Review of the
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Its been nearly a decade since the last "World" synth module by Emu. In 1992 when Emu released the Proteus 3 module, a brilliantly executed sample playback module, filled with 191 presets of world sounds based on a 4 meg Rom chip. 2001 has seen the release of the Planet Earth module, part of he Proteus 1000/2000 families. The new module comes in standard (p1000) and turbo (P2000) versions and as a user installable Rom chip, called the World Expedition Rom, that can be added to any of the current Proteus machines. The Module and the Rom have the same samples and presets. It's the same Rom whether you buy it in a Planet Earth Module or buy it separately and put it in your P2000. So from this point on I will refer to Planet earth and its rom as simply the World Expedition (WE Rom).
Let me tell you where I am coming from first. I love worldly exotic sounds. I make them all the time and have a large collection of world instruments and drums. (I hope to have a world cd rom out this fall). I also believe our music (meaning Western Civilization's music) is rapidly absorbing all the ancient instruments of the East and South. When the Proteus 3 originally appeared, it was more of a novelty, a little taste of everything. Nowadays, having a full set of world sounds is practically required if you are doing music for money. And for the hobbyist, its a nice change of pace from doing hip hop, dance, DnB and Industrial. As of this writing, I've had the Rom over a month as of this writing and have used it in about 4 songs.
The making of a world sounds module is fraught with issues, and how the Rom maker decides to answer them can drastically change the product. I'll be looking at some of those considerations and try to give you a good idea of where the world expedition fits in the overall sound palette.
This Rom is not going to cover the entire world of instruments. Such a task is impossible in 32 megs. I think the general synth buying public has had unrealistic expectations for the ROM. Unlike building a Rom of synthy techno sounds, where 2-3 samples can be single cycle looped and spread over an entire keyboard, building a World Rom often requires 5-10 long samples for each instrument to capture the diverse dynamics and timbre of the instrument, so choices have to be drastically limited to achieve realism. What they have here is very good and useful. At first I was disappointed not to find a sitar, tambura or tabla set. While there are some similar instruments to those (and there is a rather lame sounding sitar in the Proteus 2000 stock composer Rom), the real deal is not in the WE Rom. Then I realized there is a usable Sitar and nice tablas and tambura in the Protezoa Rom (which has all the old Proteus 3 sounds) and realized it would have been very hard to top those. I applaud Emu for not including them in this set. There's no redundancy with the P/3. I think I could only pick out one sample that was already in my emu World cd rom collection, (the upper register Shenai, though maybe I'm wrong). I am happy to report, as advertised, the World Expedition has new samples. So the new World expedition synth is not going to replace a proteus 3, but is in many ways an addition. While its not going to totally fill a catalog of world instruments, its going to give you a nice big roomful.
One word here: Clean. The samples are practically immaculate. This is a nice contrast to the XL and Pure Phatt which rely on bits of grunge and heavy compression to get the signature dance sound. On first listen it may appear that the World Expedition is a bit of a lightweight with pristine samples and just light compression--just enough to make the samples more manageable in a mix. I'll bet this was a tough programming call, to Phatten or not to Phatten at the sample level. They apparently decided to go clean; I think it was the wisest choice. If you want really dancey world sounds, stick a compressor on the outs, or prop up some filters. The samples have a neutral, natural sound, with delicate top end that makes for nice sounding mixes. The bass is there too especially on some of the drums. If there is a slight weakness, it's in the lower mids. As a result, you can stack without building up low mid mud, at the cost of a "fuller" sound. To my ears, the sound is less full than the proteus 3, yet more clean, crystalline, defined. Yet in a mix, the P3 can sound almost dull without EQ, while the WE sits up rather nicely and is hotter. I typically have had trouble with the Proteus 3 "weak" output levels on my board. Not so with the WE Rom--the high end will cut through.
|Main Bank presets (512
kit:Planet Eart 0
The World Expedition Sound Palette
To the left you see the presets in the main bank. The WE is organized like many other emu modules, with a 3 letter abbreviation that tells you what kind of sound it is. As you see, the bulk of the drum kits are lumped together, making getting the right drum sounds pretty easy. The drum kits are similar in many ways--many use the same samples per key, but with different FX and cords routed. (The lower octave of the kit is unique typically).
After the kits comes the plucked sounds. The standouts IMHO are the Cimbalon, Oud, Shamisen and Shaoud , and Mandolin. If I was to critique the plucked set, I'd say that the majority are in the same frequency range, and all have the same western tuning. The tuning takes the flavor out a bit, and to get the instruments to sound realistic, your will have to bone up and discover how they are naturally tuned so you know what notes and keys you can play in to make the instrument sound authentic. Also i think use of the emu reverb messes with the sound a bit and actually masks some of the finer overtones. I get better results, as ususal with emu stuff, by turning the FX off or assigning it to a preset where you can barely hear it. But there are some exceptions. The programmer(s) did find some reverb settings that were very effective in some instruments. Some of the small rooms on the drums made me check the board to check if it was really coming from my P2k. It was, and the small rooms were very toasty and flavorful.
After the plucked comes the Bowed. There are only 9 of these, the standout being the Zhonghu. and the one called Nervousa. No bowed Psaltry unfortunately, or fiddle. The attack seems a little fast to me on these 9, but I understand the longer one makes the attack, the less useful they become, though it could be programmed around.
Basses. The bass is next and there are only 16 of them, barely enough to cover the ground. Of course the P2k, XL and Phatt are all bass heavy, so you shouldn't miss much if you have any of those. CB Balalaik is outstanding with its buzzy frets. Also the 3 basses called "Lowness" are very nice, sort of like heavy handed standup basses. I found myself wanting a better standup than is in the P2k, and these will do. There are 4 basses called "CB" that are drowned in reverb. Maybe I am missing the point, but these are of little use to me. there's some surprise synth basses here too--They are excellent! Kind of odd to see them here though.
Blowin' in the Winds
There's 48 Wind presets, a nice variety, and this is perhaps one of the stronger suits of the Rom My personal favorite is "South Wind". Others of note are the Shakuhatchi, which blows away the one in the P3, Shenai (a very hard instrument to sample, trust me) Mizmars, Nye, Suling and Pan Flute. A decent accordian and Claypipes. There's plenty of material here to program up whatever kind of flute you want. No bagpipes. No Digerido. While these are in the P3 and Protezoa, it's has to be the most unnatural bagpipes I ever heard, and they should have topped that in this rom. (The Digeridos are OK in Protezoa, so I can accept the omission) On the critcal side, all the winds have strong FX added--there's an echo added to the pan flutes that leaves me scratching my head as to why and reverb on most of the winds is right at the threshold where one more notch would have wrecked it. Of course, this is not a big deal because in actual use you only use the FX on the FX channel and can turn it off globally.
Combinations and Pads
There's 61 of these multi layered instruments. Some are quite nice and useful. They let you get a bigger sound for leads, and there are some nice ambient effects. Lets focus on the pads specifically, as these are very important in exotic synth music. There's only 15 pads and they are all rather "flutey". Some are quite evocative. The standout is Ghosts Again, very reminiscent of the wavestation sound, but better, right behind it is Misty Reeds, a very awesome beautiful pad. There are 7 pads called Exotic (1-7). These all have a short release, makes for more of a lead than a pad, and they work well in a more jazzy world context. Since there are no string/synth ensemble samples in the set, there are no string pads. I am a bit disappointed there because it would have been useful to make some of those dark Peter Gabriel-like synth washes and exotic temple atmospheres I like to make, but perhaps I am generalizing that everyone wants to get as dark and exotic as i do. Of course you can pull in a obie pad out of the composer rom and make it as dark as you want, but I think they could have put in at least one lo bandwidth lo fi string pad and they could have enhanced the character of the box greatly.
Positively, I find some of the combinations to work really nice in Hip Hop-ish Mo Phatt rhythm beds. The clean WE sounds are nice contrast.
19 sound effects--some decent bird calls and a few odd textures that could come in useful. Shakoniums and cave ritual will probably make it in my music and the bird calls are always handy. There's and interesting rather scary TweakrShenai and one called Lo-Fi Ritual, sort of like natives in the outback. The omissions are telling. There's no wind, surf or rain or thunder--ie., the earth itself is not represented. No earth sounds in Planet Earth. Not a problem for me, i simply turn on my Ultra and pick out one of my custom storms or seas, but for the Proteus only synth person, I think it's a serious omission. Another big omission is voices. While these are often cheesy in synths (I have to question why Mo Phatt has some dull "Uh Huh" sampled, but maybe I'm dating myself? or are they dating the box?) , I think an Arabic yodel, or Bulgarian priests, or monks mantra would have been nice.
There's a boatload of percussion here from just about everywhere. 196 presets full (not counting the kits). Some people have criticized WE as being "nearly all" percussion. I hope you see that is not true by this review, but there is a lot of it. Actually, the reason why there are so many presets of percussion is that the programmer made many variations using the same samples. For example, there are 6 Djembe presets, all using the same samples, each preset it slightly different with the mapping, velocity, effect. The good thing is you can rapidly find a Djembe preset that works. Standouts are the Talking drum (one of the best I've heard, if not the best, in a synth. The Balifon is outstanding too, tuned to what seem to be Balinese scales (Thank you!) Let me add the Tougue drums--very evocative, good stuff! A kit called "Liquidity" (3 versions) is nice. #2 has some tabla like indian drums ( a Dholek). The Ghatam, or Udu is very nice and deep. "Tubes" is excellent--love it! But why they put an echo on it is baffling, it sounds so good dry. Ditto on the nice Taiko drums--drenched in echo... A Deep Tambour, and overall a great set of African hand drums. Very nice Bodhran, usable Pandeiros, usable bongos. I thought the Dumbeks were not natural sounding. There's a very natural sounding dry trap kit--its good and can be used as an alternative to the P2k dry traps. There's some simmons pads, somewhat of a surprise, but well done. Then there are a lot of electronic snares. Average were the Marimba and Kalimba--I am bothered by the fact that no kalimba in the world has 63 notes, but usually only 5-10 and they are in an exotic tuning--not here. There's some decent bells in the works--Almglocken is very nice. The Steel Drum sounds awesome in authenticity. There's lots of others i didn't cover, but they all are at the meets expectations level. Notably missing are big kettle drums, tablas, a big bell, and gongs. Ok these were in Protzoa, but there are many flavors of gongs and deep bells and we could have used another.(There is a preset called "Doom Gongs" which is lo-fi nice, but its really a ride and china cymbal) To be fair, i should point out that bells and gongs are probably the most ram intensive of any sample as they sound fake if looped and they can decay forever on their own. This goes back to my major criticism--32 megs is just not enough. Maybe they will come out with a World Expedition II? However, balancing out my critcal comments, I must say that you are going to have a hard time finding this much cleanly recorded acoustic percussion anywhere else without loading up sample cd roms into your sampler. Its a nice touch to any mix to tweak your percussion track. The percussion works in many styles. Like having a 30 foot long table and a room full of exotic drums. The trick is deciding which to use and which not to use.
You get about 15 arpeggio presets. You can turn on the Arpeggiator to any preset you want so its not a major deal, but a few more would have been nice. The arps are not particularly worldly to my ear. I'd say this is probably one of the weakest points. Even a couple of runs through whole tone, pentatonic and other exotic scales would have been nice.
I can't describe them here, but there are 39 of them and I like nearly all of them. They really inspire one to try different combinations and shows what all the percussion sounds can do in the hands of someone who knows how to arrange them. Typically I don't use the beats Mode in my music, preferring my own hand rolled variety in Logic, but for those who need a quick fix you will probably not be disappointed. The standout, a hard choice, but I'd have to say EarthKit 1, but there were many I liked a real lot.
Note: You can put the World Expedition
Rom in the more tweakable Proteus 2500 (as well as other emu modules)
What the Tweak likes:
Lots of percussion, and it's all good sounding, and most of it is stuff you will not find on other midi modules, and if it is on other modules, it's typically better and more detailed here. If you are running other Emu Roms, like the Pure Phatt, XL, Composer or Orchestral, you will find these sounds really add an outstanding percussion rack. I like that all these drums are eminently stackable, allowing for the creation of massive percussion tracks. It nicely rounds out the P2k's percussion and gives my music a whole lot more "sweeteners" that are clean and un-hyped. I also like the flutes and all of the 'standout" patches i mentioned.
What Tweak does not like so much
I'll say it one more time. They need to can those big reverbs. Throughout the review I noted what i felt were serious omissions. I think a World Expedition II is in order to fill in the gaps. The Planet Earth synth (P1000 model) only has 1 stereo pair of outs. Depending on your uses, that may or may not be enough. If you do dense MIDI mixes like I do, rather than record tracks as audio, I recommend getting the turbo version so you can use the 2 additional stereo outs to patch to external processors, or simply getting the World Expedition Rom and popping it into a P2000 (or other turbo emu module). Being able to assign percussion to its own outs keeps it all clean.
The World Expedition has changed my music and it will probably do the same for yours, given that you like world sounds, or need a big percussion set. I like it so much I will probably use at least one preset in every song I make of any genre. If you have some slots in your p2000 I would not think twice about adding it, unless you are a totally die hard DnB Dance Techno fiend. These folks might find the timbres a bit too clean and maybe thin. But if you are making film scores, jingles or anything resembling acoustic music, you'll probably appreciate, as I do, the natural sounding samples and defined and delicate high end of the sound. As an only synth, forget it, it's way too specialized, as there is appropriately no pianos, string sections, typical guitars or brass in the box. That's why they made the P2k But you already knew that. Finally, I truly appreciate that Emu did not recycle old E III samples for this project. They certainly could have done so and 95% of you would not have known or noticed. In all, a nice piece of work.