Although impossible to pronounce and liable to antagonise your spellchecker, EWQLSO (East West/Quantum Leap's Symphonic Orchestra) has become a byword in the orchestral sampling world since its release in 2003. The result of a meeting of minds between sampling supremos Doug Rogers (East West) and Nick Phoenix of Quantum Leap, the original 67GB four-volume set (reviewed in SOS in June 2004) gained widespread praise and is now the library of choice for many US composers and music directors. One oft-cited reason for its popularity is its big, built-in concert hall sound; the instruments were recorded simultaneously from three microphone positions in a 2500-seater orchestral venue, making EWQLSO the only full orchestral library on the market with six-channel surround sound capability. That's a great achievement in anyone's book.
Two years after the sessions for the original library, the Symphonic Orchestra production team (headed as before by the Grammy-winning recording engineer Professor Keith O Johnson) returned to the original orchestral hall with the same pool of players to record a new set of samples. At that time the library lacked marimba, celeste, piccolo trumpet, solo viola and solo double bass, and the implementation of performance styles was somewhat patchy. The new sessions addressed all that, and more. By the time Professor Johnson and the 100-strong tribe of musicians and technicians emerged bleary-eyed from the concert hall one month later, the SO project had expanded considerably. Editing and programming the new recordings took a year. Once trimmed down to size, the samples weighed in at 71GB, more than doubling the size of the original library.
Unfortunately, that's not the end of it: the updated Kompakt player which ships with the library won't load the old programs, and the old player won't load the new programs either. D'oh! The Pro XP editions supposedly incorporate the old programs as well as providing new ones, but it turns out that although the old program names are retained, many of them have been reprogrammed to take advantage of the new samples. According to East West, the idea is to 'augment the original samples and provide more velocity layers and realism'. That's a good thing, but using old names for new programs is confusing — it would have been better if East West had renamed the new programs and included the originals in a separate folder as a courtesy to existing Symphonic Orchestra users. But it's not a show-stopper: anyone hankering after the old programs can still use the old Kompakt Player to load them, and Native Instruments' Kontakt sampler will happily load both new and old programs.
Another contentious revision sees the original keyswitch programs replaced by a new set which (at the time of writing) do not allow keyswitching between long and short notes. Moreover, there are no woodwind or brass short-note keyswitches. This has provoked wailing and gnashing of teeth among users, but help is at hand — Nick Phoenix is creating a more versatile set of keyswitches for the library which should be available in an update by the time you read this.
The Pro XP package comes in the same formats as the original library: the full 18-DVD Platinum Edition provides all three miking positions and 24-bit samples, while for the financially less well endowed, there are 16-bit, stereo-only Gold and Silver editions, the latter containing a reduced instrumentation and fewer samples per instrument (rumours that East West are planning a mono, eight-bit Tin Edition for skint musicians have been hotly denied). A version of East West's Steinway B grand piano is included in the Pro XP Platinum and Gold editions. For a complete breakdown of the three edition's contents, see www.soundsonline.com/EWQLSO_Comparison.pdf.
The 213-page operation manual included with the Pro XP Edition is a distinct improvement on the original. Crammed with useful tips (including sections on mixing in surround sound) and a detailed list of instruments, articulations and keyswitch layouts, its clear-minded, positive writing style helps throw light on the complexities of making music with such a big library. It's also compact enough to read in a dentist's waiting room — Horse & Hound magazine had better look over its shoulder.
more info: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun06/articles/ewsymphonicupdate.htm
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