Category Archives: REVIEWS

Galaxy Vintage D

Galaxy Vintage D

test system: MacPro W3520-12GB RAM-Cubase 5.5.3 (32bit) and 6.5.2 (64bit)-NI Kontakt 5-Avid Mbox3Pro

I guess this review would have been different had I not purchased a NordPiano just a few weeks after I bought this. Ouch.

Ever since I went virtual I have been looking for that perfect piano sound in a VI, and just not finding it. I started with the now-discontinued Garritan Steinway Basic, was disappointed by Goliath’s pianos, found something I liked better in HalionSonic’s Natural Grand, bought into the pre-release hype of Cinesamples’ Piano In Blue, and finally I got Galaxy’s Vintage D.

Some might say I should have just forked out the big bucks for either Synthogy’s Ivory II, EWQL’s Pianos or VSL Imperial but I promised myself I would not spend that kind of dough on a software piano unless I could take it to the stage.

So the Vintage D, then. Nice, I guess, but I have only used it a few times. Like I said, I bought the NordPiano shortly afterwards, and haven’t bothered with any of the virtual pianos since. But I can say this, in the few weeks before the NordPiano, I found out I still like HalionSonic’s Natural Grand better than all the other software pianos.

Again, the Vintage D is not bad, and for $135 it is reasonably competitive, so if you are looking for a software piano in that price bracket, check it out.

As for me, I’ve gone hardware. And I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Update (May 5, 2014):

I’ve tried it some more and I have discovered that I can’t get the velocity response right. Like the PiB, it is either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.

On a different note, you have a bunch of parameters that all change something, but none of them make anything dramatically different, let alone better.

I tried playing a part first on the NordPiano and have the MIDI recording trigger the Vintage D. That doesn’t quite work either.

Hate to say it again, but I suppose it is another case of YouGetWhatYouPayFor. I hope Ivory and/or TrueKeys will work better.

Native Instruments Komplete 8

NI Komplete 8

test system: MacPro W3520, 12GB RAM, OSX 10.6.8, Cubase 5.5.3 (32bit) and 6.5.2 (64-bit), Avid MBox3Pro

I’m not gonna pretend to do a comprehensive review of all that Komplete 8 offers, there is a lot of stuff and I have barely scratched the surface of stuff like Absynth, Massive and Reaktor. I don’t use those all that much, so this review focuses mainly on Kontakt 5, Battery 3, FM8 and Guitar Rig.

I bought Komplete 8 mainly for Kontakt, which costs $379 alone, so it seemed like a good deal to get all the other stuff for just $120 more. And you get a LOT of stuff. Really, really a lot; more than 80GB on my HDD, which is odd as NI’s website claims 110GB, but whatever.

Anyway, the installation did not take as long as I feared so a good four hours later I was in business. Like I said, there is a LOT of stuff to wade through, and even now I haven’t heard and tried all of it. But while you get a lot of stuff, a lot of it is bloat, in my opinion. I bet much of this is to ensure backward-compatibility for longtime users, and they will undoubtedly be happy with that, but as a result a very sizable chunk of the bundle sounds dated and dusty. Again, there’s plenty of good stuff and you need not feel shortchanged because you do get value for money. But I could easily do without nearly half of it and never know the difference.

You need Kontakt as it is the de facto industry standard for third-party libraries, and it is easy to see why. It is tremendously flexible and very reliable. but man I hate the GUI. It is firmly stuck in 1990’s and in desparate need of an overhaul. While it’s a good thing that just about every parameter imaginable can be controlled and adjusted, something as simple as adding multiple outputs becomes a counter-intuitive and convoluted process.

But the new stuff is good. I LOVE the Scarbee Rhodes and Wurlitzer, easily the best of their kind. The acoustic pianos, on the other hand, are mediocre, although the New York Grand is much better than I remember it to be.

There are a few new kits with Battery 3, but -like Kontakt 5- its user interface is an exercise in frustration for new users. In fact, I remember Battery 1 to be a lot more user-friendly than the current version. I’m still trying to figure out how to change a sound’s default playback from one-shot to as-played. Probably a RTFM thing, but for me it’s easier to just open an instance of Steinberg’s simple but excellent GrooveAgentOne and do it there.

One thing I really looked forward to was the FM8, as I have always like the classic Yamaha DX7, but I find myself not using it much. And that goes even more so for the heavier synth stuff, like Absynth, Massive and Reaktor.

I’m sure that Komplete 8 is a synth programmer’s dream, but I’m a preset tweaker who needs quick results before I’m out of the zone, and as such the Komplete 8 bundle doesn’t deliver like I thought it would. There is a plenty of good stuff in there, but not more so than the much cheaper and more contemporary sounding HalionSonic.

That is not to say that Native Instruments dropped the ball here, au contraire, it’s just that Steinberg’s sound has gotten that good. However, NI’s considerable VI experience really shows in terms of efficiency, stability and reliability. Kontakt 5 easily trumps Halionsonic, Spectrasonics’ STEAM and EastWest’s PLAYv3 in this regard.

As for Guitar Rig, it’s got a gazillion good-sounding effects and I would really love to use them more, but the fact that you have to open an instance of guitar rig to get to them is somewhat of a deterrent to me. As a guy who started out on old-skool hardware, it simply does not make sense to me to open a guitar signal chain to compress a snare drum. And again, as good as GR is, it’s not distinctively better than Cubase’s own amp sim.

But with all that said, if you are serious about computer music, you can’t really afford to be without Kontakt 5, and for just $120 more, Komplete 8 is a no-brainer.

Avid MBox 3 Pro

I have had the MBox3Pro for a year now, long enough to share a few of my observations.

First of all, it is very heavy for its size. I kind of like that as it gives the unit a nice, solid feel, but it is something to consider if you plan to move it around on a regular basis. It is portable, but you’re going to feel that weight in your backpack.

Let me relay the negatives first: at first I had trouble with the headphone outs. Half the time they wouldn’t work on startup, requiring a reboot (or two), to activate them. A few times they would produce a loud hissing noise, requiring another restart. Very annoying, although powering off and on again (once or multiple times) would always fix the problem.

This is a known issue, and Avid has been working on a fix.

What’s more, I only got the included direct-monitoring reverb to work once, it has been MIA since. That is actually a good thing because the one time it DID work it sounded awful (and mono).

The good news is that a driver update seems to have fixed the headphone issues, I haven’t had any problems with them since, so fingers crossed. I am a bit mystified as to how this problem was solved, because even after the driver update I continued to experience these problems for a while. These days, however, everything is great. Maybe I’ll get the reverb to work properly (and in stereo) with a future update, too.

On to the positives: it sounds good (disclaimer: I do not have a $10,000 signal chain to validate this statement) and once in operation it just gets out of your way and on with the job. I really like the GUI of the mixer and it is flexible enough for my modest needs at home. You can get separate cue and headphone mixes on all outputs, or use them in parallel.

It is also noticeably more efficient than my Saffire LE. I’m primarily a Cubase/Nuendo user, and on my old iMac I would regularly have to freeze VI’s to keep the system running. With the MB3P the same projects could run without freeze. I have since moved on to a quadcore MacPro and I hardly ever run out of room with the buffer set to 128 samples.

The mic pres do the job well enough, although you’ll never mistake them for Neves. The softlimit function is handy, but it seriously chokes the sound when pushed, so you’d be advised to adjust your gains carefully. There is plenty of gain, btw, for both my mic and keyboards.

The mono button is a real selling point, but I find myself not using it as much as I thought I would, and when I do I find the increase in loudness irritating. This is obviously not a design flaw, but it would be nice to be able to attenuate the summed mono signal to levels more proportionate to its stereo counterpart.

All in all I like the Mbox3Pro, but you’d better make sure it fits your needs. Compared to similarly priced units from the competition, it has limited connectivity and zero expandability. I also dislike the combi breakout cable for SPDIF/wordclockIO/MIDI and the external PSU. Not something to complain about at this pricepoint ($629 +tax, in my case), though.

One last gripe, Avid support requires a support ticket, and one is issued when you register your product online. When I wanted to contact them about the headphone problems I found out my ticket had expired (I think it is like 60 or 90 days after registration) and I should purchase a new one for $40.

Of course, I didn’t. Paying $40 to get someone on the phone because your product has a design flaw? I don’t think so. So even if I’m generally happy and satisfied with my Mbox3Pro, I shan’t be buying from Avid again anytime soon.

Straight Ahead! Jazz Drums

Straight Ahead! Jazz Drums

test system: 2009 Apple MacPro 2.66GHz quad, 12GB RAM, Cubase 6.5.1, Kontakt 5.0.2

This product was given to me by the developer for review.

Jazz drums have always been somewhat slept on in the VI realm. While there are plenty of excellent rock/pop drum libraries to choose from, I am not aware of any dedicated jazz drum libraries, and other than the obligatory “brushes kit” the major VI developers seem to have little interest in this field.

Understandably so, as jazz is a much smaller market to begin with, and the improvisational and interactive nature of the style does not encourage use of preprogrammed drums. Indeed, while I think SAJD is a great library for those who need it, I can’t really think of a scenario that requires it. That said, if you DO need a believable-sounding jazz kit and authentic loops, this is the one to get!

For me, the best thing about SAJD are the loops. I hardly ever use loops as I’m more a play-and-program-it-yourself kind of guy, but these are in a different league. The ride cymbal patterns are better than anything you can play/program on a keyboard, and since there are four different tempo regions to choose from they aren’t time-stretched beyond credibility.

While the idiosyncratic keymapping of individual hits and velocity-switching of loops require some getting used to, it did not take me very long to produce convincing drumtracks, even if the instruction manual was rather uninformative. Straight Ahead says they have updated the manual since, by the way, but I haven’t looked at it.

On to the heart of the matter, playing along with these loops is just plain fun! It’s like playing with a great drummer, and for me it is certainly preferable over the tired Aebershold stuff. Load up the appropiate tempo range, trigger the loops, add some Trillian upright bass and pretty soon I’m jamming.

On the flip side, while I do understand the design choices they had to make, I do not care for the non-standard keymapping. I like to play much of the fills and accents myself, but that is kind of hard because the individual hits are so spread out. Playing a snare/tom/cymbal fill requires you to stretch your fingers over two octaves, and that can be awkward with more complicated stuff.

I’m not exactly a fan of GeneralMIDI, but having at least one GM-compatible kit would greatly simplify adding SAJD to existing projects. Here’s hoping that will be included in a future update.

Another gripe is the differences in volume between some of the invidual hits and loops, which occasionally makes self-played fills disproportionally loud compared to the ride cymbal loops. Carefully adjusting velocities helps somewhat, but reduce them too much and you trigger a different sound. Not saying this can’t be fixed in the mix, but I’d rather be able to sort that out in MIDI. And oh, this may be a matter of taste, but I would have preferred a slightly heavier bassdrum, as it currently sounds much like a floortom.

My last complaint is the lack of brushes. StraightAheadSamples explains that the importance of brushes in jazz requires a dedicated library (one they are working on right now) but their absence in SAJD does limit its usefulness as an all-purpose jazz drums solution.

The sound quality is good, although I initially felt it was too dry. But as it is, the dry sound lends itself extremely well for processing, with a little bit of compression (2 or 3dB) greatly increasing presence and brightness, and your choice of reverb will blend seamlessly with the original sound.

The aforementioned complaints notwithstanding, SAJD is a great little library, and I definitely recommend it. It is a lot of fun to jam with, it inspires and with a bit of programming you can get results nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. It is a solid first product from StraightAhead, and I am looking forward to see what they will do with the brushes.

For more info: http://straightaheadsamples.com/

Cinesamples Piano in Blue

test system: MacPro 2.66GHz (Nehalem), 12GB RAM, Avid Mbox3Pro, Cubase 5.5.3

The story is a captivating one: highly regarded sample-library makers Cinesamples got the opportunity to record a classic Steinway D, just hours before it was decommissioned. It was the piano used on Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue” album and Glenn Gould’s “Goldberg Variations”, and Cinesamples managed to capture its sound and preserve it for posterity in the form of a Kontakt instrument.

I was just about to purchase Galaxy’s Vintage D, but when P.i.B. appeared on the radar I changed my mind last minute and got this instead. Cinesamples enjoys an enviable reputation as purveyors of high-quality sample libraries, so I had no doubt that this would be a fantastic instrument.

As it turns out, it is not. Rarely have my impulse buys turned out to be great investments, and this is no exception. But let’s start with the good stuff, because P.i.B. is not quite the trainwreck, either.

For starters, the sound is pretty good, if vintage vibe is your kind of thing. You can tell this is not a brand-new Japanese grand in an A-list concert hall, and that can be a good thing. PiB sounds intimate and smoky, and I can see how this would work great for film noir stuff.

There is three different mic positions: close, room and surround. Combining the first two options usually results in a rich and full sound. Adding the surround mics adds brightness, but not clarity. I find that all mic positions sound unimpressive in isolation, and some kind of blending is necessary.

I also like the GUI, it is well laid-out and easy to use; not always a given with Kontakt instruments. Changing velocity settings is straightforward and produces audibly different responses, and the included reverb is pretty good, too. However, I do wish devs would offer numerical value input in addition to virtual knob twisting.

Frankly, all the pieces for a great instrument are in place, which begs the question: where does it fall short?

To sum it up: playability. In all fairness, this is a highly subjective thing, and perhaps there are others who feel differently, but from what I have heard I am not alone with this assessment. For one, while the adjustable velocity response is great and effective, I have yet to find a setting that works for me. It is either not dynamic enough or way too much, with notes jumping out randomly.

Again, this may very well be a personal thing, but the inherent lag is not. Upon striking a key, there is a tiny hesitation that makes for a disconnected feel and playing experience. This not much of a problem at lower tempi or when you space out the notes, but for something a little more involved it just falls flat.

And although I mentioned that combining the close and room mics produces a rich and full sound, it also introduces a certain phasiness that I find unpleasant. The close mics in isolation sound bland, and the room mics in isolation reveal a room that really doesn’t sound all that great. You can disguise this with the included reverb, but I don’t really wanna go there.

Now, none of this stuff is beyond remedy. The instrument’s character is charmingly old-skool and it lends itself well for acoustic stuff (think double bass and brushes). If Cinesamples could tidy up the programming to address the lag and the velocity response I would like this a whole lot better. Here is hoping for a software update.

September 20, 2012 update:
v2 came out just last month and it would appear that they have addressed some of the concerns voiced in the review above. I updated yesterday and will report back soon.

Steinberg HalionSonic

Versions tested: 1.0.0 and 1.5.2
DAW: Cubase 5.5.1 and 5.5.3
computer: iMac 2.16 GHz Core2Duo, 3GB RAM
computer 2: MacPro 2.66 GHz Xeon W3520, 12GB RAM

When I first got this I thought it was a dud. But it’s not. It is actually really good. Okay, version 1.0.0 sucked, much too heavy on resources to be practical. But 1.2.x was better and 1.5.2 is just fine, if still somewhat heavier on the system than Kontakt 5 and even PLAY v3.

The list of stuff to like is long. First of all, thank you Steinberg/Yamaha for creating a VI that is not impossibly bloated; 12GB is still a very sizable amount of data, but compared to Goliath’s 40GB or Kontakt’s 50GB its footprint is positively dimunitive.

Another big “like” is the GUI. Anybody familiar with the basic layout of hardware workstation/samplers will have no problem getting used to HalionSonic. Every parameter I like to tweak is easy to find and adjust, and in spite of the multi-timbral layout it is possible to tailor the sound comprehensively before you even need to think about external processing.

The biggest “like”, however, are the sounds. Despite its relatively modest size, HalionSonic really takes the fight to Kontakt 5 and Goliath. Although they all have their strengths, I daresay that HalionSonic is the best all-rounder of the three, even though it is waaay cheaper than the other two!

For starters, it is the only one with decent acoustic piano sounds. No wait, they are more than just decent, they are really, really good! Unfortunately, the strong acoustic pianos are ultimately let down by unconvincing Rhodes sounds, which is weird as even Cubase’s stock EP’s work better for me. The other sounds all range from usable to surprisingly good, but the highlight (other than the acoustic pianos) for me has to be a wide range of fresh-sounding synth patches.

On the downside, while it is really nice of Steinberg to offer the 1.5 content update, it is unusable for me, as the installer will NOT let me install the content anywhere other than the “MacHD” system drive. I have all my sample libraries -including HalionSonic’s original content!- installed on a dedicated drive, but the 1.5 update installer inconveniently ignores this possibility. I upgraded to 1.5.2 and had to pass on the additional content, bummer. I really hope Steinberg is on the ball with this and that they will offer a fix soon. see update below

Finally, for the money it is simply a great deal. Considering that both Kontakt 5 and Goliath are significantly pricier (not to mention obese) I think Steinberg really has a very attractive proposition in HalionSonic. In fact, I like HS so much I am thinking of shelling out another $100 to upgrade to and see what Halion4 is all about. For those looking for a good all-round soundset, I can’t think of a better alternative.

update:
Piko (see comments) from Steinberg HQ sent me an email detailing how the content update CAN be installed on other hdd’s. It is actually very straightforward, and I am positively embarrassed that I did not figure that out myself. BUT: for Steinberg USA support to tell me that it is not possible is simply incompetent! Wake up, guys, learn your product.

GARRITAN STEINWAY BASIC

Versions tested: 1.04
DAW: Cubase 4.5.2 and 5.5.1 and 5.5.3
computer: iMac 2.16 GHz Core2Duo, 3GB RAM
computer 2: MacPro 2.66 GHz Xeon W3520, 12GB RAM

This was an impulse buy. Garritan had just put this up on their site for $99 as a download and it was instant gratification that made me do it. I love being able to purchase and download right away.

Everything was straightforward and painless, from the paypal transaction to the 3+ GB download, from installation to activation (which requires a virtual keycard, a very elegant approach to anti-piracy). The whole process took less than 30 minutes and I was ready to play.

As Garritan states explicitly on their site, this instrument needs a weighted keyboard. With a semi-weighted action there isn’t much there. With my dirt-cheap Yamaha KX-8 controller the piano came to life.

The basic sound is very good, nicely recorded samples, with a warm and velvety character. This is great as most other digital offerings (software and hardware) tend to lean towards the brighter side, something that works well for pop and rock but isn’t always desirable for acoustic-oriented stuff.

A disadvantage is that this instrument sounds gentle and civilized all the time, it refuses to bark and growl when you really hit it fortissimo. But it works well for intimate stuff.

The user adjustability is somewhat limited, there is quite a few parameters but I can’t say they do a lot for the basic sound. The EQ is not bad, but I never use it. I do have the reverb on most of the time, but I usually replace it later on. Then there is the resonance, maybe my ears aren’t great but I don’t really hear it doing much, unless at extreme settings and that isn’t always a good thing.

An important ommission is lack of MIDI channel select, no big deal in a DAW, but it limits standalone functionality for live use.

Nevertheless, at $99 it is grrrrreat value, but Garritan has since raised the price to $149. Still not unreasonable, but no longer an absolute bargain. At $99 it competes directly with Alicia’s Keys and I would recommend it. As it is, I still like and use it a lot, but I’m not sure I’d give in to instant gratification at $149.

update
All Garritan Steinway products have been discontinued. Current owners can download the latest (64-bit compatiable) ARIA player to ensure compatibility with the latest hosts. Sad to see it go. I had been waiting on an upgrade path to the Pro version since 2010, but it never happened.

FOCUSRITE SAFFIRE LE

This is going to be one short review. There really isn’t much too say about the Saffire LE. It does the job it is supposed to do just fine, sounds decent and requires very little attention or care.

Earlier drivers were not as solid as the current one, with occasional glitches, but nowadays it is stable and reliable; the only quirk I encounter every now and then is that it fails to sync up when the computer comes out of sleep mode (or restart) but that does not happen often and dis- and reconnecting the cable takes care of that.

Within Cubase I normally have the buffer on 256 samples as that is the sweet spot for my aging iMac, but I have used the LE at 128 without problems. Sharing the firewire buss with other devices is a mixed bag, it worked fine with an Iomega HDD but with a WD Mybook not so much.

The mic preamps do the job, but no more than that. To me that is the LE’s weakest link, you’ll get the signal but it is a little thin and when you hit the limit things sound nasty. Line levels are slightly low, too. That could be the price you pay for a buss-powered device. Connectivity is good, though, and the software control panel/mixer is easy to understand and adjust.

This box is never going to win any awards, it is unassuming and not anything special. But it does not get in the way of you and the music and facilitates the recording process well enough.

For the money you can’t complain for what you get. Nothing is great, but everything works well. A good first audio IO for people on a budget. Nice.

edit:
As an afterthought: I suspect that this unit is really an M-Audio interface disguised as a Focusrite. when I check the system processes in OSX’ Activity Monitor there is only an M-Audio firmware root process, and I don’t own or have connected any of their stuff.

KRK RP5G2 & RP8G2


I used to own a pair of RP8G2’s a few years ago, and now I have a pair of RP5G2’s as secondary speakers. I like both of them, but there are a number of caveats.

First of all, the RP8G2’s are incredibly bassy, and this is greatly augmented when you place them on resonant surfaces (like a desk). When you have them on proper speaker stands away from the wall, it is not so bad and you could actually mix on them if you take the time to get to know them. But they are still bass-heavy and you have to allow for that when making mix decisions, which is -of course- not ideal. When placed on a desk and/or near a wall, they are only good for non-critical listening. But they are great for parties, as they go loud and sound good for most modern music.

I like the RP5G2’s much better. When used as nearfields they have enough low end for most styles except for really bass-heavy styles like Hiphop/R&B or EDM. They are also not as sensitive to placement as the 8’s. Downside of the smaller woofers is that they start to choke when pushed, they don’t go very loud. But you could get a reasonable mix balance on these, provided you listen at moderate levels and have something else to check the lowest octave or so with.

I would not call either of them neutral sounding. They actually sound a little polished and they are somewhat short on detail. My biggest beef with them (more so with the 8’s than the 5’s) is that they are a little fatiguing, especially over prolonged periods of time and louder levels. The 5’s do not go that loud so this is not as much of a problem with them, but it is definitely a part of the series’ character.

I somehow wonder whether the RP6G2 would be the sweet spot of the series? The 8’s are too bassy, the 5’s are too light and don’t go loud enough…

But with all that said, I think they are as good as it gets at their respective price points. The obvious competitors are the Yamaha HS and M-Audio BX series. Between these series it is really just a matter of taste as they are all competent stuff for the money. I went with the KRK’s because they sound a little more hi-fi. The Yamahas have a more forward “monitor” sound but lack depth. the M-Audio BX8 sounds similar to the KRK RP8G2 whereas the BX5 is -oddly- closer to the Yamaha HS50.

If you are looking for something on a budget, they are all good choices, so check them out (preferably in your own room) and get whatever works best for you. I do recommend to upgrade to better (but pricier) speakers as soon as you can afford it, though. These speakers do the job, but none of them will give you enough detail.

edit (September 24, 2011):
Thanks all for the comments. I kind of want to backtrack on the “fatiguing” statement. It was definitely an issue for me on the 8’s, but I have used the 5’s on an almost daily basis over the last few weeks and it hasn’t been a problem.

EASTWEST QUANTUM LEAP GOLIATH

Versions tested: PLAY 1.2.5 and 2.1.1 and 3.0.21
DAW: Cubase 4.5.2 and 5.5.1 and 5.5.3
computer: iMac 2.16 GHz Core2Duo, 3GB RAM
computer 2: MacPro 2.66 GHz Xeon W3520, 12GB RAM

INSTALLATION
I bought Goliath for $250 (including iLok + shipping) about one year ago when Soundsonline had one of their many 50% off deals. The package arrived promptly and I was brimming with anticipation, thanks to rave reviews and EW’s reputation for great sound.

The install took about two hours (6 DVD’s totalling 40GB) and required registering the iLok etc. For some reason the authorization failed and I was unable to use it. Thankfully, EastWest’s e-mail support swiftly replied, they uploaded the auhorization code to my iLok account and I was good to go. Or so I thought.

I started my DAW (Cubase 4.5.2 at the time) to immerse myself in some serious sound exploration, but when I opened an instance of PLAY (Goliath’s engine) Cubase “unexpectedly quit”. After several unsuccessful attempts I tried PLAY in stand-alone mode but fared no better. I managed to open the application but loading sounds would cause it to crash.

Again, EW support was most helpful. They always replied e-mails within 24 hours and did point me to the solution eventually, which turned out to be an updated version of Yamaha Studio Manager. It required some back-and-forth, reinstalling and updating but the issue was resolved so now I could finally go and get inspired.

SOUND
I have to say that I was not that impressed. Perhaps I expected too much but I found that Goliath is a few miles short of being the all-purpose workhorse it wants to be.

Let’s start with the positives. I like EW’s warm signature sound. The orchestral stuff is definitely a step up from other all-in-ones or hardware workstations, and the included reverb sounds great. The choirs and solo voices are wonderful, too.
Acoustic guitars sound very nice, there is a fairly realistic Lakland bass, decent acoustic drumkits, and some nice pad-like patches. Percussion sounds great too, as do many of the ethnic instruments.

The electronic drumkits are a mixed bag, with some of the sounds really knocking and some others sounding dated.

On to the negatives, with the undisputed #1 being the acoustic pianos. They suck. Really. This bit on the soundsonline site correctly states

“GOLIATH includes the entire 32 Gigabytes of content from Future Music magazine’s VIRTUAL INSTRUMENT OF THE YEAR – COLOSSUS, PLUS an additional 8 Gigabytes of new content from the latest EASTWEST/QUANTUM LEAP collections, including the Sound On Sound magazine 5 STAR awarded EASTWEST/PMI BOSENDORFER 290 PIANO”

which I find misleading as it had me believe that a stripped-down version of their QL Piano was included. Not so.

Perhaps there was a time that the PMI Bosendorfer could be considered great, but it certainly is not now. My hardware keyboards sound better and feel more like instruments, as does the $99 Garritan Steinway Basic.
Likewise, the Rhodes is pathetic. Maybe someone else could find a use for it, but not me, and I have tried. Clavinets fare no better, and Goliath’s only saving grace for keyboardists is the B3, which is pretty good to my ears.

The synthesizer section is mediocre. The aforementioned pad-like patches are fine, but the analog emulations are a waste of space. They could work for some non-critical parts, but PLAY’s inflexible engine and lack of tweakability really kill it as a synth.

PERFORMANCE
I have to say I like the GUI’s looks, but there are some ergonomic flaws. For example, the fact that you can’t input numeric values makes it hard to copy settings.

What’s more, on my machine (an aging 2.16GHz Core2Duo iMac with 2GB RAM, but well above minimum sys reqs) performance was unreliable, and I found that I had to bounce every instance right after creating the part.
Multi-timbrality is a no-go area, which is acknowledged sotto voce by EW as they recommend not to use it and open multiple instances instead.

In both standalone and VST mode I occasionally encounter the following problem: when I load and replace sounds frequently (like when I’m auditioning sounds for a part) some sort of high latency is introduced and it becomes unplayable. Only quitting the instance (or application in standalone) and reopening it resolves this issue.

On the upside, when I upgraded to Cubase 5.5.1 PLAY’s performance improved. It is pretty stable now, and appears to run a little leaner, too. After a few months of hassle-free operation I took the plunge and upgraded to PLAY 2.1.1

Maybe I should not have, because it immediately ‘unexpectedly quit’ Cubase again. It works for the most part, though, and the GUI looks a little better.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I am reasonably content with Goliath because I got a good deal, but I would not recommend it. It is not the allrounder EW claims it is and the PLAY engine hasn’t worked all that great on my machine. There are some sounds that I really like and use frequently, but the rest is just sitting there clogging up the hard drive. Had I paid the full amount for it, I would have felt royally screwed.

To be competitive it should be priced at $150-200, work flawlessly and have a smaller GB footprint. To be fair, other users may not have encountered these problems, but if the reports on the net are anything to go by, mine is not an isolated incident.

EW’s minimum system requirements are a G5 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, Mac OS 10.4 or newer. I find that hard to believe. In my experience, you’d need at least double the RAM, a dedicated harddisk and waaay more CPU power. My computer hits the ceiling when I play 5 simultaneous voices with one of the choir sounds.

All this notwithstanding, Goliath has got me wishing for more of EW’s orchestral and acoustic stuff. A new computer should arrive this summer and if PLAY performs better on it, I might just want to give the Composer’s collection another look.

edit (September 24, 2011):

I installed PLAY 3.0.21 and it really makes a difference. Although my gripes with the UI have not been addressed, it is a major improvement in terms of stability and efficiency.
To give you an idea of the efficiency, it now runs leaner within Cubase 5.5.3 than Steinberg’s own HalionSonic, go figure.

I thought it would be fair to post this in light of the criticisms I have spouted above.