5. Types and Formats
There are an enormous range of sample libraries available catering for pretty much every music genre and instrument, from vocals to sound effects and single drum hits to multi-bar loops. Loops are generally broken down into separate tempos and genres such as rock, dance, reggae etc. They are usually only a couple of bars long, and often come with subtle variation and fill alternatives, great for compiling a complete drum part.
Products such as piano libraries are designed to be played with a MIDI keyboard much like any other synthesiser. The more basic instruments are derived from a few samples which are then transposed or stretched within the sampler to cover the full keyboard range, whereas higher-end libraries record every single note (known as multi-sampling), often at many different velocities to give a more life-like result. These products can be extremely realistic - ideal for pianists who simply dont have the room for a real piano, or who want to benefit from having multiple piano types at their fingertips.
Synthesiser libraries a created in a similar way to piano libraries, but in order for them to achieve continuous sustain as is possible with a real synth, the samples include loop points. You can alter the attack, decay, sustain and release, and apply filters and various other effects just as if you were playing the actual instrument.
There are a number of different sound library formats available for use with the various hardware and software samplers on the market today. Libraries are designed for specific samplers or software, and although some are cross-platform compatible, not all are, so care should be taken when purchasing.
The most basic sample format is the traditional audio CD. Containing no program data, samples are recorded manually and trimmed this is still popular with hardware sampler users in particular, due in part to the lack of availability of native format libraries, and also to their relatively low cost. Some libraries with program data are available for hardware samplers, but are increasingly hard to find and are usually specific to a single manufacturer such as Akai or Emu, and even to individual models within their ranges.
Common formats for software samplers are Propellerheads NN-XT & REX2, Steinbergs HALion, Apples EXS24 and Apple Loops and Native Instruments Kontakt.
Of course with the arrival of ever-faster internet speeds, samples are increasingly available online, and there are now many companies offering full quality samples to purchase via download. Generally you can browse through and audition an MP3 version before you decide on what you want to buy.