VAPOR Review - TraxMusic
ProSamples Vapor Virtual Synth
Vapor is a 2.2 gigabyte sample collection on one DVD. It creates to two large library volumes on your HDD and will only work in the Kompakt instance (or Kontakt 1.5) designed for it. To clarify, if you have another library using a Kompakt license it won't be able to use Vapor. This is acceptable in that this product provides sizeable sample libraries with Kompakt's reasonably powerful synth engine.
This is how most of the East West Platinum libraries of which Vapor is a family member, are designed.
Of Kompakt and Kontakt
Kompakt is a decent synth engine with about as much or more synth power than Sampletank 2, however, Sampletank 2 absolutely humiliates it in the effects department. Most Kompakt effects are very simple with as little as one parameter to work with such as the chorus to four parameters available for delays. Where Kompakt's interface shines is the “hands-on” approach it gives users. It is an inviting front end to a exceptional quality sample engine. Areas Kompakt excels in are visual envelopes that can be controlled using the parameter knobs or by handles at those areas in the graphical display.
As a Kontakt user (Kontakt is a full sampler with many unique features) the amount of synthesis is substantially less capable. There is more of everything in Kontakt and if you plan on purchasing Kompakt based libraries Kontakt may be a smart choice. For example, you can use the Vapor samples in Kontakt 1.5 or above, although you can not edit levels as everything is tied to the two volumes mentioned at the beginning of the article. A few critical extras found in Kontakt include fully programmable effects, enhanced envelopes, modulation routings and even the ability to chop up the sounds like Intakt, Kompakt's cousin and part of the more extensive Kontakt feature set. Also, if you are a Kontakt user you get the parts fully developed in Kontakt's modular style sampling engine. Most practically, you get sixteen rather than eight multitimbral channels.
Getting to Know Vapor
The down side for Kontakt is the complexity you have to deal with and the fairly steep learning curve. Musicians that just want to work and do light programming, do not need the intensity of programming delivered in Kontakt. The $300 cost is worthwhile to people who use samples frequently and want a huge feature set but as mentioned the learning curve is substantial for this complex sampler. While Kontakt is excellent in terms of sound quality there is much to be said for the ease to use, functional and single screen interface Kompakt offers and is freely available with Vapor. It is very light on CPU, using about 10 - 20% CPU with all eight channels used. Based on the test system of:
Athlon 2400XP+ processor
1 gigabyte, Kingston RAM
2x 40 and 160 gigabyte EIDE HD (7200 rpm)
Delta 44 16/24 bit sound card and break out box
midiman midisport 4x4 USB
Sonar Producer 3, Orion Platinum 5.5, FruityLoops Studio XXL 4.57 and Cubase VST 5.1 sequencers.
while not exactly a slow system, it is far from state of the art. Even on slower machines such as the same system but with a XP1700+ and 512 mb ram, the Kompakt engine was frugal with the CPU reaching 30% at it's heaviest. Kompakt worked like a champ in all sequencers.
For a $100 synth with 2.2 gigs of samples you can't expect more than the generous samples and synthesis capabilities that are the components of Vapor.
Practical Use of Vapor
When using presets the first thing one notices is that the sound designers intended for Vapor to be used in Kompakt's MULTI mode. Unlike some sample programs that set up one big patch on one midi channel get ready to layer, split or tweak existing MULTI patches when designing your own timbres. The typical Vapor sounds have a MULTI which uses on average 3 patches. Think of Vapor as a hipper, vastly cheaper rompler that has lots of presets and a full bank of MULTI patches. Some presets are easily capable of use alone although their real strength is brought out using a few. Sounds gurgle, bubble, float, and do all the things that make a great pad synth. One reason for this lies in the programmers decision to use several channels rather than one. Doing so allows for very complex sounds that can be edited in an easy, practical way, offering far more control of complex timbres as opposed to grouping everything into a space saving, less capable instrument. Try a few bass patches and the resulting MULTI sound changes in body and articulation, not just as a bass sound. Vapor's sample set has been carefully chosen so that just about everything works together, and this is important as most pre-packaged sample sets or even virtual sample based synths worked on a much different principle, that being, the virtual band in a box taken from the tradition of most hardware ROM based synths like Triton, Fantom or Motif. While Vapor's generous set of samples are varied they work incredibly well together for both MULTI and individual timbres.
They are in categories of:
ARP, 56 samples
Bass, 52 samples
FX, 125 samples
Lead, 95 samples (may have 16 duplicates but it probably not)
Pad, ~350 samples
Vapor is very much a modern synth that takes old style samples and mixes them with newer technology samples that are not to be found on your average workstation or mid level keyboard. In return, don't look for great pianos, organs or drums. If you need these samples and your budget is $100 street price, Vapor won't get the job done. Look at the more expensive and larger libraries such as Sampletank 2, Atmosphere, Sonic Synth and so on. Keep in mind you can buy 2 to 3 Platinum series and other Kompakt based synth libraries in the $100 - $200 street price range for the price of these more comprehensive libraries. So, although there is a lot of sound capability in Vapor, color it a specialty synth. And while it ain't analog, it's not icy cold either.
The presets are deep with lots of arpeggiations, many with sustained segments that evolve into arpeggiations. In general the word “evolve” fits many of the samples and presets/MULTIS provided. A bit of work with the AHSR (Attack, Hold, Sustain, Release) amplitude envelopes and you have a really nice catalog of sounds. Vapor is excellent for textured, moving pads, basses, effect type sounds and leads. In particular, there is nothing stupid or painfully dated here. This is a great alternative to hardware type synths. Forget about meat and potato sounds unless you are an ambient or techno artist, and even then, the flexibility of Vapor, particularly using multiple samples is insanely useful.
One of many visual envelopes in Vapor.
Of MULTIS and patches - the art of programming Vapor
Kompakt is almost " idiot " proof and anyone can learn it. The included 30 page manual will have you up and running quickly. Should you want to explore the factory presets be prepared to be impressed. Better still, you can actually use these impressive sounds unlike many sensational patches that sound great as you demo but are impossible to fit in a mix. Vapor was designed for being programmed. Doing so will get much more personalized results. Because Kompakt is a simple but solid engine the sometimes tedious chore of programming is much easier and more inviting than many other synths costing considerably more.
Some may view creating one's own sounds as a down-side although it is hard to agree with such an opinion. Again, if you are looking for 1000 ready to play sounds, (1) – it is not terribly realistic at this price point and (2)- there will forever be the debate whether synths were meant to be programmed, or in Vapor's case even tinkered with at random. Keeping the choices and work-flow easy gently encourages users to create their own sounds. For the exceptionally timid, decide if 127 high quality MULTI patches will do. Vapor really depends on MULTIS more than other types of sample based synths currently available. Remember, you have eight multitimbral channels. Each one can use the same or different midi channel number. While simple to learn you have options that make recording via midi a good way to put two or more sounds on each instance of Vapor.
While simple and light on effects you might not even use them, although if you do you'll be happy to hear they sound excellent.
Using Vapor, Redux
For new users that wish to learn a bit about synthesis you are being offered a "greatest hits" of the best ideas in synthesis in a exceptionally well designed, newly sampled set. The potentials for new sounds are quite high as Kompakt's filters are adroit at being musical and flexible. If you like electronic sounds that can be played and programmed with relative ease yet are capable of depth without the joyless ultra-complexity found in advanced synthesizers will love Vapor. As it is a very popular form of music, one question many people will ask is, "does it do Trance?" Yes, for leads and pads, but you'll probably want to program your own sounds, particularly bass, as Vapor tends to be more lush and refined rather than hard hitting.
Whilst Vapor is a good role player type synth it can easily be your primary synthesizer. The filters and envelopes are right in front of you, use them! This is a smartly packaged library.
An example of Kompakt's Filter - note, the additional visual feedback.
Vapor's biggest weakness has to do with being tied to a sample synthesizer/player, and let's face it, this is weak as you can only use Kompakt or Kontakt 1.5 or higher. At $100 Vapor is similar to the cost of buying 50 online loops. Using a generous amount of sample size there may be 200mb of data. It isn't even worth comparing to 2.2 gigabytes of nearly 700 samples and multisampled instruments found in Vapor. As a consumer it is your preferences and philosophy that come into play.
The drop down semi-transparent menus can be touchy to get used to, pay attention to letting up the mouse button. Do so quickly and without thinking and you might end up with a selection that was unintended. It's not horrible, but it does take some time getting used to and needn't have been so clumsy.
Some people have mixed feelings towards Native Instruments who license the Kompakt synth engine to companies like East West. Mac users have reported higher numbers of problems than Windows based users. On the test system Kompakt was unbreakable
Vapor Trails - or, the Verdict
If, like me, you see a large library of great sounding samples packaged with a modest but capable engine like Kompakt, then Vapor is an absolute steal. In general I do not get all that excited about sample libraries or the new breed of sample engines created based most likely to cut down on illegal use by cracks/warez offenders. It is a decision that doesn't sit well with me yet the synth and sample manufacturers have a right to earn a living. With the abundance of inexpensive sample material fitted to a high quality sound engine with enough sound shaping tools to satisfy almost all kinds of users, it is easier to forgive the exclusivity these libraries present than watching prices increase and more intrusive copy protection be included for a simple synth like Vapor.
Vapor's approach to synthesis it is truly one of the few sample based synths to get excited about for it's creativity, not only it's good sound. If a hardware synthesizer approached this level of quality and user interface I'd be first in line to purchase it .
2.2 gigabytes of smartly coordinated samples make, as a themed library at $100 is a tremendous deal. If you put even the slightest effort into programming Vapor, you can loose yourself, not in depressing menus found on most hardware, but in the delight of easily creating new sounds and timbres yet realized.
If you read the manual (all 30 pages of it), you are nearly assured to get the most from Vapor. And that is quite a lot of cutting edge, useful sounds.
-Bruce Satinover - www.traxmusic.org
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