by John Marsh
Orbit and Eclipse are two Kontakt synth engines from the ‘Planetary’ line of products by Wide Blue Sound. They are Kontakt Player libraries which blend or morph between a range of source samples, each of which can be individually edited to produce an exciting layered sound. While both are designed to create atmosphere, rhythms or textures, Eclipse is designed to have a darker and more aggressive tone than Orbit.
Both libraries work with Kontakt Player which is a free version of Native Instruments Kontakt capable of hosting sample libraries while sacrificing some of the deep editing features that the full version of Kontakt offers. Always check that any library you purchase is compatible with Kontakt Player as most libraries out there will only work for 15 minutes in the free version. This is not the case with Orbit and Eclipse.
Being a sucker for anything space-themed, I found the Orbit and Eclipse interfaces to be very attractive-looking. In keeping with the product name, Wide Blue Sound have given Orbit a cool blue-green space scene GUI, complete with moon-cycle buttons and nebula backgrounds. Eclipse is very similar in appearance and layout, although is styled red-orange and has a more aggressive appearance, which provides an adequate visual representation of the differences in sound between the two libraries.
The basis for both libraries are the three ‘engines’ that determine how the produced sound will behave. In essence, you can load up to four source samples, which can be individually edited. The type of engine selected will affect how the instrument morphs between those sounds.
Pulse mode, denoted by a sawtooth wave, allows you to create rhythmic and percussive sounds. Chop mode is meant for stuttered styles and is assigned a square wave symbol. Flow mode is your classic lulling pad sound and has a Sine wave symbol. Veterans of synthesis will recognize the changes between these modes from synths with assignable LFOs, although if this is your first dive into pad and texture sounds, it’s very intuitive and easy to hear how the different modes are affecting the sound.
The main page of the interface is the Orbits page (or the Engine page in Eclipse), which revolves predominantly around four sound sources, which are denoted by four moon-cycle symbols. In this context, a “sound source” is one of Orbit’s pre-made samples, with a few simple controls to further edit them. You can very quickly alter the order of the sound sources by clicking an arrow button between them and mute them by clicking on their symbol.
The samples themselves would put most pad libraries to shame and would be perfectly usable on their own. Orbit sports over a hundred source samples, split into four categories, whereas Eclipse has just under 70 in three categories. The sound categories for Orbit are Dark, Dreamy or Mysterious, and Eclipse is divided into Simple, Complex, or Asylum.
When you have a set of samples that work well together, you can edit and balance them further by altering their gain, pan position, pitch (in semitones), as well as filter cutoff and resonance. The type of filter for each sound source can be specified between lowpass, bandpass, highpass, and notch, with Eclipse adding multiple bandpass and phaser filters also.
Located below the sound sources are the above-mentioned Engine controls. They are the key to how these instruments work. In essence, your sound will cycle through the sound sources you have selected, in the order you have specified, which is charmingly called an orbit. The ‘engine’ controls allow you to alter various parameters of the orbit. These include the waveform being used (saw, square, or sine), the rate at which the cycles take place, the depth of the effect, and global attack and release settings. The sawtooth wave (slightly confusingly called ‘pulse’ in this instrument for some reason) adds a ‘punch’ control, which alters the steepness of the sawtooth wave, with higher settings giving a more staccato feel. The square wave adds a width control, which affects the pulse width, leading to a slow tremolo effect. If you think of the Engine controls as a sort of LFO which is assigned solely to how the source samples morph or step between each other, then you can quickly assemble very lush and complex sounds with an absolute minimum of effort.
The second page of the plugin is a dedicated FX section. Orbit gives you a Scream effect (a kind of distorted noise, by the sound of it), Distortion, a Modulation effect which can be assigned as a phaser, chorus or flanger, delay, Space (reverb), and a Filter. Eclipse is similar, although instead of Space, it features a Convolve effect, which appears to be a kind of reverb with pitch-shifter effects, similar to a shimmer or crystal effect. It also has a delay, and a warmth control, which is a combined filter and tape saturation effect.
Being based on NI Kontakt’s excellent FX engine, all of the effects sound great, and in particular the Convolve effect. I was tempted to add external effects at first, as with sample-based plugins I often like to try and add my own flavor to the sound, but the sheer variety of tones you can get from both plugins means that you can keep your sound design within the plugin and still achieve great results.
The third panel is the Sequencer. Four step sequencers of up to 64 steps are available and can be assigned to one of 23 different parameters within the plugin, such as global pan, or space send, for instance. Step sequencers are very common and don’t require an in-depth explanation. However, I will say that a very cool feature on those in Orbit and Eclipse is the ability to ‘process’ the sequencer. This is a menu of common commands, as well as a number of uncommon ones, that allow you to quickly generate sequences based on ideas you might have.
For instance, you can apply the ‘ramp up’ command and you will immediately be presented with an ascending sequence. You could then click ‘keep even’, and all of the odd steps will be removed. Then you could click ‘invert,’ and your positive steps would become negative. Further to this, with an additional menu, you can quickly set the direction of the sequencer, including some odd variations such as starting in the middle. Finally, you can save and load step sequencer presets, which is actually a very thoughtful level of detail for this part of the plugin.
The premise for Orbit and Eclipse is, on the face of it, very simple. A cycle of four sounds that can be modified and shaped to create an evolving and exciting pattern. This simple idea, however, creates huge dividends in the end result. The sheer variety of sounds both of these can achieve is staggering, and the depth and complexity in even one instance of the instrument is very satisfying. Yet the controls are simple enough to allow even novice users to come up with some exciting new sounds.
Anyone with a need for soundscapes and ambiance, be it in music, film or game soundtracks, will get a ton of mileage out of these two Kontakt libraries. As for comparing the Orbit and Eclipse to each other, they are quite evenly matched in terms of functionality. I would say that Orbit lends itself a little more to musical applications, and Eclipse fits a little better with pure soundscapes, although both can do either task to a high standard.
Price-wise, they are roughly on par with most of the better software synths. Orbit is $199 amd Eclipse comes in at $149, although a bundled option exists for just under $300. Whilst certainly not budget-oriented sample libraries, they are fairly priced if we consider the amount of included content. If you regularly need pads, ambiance, soundscapes, or similar sound design tools, these are a great buy. If you occasionally add a little bit of pad to your songs, it might be a bit overkill.
Overall, I like the idea, and I love the visual design. The sound palette is outstanding, and the controls very intuitive. These are recommended Kontakt instruments for professional composers and sound designers alike.