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Samplers that Fly Under the Radar, Pt. 1

Samplers That Fly Under The Radar, Pt. 1

If you’re like me, the tendency for music software to become bigger and more bloated as time progresses can be a problem. There are times when complexity is nice, even necessary, but overall I prefer plugins that are focused on specific tasks or concepts, and would rather mix and match when more complex sound design becomes necessary. A lot can be said for simple layouts, clear interfaces, clean designs, and focused identity.

Samplers
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Table of Contents

Introduction - TAL Sampler

In the admittedly saturated sampler market a few high-end samplers compete for dominance:

Kontakt, Halion, Mach 5, Independence, and Sampletank primarily. Most of these have lighter or free versions to entice users and bring developers on board to market higher-end products for game design, trailers, and those who would like to up their game. On the other end of the spectrum, there are free offerings like Grace, Short Circuit, and TX16Wx, as well as proprietary offerings by many DAW manufacturers, such as Tracktion’s Collective and Reason’s NN-XT. Some of these began life as full-fledged paid software, while others are workhorses intended to get you deeper into a DAW. Regardless, there is no shortage of samplers.

So when TAL Software (arguably most-known for its free Noizem4k3r and excellent sounding reverb—now on version 4—) released TAL sampler in 2015, one might have asked, Why? Well, it sounds amazing, for one thing, like everything TAL makes, but more importantly, it’s easy to use. Although technically a sampler, it really should be thought of more as a musical tool. It’s an instrument, to be sure, and one that is expressive and playable, but it is first and foremost a musical tool. It is designed to create sounds and pallets of sounds that would be difficult to achieve without it, sounds that are characterful and warm.

There are interesting libraries already available for it (freely downloadable from the TAL website), as well as some amazing third-party libraries. In addition to the factory library, you can download vintage samples and presets by Hollowsun (covering a huge variety of well-known vintage synthesizers and samplers), patches from noted sound designer Empty Vessel, and smaller libraries by other third parties. What you won’t find are weighty 40+ GB libraries with multiple articulations, scripting, and such. Those are great, of course, and have their place, particularly when realism is a determining factor, but TAL sampler is designed to be lightweight and intuitive. It has a feel, it has a sound. It has its own character, which is very rare in the world of music software.

Installation

TAL sampler comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions; both can be installed at the same time if you wish. The factory samples and presets (downloaded separately), need to be placed somewhere on your hard drive manually and then located via a dialog in the sampler once it is registered and instantiated. Authorization is a simple key entered in a dialog box. The whole process is pretty painless, but you do need to know basic information about your file system. I prefer this method of content installation over automatic installs to your system drive—which either places files in a proprietary location or in a subfolder in your VST directory—without giving you the option to place the content elsewhere.

The Heart of TAL sampler: The Resampler

Before I get too far into the review, I want to highlight TAL sampler’s most unique feature, the soul of its unique sonic character: the built-in resampler module. Samples loaded into any of sample layers 1 – 4 (top left of the interface) are resampled with 1 of 5 selectable DAC algorithms. There is no need to load lo-fi samples if you are looking for a lo-fi sound, for example. You can just select the AM6070 DAC type, which emulates old 8-bit telecommunications devices, or the AM6070 F, which introduces some degree of instability. Most of the DAC conversion types allow some tweaking after resampling, such as adding hiss and saturation, something you’d normally need a tape emulator to do. The sample hold DAC type allows you to quickly adjust the sample rate and bit-depth, which is calculated in real-time. If you prefer not to go for a downsampled or vintage sound, you can choose the “clean” mode, available with or without hiss and saturation. This intermediate resampling stage ensures a warm and characterful sound that is a unique take on sampling.

TAL Sampler - Main
Fig. 1 – TAL Sampler Main Interface Window

The Interface

TAL sampler has a very simple and easy-to-read interface that has a retro look and feel but is clean and modern. The controls on the main window follow the signal flow, largely (left to right and top to bottom), so you can easily find and make adjustments quickly. I particularly like the fact that there is a large green window centered over the resampler module that displays the value of any parameter of any section when the mouse is hovering over a knob. This way you can, at a glance, see the current value and the changed value while you make changes to the resonance of the filter or the hold time of an envelope. The knobs, buttons, and displays, are all clean and very intuitive to read.

TAL Sampler - Layer
Fig. 2 – Layer Window Open

The Layers

At the top left of the interface are controls for 4 layers, A – D (see Fig. 1). There is a power button and a series of controls that affect all samples in each layer (volume, pan, coarse tuning, etc). The top-level detail for each layer is revealed by a series of tabs that correspond to each layer. If you move from “All” to “Layer A,” for example, you are going to get a top-level view of that specific layer (See. Fig 2). For more detail on the sample and its properties, you simply click on the waveform. From here (See Fig. 3) you can load a single sample and set the root note, low note, and high note, multiple samples (such as when creating a drum kit), and set any of the mapped samples to loop, define loop start and stop points, and specify zero crossings.

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The important thing to note is this: there are levels to the layers and each level introduces its own granularity. There are no groups (except mute groups), which are a typical mainstay of samplers. The term “layer” here is not synonymous with velocity or sample layer. It is an instrument layer, like a container. All mapped samples are placed inside the container, and the top level controls everything under it. This is an easy enough concept, but it took me a little while to understand it. If you wish to have different samples panned in different places (for example, if you want to create a drum kit with different elements panned to different places), they either have to be mapped after editing in an audio editor, placed on different layers, or sequenced with a step sequencer that has the ability to send that information to the plug-in.

TAL Sampler - Mapping
Fig. 3 – TAL Mapping Editor Open

Filter, Envelopes, and the Mod Matrix

Following the layers is the resampler module I mentioned first. Next is the filter (a global control that can be applied to any or all of the four layers by activating a “power” switch) followed by the envelope section and then the mod matrix (which is at the bottom). The envelope section has three envelopes, amplitude, VCA, and MOD. All three are analog modeled by default but can be switched to digital if desired.

There are three LFOs available. These are identical and can be used to modulate the instrument targets. Available oscillator types are triangle, saw, rectangle, random, and noise. There is a trigger that triggers the LFO when a note is pressed and a sync button that syncs the LFO to the host tempo. Mysteriously, there is no sine wave option.

The mod matrix is another good example of just how well this interface is laid out. To choose what is being modulated, simply select the envelope button, choose an option from a dropdown list (LFO 1 – 3, ENV 1 – 3, RND 1 – 4, P 1 – 4, etc.), and then twiddle whatever parameter you wish to modulate. The target then appears in the little information window on one of the ten slots in the modulation matrix.

A Few Closing Words

TAL sampler is a niche sampler with a unique characterful sound. It has a clean, simple interface that is easy to understand and also provides depth when needed. The resampler is a great feature that provides a quick method of achieving a wide range of results (it is very easy to completely change the character of a patch or your own sounds simply by changing the DAC type). It is a great instrument for vintage and lo-fi sounds as well as a modern tool to sculpt layers of sounds. It is particularly suited for pads, textures, evolving loops, basses, and leads. Although you can create kits with it, it is not ideally suited for that (except, of course, when you want to give your kit samples a vintage vibe); It is also not ideal for realistic instruments (such as orchestral instruments) because there are no articulations, groups, or multiple outs.

The manual, in general, is well-designed, and there are a few training videos as well. I think TAL sampler is a great musical instrument; I especially appreciate that it is designed to be simple and useful. Once you understand it conceptually and hear what it sounds like, it frees your imagination. For this reason, I think it is a tool to quickly create sounds that are both vintage in character and forward-looking.

Pros: Unique sound. Great sounding effects. Easy to use. Simple interface. Is able to load TUN files for microtonal flexibility. Accepts a wide variety of sample types, including SF2 and SFZ sound fonts (except multi-layered SFZ sound fonts).

Cons: Panning is at the top layer level. Effects are global. No round-robin or velocity layers.

Cost: $60
Product Home Page: https://tal-software.com/products/tal-sampler

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