by Craig Anderton
Sound Designer Nico Herz has done sound design for a variety of companies, of course including Cakewalk. BigTone EDM, for Z3TA+ 2, is (as you can probably guess from the name) designed for EDM. So if you’re into traditional bluegrass, you probably should not continue reading this.
Anyway, the presets are designed for the EDM “sweet spot” of 125bpm. There are 127 presets total, arranged as eight banks: 7 Bass, 19 Keys, 11 Leads, 20 Pads, 11 Sequences, 6 Sound FX, 19 Textures, and 34 Arps. I’m going to assign each bank a letter grade average for two reasons—it might be helpful, and because sounds are so subjective, if you end up disagreeing with me you’ll know not to bother reading any sound reviews I do. Conversely, if you think my evaluations are correct, we can have an ongoing relationship with future sound reviews.
Before going any further, note that I create presets and I’m very, very picky. This is both good and bad, because I have definite preferences; what doesn’t work for me might be what you’ve always wanted, and vice versa. However this also means that I recognize when someone has put a lot of effort into crafting a set of patches, and in that respect, BigTone more than qualifies. The presets have, for lack of a better word, “passion” and the worksmanship is excellent. It takes a tremendous amount of work to create something like this.
Even the names are better than average, as many actually do give an idea of what to expect (e.g., “Fluctuating Decays,” “Ringing Sweetness,” “Analog Snapper Bass”). More importantly, there are hints in parenthesis about what can modify the sound, such as “pb+mw+at.” This lets you know that yes, it’s worth turning aftertouch recording back on in SONAR because there might be something useful happening if you press on the keys.
However, I’ll argue with Mr. Herz about these being best at 125bpm. Granted, they all work great at that tempo so I understand his point. But you can drop many of the Arps and sequenced sounds to 85bpm for some righteous hip-hop madness, add some spice to rap, or add ear candy to rock.
GOING TO THE BANK
As to the banks themselves, the Arps are ideal for those background driving forces behind music that occasionally take the spotlight. I expect to hear the “Catch the Smack” and “Hollow Bass Sequence” Arps on Netflix before too long in a movie suspense scene, with the tempo at 100 and perhaps filter resonance turned down. Overall the Arps are strong, and generally aggressive but without being rude. They slide very easily into existing productions; I suspect “Tech Stack” will show up in a bunch of dance tracks, and the “Sophisticated Pumper” patch is just waiting for me to write a song around it (at 91bpm…so there). I’d give this bank a solid A.
The basses are okay; there are a couple standouts, they do offer something different, and they benefit from the mod wheel and bend where indicated. But I didn’t find them as compelling as the other presets, so I’d give them a C+. Next up, I found the Keys outstanding—I’d rate them an A+. They’re sophisticated presets, and most have a “haven’t heard anything quite like that before” quality that makes them a welcome addition to any set of presets. If some of the “new age” synth sounds of the 80s became Harley-riding high-society biker chicks who wore lots of makeup but did so tastefully, they might sound something like this.
The leads are definitely designed to punch through the music, not provide a demure harmony in the background. I’ll give them credit for not being stereotyped sounds, but I’m not sure how much I’d use them. I rate these a B-.
If you’re looking for pads, although all the presets in BigTone are well-crafted, the pads go the extra mile for being extremely versatile. I could hear them as taking center stage in chill, providing breathy atmospherics in trance, offering some relief in hard trance, and showing up all over the place in movies. If I had to describe them in a word, I’d use “cinematic” in both scope and depth. Another A+ all around.
The sequences are also outstanding (and not just because it’s reassuring to know someone else is fascinated with “one-finger” sequences). They’re idea-starters, song backbones, fine embellishments to something chugging along intensely at 125bpm…all told, although not every sequence will be everybody’s favorite, every sequence will be somebody’s favorite. They get a solid A.
The sound FX are…well, sound FX, which means if they’re in the right place at the right time, they’re great and otherwise, they’re not of much use. I must say that the Sunny LAX sound FX are my first call SFX, but it’s always good to have choices and several of BigTone’s will end up being in the right place at the right time for me. I’ll go for a B+.
The Textures are like sound effects that got a PhD, and then married pads. As such they’re more universally useful than sound FX per se, because they have a very musical component. If for no other reason than originality and their passionate vibe, another A+.
So there you have it. Interestingly, the banks that got the lowest grades have the fewest presets and the ones with the highest grades have the most number of presets so to me, this means significant value compared to sets that have a few great patches and the rest are so-so. But I can’t emphasize enough that even the ones that didn’t strike my fancy were up to the same level of craftsmanship as the others. If you have a Z3TA+ 2, these sounds will breathe new life into it—and don’t believe that it’s only good for EDM at 125bpm. Good sounds are good sounds, regardless of the music that hosts them.
Listen to the sound examples!