Review: Shepard Designer by Inoui Samples

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Shepard Designer does exactly what its name implies: the power and control to create and manipulate Shepard tones in real-time. The source sounds provided are plenty and the interface is intuitive and works a treat and the fact that you can import your own samples and sounds, though it is not without a little complexity, adds to the overall value.

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Review: Shepard Designer by Inoui Samples

If you’re in the market for an instrument that will help you create Shepard tones to use in your productions, this small VI will certainly fit the bill. It’s intuitive and smart. It’s not too costly, and has a robust and clean interface. There’s really very little learning time needed to get going. It provides you with all you really need to create rising and falling tones that can be used in most music, though it does lend itself particularly well to the cinematic world. Note that it will need after market processing and sweetening since there are no onboard effects.

Shepard Designer normally sells for €80 from Inoui Samples

Thoughts

Shepard Designer Front Page

What’s all the fuss about Shepard tones? Well, though you might not recognize the term, they are often used in large scale Hollywood blockbusters (Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk is a good example) , movie trailers, video game soundtracks and even rock and EDM.

What’s a Shepard tone? Good question. Simply put, it’s a psycho-acoustic process that gives the illusion of a musical element rising and falling in pitch without actually doing so. (If you’re interested in finding out how this is achieved, check out this Wiki page which gives more detailed information. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepard_tone ) So you can create tension and movement without any real tonal clash with the other elements of your music, since you’re only dealing with one note separated by octaves. And it’s a great way of making risers for those doing trailers!

Shepard Designer allows you to create these kinds of tones from scratch. Once you launch the VI for the first time you’re presented with the main and only page. There are no other pages you need to navigate to and from. This is a real advantage, though of course it also limits how much tweaking is available. But the developers laid out the page in a very intuitive manner. Everything is accessible with a mouse click or two.

Instrument Choice Panel

There’s a bank of instrument sounds that you can access for creating your tones. They’re all derived from real instruments. So no synthesizers. Though there is an amplified section where the sounds have been somewhat mangled.

Bell Width Button

You have access to LFO settings which gives a choice of 5 different wavelengths to modulate your sound with. There’s also a small dial called Bell Width. Playing with this allows you to alter the volume of the tones as they move through the octaves. The differences can be quite dramatic from subtle and deep to high and shrill. There’s also a classic ADSR envelope you can access, though it’s missing the Decay and the Sustain since they would have no effect on a Shepard tone.

The most striking feature is the large, dominant knob in the middle of the page. This knob, called the Speed Knob, controls the slope speed and direction (rising or falling) of the tones. In the middle it has no effect on the sound. As the arrow is moved to the left, the sound falls faster. As it’s moved to the right, it rises faster. When the LFO is engaged, this knob changes hats and controls LFO speed and intensity. Pretty slick!

 

Speed Knob Control Buttons

You can also sync up the rise and fall speed and length with your DAW’s tempo. If you click on bars/oct, then the VI will get its bar and tempo information from your DAW or whatever you manually set in Kontakt. Choosing spec./oct will leave the VI independent of any tempo and bar changes.

This is a deep piece of programming (hats off) but in essence, choosing bar/oct allows you to measure the time between bars so that what you’re creating can fit into an existing composition. It also gives you the possibility of creating endlessly repeating rising and falling tones. (meditation music anyone?)

Main Speed Knob

On the other side of the big knob, there is a switch that allows you to control the overall speed of the rise and fall from fast to slow. Once you click one, the speed knob allows you to make incremental changes. Of course, all these features can be midi mapped and automated to your midi controller. Pretty much a requisite these days.

The advanced settings has a few options but the notable one is related to processing quality. Reducing the quality will put less demands on your CPU, an issue for most of us. The default setting (the one it sits at when you first open an instance of the VI) is a good compromise but if you’re sporting an 18 core iMac Pro with 128 GB Ram then, by all means, crank it up!

Getting your own samples into the VI for processing is a little more involved and needs some Kontakt work under the hood, but the manual walks you through it. Ok, I exaggerated! You probably should read the manual first.

Which brings me to a small quibble but an irritating one nonetheless. The English translation really leaves a lot to be desired. Though fundamentally understandable, mostly it is awkward and even opaque at times. I found myself going back to the French manual (this is a French company) to see what exactly they were trying to say (fortunately I read and write French fluently). Of course, they are not the only non-english speaking developer guilty of publishing a document that is poorly translated. (I suppose we can all blame Google Translate for that!) Increasingly I see this with many developer’s manuals and websites. Now, I don’t understand why a company would spend many thousands of hours and oodles of money developing a product only to skimp on the translation of the necessary information! Hire a translator! They’re not that expensive.

Another possible issue for some is the fact that this VI has NO onboard effects. It’s basically dry and monophonic. I suppose that has its advantages. Some may like the pure unadulterated sound they’re getting and then mangle it as they want in their DAW. But others prefer recording the pre-processed sounds they like and be done with it. I guess it’s the argument between recording guitar DI or through an amp and effects loop. I won’t weigh in on that but just be warned.

So there you have it. Is it worth getting? Well, depends if you have a musical need for Shepard tones. I’ve used them in a number of trailers I’ve done recently. I love how they create tension and textured movement underneath a more static or ambient section. And they make great risers! But like any good spice, they have to be used judiciously. A little goes a long way unless you’re doing a 20 minute aural wash for meditation or massage.

If you decide you need Shepard tones in your composition Shepard Designer stands out because it is precisely what its name implies: a tool to design unique and musical Shepard tones. For many of us that is enough!

Facts

144 Monophonic samples in 5 categories
Ability to import your own sounds
Can synchronize the rise and fall speed to your DAW’s tempo
Can adjust the impact on your CPU
Requires the full version of Kontakt 5.8.1 or higher.

Shepard Designer normally sells for €80 from Inoui Samples

 

Demos of Inoui Samples-Shepard Designer by Inoui Samples

Videos of Inoui Samples-Shepard Designer by Inoui


Contributor MCR reviews Inoui Samples-Shepard Designer by Inoui
“The power and control to create and manipulate Shepard tones in real-time. The source sounds provided are plenty and the interface is intuitive and the fact that you can import your own samples and sounds, though not without a little complexity, adds to the overall value.”