Review: Fluid Shorts II by Performance Samples
Lively and very realistic
Powerful attack that will really cut through
Lush hall sound
Might still be too ambient for some users
No second violins
Only one dynamic layer
Fluid Shorts II manages to achieve the elusive feat of punchy and pointed string spiccato combined with a huge and characterful room ambience. It’s a worthy successor to the first volume and ups the ante in terms of presence and power.
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Review: Fluid Shorts II by Performance Samples
Any composer worth his salt will understand that not every string library can do everything amazingly well. Even the high-end products with a comprehensive list of articulations can lack a certain something on particular playing styles. This is where the growing number of smaller and more specialist string libraries come into their own, often as a layer to your favourite all rounder or even as a full replacement.
Performance Samples is a developer well regarded for this approach and they have brought their wealth of experience in private sample development to the commercial sector in recent years. For Fluid Strings II they continue their exploration of spiccato strings with the primary goal of providing end users with the most natural short string sound possible. This focus on just one type of playing gives rise to not just a specific methodology to best suit the articulation, but also a lower price point – both things the modern day composer will be very interested in.
Fluid Shorts II sells for $89 from Performance Samples
Fluid Shorts II continues the performance-sourced sampling of the first library. What this means is that the musicians performed in context, so instead of sampling an isolated note, a succession of notes were recorded and then chopped up in post production to form the building blocks of the library. Other developers have taken a similar approach and I have to say it seems to work extremely well in terms of enhancing the realism of a spiccato articulation. In Fluid Shorts II it gives a bouncy expressiveness that arguably might be impossible to achieve with individual note sampling.
It differs from it’s predecessor in a myriad of ways, which I will detail later, but perhaps the biggest change is how it handles multiple speeds of playing. Under the hood are 4 different speeds of playing and the engine intelligently detects how quick your own playing is and pulls the appropriate samples from the original recordings. Therefore, faster phrases will access different samples then slower phrases do, with the net result being a more fluent and realistic sound, as it mimics how a real player would play at different speeds. It’s an innovative approach and sounds seamless, especially when going from longer note values to shorter within the same phrase.
As well as performance based sampling, another guiding ethos of Performance Samples is a decidedly function based emphasis, so you won’t ever see fancy GUIs or long lists of patches. Instead everything is pared down to provide only what is needed in possibly the most minimal interface on the market.
There are three mic options to balance which come with panning, mute, solo and the ability to purge from RAM. They can also be configured to separate Kontakt outputs. By default only the main mic loads, so be sure to load up the other two to craft the blend you want. To the right of these controls is a switch for Note Int. Although I cannot find details of it anywhere I suspect it refers to note interruption, whereby new notes cut off previous notes. Without this and especially when playing very quickly the tails of individual notes can build up to cause a noticeable ‘bloom’ of room noise that is more obvious when you stop playing and the residual ambience is revealed. It is switched on by default and taking it off did nothing to diminish the realism in my opinion. Below that is a pulldown which switches from the default Threshold to Stack. This option layers the aforementioned four different playing speed samples, resulting in a larger sound that has more room in it and pushes the width even wider. It’s a clever bonus feature that might work when you need to push to 110%!
The final control on this page is a slider for offset. This is much better than the separate patches for offset in the first Fluid Shorts. They recommend at least 80ms of offset so the attacks are well preserved. 100ms is the default, though it goes up to 140ms if required. At those values the latency can be a bit much for accurate playing, so in practice I found it worked well to play parts in at around 40ms, quantise to taste and then slide it back to around 100ms. Just ensure you specify a matching midi offset value in your DAW for that particular track so everything stays in time.
Another new feature is that by hitting the small B box in the bottom right corner a new page appears with a couple of neat features to balance your playing.
There are options to compress or expand the dynamic range plus sliders to compress or expand the register for each instrument. This can nicely balance the top or bottom of an instrument’s range, so it is not overly quiet or loud. In reality all four sections sound very even in volume across the whole range, but these controls can give more minute smoothing control or alternatively be used more extremely for creative effect. A gain knob is added to compensate for any loss in volume.
It is worth highlighting at this point that any dynamic changes in this library are only referring to volume via velocity cc, as there is only a single dynamic range sampled. And it’s loud – FF maybe FFF even! This makes it a really useful layering tool, especially for Fluid Shorts I, although I also found it worked superbly as a layer on relatively dry short strings too. One dynamic might sound limiting but the volume dynamics still enables a good amount of variation and it is surprisingly effective. The overall signature sound is fairly aggressive compared to the first Fluid Shorts and will cut through a mix much better. Although recorded in the same ambient hall it is less wet and they have not had to employ the modwheel to control decay as was added to the former. As such, all sections achieve that enviable goal of being very present yet also suitably epic. All the mics are noticeably a bit more focussed, with the close really picking up on the pure attrition of bow to string for a really quick and sprightly attack. The main mics, set up in AB configuration, reveal a beautiful lush hall sound that still retains plenty of bite and the wide mics are super wide for dialling in that enveloping feel. There are a few performance artifacts and only minimal tail noise reduction employed in keeping with the realistic vision of Performance Samples and they are simply part of the charm of this library.
Another slight difference to the original library is the addition of extra players. Whilst the violins and violas remain at 8 and 6 respectively, the cellos and basses each have an extra seat to make them 5 and 4 strong
Another slight difference to the original library is the addition of extra players. Whilst the violins and violas remain at 8 and 6 respectively, the cellos and basses each have an extra seat to make them 5 and 4 strong. It definitely adds more weight to the low strings, yet still maintains an overall size of somewhere between a chamber and full symphonic band. This number does seem to work very well as you can still ‘hear the rosin within a grandiose room sound. Any smaller and it loses power and any bigger and the detail might get lost. A standout feature I found is the realism and power of the same note repeating. It is not just the seven round robins helping this, but also the clever programming of multiple playing speeds and the fact they captured performances as source material – simple string pulses have rarely sounded so good!
There are just four patches here – one for each section (note: there are no second violins). I found the basses brilliantly focussed where lesser libraries can sound quite blurred. The room really resonates with them so well too. The cellos are really punchy and on the lower range you can feel the players digging in. The violas arguably have the most intimate sound in the close mics and I can tell these will cut through a dense mix very convincingly. The violins are biting and energetic and sound good even on the extreme highs. In terms of seating plan they seem to be broadly in a traditional orchestral seating, but not quite as distinct as some other libraries. With all three mics in play each section sounds pretty balanced across the soundstage. The bass and cello especially have no overbearing left or right bias, making it perfect for hybrid and more modern scoring where the bass end needs to sit quite centrally. Infact, it is only when the wide, rather than the close mics are in use that any distinct panning relating to seating plan really plays a part.
There is much to love about this second iteration of Fluid Shorts – the vibrancy and power of the sound, the lush hall, the detail in the attack and the minimal interface that gives you the ideal amount of user control.
There is much to love about this second iteration of Fluid Shorts – the vibrancy and power of the sound, the lush hall, the detail in the attack and the minimal interface that gives you the ideal amount of user control. New additions such as the dynamic range options, note interruption, stacking and manual offset are excellent improvements.
The single loud dynamic makes it ideal for heavy hitting styles such as trailers, action and thrillers. Comparing like for like the original Fluid Shorts can sound a little ‘baggy’ in comparison and for my own tastes the new library will be my initial choice in most situations. It’s definitely more aggressive and present in all of the mic positions with less of a long hall tail. Bare in mind it is still a pretty ‘wet’ library and as such will layer much better with dry libraries, otherwise the room sound might get a bit muddied if combined with other reverb soaked samples. The caveat to this being that it does blend well with the very ambient Fluid Shorts I, as they used the same hall.
At this reasonable price point it’s really worth looking into if you value an unpolished and authentic short string sound that is brimming with vitality and power.
Fluid Shorts II has just over 3GB of 48khz/24bit NCW compressed files. It downloads via Continuata and requires the full version of Kontakt.
Fluid Shorts II sells for $89 from Performance Samples
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Fluid Shorts II by Performance Samples
“Fluid Shorts II manages to achieve the elusive feat of punchy and pointed string spiccato combined with a huge and characterful room ambience. It’s a worthy successor to the first volume and ups the ante in terms of presence and power.”