EmberTone captured the essence and charm of this poetic instrument and have lovingly wrapped it for us as a Kontakt sample-set. This blessed little gift may be had for only a wee bit of coin from a trader’s sporran. Tis no more than $20 middle earth dollars.
I will be reviewing three of Embertone’s dandy little sample-sets; Shire Whistle, Sensual Sax and Chapman Trumpet. Today’s review is specific to “Shire Whistle”. Each of these sample-sets produce fine quality sounds, but there is a small blurb of less favorable news that I would like to get out-of-the-way, right away. These Kontakt collections are fairly small by modern sample library standards, this being directly related to the fact that each of them only contains a couple (maybe three) velocity layers. The Round Robin variations are nice, but the lack of velocity layers does pose a bit of a challenge if you would like to take one of these instruments into the foreground of a mix.
Of the three Embertone sample-sets that I own, I honestly consider the sample-set at hand, “Shire Whistle”, to be the one most capable of holding a 1st chair position. The others sound wonderful, but are not as apt to be heard center-stage. Judicious application of a midi-controlled expression pedal does contribute a better range of control and lessens the negative impact of limited sample velocities.
Upon receipt of purchase, the fortunate owner receives an email from Embertone containing a direct download link to the sample set. The single, downloadable *RAR archive takes quick flight from the Embertone server due to its relatively small size of 290 MB. The installation process is a simple matter of manually extracting the archive into your Kontakt instruments folder; wherever that is on your computer’s hard drive. As with any kontakt sample-set, to be played without interruption, a full, licensed version of Native Instruments Kontakt is required. The free Kontakt player will time out after 15 minutes (Kontakt 5).
I appreciate the pleasant, easy-to-understand interface provided with “Shire Whistle”. The hue of the interface is a soft, pleasant blend of sandalwood, willow and meadow green. There are understated, subtle shadows and lighting effects applied which encourage a peaceful, restful state-of-mind. Three subdued buttons allow the player to switch between, Legato, Staccato, and Polyphonic Sustained modes of operation. These modes are all keyswitchable as well.
On the right-hand side of the GUI, there are an evenly spaced group of small buttons – RR, Stage, Ornaments Major and Ornaments Minor. These allow the user to enable Round Robin variations, convolution reverb and trill notes in either minor or major key steps. The configure button opens the “hidden” configuration panel. Here, the user can assign the midi Control Changes for Dynamics, and Vibrato. By default these are set to the standard values: CC11 (Expression) and CC1 (Mod Wheel) respectively.
An authentic, two octave range of playable notes is faithfully reproduced in this sample-set so thankfully, it is not likely that anyone will try to use “Shire Whistle” for anything other than an Irish whistle is intended; a melodic instrument. The notes span “D5” through “D7”. Especially in the 2nd octave, the notes can begin to sound shrill so adjusting dynamics with an expression pedal would be a wise practice; after all, our eardrums have to last us a lifetime. *Wink.
The vibrato responds very smoothly and it’s evident that Embertone put deliberate effort into assuring that the end-user experience would be as realistic as possible in this regard. The staccato samples are louder than their legato brethren so I encourage a user to “keep an ear” on the dynamics with an expression pedal while playing.
The three keyswitches (Legato, Staccato, and PolySus) are easy to switch between during performance. The keyswitches are positioned in the middle of a typical keyboard at “C4”, “C#4” and “D4”. The user has four Kontakt instrument patches to choose from: Braveheart Vibrato, Finger Vibrato, Normal and Slow Vibrato. Suffice it to say that each of the instrument patches are well represented by their names. The “Finger Vibrato” patch produces a specific style of vibrato achieved by repeatedly fingering a note.
One other "niggle" that I have with the Embertone sample-sets is the obvious hesitation which is observed between some notes while playing in Legato. This becomes especially pronounced when playing faster passages. Any "real" Celtic musician requires very fast response, since many tunes (especially Irish) require repetitive 32nd and even 64th note trills. You'll notice that the audio demos on the Embertone web site are all slow pieces of music. An Irish whistle is not only an expressive, "wispy" sounding instrument for lullabies, it is also a very lively instrument that is meant to be played as fast as the "mary tales of spring". The hesitation is not as noticeable while playing in Staccato or Poly modes.
This lovely little whistle is a real dandy. ShireWhistle is not just a dabble of ‘wannabe’ traditional folk instrument sound; rather, it is an especially authentic-sounding sample-set. As a real, honest-to-goodness Atlantic Canadian of Scottish ancestry, I know a few things about authentic Celtic instruments. I was 14 years old when I started playing at country dances and community events with my father. Much of the music played on these occasions was traditional Scottish and Irish songs, jigs, reels, and strathspeys.
The user need not worry about holding sustained notes. It seems that Embertone have implemented a seamless, transparent looping mechanism. Try as I might, I could not readily discern any obvious loop/split points regardless of how long I kept a key depressed. Good job - no, GREAT job, Embertone!
I do not listen to these samples with “average”, inexperienced ears. Rather, I’m listening as one who ‘grew up on’ Celtic music and the sounds of the instruments it is traditionally played on. The instruments typically used to play Celtic music in the Atlantic region of Canada are fiddle, button accordion, tin whistle (Irish whistle), bag pipes, acoustic guitar and upright (grand) piano. It is this reviewer’s opinion that Embertone have crafted the MOST authentic-sounding sample-set available of an Irish Whistle.
As far as Kontakt instruments go, this little gaffer is a sprightly Shireling that will bear ye no heavy burden, my liege.
I cast a strong vote of approval and appreciation for Embertone and their wares. It’s a wonderful blessing, Mr. Frodo, that these unusual and niche’-specific instruments are available in excellent quality for such affordable prices. No, they don’t feature five or six velocity layers, and there are some tiny niggles that I would like to see smoothened, but generally speaking, the Embertone offerings are a lovely lot; absolutely lovely.
Check out my Show n Tell Video
- Finely detailed & authentic sound.
- Simple, easy-to-use.
- Peaceful and pleasant-looking Kontakt GUI.
- Authentic ornamental note & air samples.
- Four specialized instrument (*.nki) patches.
- Clear, well-written user’s manual available in PDF.
- Friendly, proactive product support.
- Light CPU and memory consumption.
- Very affordable
- Not really a “con”, but one does need to keep “an ear out” for shrill notes in the
instrument’s uppermost range. Best results are experienced while using an
- Obvious hesitation between some notes. This can negatively affect fast musical passages.
For this and other Embertone tasties, visit the developer's web site.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
Intellectual Copyright - 2013 - All rights Reserved. This review may not be copied or reproduced in whole, nor in part, without express written permission from the author.
Listen to Brother Charles' music here: Charles Trax