Review: Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds Vol.1 & 2 from Rhythmic Robot

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Jump to the Videos of Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds Vol.1 & 2

Jump to the Videos of Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds Vol.1 & 2

Review: Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds
Vol.1 & 2 from Rhythmic Robot

NOTE: This post was published as part of the Time Travel Tools feature: Vintage & Retro Instruments & Plugins.

 

History

I want to start with a bit of a history lesson for the uninitiated. Way back in 1984, the Emulator II became the studio friendly alternative to the much costlier Fairlight CMI at a mere $7,995. The Emulator II was used by a veritable who’s who of musical acts from Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Depeche Mode, Genesis and Stevie Wonder to composers like Michael Kamen and John Carpenter featuring prominently in film scores of the time, including Lethal Weapon and Highlander – and yes, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!

Every wonder where the Shakahuchi flute sound at the beginning of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer comes from? How about the strings (and all the other instruments, in fact) in the Pet Shop Boys West End Girls? Yep, the Emulator II

The Emulator II also holds a special place in our musical memories whether we know it or not. Every wonder where the Shakahuchi flute sound at the beginning of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer comes from? How about the strings (and all the other instruments, in fact) in the Pet Shop Boys West End Girls? Yep, the Emulator II and the samples were not stock samples from the factory disks; they were in fact from Doug Morton’s Universe of Sounds series contained in the Rhythmic Robot Emulator II OMI. The OMI Universe of Sounds library has been around since the time of the original Emulator II hardware but this is the first time that it has been made available for Kontakt.
Emulator II Vol. 1 &Emulator II Vol. 2  each sell for £99.00 from Rhythmic Robot

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Thoughts

Ferris Bueller wanted a car for his birthday but he got an Emulator II, the lucky guy! It did come in handy for getting him out of school and made for the basis of a great movie. A lot of musicians back in the day wanted an Emulator II and couldn’t afford one. You can still come by a clean used Emulator II with only the factory disk set on eBay for around $3,000 and deal with the floppies or you can look at a better alternative – Rhythmic Robot’s Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds Vol. 1 & 2. We’ll call it Emulator II OMI from here – the whole thing is a mouthful.

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It’s time to travel back to the present and our passion for virtual instruments! Let’s be honest; samples from the 80’s are sometimes wonky and cheesy to be polite (think Brass and Guitars!). All of them can be found in these two libraries, after all, it is the complete collection. What you will also find though is a treasure trove of samples that add substance and character to your compositions -sounds that cut through the mix and add that special something. Knowing that you are using samples that started their life as 8-bit sounds is the secret sauce here. If you are a lover of the era or the machine you will know what I mean.

Let’s talk a bit about some of the standout sounds. I really like the vintage charm of the various Cello and Viola patches in the String category. There are patches ranging from Viola/Cello Tremolandi to Arco Bass. In the Ethnic Instruments there is of course the Shakahuchi from Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, as well as some really nice Blown Bottles, Didgeridoo and Marimbas. The Bass category gives us some really nice heavy and funky sounding Electric Basses. We also find some thick retro Synth Basses to get that 80’s Synthwave vibe going. The Synths category takes us farther into Synthwave territory with ARPs, PPGs and a host of other notable names. That is a just small cross section of this very large and impressive set of sounds. To round it out, there are other categories for Bells & Chimes, Brass, Drums, FX, Guitar, Keys, Orchestral, Percussion and Vocals along with the new Multis.

There is so much to love here amongst the over 1,000 different instruments and 127 Multis.

I have always had a passion for the Emulator II (if it’s not obvious by now!) and this one delivers in spades. There is so much to love here amongst the over 1,000 different instruments and 127 Multis. The OMI Universe of Sounds has to be digested slowly to truly appreciate all that is hidden within.
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Let’s dive into the instrument itself and how to quickly take it out for a drive. The interface for the Emulator II OMI is pretty simple and straightforward and provides the requisite faithful vintage look and feel of the original sampler with some nice upgrades that were not part of the original hardware. The first of these is a secondary Filter section that provides additional shaping control – this is especially effective when creating new Multis. Under the Filter section is a clever little addition, the SSA (Sample Skip Attack) button to clip off the front of patches that are sustained. This allows you to use existing sounds and sample them to create new patches without the initial attack included.
New to the Emulator II OMI is the addition of an Amp Control section – more sculpting capabilities to tweak your sound. Another important upgrade is the addition of a Lexicon Convolver Reverb. It features true period reverb with Plate, Room and Hall reverb. The patches in Emulator II OMI were sampled with a little bit of reverb to create a top shelf sound and now, imagine that you have made some changes to your Filter, Amp, Chorus and Reverb selections but you wonder what the original samples sounded like without any of the added reverb or your tweaks. Enter the Vintage button. Pressing it resets everything back to the original mono samples! I personally prefer the new samples from Rhythmic Robot to the original Emulator II samples but if you want vintage you can certainly have it, both ways in the case of this library.

I love all of these additions. They are so much easier to work with than four sliders to control a two line LCD!

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Some more of the additional features can be found on the back panel page. Fully controllable Delay, Rotary Speaker controls and inside of the Global section includes Velocity Control for volume and filter as well as a Tremolo control for the Mod Wheel. I have owned this library since it came out but never stop laughing when I press the Save Ferris button and the Global wallpaper changes to a picture of our favorite movie character.

I have owned the original hardware and I own both volumes of this library. This is an incredibly faithful recreation of the Emulator II, but the real story here is the addition of the OMI Universe of Sounds library of disks and the many upgrades to the original hardware capabilities that were added to take ease of use to the next level.

This is an incredibly faithful recreation of the Emulator II, but the real story here is the addition of the OMI Universe of Sounds library.

This library is perfect fit if you are composing a retro score, retro tracks or to add interesting elements to a current scoring project with sounds that because of their pedigree, sit right in the mix and can add a unique texture or vibe. I still find myself going back to Emulator II OMI for electronic music that I am composing or to add textures or electronic elements to an acoustic piece. There is something very unique about how a well-sampled 8 bit sound sits in the mix.

At this point, I usually give my speech about my desire to use external plugins to mix in the room – not this time. I really love the sound of the new samples and the vintage character; and yes, no one loves those old brass and guitar samples but they can be interesting when creating Multis! (You could never do that on the hardware) If there is one feature that I would like to have seen implemented it is to have all of the patches available within one common interface. In retrospect, Emulator II OMI works very much like the real sampler, moving from patch to patch. The interface change would really be a creature comfort to ease the workflow.

It is obvious to me just how much a labor of love this endeavor has been for Guy Burt & Doug Morton over their 6 month journey to sample that big case of floppies. This thing really is a dream machine! If at first you consider the price of the libraries a little on the high side, consider this: you have an Emulator II with upgraded functionality that the original hardware never had and a high quality sample set of the OMI Universe of Sounds library for about 5% of the cost of a used Emulator II(without the OMI library). After spending even more quality time with Emulator II OMI, I realize what a special instrument the Rhythmic Robot team has created. If you are at all fascinated with vintage samplers, the 8-bit craze or missed your chance at the original Emulator II, I urge you to check this one out. Based on my overall positive experience working with Emulator II OMI and the inclusion of the OMI Universe of Sounds, I am calling this one a Great Buy. As with all of my reviews, I urge you to listen to the demos and review the online documentation.

 

Facts

The library comes in two volumes with Vol. 1 coming in at just over 11 GB and Vol. 2 at 8.25 GB. Both volumes require a full NI Kontakt (4.2.3 or higher) license. NI Kontakt Player is not supported.

The entire library is comprised of 69,000 samples in Kontakt NCW format. There are 1,075 individual instruments split almost equally across the two volumes. There are also 127 Multis that have been created especially for the set, again split across the two volumes. The Multis do not conform to the traditional Emulator II spec as such, as they are more of a “no rules apply” sound design exercise using original material.

Period Convolved Lexicon Reverb( Plate, Room, Hall) has been built into the library and was used in the creation of the patches.
All disks were painstakingly sampled chromatically to capture the essence of the original hardware including the crackles and pops (warts and all if you will) over a period of six months by Guy Burt & Doug Morton. Multi-sampling was used on samples that employed the internal filter to provide velocity sensitivity.

Additions to the library to enhance the EII features include: A secondary Filter array, Amp control with Tremolo, Sample Skip Ahead (S.S.A) which enables the ability to chop the start of sustained patches for re-sampling and new patch creation. Emulator II also contains a Delay Section and Velocity Control on the back panel tab along with Chorus, Phaser, Lexicon Reverb, and a Rotary Speaker control.

I encourage you to read the back story and material on the product pages at Rhythmic Robot as they contain a wealth of information about the history of the instrument and the technical process of bringing this project to life. Official Audio Demos of Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds Vol.1 & 2 can be found on each of their respective web pages linked at the beginning of this review.
Emulator II Vol. 1 sells for £99.00 from Rhythmic Robot
Emulator II Vol. 2 sells for £99.00 from Rhythmic Robot