Review – The Hybrid Library
There is no shortage of general sound effects libraries on the market, and they come in a number of different sizes. Pro Sound Effects is master licensor and curators of the Blastwave FX, BBC, Foundation, and Soundrangers sound effects catalogs, among several others. They’ve done something a little different in putting together their new “Hybrid Library.” Designed for freelancers and independent editors, the collection is composed of general library elements from independent effects designers. With an effects count capping out well above 50,000 sounds, Pro Sound Effects has created a library that can compete with the respected products from Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge; all while keeping the costs a bit more reasonable for the independent user.
The two largest contributors to the the Hybrid Library are Blastwave FX, with Sonopedia 2.0 and additional subject specific libraries, and the Foundation Library; owned by Ric Viers and Stephan Schütze respectively. Additional contributions to the library come in the form of the SCSE Basic (from Kenneth Skoglund), a selection of 5.1 surround effects from Soundeffects.ch’s (Guido Helbling) Civilization and Industrial Soundscapes libraries, and the Pro Sound Effects curated Rare Animals library. This collection accounts for 47% of the sound effects available from the PSE online store. Those who purchase the Hybrid Library also receive 100 download credits to use in the store, giving them limited access to the remaining 53%. That additional flexibility can be wonderful; and something that I’ll touch on a bit later.
For the purposes of this review, Pro Sound Effects sent over a hard drive loaded with the library. The first thing I do with new libraries…other than copying them over to a local drive, of course…is scan them into Soundminer and do a little bit of random exploration. During the scan process, I discovered one corrupted file. Soundminer couldn’t scan it, and Pro Tools couldn’t read it. Tracking down the problem file in question, a recording of a bird, showed it to have a size of 0kb. I contacted PSE about this file, and it appeared to be a problem exclusive to the particular drive I was sent. There haven’t been reports of any issues from those who have purchased the library thus far, and I haven’t encountered any other problematic files.
As previously mentioned, the files in this library come from multiple designers. As such, there is a moderately wide representation of formats…which is where my initial exploration began. All files are .Wav, but things immediately begin to diverge after that. Sample rates fall into 44.1, 48 or 96; while bit rates range from 16, all the way up to 32 in some cases. Channel formats fit the usual standards of mono, stereo and 5.1. Discovering all of that took very little effort…only a few seconds in Soundminer thanks to its sorting tools. I still needed to acquaint myself with the actual sounds in the library. Acquiring a “first impression” of the sounds would help provide a path for the rest of the review. So, I made use of Soundminer’s “random” feature.
My initial impressions of the sounds within the library were based on those random, zero context required, effects auditioning. So what did I come away with on first glance? While it has a few rough edges here and there, there is some outstandingly produced material in this library. Because this is a composite library, with varying percentages of contribution, it was important for me to look at the individual components in a similar manner. This would help flesh out how frequently those rough edges actually appear, and whether or not they were endemic to the entire library or just to a specific contributor.
No rough edges here! I’m quite familiar with Blastave FX products. I’ve been using the Blastdrive, which includes the Sonopedia and other indicated libraries, at work for years now. These are all high quality sounds with effective metadata. Out of all the libraries we currently have at work, I frequently turn to this one first. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to see improved in this product line is additional takes/cuts of certain sound effects. That rare and minor heartache is gone in this incarnation, as the other libraries fill out those moments of variation lust.
Minor, extremely rare, rough edges can be found in the metadata in this library. 99 percent of the time, there is extensive and effective metadata. Excellent file naming gives you the core information regarding the sounds, while the description and keywords sections fill out the broader and specific images in ways few others bother to. I did encounter a few files where the metadata was a little too literally descriptive; “Falling Candle on Piano” is a good example. There is very little in the sound to give away the fact that it’s actually a candle falling on a piano. The sound is a solid object falling over on a hollow wooden surface, but the metadata does not support the searches I might use to find that type of sound. Again, this is a rare occurrence in this library, but it is there. The sounds in this library are extremely well produced, and there a lot of unique sound sources that I haven’t seen in many other libraries. I’m particularly fond of some of the Japanese ambiences.
Once again, plenty of well produced sounds fill out this collection. For the most part, metadata was solid. There were definitely some entries that could use some fleshing out. Having files labelled and tagged as “sword hit” without even throwing in the words “metal” or “impact” seems like a careless oversight. While not a deal breaker, as this is a decidedly smaller proportion of the overall library, it occurs more frequently than the minor issues noted in the Foundation library. As I said, for the most part, good metadata…though there are definitely some files that could benefit from more robust descriptions.
This is a small collection culled from the Civilization and Industrial Soundscapes libraries distributed by PSE, and it’s fantastic overall. There are some truly distinctive ambiences available in here. On top of that, the metadata usage and descriptions in these files is EXTENSIVE! A quick glance tells you exactly the kind of care that went into the tagging. Another (relatively) small contribution to the overall “Hybrid” collection, a few of the files exhibit odd edit decisions. This wasn’t noticed in the longer ambiences; those are all well done. The example I’ll mention is the file “AudienceLaugh8xSmall.” Some of the tail outs in that particular file simply weren’t cut properly. Like other issues I’ve brought up so far, there is only a small percentage of files affected in this small portion of the overall library.
One could argue that this library is misnamed. I don’t really think that a Yorkshire Terrier or a common house-cat qualifies as a “rare” animal. On the flip side, this library also has pandas [yes…pandas], hippos, elephants, hyaena, antelope and the list goes on. This is a VERY interesting collection of animals. Some recordings will have limited use. It’s immediately obvious when one of these animals have been recorded in an interior space or zoo; however, I have little doubt that many those could still be useful for design purposes. Usefulness will be determined by the context of your need, but there’s enough in here to fit a variety of situations.
The previous evaluations were based on limited random testing. It’s impractical to even consider individually evaluating over 50,000 sound effects. I feel that the random testing provides an opportunity to see any patterns that emerge in a given library. By applying that to the five component libraries mentioned, and weighting based on the percentage of the total they represent, I’m confident in saying that this library is well produced with high quality sounds that hold up to the competition presented by Sound Ideas or Hollywood Edge. Even those libraries aren’t without their occasional problems, and I don’t feel there is a significant difference in percentages between those libraries and this one.
It’s also important to keep in mind the function of a “general” sound effects library. If we were to compare library types to knives used in cooking:
- Custom recordings would be the paring knife – small, precise, and sharp…fitting exactly what you need, because that’s what was recorded
- Niche and boutique libraries would be a filet knife – larger, but capable of making refined cuts…a little more work to get exactly what you need, but what you need is either already there or can be quickly composited
- General libraries are the carving knife – you’re not going to be nearly as precise, but you can get the rough shape…and sometimes that enough
To that end, general libraries now live and die by their metadata and ability to get you quickly to a sound that will suit your purposes. It may not be as elegant as a custom recording, but it should get you what you need. Let’s also not forget that happy accidents do occur, and you may easily find the perfect sound after all. All that being said…in my mind, the ultimate evaluation of this library revolves around the ability to return search results and the amount of time required to find a usable sound. Of course, we would need some basis for comparison to make that evaluation worthwhile.
To that end, I put a call out on the internet. I asked people to name sound effects they might have to search for and a context to go with them. Responses ranged from the mundane (microwave door, open/close, and fan in operation) to those that were a little wackier (a fish’s flashback sound). In some cases where no context was given, I created one. I did so only if I felt it could affect the search results in a significant way. To really test the library’s metadata mettle, I restricted each search to a maximum of three terms only. I could use those terms individually or in combination with each other, but I didn’t allow myself to use any additional aids beyond Soundminer’s built-in results sorting options. I conducted each search in two different libraries; the Hybrid Library from PSE, and the General 6000 (plus extensions 1 through 7) from Sound Ideas. You can see the effects list, the search terms and the results below (search time is listed in seconds, and is counted whether a usable sound is discovered or not).
As you can see, the Hybrid Library returned an average of 195 results per search, with an average search time of 108 seconds. The General 6000 returned an average of 124 results per search, with an average search time of 103 seconds. Personally, I don’t feel that the difference of 5 seconds per search between the two libraries is terribly significant. Metadata, on the whole, is more consistent across the General 6000 series. That’s not altogether surprising, as the Hybrid Library is a collection incorporating multiple manufacturers. While this could be a factor contributing to that 5 second difference; the number of results could just as easily be the cause.
Both libraries had their issues with certain searches. The Hybrid Library failed to return any usable results for 6 items, and The General 6000 failed on 5.
This is where the Hybrid Library’s trump card comes into play. You may remember that 100 download credits are included with purchase of the library. An online search of those “failed” searches turned up usable effects for 4 of the 6 sounds; effectively bringing the failure count down to 2. It’s important to note that this capability won’t last you forever. It wouldn’t be hard to go through those credits quickly; particularly if you need to construct a sound from multiple components that aren’t currently in the library. It may be best to save those download credits for effects which will be repeatedly useful in the future.
Our primary concerns for the Hybrid Library stacks up as follows:
- Is the representation of sound effects wide and varied enough to strongly suit its use as a “general” library? Yes
- Does the sound quality of the library hold up to its competitors? Yes
- Is the metadata effective, and does it provide efficient searching? Yes
That all leads us into the secondary concern…cost. This library is designed for independent effects artists and freelancers; it is not sold to larger post-houses. Does the price tag reflect that target market? At a cost of $2,995, the library is roughly 50% more expensive than the General 6000 (plus extensions) that I compared it to. However, it is more than twice the size of that library.
Per search term, it returned an average of 71 results more than the General 6000; meaning we have more variations to choose from…and won’t be reusing the same sounds as frequently. I also know for a fact that there are sounds in the Hybrid Library that are not available in the General 6000. It costs less than the complete BBC effects library, and has a larger sound count. When compared to competitors that approximately match the sheer number of effects contained in the Hybrid Library, it seems downright cheap!
Considering those facts, I would have to say, yes. The Hybrid Library is priced for the independent artist. It’s not cheap…very few things in our industry are…but the value it presents the independent user is well beyond its price tag.
The Hybrid Library is available from Pro Sound Effects, and requires an application for purchase. Further details about the library can be found here. The library also comes with a copy of the track-list/metadata as a Microsoft Excel sheet, which can be handy for those who don’t have an effects database program at their disposal. Apache’s Open Office is a good choice for those without even Microsoft Office, as it will let you read and edit MS Office formatted documents.