Review: Espressivo by Sonokinetic
Amazing Sounding Sample Set
Delivers performances impossible to create with multi-sampled instruments
Detailed info, technical manual, and videos
Limited adjustments to note range (tuning) in playback
No key switchable Tuning/Harmonic Shift
Espressivo is the most inspiring and playable dissonant and atonal orchestral phrase library I have yet to get my hands on. Though I did find that the library has some limitations, Sonokinetic has delivered a beautifully recorded sample set, the kind that is impossible to mimic with multi-sampled virtual instruments.
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Review: Espressivo by Sonokinetic
With Espressivo, Sonokinetic take us on a symphonic adventure far beyond what is achievable with multi-sampled instruments. With a tip of the hat to composers like the great Bernard Hermann and Jerry Goldsmith, this filmic sample set is in a class of it’s own with the kind of top-shelf quality orchestral recordings we have come to expect from the developer.
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Espressivo sells for €249.90 from Sonokinetic
I have been preaching the gospel of Sonokinetic’s phrase based orchestral libraries since one of my very my first reviews, that of the developer’s Capriccio. At the time I genuinely asked viewers on their thoughts, as I felt that Sonokinetic was making the kind of advancements that will lead to “software as orchestrator”.
With the release of Espressivo, the developer has delivered an orchestral phrase library with the kind of sample set that is impossible to re-create using standard multi-sample virtual instruments. The library’s interface is in a similar vain as it’s predecessors (Grosso, Capriccio, Sotto) but with some small yet very distinct differences.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. First, let’s look at the basics.
Espressivo’s sample set comes from recording 4 orchestral sections: “dissonant” strings, “stabbing” brass, “skittering” percussion and “aleatoric” woodwinds.
Espressivo’s sample set comes from recording 4 orchestral sections: “dissonant” strings, “stabbing” brass, “skittering” percussion and “aleatoric” woodwinds. Each section was captured separately with phrases broken up into high, mid and low orchestrated version.
Differing from past phrase based libraries from the developer, all the samples for all sections are housed in one Kontakt preset. Espressivo offers this instrument as both 16 and 24-bit versions as well as a LITE version (which keep the footprint to a minimum with pre-mixed microphone options).
The main interface is split into 4 main quadrants, one for each of the respective sections; strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion. All of the phrases for each preset are loaded across a single octave. The library offers 4 presets and all selected samples are loaded up simultaneously across the four octaves of the keyboard which are represented with the colored keys.
There are hundreds of phrases contained in the library. Selecting the phrases is simple. Each phrase for each section is loaded by clicking the setions quadrant opening up the Phrase Picker Window.
The Phrase Picker Window. offers graphical representations for each of the phrases and allows for the user to preview the phrases with a click of the mouse on the “triangle icon”. The different phrases included for each section are divided into a number of categories which I found easy to navigate including Pads, Stabs, Rhythmic, Melodic etc. Selecting a single graphical representation of the phrase will load all of the phrases for that section (low, mid and high).
All of the phrases included in the library have been sampled at 130 BPM and tempo sync to your DAW with the ability to select ITM (intelligent sync) 1x, 2X or half speed playback of the recordings. This makes the library very manageable and easy to incorporate into one’s work. I found in experimenting with the library that tempo changes of 30 BPM up or down held up very well although drastic shifting of half speed revealed some extreme digital artifact. Definitely not a deal-breaker, and a reasonable limitation for the technology given the sample set.
You can randomly load all phrases by using the O in the ESPRESSIVO title line at the top of the interface.
Each of the Sections have functions that can be changed in the Adjustments Panel. Adjustments can be changed to allow the modwheel to control dynamics, volume of each phrase, panning, and tuning.
Although tuning can be adjusted via slider in the Adjustments panel, I found it was limited to just a few steps in either direction. The previous Sonokinetic libraries had a very deep sampled set of phrases in multiple keys with the ability to change the root of each phrase across an entire octave. Espressivo’s seems to be restricted by the smaller sample set and “all sections in one” interface. This leads to fewer options and flexibility in tuning adjustments as compared to the developers previous libraries.
I go on about this more in detail in the review video talking about how the previous Sonokinetic libraries offer the Harmonic Shift functionality which will trigger new samples adjusting root based sample playback. Espressivo is limited in tuning adjustments to just a few steps and must be “midi-learned” for adjustments (as opposed to the keyswitching Harmonic Shift tuning functionality of the previous phrase libraries from the developer.
The sample set is sure to be the limiting factor as I am sure tuning shifts of more than a few steps would have added obvious artifacts to the samples. This critique on tuning was the only other “wish-it-would-have’ moment I had with the library but until I start working with it in real-life situation I don’t know how limiting this will be.
The Adjustments Panel also has controls for Fade. This is a very cool feature which slowly “fades” in the phrase yet retains the synchronization of all 3 levels (low, mid abd high) playback.
The Adjustment panel also allows for the volume of release samples labeled as “Tail” and, one of my favorite features of the library the “Score” visualization.
This is one of my favorite things about the Sonokinetic libraries. By allowing the users a peak behind the curtain to see the actual orchestrated score for each of the phrases, the library expands not only as a very useful tool for composers creating music with the virtual instrument, but leaps out as an educational tool.
This is one of my favorite things about Sonokinetic’s phrase libraries: allowing the users a peak behind the curtain to see the actual orchestrated score.
All of the phrases contain orchestrated score previews and are accessible from the Adjustments Panel as well as by clicking the middle S of Espressivo in the title across the top of the interface.
Additional controls for microphone selection are made by clicking the “Outer Ring” which is centered around the 4 Quadrants. This allows users to choose between one or two microphone positions for playback (decca, close, wide, far) and balance between two with the slider.
Espressivo LITE patches contains “pre-mixed” sample playback to shrink your footprint so microphone options are only available in the 16/24bit Kontakt presets.
Overall the sound from all 4 mic positions is outstanding, although I have to wonder why all 4 mic positions are not accessible at the same time. Perhaps the footprint or bandwidth with an option of all 4 mics available at once for playback was more demanding for the average user? Either way, I trust Sonokinetic had a good reason. as they have yet to release a library that hasn’t delivered as promised.
There are a few more controls and options for functionality that are covered in the easy to access online Technical Overview on the instrument page, PDF manual or walkthrough videos (below) but if you get lost along the way there is a hand “i” that will load up the instruments help map which can guide you to every bit of functionality the instrument has to offer.
Although I will be curious as to how the limitations of Tuning changes will affect my work, I strongly believe the developer has another fantastic library on offer. Espressivo has been orchestrated and designed in a way that makes this the most inspiring and playable modern filmic-inspired library I have yet to get my hands on. I can’t wait till my clients ask for a touch of “Hermann” in my next project so I get a chance to firing up Espressivo in real world useage!
As with all of our reviews be sure to check out the demos and official walkthrough videos to make sure the library will work for your needs.
Espressivo downloads as 21.65 GB using lossless compression for the sample set and uses Sonokinetics advanced orchestral phrase engine compatible with both Full & Free versions of Native Instrument Kontakt.
The library comes with 2 main nkis with both 24 and16-bit versions as well as LITE versions.
Espressivo by Sonokinetic sells for €249.90