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.
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.