Review: Box Factory by Fracture Sounds
Fracture Sounds prove that cardboard boxes are not just for moving house with this powerful found sound percussion library. Box Factory takes the humble brown box and pummels it into submission with a variety of beaters. In the process they create an epic drum ensemble sound that is totally unique and hugely exciting to play.
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Review: Box Factory by Fracture Sounds
For some reason the Fracture Sounds folder on my trusty Samsung SSD is far less full than it should be. Their free Sleigh Bells gets regular use when doing ‘Holiday Mixes’ and more recently the beguilingly effective Pumpkin Patch really pricked my ears up, but I’ve never gone in deeper. That is, until the intriguing Box Factory flew into the SLR inbox the other week. Up to this point Will Bedford, the man behind Fracture Sounds, has built his reputation mainly on a number of inventive and characterful piano libraries, such as the much acclaimed Woodchester. However, with the release of Box Factory the world of percussion is now explored.…and they started BIG! Knowing the high pedigree of past releases and hearing my fellow reviewers singing their praises, it was with great excitement I fired up Kontakt to find out exactly what hitting 40 cardboard boxes extremely hard really sounds like.
Box Factory normally sells for £119 plus tax from Fracture Sounds
Essentially what we have here is 6 players playing ensemble style in an open and medium sized concert hall. Their weapons of choice are hands, mallets, sticks and brushes and the enemy is an array of different sized cardboard boxes. The 13 articulations sampled are shown below.
The size of the box can be equated to real life percussion to some degree and I would say that generally this library is very much presented in a similar way to traditional percussion libraries, which makes it very instinctive to play. In that regard the huge boxes are your taikos/gran casas, large ones your bass drums/low toms, medium ones your mid/high toms and then the small and tiny boxes more like small wood percussion. Of course they don’t sound like their comparative drums, but it’s a good way to conceptualise this library. The implement used on the box shapes the sound hugely; the mallets give a dull, thick sound; the hands a natural standard thwack; the sticks add a more transient bite; the brushes for a more gentle, bright timbre. There is a stick click articulation also, which is about as normal as this library gets!
Upon loading up the first nki you can see all of these ensembles spread across the keys in a rainbow of colours. If you are using a Komplete Kontrol keyboard this will be especially useful as Box Factory is NKS compatible.
Each articulation is mapped two per key and the eagle-eyed among you will notice there are more than the 13 articulations mapped here. This is because at the extremes certain articulations are doubled and then detuned and filtered to varying degrees. It gives even more scope to the sound possibilities – the huge boxes can get more subby and the tiny boxes wonderfully ‘ticky-tacky’.
The GUI is basic but cleverly designed to provide a great deal of flexibility with a minimum of knobs. The Sculpt section allows you to tweak the transient response of the attack, the room tail decay, saturation amount and compression. The latter uses the Supercharger GT which has plenty of character and perfectly suits the samples. The mic mix controls the close, mid and far positions and includes a neat perspective slider to move them all at once in relation to each other. Turning them off unloads them from memory to manage RAM if required (articulations can also removed via the Setup page for the same purpose). The mics span a selection of 32 from the likes of Neumann, Coles, DPA and Sennheiser – you know you are getting a top quality recording chain here! The mid mics carry the main body of the sound, with the far set adding a clean, epic ambience and the close ones plenty of detail and attack.
Although the ensembles already sound very impressive the Ensemble Stack section does allow you to dial in even more epic girth by layering round robins and randomising timing, tuning and panning. Finally, the Spatialisation knobs control stereo width and the built-in reverb.
Moving down to the Rhythm tab reveals a sequencer for velocity and filter. It has all your regular features we would come to expect, such as rate, steps and humanise parameters.
I love how you can control the velocity dynamics via the mod wheel in realtime and that it features an extended mode, which will take the dynamics past where they are original set. Another cool feature is the ability to configure if a new key restarts the sequence, or simply locks into it. Slight grumbles about the sequencer are that you can’t easily turn off the filter lane without resetting all steps to max and also that it would have been useful to be able to save and load sequences. On that note, a few factory presets to get you started quickly would not be remiss.
The final tab in the interface brings up the Setup page. This gives forensic control over the entire library and enables you to totally customise it to fit your needs.
It also includes a dynamic range slider (so lower velocities can be the same loudness as something at 127 for example) and sample start offset. The latter is great to have, but could really do with a precise ms readout to make it easier to advance your MIDI tracks accurately in your DAW. Such is the flexibility in the Setup we don’t have scope to go into it all in this review, but Will has an excellent walkthrough on the Fracture Sounds website. Suffice to say, you can modify each articulation individually in terms of volume, tuning, filters, panning, width and also map them a myriad of ways to suit your playing style. Many users won’t need or want to dig in this deep, but for those that do it is a tweaker paradise and easier than you would think to work with.
So far so good, but there is yet more to Box Factory in the shape of alternative mixes. All of these have been achieved ‘out-of-the-box’ using specific processing chains, including running some recordings through a bass amp. The de-facto mix is the Natural one, which gives an unprocessed, clean and organic feel. Aggressive ups the ante with a hyper-real, compressed and saturated timbre for that typical trailer drum sound. Gritty takes things far more lo-fi with plenty of mid focussed character. Snappy dials back the body and room and puts the emphasis on the sharp attacks and a wide dynamic range. These mixes are superbly chosen and executed and cover pretty much every requirement you might have; from high octane action/trailer cues, to more rocky/swagger tracks alongside claps and stomps, to hip hop and pop where the less roomy mixes can give a real sense of power without getting overly cinematic. You can also access them as Split Patches as shown below. They can help keep RAM down and means you can zone in a bit more on the precise mix and frequency. I also found the split versions flexible for dividing up articulations in a template, should that suit your workflow better.
As wonderful as these very different mixes are, I would love to have seen a more gentle, ambient option with rolled off attacks and highs. This would lend the library additional scope in an underscoring role and I can imagine the natural woody thumps working beautifully with soft string sections. Maybe an idea for a future update?!
The sonic character of the four main mixes as a whole is at once familiar, but totally fresh. I think it’s because you kind of know what a cardboard box sounds like if you hit it, but in a big room played ensemble style it becomes something quite different and surprisingly effective. Of course they are still just boxes in the end and this does mean natural limitations on how resonant they are, even in a hall setting. So don’t expect the more tuned and longer decay you get from real drums. They still have a good deal of low end (especially the Aggressive mix), but it’s shorter and more of a thud or punch. The transient on the other hand, is more akin to what we are used to, albeit with a distinctive woody clack that varies quite a bit depending on the type of beater used.
For a more experimental and slightly more synthetic feel we even have a whole set of Designed Drums. Here the original recordings have been heavily mangled, but they still retain round robins and plenty of dynamics so can be played just like the regular mixes, and it gives them a liveliness that you rarely find in sound designed drums.
For many other developers all of that might have been enough, but the icing on the cake with Box Factory are the 70 one-shots. For these they employed not just in-house talent, but reached out to A-list sound designer Karel Psota (of Ava Music) and trailer composer Benjamin Squires. Using only the humble cardboard box they created some incredible booms, hits, whooshes and risers. The interface for these is more slimmed down as can be seen below.
It’s a simple one page affair with the Sculpt options still there and start/end editing, plus variable fade lengths, available on the waveform display. The sound design here is top notch and all the samples have a huge, larger than life sound yet still retain an organic quality that never gets over designed as many such trailer type effects can be. This makes them far more useful in context and with an increased flexibility to layer them with other sounds. Far more than just a bonus feature, the sound design part of Box Factory gives a great deal of added value.
With so many stunning epic percussion libraries already out there it would not be remiss to think that you don’t need another. Yet, Box Factory from Fracture Sounds brings a whole new approach to the party. It works superbly as a standalone percussion set as shown by the 100% Box Factory demos at the bottom of this page. This library also works equally well alongside traditional percussion to give some extra special sauce to the same old timbres. It will work brilliantly for action/thriller scoring, building tension beds, high energy computer game cues, contemporary pop/rock/hip hop and trailer music. I love how it can do everything from big thunderous low drums to super fast high frequency percussion and always with a very responsive feel on the keys, thanks to the deep sampling of up to 7 velocity layers and multiple round robins.
To my knowledge, no one has sampled ensemble cardboard boxes which makes it an entirely unique product. In a market of thousands of sample libraries this is no mean feat in itself! Due to the inherent material the sound always retains a lovely woody organic nature, even when heavily processed. This does mean, however, there is a lack of the typical full drum resonances you find in toms, bass drums, surdos, taikos etc. The end result, therefore, lacks quite the same low mid and bass heft (though EQ can nicely bring this out more). On the flip side there is little in the way of obvious fundamental frequencies to interfere when layering with more traditional drums. Certainly, the thwack you get with Box Factory is really something. In practice, I found layering Box Factory with typical epic percussion ensembles to give incredible clarity and power, when all too often layering ensembles can be plagued with everything sounding overly thick if you are not careful.
The fact that Fracture Sounds are not known for percussion and that they are a smaller developer lacking the marketing firepower of the bigger hitters, may mean this library is a sleeping giant for a while. Yet, in time I think it may well become a cult hit, as it’s one of the most playable, exciting snd unique percussion libraries I have ever used. I am no maths expert, but what it really boils down to is an equation: (6 performers + 40 cardboard boxes + 1 concert hall³) x 13 ensembles (+ 32 mics ÷ 3 positions) = the best alternative epic percussion sample library money can buy.
Box Factory consists of 13 cardboard box ensembles deeply sampled in a concert hall, with up to 7 dynamic layers. There are 4 different mixes plus a designed drum patch and each has 3 mic positions. The library also features 70 sound design one shots created from the source recordings. Box Factory downloads as 3GB (from the uncompressed 5.5GB) and runs in the free Kontakt Player (6.6 is required) with full NKS support.
Box Factory normally sells for £119 plus tax from Fracture Sounds
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Box Factory by Fracture Sounds
“Fracture Sounds prove that cardboard boxes are not just for moving house with this powerful found sound percussion library. Box Factory takes the humble brown box and pummels it into submission with a variety of beaters. In the process, they create an epic drum ensemble sound that is totally unique and hugely exciting to play.”