Review: Orbit and Eclipse by Wide Blue Sound
Orbit and Eclipse are two interesting atmospheric Kontakt sample libraries by Wide Blue Sound. They say that this 'Planetary Line' of instruments is a new kind of instrument, designed for easily creating stunning synths, pulses, and atmospheric textures - in this post I want to take a look at these instruments and see if they live up to the claim. As per usual we'll go through the specs, give it a listen, and then try to grade the libraries in a way everyone can understand. They're available as a package deal for $298 over at Wide Blue Sound, or separately.
I've also created a video review / tutorial of these libraries as well. In it I go over the individual parameters, and how to sculpt sounds using their amazing engine. I show you exactly how each of the controls work, and how I approach creating some sounds. Hopefully this helps anyone interested in the libraries decide if its for them! Check it out here:
Orbit and Eclipse Details:
Its actually somewhat difficult to find specs for these instruments on the Wide Blue Sound website, so I apologize if i'm rounding a bit. Orbit and Eclipse feature nearly identically interfaces and features, which is good because its a relatively dense and powerful engine they've created for us.
Roughly 600MB and 800MB of samples for Eclipse and Orbit (respectively)
250 Presets for each library
101 sound sources
Three distinct rhythmic engines
Very dense and powerful GUI
Four independent sequencers with 24 modulation destinations
Detailed FX Rack
Integration with the free Skypad app for the (not free) Lemur app (iOS and Android)
These libraries are available as a package deal, but you can also get them separately. Orbit is designed for the rapid creation of cinematic synths and atmospheric textures, while Eclipse focuses on heavier and more aggressive modern synths. They do share the same engine and overlap in their applications, but the raw sound sources of each target their own markets.
Take a listen to this video where I explore the sounds of Orbit:
Take a listen to this video where I explore the sounds of Eclipse:
Who is Orbit and Eclipse made for?
At least to me, Orbit and Eclipse are made for people who work on cinematic music, or music with ambient soundscapes. I'm sure someone could pick up this library and use it for their next EDM tracks, as it is a very powerful engine, but it really shines as a tool to sculpt rich and detailed soundscapes. Need some evolving atmospheric pads or some driving electronic pulses for the background of that sci-fi film your working on? - then these libraries are for you. Whether you're a synth tweaker or a preset lover, these libraries satisfy both audiences. If you want more presets then the Apex and Aeterna expansion packs are available for even more sounds.
The Orbit and Eclipse Engine
The Main Functionality
The layout of both Orbit and Eclipse can look somewhat daunting at first, but its actually very simple. You have controls over 4 sound sources (which can be chosen out of a list of 101) to modify the volume, pan, tuning, and filter parameters. Then the rhythmic mode at the bottom of the screen is used to control the 'orbit', or how the engine cycles through these sound sources over time. The sound sources are diverse, but mostly stay in the atmospheric and synthy vibe.
The engine for both Orbit and Eclipse revolves around (or orbits around) three rhythmic modes. Pulse is for creating modern percussive elements, chop is for crafting and electronic or stuttered sound, and flow is for smooth flowing pad and textured sounds. Each of these rhythmic modes controls how the sound evolves over time by blending and cycling through 4 sound sources. To clarify for you (because it wasn't obvious to me at first) these are really just buzz-words for saw, square, and sine LFO modulators. Selecting each of these rhythmic modes will modify the GUI to display parameters to control each of these LFO's.
The process for using this rhythmic engine is you select what kind of modulation type you want, and then modify each of the 4 sound sources to get the tonality you want. Then you can further sculpt the LFO to control how the engine cycles through each of these sound sources in time. Depending on the sound sources and the LFO parameters you choose will control how rhythmic or evolutionary your sound is. This feature alone can create some stunning evolving pads, or some absolutely bonkers FX.
Orbit and Eclipse both feature 4 independent sequencers that can modulate 24 parameters to truly sculpt an evolutionary soundscape or rhythmic pattern. These sequencers can be used to control parameters like panning, volume, orbit rate, tuning and much more. With up to 64 steps, the ability to save and load presets, and control how the sequencers run you'll never run out of ways to tweak the sound.
Extra Functionality with Skypad
I want to point out that Wide Blue Sound has gone above and beyond with these libraries, and created an iOS / Android app to control them. Skypad runs on Liine's Lemur app, and lets you control the entire engine in a much more convenient way - plus it gives you extra functionality in the form of touch-based interactive controls. In full disclosure I haven't tested out this functionality yet but it looks stunning and is an innovation in the Kontakt sample library market.
The marketing was a little misleading to me, because while the Skypad app is free the Lemur application it runs off of is $25 on both iOS and Android. If you already have Lemur then Skypad is completely free and included with the libraries, but personally I don't seem to have any use for Lemur outside of demo-ing this functionality. Lemur seems to be an app that allows you to create custom interfaces that transmit MIDI over cable or WI-FI to your computer, all from the comfort of your electronic devices. Personally I enjoy my hardware controllers with knobs, but maybe in the future i'll give this a spin.
If any of you are fans of Lemur please convince me of its greatness! Here at Genera Studios we sell Kontakt libraries and it would be interesting to take inspiration from Wide Blue Sounds and make our own Lemur app to control our libraries. Here's a screenshot of the XY pad in Skypad.
Orbit and Eclipse Grading
As per usual i'm going to define some metrics so we can judge these libraries on a platform everyone can understand. Keep in mind that part of this is opinion based where i'll try to explain myself, and part of it is purely based on numbers and features.
Sample quality - My opinion of the raw sample sounds
Functionality - Does the instrument have enough controls, and relevant ones?
GUI Design - Is the GUI easy to navigate?
Cost, Cost / Preset and Cost/GB - Is the price right, and how does it compare to other libraries?
The sounds of Orbit and Eclipse are varied, but all the samples are cleanly captured and edited with no glitches or pops. I personally find a lot of the raw sounds to be a bit too detailed, which can make it hard to use in a composition. However as I stated before this is a library well suited for background effects and ambient soundscapes, so these types of samples work well in those applications. The more 'instrument-like' samples in the libraries are all generally quite good.
Sample Quality: 4/5
One of the best aspects of this library is the focus on modulation. Almost every parameter can be assigned to one of the 4 sequencers, and the main rhythmic engines offer a limitless amount of sound design. The ability to randomize a lot of parameters, save/load sequencer presets, and modulate the modulation sources is a dream come true for sound designers. Wide Blue Sound states that there are 294 million sound permutations in these libraries, and I believe it based on the amount of modulation. Few libraries have this amount of modulation.
The Skypad app is a very cool feature I hope to explore. I hope that other Kontakt developers take note and consider creating their own Lemur apps so that the Kontakt community as a whole can justify purchasing Lemur (or something else similar). The app offers a lot of extra control not possible in the raw library, but they do offer the Skypad app itself free so i'm counting it as a feature that comes with the library.
At first the GUI seems a bit overwhelming but it is in fact very easy to use. Relevant knobs are laid out in a logical manner in the right places, and I never had to consult any manual or tutorial to figure out how to use either Orbit or Eclipse. If you can learn an instrument without consulting the manual, the designer did a great job constructing the layout.
This is where Orbit and Eclipse are going to lose the most points. At first glance the price seemed very high to me based on the small download and number of samples. The incredibly powerful interface gave me some hope again when I started playing but I was disappointed with the lack of variation in the libraries for such a high price point.
If you assume you buy the package deal for $298 for both instruments then Orbit and Eclipse come out to be about $212/GB of samples ($298 for ~1.4GB of samples). However if you look at this instrument another way, since sample size isn't a perfect indicator of volume, then the package comes out to $0.60/Preset. Before anyone complains that this isn't 'that' kind of library since there are millions of combinations of sounds, I hear you. It still does not change the fact that this is an inherently expensive library for the amount of raw sounds you get, especially if you consider that a lot of the sounds end up sounding very similar. Plus each library is more expensive if you buy it on its own.
Don't let this scare you away though. As we covered in the previous scoring metrics this is a library of good samples, with a ton of power in the engine, and great GUI design. This cost metric just means that you're paying a premium for all of that great engine design, for a library that is highly tailored to the task it was designed for.
Total Score: 4/5
While overall Orbit and Eclipse are incredibly powerful libraries with very deep sound sculpting potential, they just aren't set at the right price for most people. I think that Wide Blue Sound realized that they created a gem in the marketplace, something you can't really find elsewhere. So they priced the libraries accordingly knowing that customers who want this style will pay to have it. The most similar libraries I can think of are Phobos and EDNA Earth by Spitfire Audio, and Signal by Output. Personally I prefer each of those other alternatives more than both Orbit and Eclipse because they lean more towards the composition side of sounds than pure sound design, and they have many more applications than Orbit and Eclipse for roughly the same price or cheaper.
In summary, I think the right customer for these libraries will know that they need Orbit or Eclipse over the alternatives. If they cost $100 I would be yelling at you to give Wide Blue Sound your money, and I think they missed an opportunity to get into the hands of every musician instead of only the people who are really into this type of product. A 4/5 star score is still a great library, so I think its worth it for everyone to check out if you're looking for a new library!