EASTWEST Fab Four Review
- Category: Production
Admittedly, this was my first experience with an East West instrument, but I did find the installation process left a bit to be desired. Upon inserting the DVD into my drive, I was surprised that I was not greeted by an install screen. Maybe I'm getting lazy in my old age, but I'm used to being led step-by-step though software installs. On my system, I was forced to access the drive, locate the appropriate setup routine and run this manually. Once I got this straight, installation began. Please note: East West delivers great samples ' and lots of them! Please be prepared to camp out for a bit as the samples install themselves. I had no issues copying the sample banks to my system, but it did take the better part of 90 minutes to do so. No problem ' just be sure to pack a lunch. One minor annoyance during the installation was the need for an iLok security key. Anytime you add a level of copy protection to a program you make it harder to install. We've never been a fan of the iLok process. At first it wasn't entirely clear that I even needed an iLock. Luckily, after an email to EASTWEST's responsive tech support team and a trip to Guitar Center for the iLok the process was made less cumbersome and we had it up and running on our Nuendo 2 DAW shortly thereafter.
I'm Looking Through You'
Upon launching Fab Four, I was greeted by a very cool future-retro interface based around a very HAL9000 central eye. While there are a good number of controls on this main panel, the layout is very clear and all 'knobs' react very smoothly to mouse control. No surprises here. What IS a surprise is the VERY cool built in ADT. This effect lies someplace between flanging and doubling and has been described millions of times before. Suffice to say ' the addition here is very welcome and the sound is simply fantastic. The convolution reverb, on the other hand, seems to be very processor hungry and placed some pretty hard demands on our test system. In the end, I opted to leave this good sounding reverb off and to use other plug-ins to fill that need. It was at this time, that I decided to grab a cup of coffee and watch the included tutorial videos. Major credit goes to the production team on these clips. They are very clear, well thought out and well presented. These videos, along with a one page 'cheat-sheet' had me up and running in seconds. As part of this test drive, I decided that the best way to audition these instruments would be to use them in a project. So I fired up Nuendo and set off on my trip down memory lane.
Let me take you down'
As I wandered through the browser, I was initially surprised to see the large number of guitar sample sets. While there is no doubt that the Beatles were initially a guitar band, I did find it interesting to find over 20 different guitar instruments. As I'm primarily a guitar player, I often find myself tasking synths and samplers with bass, keyboard, drum and sound effects duties ' not guitars. Fab Four has definitely opened my eyes as these instruments have a realism and dynamic quality that will lead to much future experimentation. From the beautiful acoustic sounds of 'I'm a Blackbird Guitar' to the wonderfully 'busted' fuzz-box-funk of 'Fixing a Guitar solo', to the 'In the End There will be Drums' it's all here, and yes, the sounds of THE drum solo absolutely deliver.
My previous drum samples sounded OK but were a bit dull. The Fab Four sample set coupled with the Play engine delivered a much more realistic drum sound with all of the nuance and dynamic qualities that I was used to hearing from a real drummer. The toms in particular sound incredible. Rather than a simple thud, you can clearly hear the stick on the head and the ring of the shell. And rest assured all of the other drum kits achieve this same level of depth and quality. One interesting note is that the key assignments seem to be a little different from other sampled kits out there, so be prepared for a bit of track editing to move instruments around a bit. No major surgery, but some work may be required.
Next on the list is bass. Per the quick start guide, I launched a second instance of Play for improved performance and more control during mixdown. Initially, I was a bit dismayed to see only 3 options for bass guitars: 'Bass Tripper', 'Come To Bass', and 'With A Little Help From My Bass'. Having listened so closely to the bass on so many Beatle albums for so many years, I expected to see more choices. In practice, I found these three choices to be plenty. As I was looking for a very nice percussive bass sound, I selected 'With a Little Help From My Bass' and went to work. Right off the bat, I heard a bass that sounded nothing like a synthetic instrument, but really sounded like a real player on a real instrument. Successive notes cycle through different samples and the performance engine brings in hammer-ons, pull-offs, add pick and finger noises and really bring a nice thump and sparkle to the low end. Nice.
I would now like to venture straight into the category of 'you can only use this sound if you want to sound like THAT song'. In my opinion, 'Lucy In The Lowery' is THE signature sound in this collection. I dare you to boot Fab Four and NOT immediately load this instrument. This particular sound may be one of the very few sounds on Sgt. Pepper's that was not dramatically processed as it went to tape. From the very first key hit, you will be transported to a boat ride where the skies are definitely NOT blue'Will you use this patch for everything' No. Will you use it occasionally to add that feel to a track. Yes.
East meets East West'
Ok. There are Sitars. There HAD to be sitars. Purely in the spirit of writing a comprehensive review'.I added a sitar solo. And now I will add sitar to EVERYTHING! I can't say that I have any idea how to craft an authentic sitar solo. I have had zero training in the performance of this instrument and have no real understanding of any of the nuances that a real sitar has to offer. And I don't care at all. 'Within A Sitar' rocks! What was the most amazing to me is how the instrument responds to changes in velocity. While simply plunking around on the keyboard, I was rewarded with drones, pitch bends, trills and other audio gems that brought a smile to my face and added a bit of cool zing to the song. I fully expect to ruin my next 10 pieces by forcing sitar into everything. Remember the first time you played with a wah-wah pedal' Yeah'like that ' only better!
Last on my sample track was a down and dirty piano swap. For this track, I selected 'Madonna Piano'. As you can imagine, this is a heavily compressed piano sound that has a very definite mid bump and a bit of 'clank' to it. This is by no means a subtle or 'hi-fi' rendition of a lovely grand. This is all about the honk and cut through the backing tracks just as I had hoped. You may be seeing a trend at this time. None of these instruments struck me as generic, workhorse instruments. These are very heavy on personality and may be best viewed as an audio spice rack. In practice, a little goes a long way.
So what is there NOT to like' Well, there are still a few hiccups and, sadly, a few clunkers in the mix. While the instruments are by and large very good and very useful, I was a bit disappointed by a few. 'Baby I`m A Clavioline' is and an example of a patch that just doesn't do it for me. Baby You're a Rich Man has long been a favorite track of mine, and I was underwhelmed by this clavioline patch. It just seemed a bit'dead. The harmonium of 'We Can Work A Harmonium', however is so good that I quickly forgot about the Clavioline.
A few notes about instances, inputs and outputs. While using Fab Four within Nuendo, I did indeed find that I had better luck launching multiple instances rather than loading multiple instruments into one instance. This was partly to boost system performance as suggested by the quick start guide and partly because Fab Four does not offer multiple outputs to my host DAW as other VST plug in synths do. I was able to easily tweak the relative volumes and add internal effects, but it was difficult for me to apply other plug-ins to specific instruments or to assign different instruments to different groups within my mix. This is obviously not a deal breaker and launching multiple instances was no issue. I was also able to easily freeze tracks to free up a bit of processor power as needed.
And in the end'
Overall, I came away from using Fab Four very impressed and very inspired. I found that each instrument replacement added a bit more life, grit (the good kind) and controlled randomness to my tracks. While this may be a result of the Play engine as much as the samples themselves, I found myself wanting to play more, to write more and to record more. Bottom line, this package delivers on the promise. If you're a fan of the sounds of the Beatles and want to have easy access to some of your favorites then I suggest you run, don't walk, to your local pro audio shop and pick up your copy.
Visit EASTWEST for more information.
Equipment notes: Intel P4 3GHz, 1GM memory, Nuendo 2 DAW, 83 Rickenbacker 360WB 12 String, Stock Toaster tops.