Review of the
Planet Earth Module
E-MU's sound designers have gathered
an amazing collection of authentic rhythms and traditional instruments
from the four corners of the globe to give you Planet Earth, the most
realistic ethnic sound module in the world. And Planet Earth's powerful
synthesis engine also allows you to create your own sounds and beats
to explore new sonic territory. Discover Planet Earth and bring a world
of sounds to your music.
All-new 32 MB World soundset
12 real-time control
E-MU's exclusive SuperBEATs Mode
Dynamic 12-pole filtering
aka World Expedition Rom
nearly a decade
since the last "World" synth module by Emu.
In 1992 when Emu released the Proteus 3 module, a brilliantly executed sample
playback module, filled with 191 presets of world sounds based on a 4 meg
Rom chip. 2001 has seen the release of the Planet Earth module, part
of he Proteus 1000/2000 families. The new module comes in standard
(p1000) and turbo (P2000) versions and as a user installable Rom chip, called
the World Expedition Rom, that can be added to any of the current
Proteus machines. The Module and the Rom have the same samples and presets.
It's the same Rom whether you buy it in a Planet Earth Module or buy it
separately and put it in your P2000. So from this point on I will
refer to Planet earth and its rom as simply the World Expedition (WE Rom).
Let me tell you where I am coming from
first. I love worldly exotic sounds. I make them all the time
and have a large collection of world instruments and drums. (I hope
to have a world cd rom out this fall). I also believe our music (meaning
Western Civilization's music) is rapidly absorbing all the ancient instruments
of the East and South. When the Proteus 3 originally appeared, it was more
of a novelty, a little taste of everything. Nowadays, having a full
set of world sounds is practically required if you are doing music for money.
And for the hobbyist, its a nice change of pace from doing hip hop,
dance, DnB and Industrial. As of this writing, I've had
the Rom over a month as of this writing and have used it in about 4 songs.
The making of a world sounds module is
fraught with issues, and how the Rom maker decides to answer them can drastically
change the product. I'll be looking at some of those considerations
and try to give you a good idea of where the world expedition fits in the
overall sound palette.
This Rom is not going to cover the entire
world of instruments. Such a task is impossible in 32 megs.
I think the general synth buying public has had unrealistic expectations
for the ROM. Unlike building a Rom of synthy techno sounds, where
2-3 samples can be single cycle looped and spread over an entire keyboard,
building a World Rom often requires 5-10 long samples for each instrument
to capture the diverse dynamics and timbre of the instrument, so choices
have to be drastically limited to achieve realism. What they have
here is very good and useful. At first I was disappointed not to find
a sitar, tambura or tabla set.
While there are some similar instruments
to those (and there is a rather lame sounding sitar in the Proteus 2000
stock composer Rom), the real deal is not in the WE Rom. Then I realized
there is a usable Sitar and nice tablas and tambura in the Protezoa Rom
(which has all the old Proteus 3 sounds) and realized it would have been
very hard to top those. I applaud Emu for not including them in this
set. There's no redundancy with the P/3. I think I could only
pick out one sample that was already in my emu World cd rom collection,
(the upper register Shenai, though maybe I'm wrong). I am happy to
report, as advertised, the World Expedition has new samples. So the
new World expedition synth is not going to replace a proteus 3, but is in
many ways an addition. While its not going to totally fill a catalog of
world instruments, its going to give you a nice big roomful.
One word here: Clean. The samples
are practically immaculate. This is a nice contrast to the XL and
Pure Phatt which rely on bits of grunge and heavy compression to get the
signature dance sound. On first listen it may appear that the World Expedition
is a bit of a lightweight with pristine samples and just light compression--just
enough to make the samples more manageable in a mix. I'll bet this
was a tough programming call, to Phatten or not to Phatten at the sample
level. They apparently decided to go clean; I think it was the
wisest choice. If you want really dancey world sounds, stick a compressor
on the outs, or prop up some filters. The samples have a neutral,
natural sound, with delicate top end that makes for nice sounding mixes.
The bass is there too especially on some of the drums. If there is
a slight weakness, it's in the lower mids. As a result, you can stack
without building up low mid mud, at the cost of a "fuller" sound.
To my ears, the sound is less full than the proteus 3, yet more clean,
crystalline, defined. Yet in a mix, the P3 can sound almost dull without
EQ, while the WE sits up rather nicely and is hotter. I typically have had
trouble with the Proteus 3 "weak" output levels on my board. Not so
with the WE Rom--the high end will cut through.
The World Expedition Sound Palette
To the left you see the presets in the
main bank. The WE is organized like many other emu modules, with a
3 letter abbreviation that tells you what kind of sound it is.
As you see, the bulk of the drum kits are lumped together, making getting
the right drum sounds pretty easy. The drum kits are similar in many
ways--many use the same samples per key, but with different FX and cords
routed. (The lower octave of the kit is unique typically).
After the kits comes the plucked sounds.
The standouts IMHO are the Cimbalon, Oud, Shamisen and Shaoud , and Mandolin.
If I was to critique the plucked set, I'd say that the majority are in the
same frequency range, and all have the same western tuning. The tuning
takes the flavor out a bit, and to get the instruments to sound realistic,
your will have to bone up and discover how they are naturally tuned so you
know what notes and keys you can play in to make the instrument sound authentic.
Also i think use of the emu reverb messes with the sound a bit and actually
masks some of the finer overtones. I get better results, as ususal
with emu stuff, by turning the FX off or assigning it to a preset where
you can barely hear it. But there are some exceptions. The programmer(s)
did find some reverb settings that were very effective in some instruments.
Some of the small rooms on the drums made me check the board to check
if it was really coming from my P2k. It was, and the small rooms were very
toasty and flavorful.
After the plucked comes the Bowed.
There are only 9 of these, the standout being the Zhonghu. and the
one called Nervousa. No bowed Psaltry unfortunately, or fiddle.
The attack seems a little fast to me on these 9, but I understand the longer
one makes the attack, the less useful they become, though it could be programmed
Basses. The bass is next and there
are only 16 of them, barely enough to cover the ground. Of course
the P2k, XL and Phatt are all bass heavy, so you shouldn't miss much if
you have any of those. CB Balalaik is outstanding with its buzzy frets.
Also the 3 basses called "Lowness" are very nice, sort of like heavy handed
standup basses. I found myself wanting a better standup than is in
the P2k, and these will do. There are 4 basses called "CB" that are
drowned in reverb. Maybe I am missing the point, but these are of
little use to me. there's some surprise synth basses here too--They
are excellent! Kind of odd to see them here though.
Blowin' in the Winds
There's 48 Wind presets, a nice variety,
and this is perhaps one of the stronger suits of the Rom My personal
favorite is "South Wind". Others of note are the Shakuhatchi, which
blows away the one in the P3, Shenai (a very hard instrument to sample,
trust me) Mizmars, Nye, Suling and Pan Flute. A decent accordian and Claypipes.
There's plenty of material here to program up whatever kind of flute you
want. No bagpipes. No Digerido. While these are in the P3 and
Protezoa, it's has to be the most unnatural bagpipes I ever heard, and they
should have topped that in this rom. (The Digeridos are OK in Protezoa,
so I can accept the omission) On the critcal side, all the winds have strong
FX added--there's an echo added to the pan flutes that leaves me scratching
my head as to why and reverb on most of the winds is right at the threshold
where one more notch would have wrecked it. Of course, this is not
a big deal because in actual use you only use the FX on the FX channel and
can turn it off globally.
Combinations and Pads
There's 61 of these multi layered instruments.
Some are quite nice and useful. They let you get a bigger sound for
leads, and there are some nice ambient effects. Lets focus on the
pads specifically, as these are very important in exotic synth music.
There's only 15 pads and they are all rather "flutey". Some are quite
evocative. The standout is Ghosts Again, very reminiscent of the wavestation
sound, but better, right behind it is Misty Reeds, a very awesome beautiful
pad. There are 7 pads called Exotic (1-7). These all have a
short release, makes for more of a lead than a pad, and they work well in
a more jazzy world context. Since there are no string/synth ensemble
samples in the set, there are no string pads. I am a bit disappointed
there because it would have been useful to make some of those dark Peter
Gabriel-like synth washes and exotic temple atmospheres I like to make,
but perhaps I am generalizing that everyone wants to get as dark and exotic
as i do. Of course you can pull in a obie pad out of the composer
rom and make it as dark as you want, but I think they could have put in
at least one lo bandwidth lo fi string pad and they could have enhanced
the character of the box greatly.
Positively, I find some of the combinations
to work really nice in Hip Hop-ish Mo Phatt rhythm beds. The clean
WE sounds are nice contrast.
Main Bank presets (512 total)
kit:Planet Eart 0
pr4:Clay Tones 2
pr1:African Drm 3
arp:No Age 11
pr4:Steel Drum 14
cmb:Phaz Split 19
plk:Celtic Harp 21
cmb:Buzz Factor 22
plk:Bazouki Tre 28
sfx:The Monks 29
kit:Earth 01 35
kit:Earth 02 36
kit:Earth 03 37
kit:Earth 05 39
kit:Earth 06 40
kit:Earth 07 41
kit:Earth 09 43
kit:Earth 10 44
kit:Earth 11 45
kit:Earth 13 47
kit:Earth 14 48
kit:Earth 15 49
kit:Earth 17 51
kit:Earth 18 52
kit:Earth 19 53
plk:Cumbus Saz 55
plk:Su Gzheng 56
plk:Tenor Banjo 57
plk:Prima Domra 60
plk:Su Zhouki 73
plk:Domora 1 76
plk:Domora 2 77
plk:Shaoud 1 78
plk:Shaoud 2 79
plk:Celtar 1 81
plk:Celtar 2 82
plk:World Harp 83
plk:Sazheng 2 85
plk:Baglomra 1 86
plk:Baglomra 2 87
plk:Segramu 1 89
plk:Segramu 2 90
plk:Primandl 2 94
plk:Mandomra 2 96
plk:Baglama w 97
plk:Mostly Harp 99
plk:Hammers Plu 100
plk:P.Domra Plu 101
bow:Erhu w-wah 103
bow:Gao Landz 107
bas:CB Balalaik 112
bas:CB Bala Mut 113
bas:Oud Bass 115
bas:Punchy 3 117
bas:CB 1 118
bas:CB 2 119
bas:CB 4 121
bas:Synthy 1 122
bas:Synthy 2 123
bas:Lowness 2 125
bas:Lowness 3 126
bas:Lowness 4 127
19 sound effects--some decent bird calls
and a few odd textures that could come in useful. Shakoniums and cave
ritual will probably make it in my music and the bird calls are always handy.
There's and interesting rather scary TweakrShenai and one called Lo-Fi Ritual,
sort of like natives in the outback. The omissions are telling.
There's no wind, surf or rain or thunder--ie., the earth itself is not represented.
No earth sounds in Planet Earth. Not a problem for me, i simply turn
on my Ultra and pick out one of my custom storms or seas, but for the Proteus
only synth person, I think it's a serious omission. Another big omission
is voices. While these are often cheesy in synths (I have to question
why Mo Phatt has some dull "Uh Huh" sampled, but maybe I'm dating myself?
or are they dating the box?) , I think an Arabic yodel, or Bulgarian priests,
or monks mantra would have been nice.
There's a boatload of percussion here from
just about everywhere. 196 presets full (not counting the kits).
Some people have criticized WE as being "nearly all" percussion. I
hope you see that is not true by this review, but there is a lot of it.
Actually, the reason why there are so many presets of percussion is that
the programmer made many variations using the same samples. For example,
there are 6 Djembe presets, all using the same samples, each preset it slightly
different with the mapping, velocity, effect. The good thing is you
can rapidly find a Djembe preset that works. Standouts are the Talking
drum (one of the best I've heard, if not the best, in a synth. The Balifon
is outstanding too, tuned to what seem to be Balinese scales (Thank you!)
Let me add the Tougue drums--very evocative, good stuff! A kit called
"Liquidity" (3 versions) is nice. #2 has some tabla like indian
drums ( a Dholek). The Ghatam, or Udu is very nice and deep.
"Tubes" is excellent--love it! But why they put an echo on it is baffling,
it sounds so good dry. Ditto on the nice Taiko drums--drenched in echo...
A Deep Tambour, and overall a great set of African hand drums. Very
nice Bodhran, usable Pandeiros, usable bongos. I thought the Dumbeks
were not natural sounding. There's a very natural sounding dry trap
kit--its good and can be used as an alternative to the P2k dry traps.
There's some simmons pads, somewhat of a surprise, but well done.
Then there are a lot of electronic snares. Average were the Marimba and
Kalimba--I am bothered by the fact that no kalimba in the world has 63 notes,
but usually only 5-10 and they are in an exotic tuning--not here.
There's some decent bells in the works--Almglocken is very nice. The
Steel Drum sounds awesome in authenticity. There's lots of others
i didn't cover, but they all are at the meets expectations level.
Notably missing are big kettle drums, tablas, a big bell, and gongs.
Ok these were in Protzoa, but there are many flavors of gongs and deep bells
and we could have used another.(There is a preset called "Doom Gongs" which
is lo-fi nice, but its really a ride and china cymbal) To be fair,
i should point out that bells and gongs are probably the most ram intensive
of any sample as they sound fake if looped and they can decay forever on
their own. This goes back to my major criticism--32 megs is just not
enough. Maybe they will come out with a World Expedition II?
However, balancing out my critcal comments, I must say that you are going
to have a hard time finding this much cleanly recorded acoustic percussion
anywhere else without loading up sample cd roms into your sampler.
Its a nice touch to any mix to tweak your percussion track. The percussion
works in many styles. Like having a 30 foot long table and a room
full of exotic drums. The trick is deciding which to use and which
not to use.
You get about 15 arpeggio presets.
You can turn on the Arpeggiator to any preset you want so its not a major
deal, but a few more would have been nice. The arps are not particularly
worldly to my ear. I'd say this is probably one of the weakest points.
Even a couple of runs through whole tone, pentatonic and other exotic scales
would have been nice.
I can't describe them here, but there are
39 of them and I like nearly all of them. They really inspire one to try
different combinations and shows what all the percussion sounds can do in
the hands of someone who knows how to arrange them. Typically I don't use
the beats Mode in my music, preferring my own hand rolled variety in Logic,
but for those who need a quick fix you will probably not be disappointed.
The standout, a hard choice, but I'd have to say EarthKit 1, but there were
many I liked a real lot.
What the Tweak likes
Lots of percussion, and it's all good sounding,
and most of it is stuff you will not find on other midi modules, and if
it is on other modules, it's typically better and more detailed here. If
you are running other Emu Roms, like the Pure Phatt, XL, Composer or Orchestral,
you will find these sounds really add an outstanding percussion rack.
I like that all these drums are eminently stackable, allowing for the creation
of massive percussion tracks. It nicely rounds out the P2k's percussion
and gives my music a whole lot more "sweeteners" that are clean and un-hyped.
I also like the flutes and all of the 'standout" patches i mentioned.
What Tweak does not like so much
I'll say it one more time. They need
to can those big reverbs. Throughout the review I noted what
i felt were serious omissions. I think a World Expedition II is in
order to fill in the gaps. The Planet Earth synth (P1000 model)
only has 1 stereo pair of outs. Depending on your uses, that may or may
not be enough. If you do dense MIDI mixes like I do, rather than record
tracks as audio, I recommend getting the turbo version so you can use the
2 additional stereo outs to patch to external processors, or simply getting
the World Expedition Rom and popping it into a P2000 (or other turbo emu
module). Being able to assign percussion to its own outs keeps it all clean.
The World Expedition has changed my music
and it will probably do the same for yours, given that you like world sounds,
or need a big percussion set. I like it so much I will probably use at least
one preset in every song I make of any genre. If you have some slots in
your p2000 I would not think twice about adding it, unless you are a totally
die hard DnB Dance Techno fiend. These folks might find the timbres a bit
too clean and maybe thin. But if you are making film scores, jingles or
anything resembling acoustic music, you'll probably appreciate, as I do,
the natural sounding samples and defined and delicate high end of the sound.
As an only synth, forget it, it's way too specialized, as there is appropriately
no pianos, string sections, typical guitars or brass in the box. That's
why they made the P2k But you already knew that. Finally, I truly appreciate
that Emu did not recycle old E III samples for this project. They certainly
could have done so and 95% of you would not have known or noticed. In all,
a nice piece of work.
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