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    IK Multimedia SampleTank 3

    By Phil O'Keefe |

    Sound and groove workstation / virtual instrument with MIDI files and loops

    By Phil O'Keefe

     

     

    It's hard to believe just how rapidly virtual instruments have taken off, and in the process they have become indispensable tools for modern music production. In fact, in many ways they have largely supplanted hardware modules and keyboards; where once you'd find a large multi-tiered keyboard stand and a rack filled with MIDI modules, today you'll often find a nice MIDI controller or two coupled with a laptop filled with virtual instrument software.

     

    Certainly one of the pioneers in the field of virtual instruments is IK Multimedia. Based in Italy, their widely popular SampleTank application was first released back in 2001, and was the first sample-based sound workstation for computers to hit the market. A couple of years later SampleTank 2 was released, and it has remained very popular ever since. Now IK Multimedia has released a new version of their popular flagship product. Called (not surprisingly) SampleTank 3, it has been over ten years in the making. Let's see how well it lives up to the stellar reputation of its predecessors.

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    What You Need To Know

    • SampleTank 3 is a completely new and totally revamped version of the legendary sample-based virtual instrument plugin. It is 16 part multitimbral, with 16 stereo outputs. It uses an Instruments, Multis and MIDI Patterns structure for its content. Three synth engines (Stretch, Pitch-shift/Time-shift, and Resample) are provided, and four play modes (poly, mono and two different legato modes) are supported.
    • SampleTank 3 can run as a stand-alone application, or as a 64 bit plugin. It requires a 64 bit operating system and, when used as a plugin, a 64 bit DAW host. VST (2/3), AU and AAS plugin formats are supported. It can run under Mac OS X (10.7 or later) or Windows (7/8) and needs a Core 2 Duo or Athlon 64 X2 processor or faster, at least 4GB of RAM (8GB is recommended) and 34GB of hard drive space for installation.
    • Speaking of the installation, it takes a while. There's over 33GB of sounds and content included - over 4,000 instruments! I have a fairly fast pipe (50 Mbps up and down) but it still took a while to download and install everything. The good news is that the process is simple and pain free, and went off without a hitch - it's just a bit time consuming, so plan on spending an afternoon (or more) on the task.
    • SampleTank 3 has three main screens or "environments" as IK Multimedia refers to them. They are Play, Mix and Edit.

     

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    • The main Play screen will look familiar to users of earlier versions of SampleTank. It has slots for loading up to 16 different parts. As with previous versions, you can assign instrument parts to different MIDI channels as well as mute and solo individual parts from this screen. Volume and pan controls are also found here, as well as a level meter for each part. A browser style area on the left side allows you to browse, select and load content.
    • You also get some basic controls for the selected instrument, as well as the ability to assign and edit effects for each instrument in a panel near the bottom of the screen via the Macro and FX buttons. These are available on each of the three main environment screens.
    • There are lots of effects included - 55 different types, of which 22 are new. Pretty much everything you could ask for is here, including delays, reverbs, modulation effects, rotary speaker and amp simulations, studio processors, and much much more. Many parameters can be tempo-synchronized, which is a big plus. Many of the effects are sourced from IK Multimedia's T-RackS and Amplitube apps. The overall sound quality of the included effects is quite good too, and you'll find yourself using them frequently. 
    • Instrument sounds are organized in 22 categories, which makes it much easier to locate what you need. Categories include Acoustic Drums, Electronic Drums, Bass, Synth Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Piano, Electric Piano, Brass, Strings, Organ, Chromatic, Woodwinds, Synth Lead, Synth Pad, Voices, Ethnic, Percussion, Sound FX, Loops, Synth FX, and Imported Instruments. Yes, it's compatible with all previous Powered By SampleTank instruments and sounds, and you can import all previous sounds and combis into SampleTank 3.
    • In addition to Instruments, you also have tabs for Multis (multi-channel, multi-timbral combinations), as well as Patterns and Live. Patterns are just that - MIDI patterns. SampleTank 3 includes a large collection of over 2,000 MIDI files that you can trigger from within the app or your DAW or keyboard. These are organized by instrument name (acoustic drums, bass, guitar, brass, etc.), and the file names give you a general idea of the musical style and recommended tempo for each pattern. The Live tab allows you to set up sounds in a set list and song format and load them into RAM for instant recall on stage.

     

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    • The Mix screen is set up in the familiar mixing console format, and it's where you can adjust all the mix parameters such as effects, levels and panning, as well as assign outputs and control mutes and soloing. There are five effects insert slots per channel, and four aux sends. The master fader also has five inserts too for mix processing.

     

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    • The Edit environment is where you can really dig in and adjust and edit your sounds. Each element and articulation of an Instrument can be edited individually, and the list of editable parameters is quite extensive, with transposition, key ranges (yes, ST3 supports zones and splits) sample fine tuning, filter type (with ten new filter types) and parameters, velocity, two LFOs, two envelopes and other parameters all being adjustable from this screen. 
    • A free version of SampleTank 3 is available from IK Multimedia. While it offers a much smaller selection of sounds it allows you to get acquainted with the program at no cost, but be warned - once you try it, you're going to want the whole enchilada.

    Limitations

    • Since SampleTank 3 is a 64 bit application, it will only run on a 64 bit operating system and in a 64 bit host. If you're still using a 32 bit OS or DAW, you'll need to upgrade if you want to run SampleTank 3. For Pro Tools users, that means it will work with Pro Tools 11, but not Pro Tools 10 or earlier versions.
    • The onboard effects are only available for processing SampleTank sounds, and can not be used to process your other DAW tracks.
    • SampleTank 3 is not a sampler, and user sampling is not supported, although you can import your own samples that you've created elsewhere.

    Conclusions

    SampleTank has long been one of the most popular virtual instruments on the market, and with Version 3, IK Multimedia have only made things that much better, with an improved sound engine and expanded library with tons of new sounds, loops and MIDI patterns - with over 33GB in total, there's lots of great sounding content. I was quite impressed with the overall sound quality, and I really appreciate the multi-articulation and round robin approach to sample playback - it keeps things from sounding repetitive and increases the realism of the sounds. Live performers will love having the ability to pre-load sounds into RAM in setlist and song format. The new 22 effects expand what was already an impressive collection even further, and both the stand-alone program and plugin versions of SampleTank 3 were rock-solid and completely crash free during the course of my testing.

     

    In classic SampleTank tradition, it's all extremely easy to understand and intuitive to use. You don't need to spend hours or days figuring it out, and you can get right down to making music with it right away. I love it when tools are both powerful and easy to use - and that's exactly what SampleTank is - an easy to use yet powerful plugin that has remained a staple virtual instrument for composers, arrangers, keyboardists, recordists, and modern musicians of all kinds for well over a decade. SampleTank 3 is only going to extend that run even further. Regardless of what style or type of music you're into, you're going to find a lot to love in this must-have virtual instrument workstation.

    Resources

    Musician's Friend IK Multimedia SampleTank 3 online catalog page ($349.99 MSRP, $299.00 "street")

     

     

    IK Multimedia's SampleTank 3 product web page - crossgrades ($199.99) and upgrades from earlier v.2 versions ($149.99) are available from IK Multimedia.

     

     

    IK Multimedia SampleTank 3 overview video

    (Other IK Multimedia SampleTank videos can be found right here.)

     

     

     

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