80 Retro Symphonics By SonoKinetic
Whether you are old enough to have witnessed it first hand, or have been intrigued by the revival of interest in 1980’s influenced soundtrack music with the likes of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things, musicologists are likely to denote this period of history as a period of change.
The huge popularity of the emerging electronic music scene that dominated the pop charts at the time, inevitably became melded with the traditional orchestral arrangements afforded to glossy big budget TV shows, and created a genre of film score that is immediately identifiable and irrevocably linked to that decade.
The synth sounds in use do of course invariably date stampe the music, and there is certainly more cheese involved than your average pizza topping, however the nostalgic fondness for this period remains intrinsically ingrained in both our movie & music psyche , which is why 80 the latest offering from SonoKinetic adds a new and welcome dimension to their already comprehensive range of phrase driven sample libraries.
The Recording Process
80 was recorded in the same Czech republic concert hall venue as the vast majority of previous SonoKinetic releases, this makes for increased familiarity for the end user when working with the library, and also for the experimentalist there exists the potential for cross product pollination (now there’s a potential future sound bite if ever I heard one!).
The orchestral sections are a powerful line up consisting of 56 string players, 16 woods and 22 brass, which in combination provide a rich and luscious cinematic feel.
The synth sounds used are FM based, coming from a Yamaha DX machine, so the sounds are quite clean and distinctive, rather than being overtly vintage and analog in nature.
These were also recorded using microphones in tandem with the real orchestra, ensuring that they blend together as naturally as possible in the same environment.
Coining A Phrase
For those not familiar of how the SonoKinetic phrase based libraries work, the concept is simple, but the underlying mechanics is nothing short of a marvel in the dark art of Kontakt scripting.
For the user, it’s a case of picking and assembling your choice of up to twelve phrases, which are conveniently grouped by instrument type (Brass, Strings, Woodwind & Synth), and then the mood, of which there are many, such as action, peaceful, quiet, heroic and Villain, to name but a few.
You can then hold a single assigned phrase key, or all twelve if you have enough digits!, and then play your own choice of triad based chords, where the phrases will follow what you play in terms of chord progression, and the phrases will also remain in sync with your DAW tempo.
This all sounds pretty straightforward so far, but throw microphone positioning, phrase offsets, harmonics, cross fades, double timings, keyswitches and a bunch of other factors into the equation, and then you begin to realise that there is some fairly special magic going on under the hood.
80 requires Kontakt 6.7.1 either full version or the free Kontakt player, and is compatible with Komplete Kontrol.
the library will occupy 12GB of space, with it’s 44.1kHZ – 24BIT NCW format samples.
There is just one master Kontakt NKI preset file, all phrase choices being made within the interface, or via the Komplete Kontrol hardware assignments.
Download & Installation.
Download can be made via the SonoKinetic manager which is by and large accessible for screen readers. Alternatively and probably more convenient is to simply use Native Access for the whole process, it being possible to authorise, download and install the whole product by this means.
Once installed, Komplete Kontrol uses it’s auto scan feature to instantly add 80 to your factory browser ready for use.
Komplete Kontrol Plug-in edit NKS Parameters
Page One – Active Preset, Phrase Select, Microphone Settings & Global
Knob 1 – Select x 12, C to B
Knob 2 – Phrase Select: Strings, Brass, woodwinds, Synth
Knob 3 – Mood Category (varies depending on instrument type), Action, Clash, Creeping, Heroic, Romance, Rumble, Tension, Tranquil, Villain, Beds, Boss, Brooding, Majestic, Sly, themes, Upbeat, Dark, Energetic, Fury, Love, Playful, Pursuit, Quiet, Serious, Witty, Antagonist, Blazing, Fear, Jubilant, Misery, Peaceful, Piercing, Protagonist, Soaring
Knob 4 – Phrase Audition
Knob 5 – Microphone Selection, Position 1: Close, Decca, Far, Wide
Knob 6 – Mix (Between Position 1 & 2)
Knob 7 – Microphone Position 2: Close, Decca, Far, Wide, None
Knob 8 – Global Added Synth Level (expressed as a percentage)
Page Two – Active Preset, Phrase Settings 1, Balance, Levels & Releases
Knob 1 – Active preset x 12
Knob 2 – Unallocated
Knob 3 – Phrase Offset (expressed as ticks)
Knob 4 – Crossfade
Knob 5 – Balance (Pan)
Knob 6 – Phrase Level (expressed as a percentage)
Knob 7 – Release Level (expressed as a percentage)
Knob 8 – Releases Link On/Off
Page Three – Active Preset, Phrase Settings 2 & If Applicable
Knob 1 – Active Preset x 12
Knob 2 – Unallocated
Knob 3 – Phrase Purge
Knob 4 – Modwheel On/Off
Knob 5 – Phrase Playback Speed: ITm, Fix to 1x, Double, Half
Knob 6 – Harmonic Shift On/Off
Knob 7 – Synth Level (if applicable)
Knob 8 – Add Linked (if applicable)
Page Four – Active Preset, Randomise, Global & Load Only Phrases From
Knob 1 – Active Preset Selection x 12
Knob 2 – Randomise (Currently selected preset)
Knob 3 – Random Lock (Include current preset)
Knob 4 – Global Randomise (All Presets)
Knob 5 – Load Only Phrases From: Strings (Apply)
Knob 6 – Load Only Phrases From: Brass(Apply)
Knob 7 – Load Only Phrases From: Woodwinds (Apply)
Knob 8 – Load Only Phrases From: Synth (Apply)
In my time of working with them, SonoKinetic have always been consistent and superb champions in their support for the cause of accessibility.
This was very clearly reflected when they developed and included the innovative audio guide for the plug-in edit side of the Komplete Kontrol browser at a time when we as blind users had no audible access to these parameters whatsoever.
We have now enjoyed and perhaps to some extent taken for granted this feature for sometime, and as such SonoKinetic’s original and innovative solution is no longer required, where once it was absolutely essential in order to accessibly use their phrase libraries.
With this in mind, the current Komplete Kontrol user interface for 80 is probably their most intuitive to use yet.
The essential ability to audibly choose our phrases is still very much a fixture, but with other controls being announced by the Komplete Kontrol TTS, no other audio guide samples are required.
The focus instead has been in streamlining and creating a workflow that enables blind & visually impaired users to intuitively use all facets of the library, seemingly with little or no real creative compromises.
Shoulder Pads & Mullets
If you have used any of the other SonoKinetic phrase libraries, then you will almost immediately feel at home, and even if you haven’t, then it will probably take you less than an hour to get to grips and understand the core concepts of the Kontakt engine and how the NKS controls interact with it.
As always the clever compositional arrangements of the phrases are expertly polished in such a way that they will work well together, interweaving between the four instrument sections on the fly as you play.
Images of 80’s TV shows flash through your mind when you explore, match & mismatch the various types of musical moods, the overall vibe being screenplay influenced in style.
Whilst playing with 80 or indeed any of the other phrase based libraries is immediate and satisfying, there is perhaps understandably a little learning curve involved in coaxing the best performance when you want to record your efforts.
Pre-planning what you play and also adding additional instances of the library into your project can often be the key for success here, also see my note later about the series of Spot On video tutorials which can help shed further light on the subject.
That heading was actually spelt with a letter C, rather than a K, however both references will be equally pertinent.
When referencing the user manual (yes I am that person that actually reads them!), it seemed apparent to me that every feature of the GUI was also accessible from the mapped NKS controls, aside from not being able to see those colour coded LED keyboard lights, unless I missed something, it was all here.
Assigning your choice of instruments and phrase is very easy, in fact the engine automatically detects and selects the key you want to work with when you press it, but you can still do this manually or obtain audible speech reassurance by briefly touching the active preset control, which is to be found perpetually on knob one on each of the four pages.
There are a healthy selection of musical moods for each of the four instrument types, and as mentioned these will work well together across a variety of mixed themes.
Some of the orchestral instruments also have a second layer of complimentary synth sounds, that mirror what the organic instruments are playing, which acts as an extra layer of sound enhancement if you opt to use them.
This is where the otherwise mysteriously labelled ‘if applicable’ control comes into play found on page three of the NKS mapping, where it provides mix level controls, yes you’ve guess it, if applicable.
If you do eventually tire of the phrase selection process, and want to let the engine roll the dice and choose on your behalf, this can easily be done with a set of dedicated controls.
You can opt to throw the whole lot into an audio tom bola, or instead choose only the instruments and assigned key slots you want to randomise.
This is a fun way to come up with some new hybrid ideas where instruments and moods can collide or perhaps even find new harmony together.
There are four microphone positions available in common with other SonoKinetic libraries. You can mix your choice of two of these together at any one time, or simply choose just one.
This is actually on a per instrument assigned key slot basis, so the scope for mixing is quite wide, of course this may impact upon your system CPU and memory if you double down on loading two microphones for each of the twelve possible phrases.
Thankfully if things do get a little fraught with your system, unlike other interfaces, SonoKinetic have thoughtfully included a purge sample facility via a dedicated NKS control, something we do not normally even have access to from the standard Kontakt GUI let alone a sample library interface.
Each of the twelve phrases has it’s own pan control, which will work independently of one another, as can all of the other controls such as offset, crossfade, levels, releases, phrase playback speed, harmonic shift & modwheel, and these if wanted, could also be automated via your DAW.
If you have previously heard other SonoKinetic products, then you will already be aware that the sound quality is always top notch, pristine and well recorded both in terms of overall frequency balance and recording clarity.
The venue and orchestra used in this process are by now a well established and integral part of the contribution to the SonoKinetic portfolio.
The post recording sample processing is expertly cu rated to ensure that each instrument works seamlessly together by the time it is in the hands of the end user.
there are a number of fine videos and audio demos to be found on the SonoKinetic website and You Tube showing off the creative potential of 80, which I would recommend viewing for yourself.
Particularly of note is the Spot On series of SonoKinetic short tutorials which provide some good guidance on how to get the best from the library, linked at the review footer.
SonoKinetic have again produced a library that brings a new twist to a well established and successful line of products.
The attention to detail in the melodic composition and the overall cohesion between instruments is excellent, and is again aided by the ongoing and consistent high quality of recording, musicianship and Kontakt scripting.
The attention to the accessibility needs of blind & visually impaired customers deserves particular praisefor it’s well thought out NKS mapping implementation, which has clearly been considered right from the outset.
80 By SonoKinetic can be purchased from the SonoKinetic website for the intro price of 199.90 euros (regular price 249.90 euros)
SonoKinetic 80 Product Page:
SonoKinetic 80 Spot On Tutorial & Playthrough Series:
SonoKinetic 80 – User Manual:
5th August 2022
The author can not accept any responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of this review,or Any inaccuracies found therein. All opinions and product functions stated are based solely on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product and/or gathered from official factual sources such as the developer, web or supplied product manual.
About the Author
Based in Buckinghamshire, England, Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review author and contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.
He has also worked extensively in, and been associated with music, recording, film Soundtrack, Game & media, the creative arts, publishing and investments since 1982 under his own name and various other pseudonyms.