East West's Symphonic Choirs review

Choir in a box

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Our Verdict

If you want a nocompromise choir in a box, this is it

For

  • A plethora of tools and options

    A highly powerful tool

Against

  • Involves lots of copying music from disc to HDD. Takes ages

    Requires at least 2GB of memory

The current craze for stuffing vast gigabytes of sampled material into a box and selling it as a package continues unabated. At 32GB East West's Colossus was considered huge, but Symphonic Choirs tops the scales with a groaning and 'ahhhing' total of 38GB. And unlike Colossus, this is just for choir sounds.

As is usual for an East West package the Kompakt sampler is included, and the sample DVDs - all nine of them - includes sample files that have to be manually copied to the sample directory. This takes more than half an hour, and while it's not East West's fault that Blu-Ray isn't around yet, the disk swapping makes for a rather dull manually managed install.

Unlike a typical synth keyboard workstation, which will include some generic and nondescript 'oohs' and 'aahs', the size of this collection is based on the fact that Symphonic Choirs features a full set of vowels and consonants spread across five choirs - standard women's and men's SATB, plus a boy's chorus - that are recorded at three different microphone positions.

There are also separate recordings for soloists. And each choir comes with a version featuring dynamic crossfading between up to three layers that are controlled by the mod wheel.

If you're thinking you're going to need the ultimate über-PC to run this package, you're right. The biggest multis will easily max out a 2GB machine, so you really need a minimum of 4GB to be able to use Symphonic Choirs with anything else. Because the Windows XP Pro limit is 2GB, this means either buying a Mac or using Win x64. Disk speeds are critical too.

The ultimate Multis include up to nine simultaneous streams per note. You won't get much change out a 10K rpm disk unless it's set up to do fast RAID. Fortunately, relatively lightweight versions of each ensemble are available. And if you don't have the monster music PC of your dreams you will still be able to create a customised close/full/ surround mix by freezing each line in your sequencer and setting the balance at mix time.

Sing along

Also included in the package is a unique tool called WordBuilder. This plugs in between the notes recorded in your sequencer and the Symphonic Choir Kompakt multi, and adds extra switching information that picks consonants and vowels from the sample bank and tries to splice them together. In theory you can make both choir and soloists sing any word or phrase.

In practice, creating a realistic result is incredibly time consuming and requires almost endless patience and fine tuning. WordBuilder can shuffle timings, switches, slurs and crossfades almost ad lib, so the potential for good results is certainly there. But setting an entire performance of something big and detailed would take a very long time indeed, so it's happiest working with short phrases and creating pseudo-verbal atmospheres.

Fanatics can also control the switching in real time using various performance-based MIDI tricks: a neat option, but one that will take even a skilled keyboardist quite a bit of practice to learn.

Most important of all is the sound, and this is mixed. Some of the soloist samples have a little more pitch wobble than you'd really want. There are also some multis where sample levels don't seem to have been matched entirely accurately.

Otherwise, the tone is variable, tending towards the cool and clean rather than the warm and fat. The basses are gutsy and the sopranos are suitably ethereal, but trying to swap those around can be harder. Piling on the effects built into Kompakt helps add some warmth and depth and can easily produce a drifty church sound, which is probably what most people will want from this set.

Overall the verdict is mixed. The bleeding edge system requirements for the full multis push this well into professional territory. If you compose film scores for a living you can afford to dedicate an entire ultra-spec PC just to this one package. For everyone else, compromises will be necessary. And although there's a lot on offer here, the high price will make many think twice about it. If you want a nocompromise choir in a box, this is it. But many possible buyers might be happier if East West produced a best of at a quarter of the size and cost.