Loc: New York, NY
During these tough economic times, one word that continues to get attention is "Value". Despite the feds giving the Economy the green light for Q1 2010, it hardly seems likely that people will run to their favorite stores in droves to spend their hard earned cash any time soon. It is for reasons like this, that products like Mojo: Horn Section from Vir2 Instruments for Kontakt 3 will open many an eye within the Virtual Instrument and Sampler community looking for a comprehensive brass sample library. It is a product which delivers on what it advertises, and is well worth the trip to the bank.
Before considering any sample library, you have to inquire into what you are expecting to accomplish with it. Anyone who possesses experience with brass sample libraries in particular knows how difficult it is to create expressive, realistic playable brass samples. Subjectively, you will find plenty of plenty of playable and passable string patches in many sample libraries and even ROMplers. When it comes to brass however, many sample based emulations are typically dead giveaways of their sources. Mojo: Horn Section suffers from many of the pitfalls of other brass libraries, but makes up for it with its versatility, variety, playability, humanization options, riffs and other important goodies. The title of the product hints at what it is best at, which is creating excellent and convincing horn arrangements for the funk, jazz and pop genres. This is an area which many sample companies have ignored for years in favor of classically oriented brass packages. With this in mind, if you are looking for a solo brass library with the intention of fooling listeners into thinking they are hearing a particular brass instrument, you are barking up the wrong tree. There exists products from other companies which may be better suited for that task.
Mojo comes with no less than 12 separate instruments, hundreds of riffs at different tempos, key switches for different playing techniques (i.e. Doits, Swells, Crescendos, Realistic Vibrato, etc.), the ability to turn individual instruments into sections with as much as ten players with the flip of a knob, lots of effect and instrument options, and even a well constructed and implemented humanizing function. All playing techniques can be synced to tempo, and the results are impressive. One can say program a crescendo at 105 or 160 bpm. Say goodbye to relying on CC messages or filter tricks with a brass patch to get that perfect brass swell.
The instruments included consist of Trumpet, Trombone, Piccolo Trumpet, Brass Trombone and Alto Saxophone to name a few. Of all of the instruments, the included Clarinet appears to a rather odd choice. While it can be understood that a Clarinet would be more than useable in a Big Band setting say circa 1940 or prior, an instrument such as French Horn would perhaps get more mileage in a library of this caliber. I would feel a bit more comfortable pulling out an Orchestral or Woodwind library to have access to this particular instrument. Plenty of 1950s era Big Bands and Funk/Pop records from the 1960s onwards utilized French Horn frequently.
As solo instruments, the included set did not meet my expectations. After all, at a $500 street price, nothing less than superb quality is expected. The instruments, some of them are leaps ahead in quality when paired against the stock instruments included in the Kontakt 3 library. Examples of this include the Trumpet and Trombone. These instruments sound even better in reverb. The samples are clear, the velocity switching is excellent, the intonation (important) is better than good, and the included key range of samples coincide with the normal range which would be used in most horn arranging (i.e. Lowest note on a Trumpet is a Concert E).
The Saxophones however are not as good. They sound slightly better than what you would expect to come across on a ROMpler, but don't have the quality and instrument options of those included in the stock Kontakt 3 library. Anyone who has played with these stock saxes will miss the ability to adjust key press control (sound of the fingers actually hitting the keys), excellent release noises (the MOJO library has release noises for each instruments, but with the saxophones, they sound more like stops, but generically so), and near-growl like timbre in the high velocity range.
Likewise, in the minus area is the lack of growl and double forte tinny harsh metal-like brass samples typically associated with overtly loud brass playing (think of the Bass Trombone playing on many of Al Green's records, or the loud transitions heard on Count Basie records like "Shiny Stockings"). The pleasure in arranging "realistic" brass arrangement doesn't only rely on playing technique, but the changes in timbre on all brass instruments with respect to how loud or soft one plays. This would be one of the major areas in which MOJO is lacking, but the included variety of playing techniques, syncing options and included riffs make up for it in some way. At $500, you cannot really go wrong. This library is a definite bargain. That said, these double forte samples are found in the Roland Brass Library CD for their S700 Series of Samplers. Of course the quality of those samples are not in the league of Mojo, but they are present.
Other instruments such as Flugelhorn, Instrument Combination (Alto Sax + Trumpet, etc) and "Lite" versions of all of the instruments are included. The latter would of course be beneficial to users of slower computers, or computers with less memory, where every last byte counts. Upon preview of many of the "lite" versions of the included instruments, it would force a quick recommendation to ensure you have a capable computer. The Lite instruments are not anymore pleasing to the ear than 1990s era ROMpler libraries. Muted Trumpet and Muted Trombones are also included which is a plus, because expressive Muted Trombones are typically absent from many libraries pitched to this demographic.
Other Things To Note
These may seem like minor quibbles, but they are some nuisances. To purchase Kontakt, one would need to spend $399 USD. That price gets you an Install DVD, excellent hardcopy documentations, other product information, coupons for other Native Instruments products, an ownership card with a serial number for storing, an an excellent looking informative box with a DVD jewel case to house all of the install DVDs.
By contrast, like all of Vir2s products, the packaging is rather cheap and bootleggish looking, the actual install DVD is included in a cardboard box which is attached to the product box, and the manual, if any is included is a small flimsy booklet which looks as if it came from an inkjet printer. That said, THIS particular manual is the best I've seen from them, but doesn't scream "I spent $500 on this product". Vir2 has a long way to go in the presentation of its products. Sure Vir2 is not the only company who does this, but considering more money was spent on this library than the product which plays it, there is room for major improvement in this area.
Likewise, if you ever purchase any Vir2 libraries, you better be prepared to own them for life. Vir2 licensing policies state that once you purchase any of their products, you cannot sell them under ANY circumstances (get it? that's "ANY"). It is understood that Vir2 wants to make their money and prevent piracy, but you CAN on the other hand SELL Kontakt itself. Doing so would force you to transfer and give up your license. However, in this situation, should you ever come across hard times, or have no need for Kontakt, you could not sell or even give away the library. Bummer! Make sure you know what you are buying and that you really want to buy it!!!!
Vir2 MOJO is clearly a winner. There ARE libraries with BETTER core instruments out there. Sonnivox Broadway Big Band is one. Chris Hein Horns is another. But no product on the market today comes close to the versatility, value and variety at the price. The quality of the included instruments are excellent, and the library EXCELS at what it aims to accomplish, which is to be a library which one will turn to for creating realistic brass arrangements. You can really create convincing arrangements with this thing. For a long time, sample users craving brass were stuck with using ROMplers with substandard samples and little flexibility, or vanilla sounding, hardly expressive brass libraries. MOJO fills a long void in this area. Mojo will definitely get lots of use in my studio and will most likely be a very successful product for Vir2. Whether or not it means anything, I would suggest Vir2 provide FREQUENT updates, instrument additions (French Horn anyone?), improvement in the packaging, and more instrument options.