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REVIEW: Output Exhale

We put Output's new vocal instrument through its paces

2016 Apr 02     
2 Bit Thugs

Vocal plug-ins are among the hardest virtual instruments to get right... can Output keep things simple without descending into cheese? Read on to find out!

Exhale is a Kontakt-based sample instrument made by Output that aims put real singers into the hands of producers, musicians and remixers who don't have access to one in real life. Note that if you don't have Kontakt itself, you can get the Kontakt Player for free from Native Instruments.

Vocal instruments in the past have been either completely unwieldy or tremendously cheesy, so I desperately wanted Exhale to meet three criteria: to have high sound quality, be easily manipulated and be versatile enough to meet a range of music professionals needs. So without further fanfare, let's get testing!

The pre-production on the instrument seems very solid, including recordings from solo vocalists through to epic full choir recordings captured on vintage and analogue equipment. There's also a selection of sounds that have been pre-morphed by pro sound designers to give instant inspiration when needed. The instrument boasts a 9GB sound library containing around 500 presets.

The main page view is simple and attractive, allowing you to access the presets quickly and manipulate the four most expressive parameters. The Macros are easy to assign and map to a MIDI controller, giving the basic presets a customised and humanistic feel once modulated. You can also sort the presets by characteristics, which narrows down the choices if you suffer from option paralysis.

The first of the three main modes is Notes. This is the most basic and straight forward option, mapping the vocal samples to the MIDI keys to be played. Loop mode gives you pre-made loops that can be triggered automatically, mapping to the tempo of the track. The loops are interesting and have the ability to be pitched to the key of your song, which makes them useable, but this mode although interesting can feel a little clichéd at times. For this reason I don’t see myself using the Loop function regularly without heavy manipulation post-instrument. Finally, Slices mode gives you vocal chops of the aforementioned loops in an Akai sample pad style, enabling you to hit different words and syllables on each key. This has an organic, hip-hop feel that could be used in multiple scenarios if you are feeling creative and confident on the keyboard.

Under the hood

The engine page shows the inner workings of the machine, allowing you to manipulate and create your own vocal-style instruments from scratch. The source sounds and recordings become clear at this stage with one shots, vocal pads and manipulated tape-style loops offering a plethora of options. These can be extensively modulated and manipulated in the FX section, which makes great use of Kontakt’s in- built FX and modulation capabilities. The engine page is a deceptively powerful tool, with many manipulation and customisation options open to the more advanced user, and I can see this being a very useful tool for creating a wide range of sounds.

The type and style of sounds that can be created from this instrument is vast. There are pure vocal tones that could work well to thicken up pads and strings giving richness and depth to your productions. I could also see the purer vocal tones being great for harmonising layers with a real vocalist. The contrast to this is the dirtier and darker vocal oooh’s, which have a guttural, earthy tone to add grit and rawness to an overly digital-sounding world, a welcome addition indeed. The atmospheric and creative patches would fit well in film and TV scores to bring ambient and emotive harmony to the scoring stage. Finally, the looped one-shot vocals could be used as vocal lines in an old school-style garage or house track, but it is a far stretch from replacing the vocalist entirely.

Output have made it very simple to download and install their products, and with helpful videos to get you started and a 14-day money-back guarantee, they seem like a solid addition to your instrument library. For around £170 ($239) they can seem a little steep, but considering that other, more specialist vocal instruments can be double that and smaller libraries can be half, it seems to be the median in the market for a versatile tool.

In conclusion, Exhale is unique in the way the engine page allows you to design your own modern vocal soundscape. It has excellent sound quality that would be at home in any production from a D&B intro to a film score crescendo. It can be easy to use and can also be incredibly complex, and I can see it quickly becoming a go-to instrument in my future productions.

Review score: 4/5

Words: Matthew Chapman

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Tags: Output, Exhale, vocal instrument, plug-in, plugin, VST, Kontakt