Could HALion 6 be the samplist’s software sampler? Dave Clews finds out.
Some might say that the traditional art of sampling has become somewhat endangered in recent years. The ease with which audio can be recorded directly into your DAW and moved around has led to the adoption of a new set of workflows that are something of a departure from the creative process that began and developed with the use of hardware samplers such as the Akai S3000 and Emulator III. Practices such as manually assigning samples to velocity layers and keygroups, multisampling unusual instruments and slicing and resequencing beats into new creations all involved processes that were made necessary by the technology of the time and required plenty of practice to master. Now that there’s an abundance of sample library providers that can do all the hard work for you and present the results in an easily downloadable package, sampling your own sounds is no longer something that many of us feel is necessary. Even the workflow of DAWs like Ableton Live redefines how we think of sampling.
The focus seems to have largely slipped away from the ability to create and manipulate sounds that are uniquely yours.
While sample-based software like Native Instruments’ Kontakt and UVI’s Falcon provides plenty of scope for the playback of third-party sample libraries, the focus seems to have largely slipped away from the ability to create and manipulate sounds that are uniquely yours. This functionality gap is one of the things that Steinberg are attempting to address with HALion 6.
HALion began life in 2001 as the software sampler cousin to the company’s Cubase DAW. Over the intervening years, it’s evolved into a mammoth sound design, synthesis and sampling tool that can more than hold its own in the company of rivals such as Kontakt and Logic Pro’s built-in EXS24 sampler. Available as a standalone and plugin instrument on both Mac and PC platforms, the latest incarnation, HALion 6, was first announced at NAMM 2017.
When asking the question “what does HALion 6 do?”, it’d probably be more pertinent to ask what doesn’t it do. This thing is an absolute beast, covering just about every audio-related task you can think of within the fields of sampling, synthesis and sound design and then some. It houses a generous selection of over 20 prefabricated instruments, such as the Skylab granular synth, Model C organ module and two modelled grand pianos, Raven and Eagle.
Unlike its rivals, HALion 6 features 5 different types of zone, not simply for playing back, but for generating sound – Synth, Sample, Granular, Organ and the all-new Wavetable – unique for a software sampler. Any number of these zones can be stacked up into a single program, and you can load multiple programs simultaneously up to a maximum of 64, giving you the opportunity to create truly massive soundscapes. The Wavetable zone, new to HALion 6, offers complex sound design possibilities using literally any audio as a sound source, and as an instrument is probably worth the asking price on its own.
Elsewhere, a spiffy automated sample record mode allows the capture of consecutive single-note samples to be automatically trimmed and assigned to keygroups on the fly – time to dust off those ancient, exotic instruments you have knocking around. You can even build your own instruments using the macro page designer – a template-based tool that lets you design complete user interfaces for your custom programs by dragging and dropping prefabricated control elements onto custom backgrounds – all without scripting. Myriad onboard digital effects and a comprehensive built-in surround mixer complete the package.
When you’re in the market for a sonic Swiss Army knife like this one, you have to ask yourself why you’d choose HALion over, say, Kontakt. The answer is mainly in the scope of what you can do with it – on the face of it, HALion is a powerful, multiple-engined synth capable of generating audio from scratch and imbued with some serious sampling capabilities, while Kontakt is more of of a sampler with some added synthesis elements, such as its array of built-in LFOs, filters and effects that can be applied to imported samples.
While it’s true that Kontakt has a much larger amount of dedicated third-party content available, HALion delivers a wide-ranging set of tools to build your own bespoke library, as well as the ability to import Kontakt libraries up to version 4. Notwithstanding the whopping 29 GB of downloadable content, all catalogued into over 3,400 presets and searchable via the Media Bay, HALion also has a majorly strong focus on custom sound design. The overall quality of that bundled sound library is very high indeed, although on the negative side, the Hot Brass and Studio Strings instruments fall a little short of expectations for elements ostensibly targeted at movie scoring – the strings in particular suffer from a lack of keyswitched articulations and legatos in the solo string category.
Suffice it to say, there’s a heck of a lot going on here, and the potential is truly enormous. For those not used to Cubase’s visual style, HALion’s interface can be a little intimidating initially, with its multiple panes and tabs and an awful lot of little icons to decipher. In this regard, the learning curve can be a bit on the steep side, but when you figure out that the interface is composed of a series of panes that are completely customisable and sizeable, with direct control over the size, shape and position of the elements you want to see – you can undock areas and drag them onto an second monitor, for instance – it becomes a lot easier to get to grips with things.
If you want access to a huge library of cutting-edge synth sounds married to probably the most comprehensive set of sound design tools on the planet, together with the power to build your own library without sounding like everybody else, HALion 6 has the capacity to reap great rewards from the investment of a little time and effort spent scrambling up the foothills of that learning curve. Add the ability to import Kontakt libraries and the sheer versatility of that multi-faceted synthesis engine and you’re onto a winning combination that should probably be sampled at your earliest opportunity.
The Final Word
a winning combination that should probably be sampled at your earliest opportunity