Review: Monolith Bundle (Atmos & Abyss) by String Audio
Sophisticated and emotional sound
Dedicated cinematic bass instrument
Intelligent randomisation options
Hugely customisable to create very unique sounds
No ADSR on the Abyss bass layer
Slight lag changing snapshotss
Atmos interface may be a bit daunting for some users
String Audio is back with some of the most evocative and emotional atmospheres and bass textures you could wish for aimed squarely at widescreen cinema.
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Review: Monolith Bundle by String Audio
LA-based String Audio have carved out a real niche in the sample library world with some stunning cinematic FX based libraries in very distinctive and well-designed interfaces. They combine superb source sounds with an ability to create a plethora of wholly original sounds from the Kontakt engine. This time the focus is on the most epic widescreen sounds possible, as Monolith delivers a cleverly thought out two-pronged attack on moody pads, atmospheres, drones and the lowest of the low.
Both Monolith Atmos (covering textures) and Monolith Abyss (covering bass) are available separately, but they really do work so well together that String Audio have also combined them in a bundle, which saves a good amount compared to buying each one on their own. The idea being that Atmos will cover mid and high registers, whilst Abyss holds down all the bass requirements. The pair in combination is very powerful.
They use the String Audio trademark of layered sounds that the user blends to their liking, but they do differ quite a bit in how they work, with Abyss being far less complex. The interface is a nice clean one page affair.
There are four layers at work here, each with a distinct role to play in crafting the final sound. Between them they access over 200 samples. The Sub layer, with 65 sounds, is arguably the most important and consists of 60Hz room shakers from various hardware and software synths. The Bass component has 64 samples filtered off below 60Hz and adds definition to the Sub. Dirt again consists of 64 sounds, but these are all heavily filtered to contain no bass and very little lo mid information. They have a noisy, fizzy and sometimes sci-fi timbre providing a really unique sonic signature to the main bass sound. The final layer is called Abyss and has 10 sample options to add some ominous sub 40Hz thunder.
The respective volumes are controlled by the light grey fader and arrows at the bottom can increase or decrease all of them simultaneously. Each layer has buttons or sliders for solo, mute, lock (to lock the sound when randomising), ADSR and sample start, apart from Abyss which lacks the envelope and sample start controls. This is a slight shame as does mean if you want a shorter sound the Abyss sample will always hang over. I hope they add an ADSR to this in an update. A compressor and EQ boost centred at 60Hz provides final polishing across the entire sound.
There are 150 snapshots (which the end user must first place in the correct place upon installation) and if non of them work for your taste, then simply hit the RNDM button and see what lady luck brings you!
Most of the snapshots have a fairly long attack and release, which hints at the nature of this sample pack. Whilst you certainly can shorten these down for a tighter sound, the nature of the sounds in Abyss encourages long, slow, pad-esque playing or sometimes just a huge bass accent, almost as a bit of sound design. In that regard it just feels odd to try and play quick, punchy and complex basslines on this instrument. Instead the focus here is on huge, emotional bass sounds where the sonic characteristic is as important as the notes that are played. Abyss is ideal for film, TV and computer game scenes full of brooding menace or the intros to thriller, horror or dystopian sci-fi trailers. I embrace the niche of this library, as within that specific use it is on a world-class level. I also found by playing way outside of the bass register you can get some really lovely dreamy lead lines!
Atmos is inherently a far more complex library with over 3300 samples and 296 snapshots. The interface will be familiar to anyone with experience of String Audio’s Dark Matter and Alchemist products, but might appear daunting at first.
However, after half an hour of exploration and consultation of the excellent manual the reality is that it is quite intuitive. There are 5 tabs across the bottom – 4 of them deal with effects whilst the Main Engine tab handles the sample selection and editing. Here we find 6 layers, each one with a pulldown or arrows to select one of 9 categories of sounds from Eerie to Tonal.
There is a comprehensive selection of editing parameters for each layer such as tuning, ADSR, LFO amounts and plenty more. A powerful random function at the bottom gives you options to discover fresh new sounds and the ability to lock parameters so they are not randomised is very useful. I also really liked the easy access buttons Long/Short, Open/Close, Wet/Dry to quickly modify all envelopes, filters and effects (but not EQ or amp) respectively.
The raw samples here are superb and in combination can lead to near limitless unique sounds. However, a major feature of this product is the Color Engine, which stacks up six convolution impulse responses that can all by given individual send amounts. With 276 responses ranging from guitar FX to scrapes to bitcrushing and coupled with another random button dedicated purely to IRs, the ability to put the raw sounds in incredibly complex spaces is formidable.
To give your sound some movement there is a well equipped Motion Engine with fully featured LFOs for volume, pan, pitch and filter and the amounts of this can be dialled in per layer on the Main Engine page.
For the sound manglers out there the Effect Engine gives Skreamer, LoFi, Tape Saturation, Delay, Chorus and Filter effects. I particularly liked the addition of Distortion hard wired to the mod wheel, making it a cinch to dirty the sound up.
The final tab is the EQ-Reamp Engine. This is slightly different as it works per layer, meaning more fine control over each sample. The EQ provides a simple 3-band, variable Q equaliser and the Remap page includes a guitar style 4-band EQ and a reamp amount knob to dial in exactly how crunchy you want to take it.
The sound of Atmos is best described as sophisticated, deep and nuanced. It just sounds very contemporary and veers away from cheesy, hyped pads and overly designed textures. The ability to easily combine tonal sounds with more sound designed patches across so many layers means it is hugely flexible. It can conjure up anything from woody ethnic drones, to chilling soundscapes and all the way to ethereal pads, grinding drones and ambient synths all with a really classy sound. Composers working in any genre that calls for some widescreen emotional atmosphere would find Atmos an incredibly inspiring tool. I can see it working very well for underscore in particular and some artists with a penchant for ambient sounds would also find it well worth a closer look.
My only real issues with Monolith are a lag when switching snapshots (I am using the newest Samsung SSD and a fairly powerful iMac) and that for some the complexity of Atmos might be quite a steep learning curve. However, only with such complexity can we have such a malleable instrument and the GUI layout is as simple as possible.
Both Abyss and Atmos are outstanding libraries on their own, but combined they are even better, as the typical frequencies they work best at dovetail so well. I am not sure anyone has yet partnered two atmospheric libraries to such effect. Having a dedicated cinematic sub bass focus is really exciting and as such this makes it a very unique product in the bundle form.
The ability to create wholly unique sounds due to the sheer amount of samples, six layers and so many stacked convolutions is very powerful. Due to the stylish and intuitive interface with great randomising functions this is surprisingly uncomplicated to achieve. String Audio have a reputation for creating some of the best cinematic pads, atmospheres and SFX on the market and Monolith only serves to reinforce this, whilst bringing something fresh to the party too.
Abyss consists of over 800 MB of samples compressed to 540 MB. There are 200 samples in four layers and 159 snapshots to explore.
Atmos boasts over 17 GB of material compressed to 13 GB. There are over 3300 samples stacked in six layers and it comes bundled with 296 snapshots.
Contributor Sam Burt reviews Monolith Bundle by String Audio
“String Audio is back with some of the most evocative and emotional atmospheres and bass textures you could wish for aimed squarely at widescreen cinema”