SampleTank 4 Max is packed with instruments and effects wrapped in a workflow that is simple to understand and inspiring at every turn. Reviewing SampleTank 4 Max was like a serendipitous journey of discovery versus a methodical approach of dissecting features. We simply wanted to know if SampleTank 4 would inspire us to make music and how easy it would be to drop into our creative flow. The more we tried to do the more SampleTank responded. This is simply a beautiful product that will give you an endless sonic palette.
We used SampleTank 4 Max by itself and with other VSTs but for our review we focused on making compositions where ST4 Max was the only instrument source. There are so many ways to get inspired with ST4 Max. Sometimes we'd start with drums and bass, build a foundation and lay some instruments over the top. Other times, we'd start with more exotic instruments and create some phrases to get started. We generally prefer to play and create riffs live but ST4 has some incredibly useful loops and phrases that are ready to be sequenced into a track. This was a great way to create something interesting quickly, especially with more exotic/ethnic/world sounds for example.
Discovering the Billy Cobham and the Neil Pert drums was an F-yeah moment, especially when assigned across multiple channels. The acoustic stuff is solid. The quality of the bases, keys, horns, strings and ethnic instruments just makes you want to keep exploring. We really enjoyed exploring the variety of basses. From vintage upright to fretless, gritty, clean and everything in between. We got lost in bassland for hours. Need something gritty from the 60s, you got it. Want it clean and chorused, easy. Fret noise, string vibration, intonations. It's clear a lot of love went into sampling these instruments and making them expressive even when triggered from the most basic of MIDI controllers. We banged out these sample tracks entirely with the MPK225 and we're happy with the dynamics and playability of the instruments.
MISSION DISCOVERY all SampleTank 4 instruments
MISSION CHASE all SampleTank 4 instruments
The ability to customize sounds using analog style controls and built-in effects and filters gives you exponential creative freedom to dial in a sound just the way you like it. It takes a little time to figure out how to do things in ST4 Max. At first we couldn't figure out how to get to the effects rack for each channel. But sans manual we were able to figure it out. That's kind of how it went for the entire review. We'd keep clicking around until we worked out the flow and the best way to navigate ST4. Most of the time that worked.
We still don't have a great feel for the strummer or apreggiator. We know how to use them but navigating in and out of that experience was less intuitive for us. Especially the strummer. We'd add a guitar to a channel and sort of stumble on the strummer but for some reason it's just not intuitive for us to get in and out of that experience. We managed to create some very realistic acoustic guitar phrases that would have been very time consuming to create on a keyboard. IK has an in-depth 165 page manual that goes into more details of the various capabilties ST4 and we'll need read up a bit more on the strummer.
ST4 Max also has a good variety of electronic and synth sounds and icons for all the instruments to help you recognize the kinds of timbre it's capable of. So you can quickly dial up a more digital or analog sound. There are plenty of parameters that can be tweaked for every sound in synth land. So if you have some experience with programming synths you'll appreciate the options.
There is plenty to work with from pads to dynamic leads but you won't be replacing your vintage synths anytime soon.
The ST4 Max UI is attractive. It's a bit dark, but we got used to it. Not sure if there are shades available for the UI but could be worth exploring options for a light, medium and dark setting. Overall, it took us a little time to get familiar with how to do things but mostly was easy to figure out. This is a deep instrument with lots of capabilities so it really requires a deep dive to appreciate all that it can do. Even though we've had it a couple of months, we feel we won't master it for quite some time.
After experimenting with the different ways to play instruments in SampleTank 4 we decided our favorite way was to simply create a multitrack project in our DAW and play instruments in real time versus building loops and phrases or using the strummer. In other words, we like to use it as an instrument or multitimbral instrument across MIDI channels. We could also see using ST4 for sound design in real time for animation or other post production projects.
In terms of overall value, we'd say we were most impressed by the sampled acoustic instruments. This would be our primary use for SampleTank 4 Max. The synths amd electronic instruments we were less impressed with and feel like we're already pretty well covered with our existing VSTs and standalone analog synths. Even if ST4 Max shipped without all the synths it would still be a good value for all that acoustic sampling love and tweakability.
In terms of performance and stability. It's been pretty solid. We've been primarily using SampleTank 4 as a plug in with our MPC Live DAW. The initial installation was crash city. But after subsequent updates it's been very solid and a joy to use.
For music, sound design and post, SampleTank 4 is a very powerful instrument to have in your arsenal and worth taking the time to learn how to use.
Visit IK Multimedia for more information.