Review: Aquamarine by Muze
Sound samples are pristine in quality
The quantity of snapshots you get is staggering
Manually add up to 36 distinct sounds per layer
Nice variety of different synth sounds to morph with XY Pad
Abundant amount of FX and Modulators to sculpt your sound
Lack of a good developer walkthrough of the product as the user manual is not well laid out
Interdependencies within the GUI can be confusing
None of the snapshots are developed with FX or modulators
What you may start out with is a nice ambient sound but, as you add more and more samples to each layer, you could end up with a full-blown epic of orchestral madness
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Review: Aquamarine by Muze
When you come across a Kontakt library which comes in at over 100 GB of samples, one would probably think that it was an orchestration package and not a synth based one. That’s right!! You get over 37,000 distinct synth samples spread out over 16 distinct .nki files. In addition, you get a slew of FX and modulators with which to sculpt your sound. Spread out over the .nki files are, primarily plucks, chords and textures in a quad layer engine that is morphable via an XY pad. The library is ideal for film soundtrack, electronic / ambient music and even game development. The combinations of sounds you can build within and stacked between each layer are seemingly endless.
Aquamarine sells for $199.00 from Muze
While I’m not personally familiar with Muze as a company, I do know they have produced other VST instruments, namely Muze Drums and Muze Bass Elements, to name a few. Aquamarine is their 1st venture into hybrid synthesis, and they did not hold back in what they have delivered, a whopping 102 GB library that could very well be a sound designers dream. While developing a 4-layer engine within Kontakt is nothing new, the ability to stack an enormous amount of quality sound within each layer is pretty novel. What you may start out with is a nice ambient sound but, as you add more and more samples to each layer, you could end up with a full-blown epic of orchestral madness. How does one’s CPU hold up under the duress? I had a few instances where I built up as many as 10 sounds per layer and still had room for more, granted I didn’t really push the envelope by adding a sizeable reverb or panorama, 2 effects which are known to cause even the most robust computers CPU distress.
Above is the main page which gets loaded when you launch one of the 16 .nki files. All 16 of these are named after an island or island chain. Whatever the significance, it is probably only known to the developer. Maybe places to visit on someone’s bucket list, who knows. Each of the snapshots within the .nki seem to have some similarity in overall sound, whether it is pluck dominated, chord dominated or texture dominated. Personally, I tended to gravitate more toward the textural snapshots as I found many of them complex yet lush in presentation.
The main page is fairly basic with each layer having an envelope (ADSR), a volume control, compressor, limiter, pan, low pass filter, arpeggiator, gain and release. In addition, each layer has its own EQ. Global parameters include pan and volume (both located on the perimeter of the XY mixer). The XY mixer does what it is expected and is CC assignable. There is some wasted space here, namely the flashing blue lights below the mix and above the pan. I’m not sure if they serve a function other than looking nice when flashing. There are no drop-down menus to change the sound(s) on each layer, nor is there a randomize feature which, hopefully, will be added in the future. To alter the sounds or to enable the arpeggiator, one has to go to the settings page which can be accessed by clicking on settings. One thing of note, before I move on, is that if you increase the limiter settings within a layer, you may need to watch your overall volume because it can get loud.
This is a view you don’t get in the users guide, nor is it even mentioned. All that the user guide contains is cut and paste views of the different pages and disclaimers that all of the FX are pulled from within the Native Instrument Kontakt engine. This manual should be replaced with something a bit more comprehensive. Either that, or a more compete developer walkthrough video. Not all Kontakt users, especially newcomers to the world of VSTs, would be able to figure this product out by just foraging through the tabs. Anyway, I digress. The setup page is where you can add or subtract sounds per layer. There are 3 colums, numbered one to twelve and all you have to do is click to the left of the sound to enable / disable it. Right away, one will be able to hear the changes. Too bad, the XY Pad could not have been duplicated on this page so the user could “morph on the go” so to speak. To me, this is the most important page to building your “base sound”, where all the building blocks are put in place before you begin the sculpting with FX or modulators. The set-up page also contains the ADSR paramaters, in percentage, and can be adjusted easily with the mouse. There is also a place to enable the arpeggiator, set up the note division and the rate. The only parameter, it seems, the arpeggiator effects is the layer volume. Now, there is also another arpeggiator which is included on the “Bus Tab”. As far as I can tell, the 2 have no interdependency or relation to one another, I’m not sure why the product was set-up this way.
Overall, Aquamarine provides a great many global FX to go along with the individual layer FX. They are broken up on different tabs and, quite frankly, can be a bit cumbersome to manage on the fly. It might have been more efficient trying to collocate these for optimal efficiency of sound so the sound designer / composer would not have to jump from tab-to-tab. There are some effects which I find satisfying, like the global effects above. Having a master compressor & limiter for this product, in my estimates, is essential as the sound, if not layered properly, can leap out at you. The use of these FX, in particular, can help you temper and even out your sound, especially when dealing with a large buildup of textural layering where you don’t want one sound dominating the other. Like so many other Kontakt products, and I hate to sound like a broken record from review-to-review, I always tend to reach for a 3rd party reverb and delay product. If I had one real gripe with these, it would be the Cabinet FX. I’ not quite sure what “Cabinet Size” relates to, quantitatively, but I would show some care in its use, especially live, because I experienced some “drops” when changing while playing.
Now to my favorite global effect of the product, the panorama tab with the unusual looking creature.
I’ll admit, when I first opened up this tab, I thought to myself ‘how cool would this be, if this creature had it’s own sound layer and spoke to you in some primeval and arcane language when engaged’…oh well, if the developer does ever animate this creature thusly, I’ll request a percentage!! This particular tab contains both the panorama effect and the rotator both, of which, provide an exceptional way to sculpt your overall sound. To engage one (or both), just select the “bypass” box. There are a lot of parameters built into the way you can move your sound around including, distance (from front to back), the size of the stage area, the decibel volume, movement of the mics, movement and offset of the sound (from left to right). The effects are quite good and I experienced few to zero glitches in sound when changing the parameters on the fly. An exceptionally nice job was done in putting this together. In addition, you can augment the panorama with a rotator sound which I found quite useful for giving the sound an unusual, almost warbling effect.
Lastly, I’ll turn to the “Mixer or Bus” Tab
Remember when I warned you to watch your volume levels if you increased the limiter amount on the main page? Well, you will want to do so if you engage each bus, which you turn on via the power switch in the “Gainer”. In many cases, you’ll experience a spike in volume so I suggest pulling back on it first. There are several other features on this tab however, due to the size of the mixer, I could not fit them all on one page. Next in the mixer is a 16 step arpeggiator which, unfortunately, doesn’t resize as you change the number of steps. Like the arpeggiator on the “Source Page”, you can adjust the note division from 1 to 4 and the rate from 1/4 to 1/32. The parameter it effects is the velocity and the sound is panned center. For some reason, the developer has the arpeggiator engaged for layers 2 to 4 so remember to turn them off if you don’t want to use them. The other modulator, of note, on the mixer is an LFO with 4 waveshapes (sine, triangle, saw and rectangle). Frankly, not the most effective LFO I’ve seen but sufficient if you want to add some motion to your individual layers.
To conclude, Aquamarine is a fabulous sound design product for the more experienced user. It is not an “out of the box” tool by any means. You are not going to find pre-sculpted presets; you will need to develop those sounds yourselves with the supplied tools at your disposal. Because there are so many different tools to choose from, the designer/composer will need to be acquainted with their functions and how manipulating one layer may effect the overall global sound. It took me time, quite a bit of time, to get a full grasp of the product but I came away quite satisfied once I got used to the internal machinations.
Aquamarine for Kontakt contains 37,108 samples, 2,700 sounds and 2,400 snapshots (presets) and downloads as 102 GB and requires the full version of Kontakt 5.6 or above (won’t run on the free Kontakt Player).
Aquamarine sells for $199.00 from Muze
Contributor Raymond D Ricker reviews Aquamarine by Muze
“What you may start out with is a nice ambient sound but, as you add more and more samples to each layer, you could end up with a full-blown epic of orchestral madness”