New IK Multimedia Miroslav Philharmonik 2 Orchestral Collection Plug-in MAC PC Recorded and produced by jazz legend Miroslav Vitous. 55 GB of hard drive space. Requires an ASIO compatible sound card.
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Philharmonik's 20-strong effect list — check out lo-fi and phonograph if you want to add that 78rpm feel to your 21st Century productions!Effects processing is probably more obviously useful than subtractive synthesis components in an orchestral plug-in, but IKM's implementation can initially seem rather odd. There are 20 effects on board, and each part has access to up to four inserts, one of which is always EQ/compression; these insert effects are saved with a patch, but can also be modified as part of a Combi. Four further slots are available as auxiliary send/return effects, accessible by all parts. It's a shame that there are no 'insert' effects on the main stereo mix, though.
IKM try to tell us that the effects available are 'classic', implying, I think, that they suit the classical environment. Five delay and reverb/ambience choices are crowned by the CSReverb, a deceptively simple three-parameter effect that's derive from IKM's forthcoming studio reverb plug-in. On this evidence, that reverb is going to be worth a listen. While nearly all Philharmonik Instruments sound vibrant dry, mixes sparkle even more with a little of this reverb.
IKM obviously think so, too, since it's provided as a default process whenever you start up the plug-in: you need to switch it off if you want to start properly from scratch. Modulation effects — chorus, multi-chorus, phaser, flanger, auto-pan, tremolo — make up a big group and then come the creative effects. Lo-fi, distortion, and phonograph seem a little out of place, given that most users will have similar effects elsewhere if they need them. Welcome bread-and-butter processing comes in the shape of tone control, parametric EQ, channel strip, compressor and limiter. The breadth of this set means highlights are hard to pick out.
Even lowlights are relative: I found I didn't take to the choir collection as a group. I can hear that some great recording, editing and collation has gone on, and that attention has been paid to decent SATB vocal ranges, but the result is still a little too artificial, especially for fully exposed work.
The organ, on the other hand, is magnificent. I haven't that much use for one personally but it does sound and play fantastic. It can also add even more weight to an arrangement if the context can handle it. And there is delicacy, in the portative organ-like 'Cathedral Organ Flutes', and subtle depth in the fundamentally bass-heavy 'Bass Pedals'. Amongst the other unexpected instruments, I liked the piano and harpsichord, though the latter is a little too 'baroque' and big-sounding for most of my needs. The classical guitars are quite natural-sounding (some genuine finger noise helps), and the harp set includes a nice range of arpeggios and open tones plus straightforward notes. In the MIDI Control pop-up, any parameter can be assigned to an external MIDI controller.Within the orchestra proper the main low points, for me, are amongst the solo strings.
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Violins seemed initially to be unconvincing, but one of IKM's audio demos inspired me to persevere and it's worth the effort. It's not perfect, but the vibrancy that's typical of the whole collection helps it win through in most situations, even fully exposed.
You know it's not real, but it's not unpleasantly unreal as the average workstation synth violin might be. Violas have an exaggerated scratchiness that is often attractive but can make it difficult to create a balanced arrangement.
I have no complaints at all about the cello collection — true ear candy, with full body right down to the open C. Double basses have some of this weight and presence but work better in ensemble presets.
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In fact, the ensemble strings — for each section and en masse — are uniformly musical and rich, even the section violins. The selection of articulations — spiccato, pizzicato, sul ponte, tremolo and so on — is perhaps not as wide as in some more recent and expensive sets, but it will be more than enough to achieve what most of us are after. Brass and woodwind keep the candy shop open: horns are a slight muddy low point, but there are solo and ensemble examples that blend well in many contexts. The tuba is a big surprise — one seldom hears such attention paid to this instrument in a sample-library context. There are perhaps not quite enough samples for the solo trumpets (and flugelhorn), but the results are still nicely brassy, with useful mellow and bright variations. There are some obvious jumps between keygroups in the lower register of trombone and bass trombone, but one can imagine different slide positions being the cause.
Many other instruments have 'special performances', such as glissandi: why not the trombones? Bassoons are fab — really rich and woody — and the contrabassoon is accurately captured (it doubles nicely with tuba or cello). Sampled flute can be disappointing in my experience, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear patches in Miroslav Philharmonik that actually sound like a flautist — and one who enjoys playing.
I'll remark again on the presence of alto and bass flutes, and they've been treated just as well as the main C flute. Clarinets have nicely balanced lower, middle and upper ranges — a pleasure to play — and oboes are amongst the best I've heard. The bass clarinet is a little disappointing, but I'm still really glad to have access to it.
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Percussion takes a little getting used to, but there are some weighty bass drums and snappy snares that work very well; all the little extras (chimes, castanets and so on) have real clarity and depth, and they play well, too. Although I'd have liked an E-flat clarinet and an orchestrally focused sax or two, I can't complain about the variety of this collection, especially for the money. Philharmonik has been constantly linked to my sequencing software since the start of this review — I like mixing up 'real' orchestral sounds with other bits I'm working on, and find it the perfect 'audio proof' when scoring or composing.
Rather than the often stilted result one would hear with even a good General MIDI sound source or workstation synth, MP becomes a part of the process. Rather than inputting notes, you're actually playing the sounds. The flip side of this situation is that existing MIDI data created with a different sound source in mind may not sound right, at least initially. You may have to spend a little time searching through Philharmonik 's presets to find voices that work, and then still be prepared to fine-tune the MIDI data or the preset to produce the desired performance. Gripes and problems are negligible. First of all, it stands to reason that the more RAM and CPU power you can throw at MP, the better.
On a day-to-day level, I found that two Instruments would sometimes be required to perform one part, since no single Instrument had the right mix of playing techniques. Sampletank technology doesn't really take advantage of program changes or other easy ways to swap presets, but there are 'elements' patches that often have a little more flexibility. The other option is to use more than one part to create an effect. Occasionally I felt there weren't quite enough samples to a multisample, and I found one odd instance of the pitch-bend control responding back to front, on just a few higher notes of a 'Stretched' cello preset. On the other hand, Stretch helps a number of patches make the most of the keygroups supplied.
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Philharmonik isn't alone in the market — not even the sub-£500 market — but its pedigree gives it an edge, even though some raw material is over a decade old. The samples at the heart of Miroslav Philharmonik represented something of a high-tide mark in sample-library history.
They broke new ground in terms of detail, recording quality and expressiveness. With the release of this plug-in, the set becomes the serious orchestral library for the rest of us. That we have it all, and more, in a ready-to-go plug in for under 400 quid, a fraction of the library's original cost, is amazing. All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2018. All rights reserved. The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers.
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