Those Eureka Moments..

By James Thompson | 15th October 2013

Sampled instrument designers have always struggled with the Vibraphone – the ‘snapshot’ nature of sampling doesn’t really suit it at all; if you sample the single notes, then each notes tremolo will be out of time with the next, and of course the speed will be fixed at one rate anyway. Sometimes people go ahead and sample it anyway, and offer it out of sync with a choice of rates ( fast, medium, slow), but that tends to sound pretty wrong. The more common ‘workstation’ approach was always to simply switch the motor to off on the Vibraphone, record it static, then fake the tremolo in the synth/sampler using an LFO with a bit of filter and amplitude modulation. Which, in the context of workstation sounds, doesn’t do too bad a job, in that ‘Mock-Tudor’ style that workstation sounds have.

But about a year or 18 months ago, Dan hit on an idea – whether in the bath, I know not – and like many breakthrough ideas, it was beautiful in its simplicity.


Powell hypothesised that if one recorded the vibraphone twice, in a static state each time, once with the motorised fans fully open, in the vertical position (v) and then again with the fans completely closed, in the horizontal position (h), then by simply crossfading between the two with a simple sine LFO in the sampler, you would get a very natural tremolo effect (Tr).

The only way to test the hypothesis, however, was to actually record the vibraphone – twice – with no real idea if it would actually work ( ie : ‘sound good’) when finished. Bravely we pressed ahead. Enlisting the help of lab assistant Ed, an instrument was sourced (a Yamaha YV-3910M ‘Professional Gold’), and a studio booked for January 2013. For this project we returned to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio – a favourite of ours, but one from which we had been away for more than ten years.


The vibraphone session at Real World. Not as much fun as you might think.

It was a long session- two full 12 hour days listening intently to the metallic ring of the vibraphone key takes its toll on the strongest of men. This was not just one vibraphone sampling session, after all – after we had recorded the entire instrument, every key, with 20+ velocities several times each for round robins, damped and undamped – we then did it all over again again, with the fans closed.

Even once the recording was complete, we were still not able to test Powell’s Hypothesis. First, the samples had to be edited - 3,864 of them, as it turned out. Finally, after months of painstaking work, in the summer of 2013, our small but dedicated team prepared to put the theory into practice.

Did it work? You can judge. Check out our Vibraphone Now!





  • Brian Whistler

    Boy did it work! At least judging from the demos. Has to be the best tremolo ever created for vibes samples. One question: does the script choose dampened samples on a keyboard when for instance you release a key while holding down other notes? How would it work with a MalletKat which has a dampen feature? That works with a user designated low velocity triggered with a touch of a mallet. I’m guessing that wouldn’t trigger a dampened sample though.

    • Dan Powell

      Thanks Brian! The script doesn’t work with the Mallet KAT single-note dampen feature as yet. The pedal can currently be used to switch articulations (damped or sustain samples), or as a piano sustain, or both. I’m working to make a KAT preset functional for an update in future tho. Cheers!

  • Bernard Maseli

    this is good instrument, sounds great, the only thing is nonsustained sample
    are too short :( .This is still the best sampled vibes on the market, greetings.

    • Soniccouture

      how do you mean exactly? perhaps you just need to adjust the release time to suit? Let us know and we can trouble shoot the problem with you.