Ample Sound Acoustic Series Review

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Ample Sound’s product lineup includes three virtual acoustic guitars and one acoustic bass guitar. Ample Guitar L II samples an Alhambra Luthier classical guitar, Ample Guitar M II features a Martin D-41, Ample Guitar T II is a Taylor 714, and Ample Bass Acoustic II samples a Guild B-54 CE.

All of those are seriously high-end instruments. Ample Sound also offers the free Ample Guitar M Lite II, which doesn’t include as many articulations but still weighs in at over 800 MB of data, compared to the average of 5 GB in the commercial releases. All instruments are available as 32-bit and 64-bit plugins for PC and Mac systems, and also can be used as a standalone application. AGL2 costs $179, AGT2 is priced at $169 with an optional extension available for $69, the AGM2 is the same but currently has intro pricing of $149 and $49, and ABA2 is $119.

The Sound

The guitars represent the most classic archetypes of the acoustic world: the traditional Spanish-style classical, the 1930s style American dreadnought, and the smaller, more modern American steel-string. If you hired a session guitarists who brought these three instruments to the studio, they could take care of just about any acoustic job, except for those which need a 12-string.

AGL2 is a classical guitar, but it’s not sampled like a classical guitar played by a classical guitarist in a concert hall. It’s very much a pop/rock studio session sound, and includes samples both plucked with the fingers and with a pick. The only thing less classical than playing a guitar with a pick would be fingerboard position markers, and indeed, the GUI even has faint dots on the fingerboard. Sonically, the instrument has a great balance of warmth and clarity, and even jazz chords with plenty of dissonance sound pleasant. The picked bank is much brighter and more percussive, great for cutting through thicker mixes or for dance-oriented genres such as samba. Both include sustained notes with four velocity layers, plus very hard snap notes at 127 velocity, hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides for different types of legato, harmonics, and muted notes.

AGM2 is a modern Martin, a direct descendant of possibly the most successful acoustic guitar design ever. The basic instrument has two sound banks: strum (played with a pick) and fingered. Large-bodied Martins are not commonly used to play fingerstyle, mostly because they are much louder when played with a pick, but that doesn’t really matter when recordings samples – here the fingered bank is as loud as the strum one, though less bright and penetrating. There is also a freshly released extension pick bank. The difference between the strum bank (also played with a pick) and the pick is that the strum is recorded using more of a rhythm guitar technique, and is brighter and noisier. The pick extension is recorded using the same guitar, but using a single-note melody or lead technique which sounds warmer and cleaner. So, while at first it seems like two slightly different pick banks, it actually makes a lot of sense – not the first time I thought that something in Ample Sound’s instruments seems weird in theory, but makes a lot more sense once you’ve used it. The pick extension does the best job of capturing the big, powerful “Martin sound”. The articulations are the same as the AGL2, with the addition of a slide articulation – makes sense.

AGT2 is a Taylor 714, with the “4” designating Taylor’s grand auditorium body size – their most popular size, and in spite of the name one of the smaller. It is the brightest of the three guitars by far, but again well balanced and not harsh. The basic instrument includes strum and pick banks, and a fingered extension is available which seems more lightly plucked than the fingered bank on the Martin. This guitar very much has a typical modern singer-songwriter or pop acoustic sound. If you are a producer who’s not too familiar with the world of guitars, think of the Martin as the Steinway Model D of guitars: a big classic with a big, warm and majestic sound. The Taylor is sort of the Yamaha C-7 grand piano: a more modern, brighter-sounding classic. It’s not a perfect analogy, but there are definite parallels. The Martin is generally great for cases where the guitar is the main or only instrument because it has a really full sound (especially the pick extension), and the Taylor fits well into dense mixes with a lot of instruments. However, the Martin is not difficult to fit into a very dense mix with EQ or even just a highpass filter, and the Taylor sounds great alone, so it really comes down to preference.

ABA2 is a more unusual beast – an acoustic bass guitar. Now, this is not a terribly common instrument in the real world. One big reason why acoustic bass guitars haven’t become very popular is the limitations of physics – they aren’t very large for the frequencies they are expected to produce, and as a consequence even the largest ones aren’t very loud acoustically. (Even the double bass is, in theory, considerably smaller than it should be.) So, it’s more useful as an electric instrument which sounds and looks like an acoustic guitar. Though somehow even at “unplugged” concerts it’s become culturally acceptable for the bassist to play an electric bass guitar, as long as it doesn’t look too wild and he plays it sitting down – funny when you think about it. I suspect some music anthropologist somewhere has written a PhD thesis about that rule.

Back to the subject, however, this bass definitely has a bright and zingy sound, covering a lot of the sonic spectrum. With EQ and compression, it warms up nicely. It’s not a great bass for driving dance-oriented tracks with a massive bottom end, but it does sound good and coherent with acoustic guitars, and its brightness makes it a good upper layer for adding some organic brightness to synthesized bass or even double bass tracks. All notes were recorded with the fingers, and the articulations are sustain, hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides, harmonics, muted notes and a very bright and present slap.

The Engine

Ample Sound instruments use their own engine, which is very guitar-oriented as I’ve seen in their more metal instruments (linked below). With acoustics, this becomes even more apparent and useful.

One really nice aspect that’s not guitar-related is that all instruments are updated to use the same engine and same features. All three guitars even have the same range and keyswitches, and the bass keyswitches are as close to the same as possible. Too often, a developer will sample some very appealing and useful instruments first, then sample more niche instruments and add new features and more detail to them, which then means the instrument you’d like to use isn’t as detailed and versatile as something that got released later because it was less useful to begin with. All these instruments, however, were updated to use the same engine in March 2016. When Ample develop improvements, all their instruments get those same updates. You can start a project with one guitar, then easily decide to switch to another one at a later stage. Even switching from one of the steel-strings to the AGL2 only means a different automatic vibrato range and losing the slide articulation.

You get all the features you’d expect in a good sampled guitar these days: round robins, velocity layers, configurable performance noises (three types in this case, each with its own volume control), automatic or manual string and position selection, automatic or manual legato, and disk streaming of samples. There are plenty of uncommon extra features, too. Some of these I’ve encountered elsewhere, like the “keyboard mode” which allows playing more than one note on the same string at the same time, or the choice of various vibrato types (two manual and one very guitaristic auto vibrato). Something much less common is the ability to tune any of the strings down by a half step or full step. This allows not only detuning the whole guitar, but also various open and folk tunings. The “open string first” option makes using high-position notes simultaneously with open strings possible, which is not only a very guitarist thing to do, it also goes really well with the ability to change the tuning. Finally, for very detailed sequencing of guitar parts and complete control of fingerings etc, there are two options – the ability to put each string on a separate MIDI channel, and the ability to import Guitar Pro files and play those using the tab player feature.

All the guitars are mic’d in stereo with two different stereo and two mono modes, and individual microphone level controls which can be used to control the amount of room sound. Just the front mic is very close and dry, which is a good option to have. ABA2 includes an additional DI signal from its undersaddle pickup, which can be blended to taste with the microphones and provides even more presence and clarity. It also includes extra detuned notes on the low E string, all the way down to B, giving you the range of a 5-string bass – not an actual fifth string, only some extension samples at the bottom.

The guitars have a larger number of extra features which the bass does not. One of the extra features is a set of simple effects (compressor, overdrive, EQ, chorus, phaser, delay, reverb and wah) which are useful either for tweaking the sound or for turning it into an echoing ambient texture. The other additional feature is a strumming engine. This can be used in one of two modes – chord selection using keyswitches and a configurable list of chords, and chord detection from MIDI notes. Either way, the current chord can then be strummed either using MIDI notes (with up/down variations, various numbers of strings, and also muted strums) or by sequencing selectable strumming patterns. Strumming speed and how long the notes are allowed to ring are also controllable (and can be automated, which is really useful). There’s a large stock of patterns for various genres. As an exotic test of something that the developers probably didn’t have in mind, I tried to set up some very syncopated Turkish pop style strums. It proved very easy – high strumming speed, low resonance, high velocity notes to trigger the strums, and a mixture of regular and muted strums took care of it in a few minutes. All that was missing was a snare in unison with the bigger strums. Strums can of course be programmed manually one note at a time without using the strumming engine, but it sure makes things faster and easier, and makes it possible to get a strum sound live using a MIDI keyboard.

The Verdict

The three virtual acoustic guitars from Ample Sound are a great way to fulfill your acoustic guitar needs, especially if you really want to think like a guitarist while arranging and playing the parts. The acoustic bass is, like acoustic bass guitars in the real world, more of a niche instrument, but has the same detail, realism and quality as the rest.

If you can only afford one, the answer to which one is the best is: “It depends”. If you produce music which requires a nylon-string guitar, such as more traditional Latin styles, the answer is obviously AGL2. If you want a steel string, the choice between the AGM2 and AGT2 is not obvious – both are equal in detail, quality and functionality, and it comes down to which tone you personally prefer. I’d go with AGT2, but that’s me.

More info: Ample Sound (official website)

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Ample Sound Acoustic Series Review

88%
88%
Awesome

The three virtual acoustic guitars from Ample Sound are a great way to fulfill your acoustic guitar needs, especially if you really want to think like a guitarist while arranging and playing the parts. The acoustic bass is, like acoustic bass guitars in the real world, more of a niche instrument, but has the same detail, realism and quality as the rest.

  • Features
    9
  • Workflow
    8
  • Performance
    10
  • Design
    8
  • Sound
    9
  • Pricing
    9
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About The Author

D Smolken is a musician, artist and a sampling expert. He creates freely downloadable SFZ libraries available on his website Karoryfer Samples.

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