Review: Hybrid Tools Neo II by 8Dio
Very well produced, mix ready sounds
Some unique and very useful categories
The sounds often stack extremely well
Engine allows for quick and effective sample manipulation
Rewards deeper experimentation
Some sound types you might already have well covered
Lack of individual volume control for stacking multiple patches
Ear Candy and Ambiences not well organised
Synths are a bit one-dimensional
Ambiences could have had more variety
8Dio looks beyond the typical sound design tropes for its latest Hybrid Tools release, Neo II. Less of a game-changer and more of a very useful toolkit, expect plenty of percussive rhythms, pings, trap 808s, filthy synths and one particular patch that takes mere noise to new levels.
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Review: Hybrid Tools Neo II by 8Dio
With the continued rise of so-called ‘Hybrid’ music in modern scoring, which combines orchestral elements with synths, beats and sound design, there is no shortage of products out there to fill a composers needs. However, ten years ago when we were still reeling from the invention of the now ubiquitous ‘braams’ 8Dio were, as always, swiftly on trend and released their first Hybrid Tools collection. It has been a very successful series and has continually evolved to keep up with the changeable fashions in cinematic music. This brings us to 2021 and the most recent installment – Neo II. It is a little different from your typical sound design library and also from Neo I, in that you won’t find any trailer hits, risers, whooshes, booms or downers, having already been amply covered in previous Hybrid Tools editions. Instead, the focus is on rhythm based sounds and some interesting tonal content.
Hybrid Tools Neo II sells for $298 from 8Dio
For each of the seven Kontakt instruments the layout is the same, with the main window as the place where you pick sounds and use macro controls for things like attack, release, and a few other self explanatory parameters. The neighbouring window brings up a basic sequencer for on-the-fly programming. A second tab opens up the effects window with all of your regular suspects. If you have experience with certain other 8Dio libraries this is one of their stock engines and the learning curve will be non-existent. Whilst that means it is not a bespoke engine, it is tried and tested and easy to work with. The keyboard features semitone shifting key switches on the highest keys for quick pitch changes. My only gripe with the GUI is a the animated intro screen which does nothing except delay you getting straight to the samples and soon becomes simply annoying.
There are deeper explanations of the interface on my previous Hybrid Tools reviews for SLR and also developer walkthroughs, so I won’t go into more detail regarding every function and instead I will focus on the samples themselves. The Main nki is where the action is for all things rhythmic in Neo II.
Analog Drums has five kits consisting of kick, snare, closed hat, open hat, snare and a tom or percussion. The sounds are nothing that most of us won’t have plenty of, but the unique features here are the five round robins which gives a more authentic feel of a vintage drum machine that is never quite perfect. There are three loop based options on offer: Hybrid provides very usable rhythms that work very well in the background to glue together bigger individual hits; Gritty is nebulously titled and should really be called muffled or low loops, but gives great options for the less intense sections of a piece when you want a more subtle pulse; Tick Tock takes care of more high pitched and very transient percussion ideal for cutting through more full-on sections. The Hybrid and Tick Tock loops are also broken out into one shots enabling bespoke loops to be easily programmed.
The final sounds in this nki are the Epic Bass Drums – a large collection of quite similar sounding low hits that seem to share an identical reverb. Now, at first this did not impress me much until I stumbled across what I believe this Main instrument is all about and that is using the sounds in combination. The Stack button enables you to layer any of these seven patches and this is where it comes alive. Individually they are nothing too special, but they share a common character that means when you stack them they sound very cohesive indeed. For example, I selected the Hybrid Rhythms and layered it with the Epic Bass Drums and Tick Tock and hit a kick on the first beat of a bar, which gave a low and bitey punch on the one followed by the rest of the loop. Adding the Gritty Rhythms to that gave loads of low end girth to the main loop. Playing in more complex accents also worked a treat. You can even use the Stretch button to map the last key you hit chromatically and in doing so layer, for example, a punchy analog kick with a more realistic epic drum, hybrid percussion for ‘knock’ and a tick tock for transient high frequencies. This speeds up your workflow quite a bit. I only wish each patch had an individual volume control.
Next up is Ear Candy, which we have seen make a guest appearance previously in Terminus. There are four patches with individual sounds on each key across a number of octaves, resulting in over 200 unique one shots.
This really is like being a kid in a sweetshop with an all manner of audio delights on offer. There are tonal hits, scary string screeches, ominous drones, ethereal chords, rattly cymbals, brass stabs and much more. They are great samples to spice up your composition, or to manipulate and act as inspirational starting points. The sample offset can be useful here to get deeper into the longer sounds. How well they work practically will remain to be seen; the sounds are so randomly varied that I feel the lack of any curation of them might mean they get neglected, unless you spend the time to go through them more.
The Ambiences are a little like the long textural equivalent of the Ear Candy with an impressive amount of soundscapes and atmospheres on every key. You get a mixture of tonal and atonal, and one patch that is infinitely looped.
It’s all of a dark sci-fi or horror vibe with nothing ethereal or especially light. The Stack button can work well here to make them more complex. I also had some success using the reverse button to create long soft risers and the more tonal varieties can benefit from the Stretch button mapping them to pitch across the keyboard, thus enabling them to be played more like pads, or even as basses or leads. Experimentation is key with these (and the whole library to be honest) I feel.
The next nki is really interesting and consists of more ranges of Noises then you would have thought possible. White, brown and pink noise is mangled and sometimes layered with hum, static, vinyl, hiss and other random sources.
Although unassuming at first having such a breadth of high frequency noise samples is actually exceptionally useful in hybrid compositions and the Neo II engine really helps here. You can dial in a long attack and pitch envelope for a swell or riser, configure a short attack and long release for a high cymbal/snare layer, use the in-built gate and sequencer for percussive pulses, or stretch one and layer it under a pad for some nasty texture.
Although very much percussion focused, Neo II also contains some playable melodic instruments too. The first of these are the Gritty Analog Synths.
There are 25 patches all sharing a heavily distorted character, the equivalent of shoving your 1970’s Moog through a Marshall stack turned up to eleven! With them also lacking much in the way of conventional synth parameters to tweak these are of the ‘suck it and see’ variety and will either work perfectly or just sound totally out of place. Creative use of the gate, sequencer and volume envelopes though can effectively expand them beyond leads and basses to pulses, arps and pads. They do stack well, which gives a range of possible combinations that my mind can’t quite do the math on.
Moving onto only slightly less aggressive fare are the Lo-Fi Piano Stabs. Here 25 pianos have been royally abused and given a healthy dose of ambience.
Whilst they might offer some use lower down the keyboard for powerful note accents, they seem best focused on creating the familiar high-pitched ‘ping’ that features in many film trailers these days. Some of the more discordant ones would also work nicely as featured sounds for horror compositions. I would have liked to have a few more clean ones and also more variety in the reverb, which you are stuck with as it is baked in. However, this similar ambience does result in them layering nicely to create something a little more bespoke. Again, a volume control for each would have been a really welcome feature. For more conventional piano playing, suitably gritty and macabre tones can be nicely evoked by rolling the lows off as it can get a bit thunky down there.
The final instrument is the Tonal 808s with 25 unique patches on offer with suitably hot-headed names such as Berserk, Hooligan and Vortex.
Although mapped across all keys it’s only the lower octaves that feel relevant here as the purpose is to create classic trap basslines, which so often use tuned kicks from the Roland TR808 drum machine appropriately dirtied up. There is a great range here, from filtered hollow sounds, to gently saturated punch, to all out distorted assault. They can stack ok, but it’s wise to be wary of phase cancellation with such low frequency samples. As trap shows no signs of going away anytime soon and increasing use in cinematic contexts this is a very useful patch for a jobbing composer, tasked with creating more urban hybrid cues.
As always with these packs 8Dio includes a bunch of presets which show off what can be done when employing the Kontakt engine to a deeper degree. These may well fit for a composition, but I prefer to see them as inspiration for how such a library can be creatively explored. I found the more I used the Stack, Stretch, Reverse, Offset, the envelopes and the Effects page the more powerful and impressive Neo II became. Even though the samples are all excellently produced none of the sounds here are over designed or over processed, as can be the case with other developers, and this gives the end user greater flexibility to do their own additional processing on them.
One of the main issues with such libraries is just how much long term use it will provide. Stylistic innovations that one year seem hugely fresh sounding can quickly become over-used and even cliché (dub-step beats anyone?). Some previous Hybrid Tools collections, such as Terminus and Equinox will be relevant for quite some time, but I feel Neo II might not be quite in the same vein for some of its sounds. 8Dio mention how it is based on the latest emerging scoring trends, but a little peak into the folders reveals sample and patches made in 2019 . That said, a good amount of the samples here are fairly workhorse and take further processing very well so it’s got some decent mileage. I also think the way many of the sounds can stack well gives it quite a unique touch. Dedicated sections for specialist things such as noise, 808s and pings with ready to go sounds make it accessible and capable of quick and effective results.
For composers working on anything that is not purely orchestral there are a plethora of sound design, synth and electronic percussion libraries out there and Neo II faces stiff competition. Personally I feel it is a bit of a mixed bag; there are quite a few sounds most of us already have lots of, other samples that are just poorly organised, and then on the flip-side a selection of innovative and inspiring content. If you are just starting out, then Neo II plus a library of risers and hits would be a really good option. For those of us with a more extensive sample library collection you will have to weigh up just how useful those special features would be, which might be a prompt to either take advantage of the intro sale or bag it later in a future sale, as at full price it is a little steep. I guess I am slightly torn with Neo II at the moment, but if my experience with the other 8Dio Hybrid Tools libraries is anything to go by, I find the more I use them the more I grow to appreciate them even more.
Neo II consists of 8.22 GB of 44.1Khz, 24bit wav samples from 19.2 GB of uncompressed material. There are 13 sound categories covering percussion, drum machines, synths, real instruments, and sound design. A full version of Kontakt 5.8.1 or above is required.
Hybrid Tools Neo II sells for $298 from 8Dio
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Hybrid Tools Neo II by 8Dio
“8Dio looks beyond the typical sound design tropes for its latest Hybrid Tools release, Neo II. Less of a game-changer and more of a very useful toolkit, expect plenty of percussive rhythms, pings, trap 808s, filthy synths and one particular patch that takes mere noise to new levels.”