SWAM Solo Brass (Review)

Watch my Review and Demo of SWAM Solo Brass by Audio Modeling. In short, I am a huge fan of modeled instruments due to their playability and expressiveness.

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Nice! Really liking the configurability here. How do you feel these compare (if you have/had them) to the previous version, SampleModeling Brass, and Infinite Brass?

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I actually did some comparisons between different brass libraries I own. Sample Modeling Brass was great when it came out. But it’s bone dry, and very tricky to mix. And frankly, SWAM Solo Brass is higher quality to my ears.

Infinite Brass gives you more of a “cinematic” sound, which takes me to the biggest draw back of SWAM Solo Brass. Like all 100% modeled instruments, they are very dry and upfront, and even with added early reflections and internal reverb + extra hall reverb as insert effect…somehow they are much harder to get to that orchestral setting sound.

The main advantage of SWAM Solo Brass, even vs Infinite Brass, is the extreme agility. I mean, it can even handle fast runs and passages with clarity.

However, let’s take a library like Forzo or CineBrass…even though they are sample libraries with key switches to change articulations (which I personally hate as everyone should know by now)…the main advantage is the excellent tone of the instruments themselves, and more importantly the room tone.

This “tone” aspect is still the main drawback of modeled instruments. I hope they add some kind of convolution “placement” effect in these instruments in the future to get rid of that “dry + wet” effect you get when you simply add on an extra external orchestral reverb.

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Tech question: Do the SWAM brass instruments assign the mute wah to a separate MIDI CC?

The reason I ask is, SampleModeling Brass for some reason that’s beyond me, instead uses a keyswitch to change into “mute wah mode,” where the Dynamics CC controls the wah - so you lose the dynamics control. I suppose there is a tiny bit of logic in this from a live playing point of view, but with a proper controller setup, it’s unnecessary, and it limits expression while using mutes. Doesn’t seem to be a way around that, and the scripts are locked down, so I can’t (trivially or legally) hack it either.

Since the wind controller and breath controller modes remap Dynamics to CC2 (among other things), I figured I’d try that - but that just reassigns wah control to CC2 as well, so, nope. :confused:

Just checked, yes you can assign a fader (CC) to go from no mute at 0, to hand mute at top values. And the other mutes seem to be equally distributed within the range as far as I can tell. It was kind of “hidden” since you need to go into complete list of automation parameters first. And then click on “mute control”.

I was a bit amazed to see lots of really cool “performance controls” in here that I have not tried yet. Such as “doit” and “fall down”! :smiley:

Btw, a really cool thing I just discovered is that for each parameter you assign, you can open up an “advanced mapping mode” that allows you to customise the CC-input with curves, min/max levels etc. Really cool for better control! :slight_smile:

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I don’t remember if I mentioned it in my review, but there is also a knob called “mute control” that pulls/pushes the mute position away or closer to the horn.

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In fact, I think you have run out of excuses NOT to get this brass bundle lol :stuck_out_tongue:

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Awesome! Thanks. Looks like SWAM is the obvious choice for intricate solo parts - and I’ll definitely be grabbing it one of these days either way! (Like, tonight, maybe.) :smiley:

Really liking the out-of-the-box sound of the SM Brass, though, but little details like this might hold it back in some situations… I still think it’s great to have a bunch of options for building different characters, and getting a “wider spread” in tone when building ensembles, without having to resort to traditional samples. (Which is of course also an option in many cases, but if you’re doing jazz, aleatoric effects and whatnot, the samples will have trouble keeping up…)

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If you get it, please let me know the your setup to get nice “staged” room tone. :slight_smile:

Also, I wonder how it would sound for layering? I mean, using SWAM like a principal player together with an ensemble? :smiley:

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Will do! Hints for now:

For Infinite, I’ve been using the Studio responses with a dry mix, to basically just get the room placement, and then feeding that into a bunch of Spaces II instances (instrument/area specific IRs of the same hall) + TC VSS3 as “tail enhancer”, and some wild, non-linear Pro-R magic to spice up the brass when it goes loud.

Haven’t really tried it with the SM Brass yet, but it has this virtual sound stage thing that sounds like it could cover that room placement bit. Not sure what SWAM has there (I’ve only briefly looked at the strings), but if all else fails (or as a unified solution for all instruments), I suspect VirtualSoundStage could handle this instead. (I’m not massively impressed with the actual reverb of it, so I’d probably still use my usual Spaces2/VSS3 pair to create the space and tail.)

As for first chairs and the like, I’m probably going to use SWAM Strings for the first two desks or so, and build up to a more traditional symphonic section size with Spitfire Chamber Strings, or maybe some 8Dio strings or something. Adding sampled first chairs tends to work really well, and I’m hoping that modelled instruments can offer the same sort of added detail, but with more control - especially if it’s actually 2-6 modeled instruments per section, rather than just first chairs.

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I’m going to do some experimentation of layering myself, will post a video if I come up with something I like. :slight_smile:

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Grabbed the brass bundle! There will be plenty of jazz next month, but first I think I’ll have a go at getting theses to blend in with the Infinite Brass sections.

Oh, somehow, I got the bundle for about $120 less than I expected, which is nice… :open_mouth: I suppose they automated the discounts or something (I have all the strings already), given that the old bundle upgrade info page seems to have vanished.

Anyway, the woodwinds will have to wait for the next version or something. I’m really impressed the Infinite Woodwinds 2.0 so far anyway, including the saxophones, so I’m going to see how much jazz I can squeeze out of those for now.

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Quick update: This is something else entirely! :open_mouth:

Playing the SWAM trumpet in breath controller mode (keys only select pitch) with the BBC2, and tilt wired to pitch bend is like… Well, I don’t play winds (yet), but relating it to violin and cello, this is like suddenly playing a real instrument. Vibrato, subtle bends and intonation tweaks, tremolo, staccato/slurs via tonguing/keys and all that (even with my very limited experience) feels magically natural, and the ability to express is not far from just singing the notes.

I mean, there’s nothing like the tactile feel and response of real instruments - but this is getting pretty damn close once you start playing.

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I emailed audiomodeling asking about their other bundles, they said they will finish the transition of the woodwinds and strings into this new ‘engine/interface’ in about 6-12 months.

You already know that I feel exactly the same. The feeling of having the ability to ‘perform’ an instrument, even if it’s software, is truly liberating and wonderful! :slight_smile:

Can you go over your exact BBC2 mappings to SWAM please? I want to find an optimal mapping for performance control. Even though I’m sure we will all have different favorite settings.

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For this experiment, I only used Breath and Tilt, restricting the pitch bend range, as the SWAM default is +/-1 octave. (Even this restricted range reaches well into shake territory!)´

I’m going to experiment more with using the BBC2 and Leap Motion together. The Leap Motion is great for controlling multiple parameters simultaneously, with expression and some natural human “drift,” and works well for bends and slides, but it’s just not the right tool for quick dynamics and pitch articulations. The BBC2 is much better for that, and even covers tongued attacks and the like, and tilt works for subtle intonation tweaks, and “vibrato offset.” (Typically, you want a vibrato to go more below than above pitch, and a classical violin vibrato is all below pitch, for example.) For actual pitch bends, slides etc, I think the best option for pitch would be to merge the streams so that the values from both controllers are summed.

Further note on using pitch bend for vibrato: Vibrato is usually a combination of vibrato and tremolo, and often also modulates the timbre as well. I suppose you could map pitch bend to multiple targets, but I don’t think that’s optimal for great expression, as it eliminates the ability to “color” the vibrato. Also, the different “variables” of a real vibrato are not necessarily in perfect sync, or following the same waveform, as they’re often created by more or less independent mechanisms. The builtin vibrato of the SWAM Trumpet (and probably the others) is doing the vib+tremolo thing already, and it’s possible to get a similar - though much more expressive - effect by adding breath tremolo to the head shake vibrato.

Oh, and on the mixing side, someone pointed me to this plugin, which focuses entirely on the spatial positioning bit. (VirtualSoundStage isn’t really meant for doing only that, I’m not liking the aggressive frequency response side effects from dearVR etc, so those are not optimal for use with other reverbs.)
https://www.2caudio.com/products/precedence

Edit: Wow, these guys have some smooth reverbs and stuff as well, and there’s some inter-plugin integration with Precedence as well. Will research…

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Ah thanks for the insights. Why did you compress the breath range like that btw?

So do you mean that using pitch bend it’s better to go down to normal for vibrato? (as you mention vibrato is below then above in offset). I mean, on a guitar when you do a vibrato you literally add tension to the string by bending it quickly with back and forth motion, which if my physics knowledge is not mistaken, will go up in pitch. Thus making the vibrato on a guitar always go from normal note to higher pitch.

Are you saying that brass and strings prefer vibrato with offset being lower pitch?

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The breath curve is just what I had there from earlier, not necessarily optimal here. Ideally, the controller should be all linear, or at least compensated to feel linear by some definition, but not all VIs have configurable CC curves, and this is one way to hack around that…

Well, vibrato is a stylistic thing, dependent on instrument, genre, mood etc, and also very personal, to the point that you can sometimes identify players by just hearing their vibrato, much like with singers. This is the main reason I don’t want to just leave it to some default LFO!

Indeed, the “classical” guitar vibrato is up-only for technical reasons (unless you compensate by playing a semitone lower), and some singers deliberately do up-only vibrato as well, as a stylistic touch. (To my ear, that sounds like they’re suddenly going sharp when the vibrato kicks in, but it does sound kind of cool when done well… :slight_smile: )

For brass, I’m not quite sure what the norm is, if there even is one, but for violin, cello etc, classical technique very specifically states that vibrato is below the pitch only - and the reason for that is that it simply sounds like your intonation is sharp if you swing above pitch. This effect is emphasized further by an expressive vibrato that also makes the tone softer and/or more diffuse on the “down part” of the vibrato cycle, as that makes the upper pitch even more dominant than it already is naturally. The only exception is really wide romantic style vibrato, but even then, the “above” bit has to be very subtle.

That said, in Chinese bowed strings (and some Chinese players on western instruments), the vibrato tends to be much more symmetrical, and that creates a very distinctive “Asian” sound, even on our western instruments. It’s not strictly wrong, but it sounds completely out of place in most western music, and classical in particular.

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I agree, the expression of a vibrato can differ so much with each player and instrument of course…but on vocals there is as you say even more stuff going on. For a vibrato on rock the singers tend to add a certain “dirt/growl” to the sound. Also the shifting of head/chest voice. I’m sure this is something you will dive deeper into if you keep up with your opera lessons was it? :slight_smile:

There is, as you say, sooooo much more that goes on in a vibrato sustained note, than simply a LFO pitch curve.

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