What Are Sample Packs?
To new comers or even to synth heads who haven't used a sample in their life the idea of Sample Packs might be confusing.
To make matters worse there's a plethora of good sample packs and not so good sample packs and everything in between.
We thought we'd detangle some of the jargon and give both a quick nutshell summary as well as break down the component parts of a sample pack to help you understand what a sample pack is, what a sample pack can do and what makes a good sound pack. So .. what are sample packs?
In their simplest form Sample packs are collections of individual sounds (samples) that are intended for producers to use to create music.
In a nutshell: These individual sounds can made to loop continuously without hearing a break in the audio, such as a music loop, samples can also be one-shot samples which are intended to be played or triggered as and when you want to hear the sound, such as an Cymbal Crash or FX Explosion type sound.
Sample packs usually come as a themed package or genre specific.
A themed sample pack could be something like 100 kick drums which could be used across a range of genres and contains nothing but kick drum samples.
A genre targeted pack could include lots of different samples such as bass loop samples, kick drum samples, fx samples all packaged together and produced specifically to cater for a certain genre.
This doesn't mean they have to be used for that genre - music is all about doing the un-expected and breaking the rules but it does mean that anyone seeking a sample pack to supplement or play a part in a particular style they want to produce the musician will likely have much more success in finding relevant content by picking a genre specific sample pack for their styles.
For example can you Imagine trying to fit 101 trumpet samples you just purchased into a trance anthem banger? You wouldn't really be using relevant content to your style thus it wouldn't be a very good investment.
Sample Pack Size
Sample packs come in various sizes. And like many things in life size is no guarantee of quality..
So how many samples are in a pack depends on the pack, the quality the provider and the intent of the pack, it can range from 20 to 100 or large packs providing 100's to 1000+ samples.
For example, packs could also range from 50 high quality, highly polished excellent sounding bass one shot samples but could only be about 100mb in total pack size.
On the other end of the spectrum you could have 2GB worth of sample content that amounts to someone walking round with a noisy smart phone recorder collecting random noise.
Content Quality or Sample Quantity?
Like above, quantity is not an indicator of quality, instead, listen to the audio demos of what you're getting, look at the producer/seller/prodiver who's offering the sounds and study the description of content.
Good samplists and producers will be proud to talk about the methods and hardware used which should give you a better idea of the level of quality you're getting.
It is reasonable to expect one theme packs (such as 100 Techno Kick Samples) to be relatively small in total size compared to say a full size sample pack which would include samples ranging from melodies, bass, drum loops and more.
What About Audio Quality?
The standard is 44Khz / 24 Bit - this is what most commercial packs will be recorded at and is considered good enough for broadcast quality.
You may find some packs at 48khz - which may appeal to any producers working in audio for TV, Cinema and Film but for most musicians the additional time and challenge with downsampling and dithering at final export offset any perceived gain you'd get from the minor sample rate increase.
Almost all sample packs will come in the industry standard WAV format. You may however also find additional formats of AIFF, ACIDized WAV, REX amongst others.
Let's give a brief outline of each here.
- WAV is the leading format and is readable by almost every commercial and freeware audio editing application available today. Likewise it's readable / playable by almost every hardware sampler available.
- AIFF - Apples own format, much like wave but retains some meta information.
- ACIDized WAV - so called because it was once the format standard of Sonyusics ACID Pro audio software can be viewed as an enhanced WAV format that includes meta information within the wav for things like time signature, tempo and key which can help with both cataloguing and dropping into existing productions
- REX is a property format used by Propellerheads Recycle that includes specific requirements on zero crossing (to ensure it loops without artefacts) and the later REX2 format utilises enhanced compression bringing total file size down by around 60%
We recommend sticking to WAV or AIFF if producing on Mac, PC or if using a hardware samplers like Akai MPC, Force or Elektron Octatracks.
Sample Pack Content Explained
As mentioned earlier, one-shots are sounds intended to be trigger or played on demand when ever you want to hear that sound.
The most common examples of one-shot samples are drums, kicks, hats, crashes, claps, snares and sometimes one shot tonal sounds such as a synth key press in D#.
Loops are samples that are intended to be triggered or played in successional repeat, they are samples that have had loop points set specifically so when played repeatedly in succession you should hear no audible silence or break in the sound. Good examples would be a bass-line loop or atmosphere backing loop.
These are kits that are made up of individual layers, each layer usually being a sample loop and usually of the core parts of a style or tune. They are usually intended to provide quick results that represent a very solid building block of the main song.
For example construction kits may consist of aa kick drum loop, bass drum loop, a couple melody loops, and some percussion loops.
Good sample packs will combine a mixture of One-shots, Loops, and Construction Kits. These enable to most freedom to both product and create your own content.
Be wary of sample packs that only provide nothing but song construction kits - whilst they may seem like it'll get you ahead faster, often you'll be limited to the melodies included in the kit, with every other layer being in the same key and little scope to gravitate away from that. Construction kits are ideal for quick ideas but a good full sample pack should have a mixture of all elements.
Should I use sample packs?
Yes, but choose correctly.
For many many producers they form the backbone of their productions.
Some musicians are synth purists and like to synthesize everything from scratch, others on the other hand only work with samples.
Some like to blend both sources or sample their own content to use, but when chosen correctly Sample Packs provide an excellent way to both inspire creativity, jumpstart production ideas and provide some seriously good content of which you're able to manipulate into whatever you want to fit your style.
Where to find good sample packs?
A question we see and get asked a lot is where can I get good sample packs?
If you're looking for good commercial packs then we'd recommend Audio Tent, Wave Alchemy, Sample Magic (though they've now gone full Splice so no longer offer individual packs for sale) and our own SOUND7 packs.
Hopefully this unravels some of the common questions and terminology of sample packs.
The important take away summary is
- 44khz/24bit is the format you should be aiming for
- Quantity doesn't trump quality
- And know what you want, full construction kits or the base parts to make your own or a combo.
#samplepacks #wav #freesamples