Review: Equinox by 8Dio
Superb randomising engine
Unusual but very usable rhythms
Thoroughly modern sound design
Minimal use of huge reverbs and distortion
Deep and detailed sampling
Hard to tell what layers are locked from being randomised
Loops are only in 4/4
Giga-Horns Generator patch is hidden away in a sub-folder
Equinox is the latest in the legendary Hybrid Tools series by 8Dio. It packs a blockbuster-sized punch with a range of rhythm-based instruments and also hits the mark on the tonal front, featuring bleeding edge pulses, epic horns, and bass benders.
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Review: Equinox by 8Dio
There will not be many composers working in cinematic music that have not come across the Hybrid Tools series. It is targeted at those modern compositions that combine traditional orchestral writing with synthesisers and SFX, or are sometimes more purely electronic and sound design in nature. However, this exciting approach is a fickle beast and fashions change quickly, such that some of the earlier releases in the series have elements which have dated. Luckily for us 8Dio are keeping up to speed and recently dropped the latest incarnation, Equinox. Whilst these packs contain a wide range of sounds, they always have a key focus and this time it is rhythmic patterns.
Equinox sells for $298.00 from 8Dio
In a marketplace chock full of every imaginable beat, loop and sequence,, 8Dio are offering a different approach with Equinox. Instead of the typical preset audition method of finding the right sound they have created complex randomisation features that can offer 360,000 results on some instruments, across any tempo. The three ‘Generator’ based nki patches all use the wonderfully titled Probability Engine. Although sounding like something from ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’, it is a clever algorithm working seamlessly under the hood to provide far more content then the actual number of samples would suggest (though the amount of raw sounds is quite an amount anyway). The net effect is that finding the right loop feels more like an exciting discovery as opposed to a more laborious trawl through a thousand presets.
The Action Groove Generator is where you will find all those futuristic and energetic loops. There are 100 loops (with names that harken back to classical Greece and Rome (which your archaeology graduate here is loving!).
Each is divided on the keyboard into six layers, with a combined loop key also. Browsing the normal way through the loops they all share the same signature of heavily designed, complex percussion. It is fairly wet which helps gives an organic feel, but the individual sounds are either synthetic by nature or orchestral drums bent truly out of shape – we are talking big bassy kicks, distorted snares, tight processed hats, bit crushed toms, reverses, fizzes, filter sweeps, blips, blops, long echoes and everything else in between!
There is plenty in here to fit many a cue, but if you want to create something more bespoke, clicking the question mark button will take you there. This randomises the six layers from all 100 loops and does so intelligently, meaning you don’t end up with six layers of subby kicks. Each of the layers has an individual volume control and a pull down beside it which enables you to lock, reset, select a specific loop or randomise it.
So, for example, say you flip through a few randomisations and then discover a really cool hi-hat layer and a great fluttery percussive noise, but are less inspired by the remaining four layers. You can lock your favourites down, hit the random button again and in doing so you do not lose those layers that you like. Similarly, should you find a loop that is perfect but for one element, that can be individually randomised till you find something that works. The only thing to watch out for is that the pull-down does not show if a layer is locked or not, so you have to keep pretty focused on what you have done already. In practice this groove generator works wonderfully, with all combinations blending well and being a really fun process of discovery and creating your own loop. With the additional ability to manually trigger layers on the fly, a time bending speed knob and the reverse button, the permutations available are near endless.
The pulses use the same process, but are slightly tweaked. Here we have twenty pulses, each with a bass, mid and high layer.
Each layer spans an entire octave making it a cinch to work in any key and to combine different notes too. The random feature works exactly the same, so you can lock or randomise individual layers and control respective volumes. All of these pulses have an aggressive and synthetic quality and some very interesting rhythms that will inject a track with urgency and tension. It is worth pointing out at this stage that, whilst offering complex patterns, all the rhythmic material in Equinox is restricted to 4/4, which is understandable as all the loops need to be able to mesh together. As most hybrid music works best in this time signature I do not suppose it will deter anyone.
The final instrument using this rhythm generator are the 808s. Like the pulse we begin with twenty basic presets and they are divided into three layers – kick, snare or tom and hats/cymbals. They work great from super slow trap tempos right up to around 140bpm. As with all the loop material in Equinox be sure to select Slow or Fast in the interface to minimise artifacts. 8Dio recorded them at both 80bpm and 118bpm, so choosing the one closest to your desired tempo will give best results. These drum machine loops are nothing hugely revolutionary, but they do give a slightly more epic twist on the relatively dry 808 sounds used in modern pop, hip hop and EDM.
Moving on to the non-loop content there is a huge amount on offer. The nki titled ‘Main’ reveals some real gems.
There are twenty Super Kits each consisting of a kick, tom and snare. The source audio sounds like it comes directly from real drums, but they have been heavily processed with compression, EQ, saturation and reverb for an ultra modern and aggressive dose of pure attitude. I can see these layering superbly under traditional orchestral percussion when you need that added beef and punch. For each drum there are five velocity layers and five round robins for each of those making them hugely playable. This may seem nothing new, but from my experience hybrid drums such as these are rarely presented so deeply sampled. Key switches in a higher octave also make pitching them very easy. These are really well thought out and will be so useful for many composers. Also in this patch we have some low and high hits/impacts. They follow the new aesthetic which 8Dio are pushing for in sound design – more direct, simpler and way less distorted and soaked in reverb compared to what we might be used to. It makes them superb for layering and seems to be paving the way for the next generation of cinematic sound design which will be cleaner yet harder. A host of Cine Kicks rounds out this section, where the classic 808 kick drum is pushed to new heights using saturation and just the right amount of ambience, making them more easily usable within a cinematic context.
With recent requests I have had from library publishers for clock sounds that don’t quite sound like a clock, the inclusion of Cinematic Clocks convinces me 8Dio have a very keen eye on current trends. There remains something captivating about a ticking clock in a musical context and Equinox delivers that, but with a modern twist. There are a range of loops divided neatly into bass, mid-range and high frequencies that utilise some nuanced whippy reverses and other production tricks to breathe new life into the humble tick-tock.
Another trailer trend that shows no sign of going away is the ubiquitous braams. In the walkthrough for Equinox, 8Dio founder Troels alludes to the fact that they created that OTT brass blast long before Zimmer and co. defined it as the ‘braams’ for the Inception score and trailer. So they still refer to them as Mega-Horns, which in Equinox has been upgraded to Giga-Horns. Anyway, basically for you and me these are next generation braams and wow, they really pack a punch.
There are twenty such sounds at your disposal, each with three layers that you can blend to your liking. This control of layers is rare in braam samples and really makes them hugely flexible and easier to blend within a dense arrangement. Should you wish to thicken the sound further the horns can also be stacked – in theory that would give you sixty separate braams stacked up! There is also a Giga-Horns Generator patch giving the same randomisation features as the percussive and pulse loops, but it is a bit hidden away in the auxiliary mappings folder and easy to miss. This expands the number of permutations incredibly (I would give a number, but I do not trust my math!). They are all multi-sampled across an octave and also then pitched a further octave up and down in Kontakt to give a huge range of usable pitch. The sound is simply huge as the layers for each sound often cover different octaves and there is a good blend of processed real brass and synthetic elements. They have a lush but not ridiculously long tail and the overall length can be tweaked using the speed knob (the bonus TMPro patches give a better resolution in most cases if you need to do this). These are amongst the most modern and flexible braams I have heard – clean, tight, just enough epic-ness in the reverb and very angry!
Finally, we have another trailer trope – the bass bend. There are fifty bass synth presets that bend down from a minor third above the key that you press.
Frankly, these are just plain brutal and can be stacked for ultimate violence. They are multi-sampled across over two octaves and also extended within Kontakt. By default they all bend at the same rate, but by using the speed and sample offset knobs they can be finely configured to work however you need them to. In hitting the reverse button and playing with the offset you can even create an upward bend. The only thing you are stuck with is that minor third interval, but it seems the best anyway for the sort of futuristic and dystopian genres that bass bends are suited to.
In addition to the main features outlined above there is also a large bank of presets and the on-board Chaos FX engine, giving you ideas for manipulating the patches and the means to do so. DFD mappings are also provided to minimise RAM usage. All the samples come as meta-data tagged WAV files too. This gives the library a larger hard disk footprint without the Native Instruments compression algorithm, but it does mean raw audio can easily be searched for and dragged straight into the DAW, should that fit your workflow better.
Equinox is another superb release in the hallowed line of Hybrid Tools sample libraries. It’s appeal will be firmly with writers for trailers, action films and computer games that have a distinct hybrid flavour. It is not designed to be a comprehensive drum loop and sound design library (it lacks things like whooshes, risers, booms etc), though it definitely covers a lot of bases. The whole idea is that it specialises in particular areas and should form part of your total percussive and sound design arsenal. In combination with 8Dio Terminus, for example, you would have a formidable package that can handle pretty much any requirement in this style.
The overall feel I got as I played with Equinox was twofold. Firstly, it presents a fresh take on quickly finding unique rhythmical loops by using intelligent randomisation. Crucially, the ability for the user to select exactly what is randomised means you are still in control of the important creative decisions. Secondly, it is pushing SFX to new levels by giving tried and tested sound design motifs a modern and exciting reinvention. All in all, Equinox is a truly standout percussion, pulse and sound design library for hybrid cinematic music.
Equinox consists of just over 12 GB of content. All samples come as WAV files at 44.1khz/24bit resolution. It is not compatible with the Kontakt Player so you will need to have a full version of Kontakt to use it.
Equinox sells for $298.00 from 8Dio
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Equinox by 8Dio
“Equinox is the latest in the legendary Hybrid Tools series by 8Dio. It packs a blockbuster-sized punch with a range of rhythm-based instruments and also hits the mark on the tonal front, featuring bleeding edge pulses, epic horns and bass benders.”