
Some of the typical articulations you will find are sordino, vibrato , Tremolo , Staccato , Spiccato , Pizzicato , Col legno , Marcato, these can vary of course dependent upon the patch and instrument section, there is a link to a list of instruments and articulations at the links section at the end of the review.
There are several patches that have ensemble chords, with majors being located and octave below minor chords and the transition between the two is smooth when played in a legato style.
In most cases volume expression is sensibly assigned to the mod strip or wheel (depending on whether you are a MK1 or MK2 owner) and as such a good level of dynamic expression and realism is achievable when playing.
The web is awash with Symphobia video reviews and walkthroughs, so I will include a few links for the more noteworthy ones at the end of this review which will enable you to make your own final judgements regarding the sounds. Suffice to say to my ears they are extremely impressive to say the least, and given the roll-call of well known composers that have praised Symphobia over the years, I’m inclined to trust my ears.
The large number of presets and variety of possabilities make this very much a go to library for orchestral scoring and thematic ideas. I really can’t find fault with any of the parameter mappings as everything we need is there with no omissions that I can think of that will hinder accessibility.
I would have liked perhaps to have seen the inclusion of a standard orchestral percussion patch, or a piano in a library of this size, particularly as both of these are to be found in Project Sam’s smaller Orchestral Essentials library. Somehow I don’t think Symphobia 1 is quite ready to put down it’s orchestral baton just yet, so there is always the possibility of a further future update!
At the beginning of the review I mentioned that Project Sam rarely had any big sales, I often wondered why. now I realise it’s the same reason that Ferrari or Porsche don’t, it’s because when you have a great product that people always want to own there is always a stable demand without having to resort to huge discount sales, hence the current 10 year anniversary sale is one of celebration and not desperation.
There are new libraries hitting the market practically on a weekly basis, but if it came down to a single orchestral library to take to a desert island (on the assumption there was power and a laptop!), then I think for me it would be Symphobia 1 from Project Sam, put simply it remains a class act!
Availability, Pricing & Links…
Project Sam Symphobia 1 is available as a download from the Project Sam website, at the time of publication (June 1st to June 6th 2018), Project Sam are celebrating their 10th Anniversary and have partnered with Native Instruments to offer a 50% discount on 5 of their products from the normal retail price (see links below).
Project Sam Home page:
Guy Rowland Symphobia Walkthrough:
Daniel James using Symphobia to create custom Dystopian Strings:
Writing an Epic Fantasy track using Symphobia:
Symphobia 1, 1.6 Update Content Overview:
Symphobia 1 Articulation list PDF:
Symphobia 1 Reference Manual:
(c) Chris Ankin 2018
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product or gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.