Avid Pro Tools Instrument Expansion Pack review

£289
Price when reviewed

Avid Pro Tools 9 comes with a reasonable selection of virtual instruments, but the Instrument Expansion Pack puts it in a different league. Each of its five virtual instruments are available individually with prices ranging from £210 to £335 inc VAT. Currently, the Expansion Pack is available for just £186 as a time-limited offer from dv247.

The full installation requires 33GB of disk space and comes on five DVDs, with the activation licence transferred to the same iLok dongle that’s used with Pro Tools 9. This process was fairly convoluted, but it was less fraught than installing Pro Tools itself.

Four of the five plugins are sample-based, but each one’s controls and sample library lend it to different tasks.

Structure

Structure is a general-purpose sampler, and its 17.5GB library covers everything from orchestral, ethnic and pop instruments to choirs, abstract synth sounds and environmental noises. The synthesis controls for transforming these sounds aren’t as sophisticated or accessible as we’d like, but for authentic, superbly produced and ready-made sounds, it’s difficult to fault.

Strike

Structure includes a few drum kits and lets users balance the relative volumes of the various microphones – direct, overhead, room and talkback. The dedicated drum plugin, Strike, offers the same and more. There are 150 meticulously sampled kits, plus off-the-shelf MIDI performances to drop into productions. These have the feel of a real drummer rather than programmed beats, and they’re highly customisable with sliders for intensity, complexity and timing, as well as direct access to the patterns. This is a valuable tool for demos, soundtracks and library music.

Transfuser

Transfuser specialises in sampled loops. The library includes drum loops in various hip hop and dance genres, but many sounded dated to our ears. The hand percussion loops will stay fresher for longer, though. There are lots of pitched instrument loops, too, from sultry double bass riffs to hilarious vocal whoops. Transfuser uses the REX format, with each musical note represented as a separate “slice” for individual manipulation. Additional loops in REX or WAV format can be easily imported too. Transfuser scores full marks for its comprehensive features, but less for accessibility.

Velvet

Velvet emulates Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos. There are only four basic sample sets, but effects, a detuning function and the ability to mix in authentic mechanical clunks make it surprisingly versatile. Once again, quality is top-notch.

Hybrid

Finally, Hybrid lives up to its name, combining analogue emulation with wavetable synthesis to produce a range of abstract tones. The raw sound of its oscillators isn’t quite the most vibrant we’ve ever heard, but there’s plenty to make up for this, with a huge range of modulation and routing options, and the equally vast preset library shows off its talents admirably.

The sound quality and breadth of these instruments is just as high as in Native Instruments Komplete, which is excellent value at around £400. Avid’s bundle doesn’t indulge hard-core synth anoraks quite as much as Komplete does, but it covers more mainstream ground, which makes it a far better choice for most musicians.

Details

Software subcategory Audio production software

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