Soundiron Olympus Elements is an epic sampled choir for NI Kontakt and Kontakt Player which aims to provide the most useful choral sounds in a reasonably compact 2.52 GB package.
The library samples a large choir of men and women, for a total of 63 choir members.
What you get is basically eight vowels – or, maybe, seven vowels plus the “mm” consonant. These are available in sustain, staccato, and marcato articulations, with the addition of true sampled legato for “ah” and “oo” up to an octave. There are also whispers, drones, atmospheres and choral effects. Everything is close-miked – that’s close by choir standards, of course, not as dry as a close-miked snare drum. The sampled dynamics range from pp to ff. It might not be all the choir you’d need for film scores or mocking up chorales with all the lyrics, but it seems right for most of those times you’d want a choir in a lot of different contexts, from metal to hip-hop and game soundtracks.
If you are the kind of user for whom this is not enough, Soundiron also has the full product these Elements are selected from – the 44.6 GB Olympus Symphonic Choir which has true legato for all vowels, word-building capability, close and far microphones, plus soloists. And if it instead seems like overkill, there’s the 403 MB Olympus Micro with two vowels in sustain and staccato.
Well, it’s big and epic. Even one of the divisi sections is more than a dozen people, and even at the lowest dynamics, there’s a sense of size. Individual singers are generally not audible as such, except on the highest notes sampled for each section when the strongest singers begin to stick out. Small, intimate choirs sounding like a half dozen of backup singers are not something Olympus is about.
The sound is definitely not traditionally classical – even with a concert hall reverb, the choir sounds more Jim Steinman than J.S. Bach. I’m not sure if the recordings are slightly “hyped” with EQ or compression, but the upper midrange is very strong, especially in the male choirs at high dynamics where it sounds like it might even be saturated. The women sound more natural than the men at high dynamics. There don’t seem to be significant differences like that from vowel to vowel, however – they all seem equally natural and convincing. In general, the Olympus sound is big, bold, and very American. Though the user manual talks about Latin and Slavonic vowels, the recordings were made near San Francisco, and Latin and Slavonic happen to be popular languages for Hollywood scoring purposes. I’d say the overall sound is more rock opera than it is Hollywood, though – there’s a reason why Jim Steinman was the first name to pop into my mind.
The bonus choir effects are your typical stock sounds – shouts, whispers, rises, falls, clusters, etc. These generally don’t appear to have round robins or dynamic layers, so overusing them will sound obviously unnatural, but for using them once or a few times when needed, they work and sound right. The whispers are an especially nice touch.
There are two true legato vowels (using sampled note transitions) and scripted legato with more adjustable parameters for all sustain vowels. The true legato definitely sounds more natural and convincing, and it also has adjustable speed, but the scripted legato is more flexible and convincing enough to work in a mix. There’s also a very convenient “pad” button on the sustain patches, which extends attack and release times, and turns the choir into a deluxe organic version of those classic 90s rompler choir patches.
All the recordings are close-miked but recorded in a large church, so the sound is still relatively wet. There’s also an extensive array of convolution reverbs available from the Kontakt interface for huge epic or cosmic sounds, as well as smaller spaces – there are even bathroom and cargo van impulses. The interface also features a built-in 3-band EQ and a scripted vibrato. I expected an LFO vibrato on choir samples to sound ridiculously artificial and bad, but it actually sounds usable, and only extremely high depth and low speed sounds blatantly artificial.
The most unusual aspect of the engine is that most patches load two blendable voices at once – these can be men or women, tenors or basses, or two different vowels, depending on what’s selected. This helps get a wider variety of textures from the available vowels, allows the gradual evolution of sounds, and also can be used to double the size of the choir. Though no vowel transitions are recorded in this version, they can be faked reasonably well by fading from one to the other. For example, while you can’t make this choir sing “hey” because there are no consonants, it does a pretty convincing “ey”. Because of this blendable voice setup, though, I actually had to look in the manual to see how to control the dynamics, which are controlled by neither velocity nor mod wheel. Each voice has its own separate Swell control, linked to a different MIDI CC. Other than that, though, I haven’t had to look in the manual at all – so, amusingly enough, all the more sophisticated functions turned out to be more intuitive than the basic question of dynamics.
Perhaps because the engine is adapted from much larger and more full-featured choirs, the sheer number of available controls provides the user with the ability to milk these sounds for all they’re worth. For example, while this choir can’t sing any lyrics, it still has a phrase builder which allows sequences of vowels to be created. So, if you want the choir to sing “oo oo oo ah ah”, that’s very simple to do, and there’s room for up to 16 phrases of 16 vowels each, with the ability to set each to marcato or staccato.
The keyswitch ranges are also configurable for each patch, which is a nice touch. Going beyond the bounds of reality, it’s also possible to configure the range of notes for any patch to extend it artificially, though this will, of course, sound unnatural beyond a minor third at most. Finally, there are some special synthetic-sounding patches with great names like “Seizure Whale” or “Mantronix” which use the choir samples as the starting point for heavily processed sounds. There are some quite usable pads and drones here, actually. It’s not hard to guess whose choral pads the “Mangelis” and “Womangelis” instruments are meant to sound like…
The samples are in a few big files, so there are no unlocked WAV files available to load into other samplers or map yourself. Soundiron often provides WAV files with their libraries, but apparently, that’s not possible with Kontakt Player ones such as this one.
Soundiron Olympus Elements is the 80/20 rule come to life in virtual choir form. While very large choirs of men and women may be about 20% of what choirs do, it’s the 20% that a typical producer will need 80% of the time. That’s what this virtual choir delivers in a “just about right” small and affordable package.
More info: Soundiron Olympus Elements ($99)
Soundiron Olympus Elements Review
Soundiron Olympus Elements is the 80/20 rule come to life in virtual choir form. While very large choirs of men and women may be about 20% of what choirs do, it's the 20% that a typical producer will need 80% of the time. That's what this virtual choir delivers in a "just about right" small and affordable package.