Review of the World Expedition Rom by Emu Systems
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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.

Features:

Huge 64-voice polyphony

All-new 32 MB World soundset

12 real-time control parameters

E-MU's exclusive SuperBEATs Mode

Advanced syncable arpeggiation functions

Dynamic 12-pole filtering

aka World Expedition Rom

by Tweak

 

Its been 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.

 

First Impressions

 

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.

  Lovely Item!

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. 

The Sound

 

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 around. 

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.

 

SFX

 

Main Bank presets (512 total)

 

kit:Planet Eart 0
pr4:Kalimba Ens 1
pr4:Clay Tones 2
pr1:African Drm 3
pr1:Liquidity 4
pr4:Balifon Ntr 5
wnd:SuperBans 6
cmb:Gaohachet 7
cmb:ExpressOh 8
wnd:Brazidiz 9
arp:DreamMallet 10
arp:No Age 11
arp:UduGhatmTub 12
cmb:Mute 13
pr4:Steel Drum 14
cmb:Bottlerina 15
pr1:Udu/KimKim1 16
wnd:Okamia 17
cmb:Nyebodems 18
cmb:Phaz Split 19
pr4:Balifon Chr 20
plk:Celtic Harp 21
cmb:Buzz Factor 22
bas:Lowness 23
cmb:Shamitone 24
cmb:Sweetness 25
cmb:Xaozone 26
cmb:Magical 7th 27
plk:Bazouki Tre 28
sfx:The Monks 29
cmb:Blocarooey 30
kit:World 31
kit:Brazilian 32
kit:Salsa 33
kit:Ritual Drum 34
kit:Earth 01 35
kit:Earth 02 36
kit:Earth 03 37
kit:Earth 04 38
kit:Earth 05 39
kit:Earth 06 40
kit:Earth 07 41
kit:Earth 08 42
kit:Earth 09 43
kit:Earth 10 44
kit:Earth 11 45
kit:Earth 12 46
kit:Earth 13 47
kit:Earth 14 48
kit:Earth 15 49
kit:Earth 16 50
kit:Earth 17 51
kit:Earth 18 52
kit:Earth 19 53
kit:Earth 20 54
plk:Cumbus Saz 55
plk:Su Gzheng 56
plk:Tenor Banjo 57
plk:Bazouki 58
plk:Baglama 59
plk:Prima Domra 60
plk:Segndo Domr 61
plk:SegDomraMut 62
plk:Oud 63
plk:Shamisen 64
plk:World Harp 65
plk:HmmrDulcime 66
plk:Mandolin 67
plk:Banjuoki 68
plk:Oudomute 69
plk:Anjomra 70
plk:Sazo 71
plk:Supersaz 72
plk:Su Zhouki 73
plk:Octar 74
plk:Noctar 75
plk:Domora 1 76
plk:Domora 2 77
plk:Shaoud 1 78
plk:Shaoud 2 79
plk:Sinoud 80
plk:Celtar 1 81
plk:Celtar 2 82
plk:World Harp 83
plk:Sazheng 1 84
plk:Sazheng 2 85
plk:Baglomra 1 86
plk:Baglomra 2 87
plk:Baglomra 88
plk:Segramu 1 89
plk:Segramu 2 90
wnd:SuperBans 2 91
plk:Dulcolin 92
plk:Primandl 93
plk:Primandl 2 94
plk:Mandomra 1 95
plk:Mandomra 2 96
plk:Baglama w 97
plk:Cimbalon 98
plk:Mostly Harp 99
plk:Hammers Plu 100
plk:P.Domra Plu 101
plk:MandolinPlu 102
bow:Erhu w-wah 103
bow:Zhonghu 104
bow:Gaohu 105
bow:Ehru 106
bow:Gao Landz 107
bow:Nervosa 108
bow:Gaohu&Zhngh 109
bow:Erhu&Gahou 110
bow:Gaozong 111
bas:CB Balalaik 112
bas:CB Bala Mut 113
bas:Guitarron 114
bas:Oud Bass 115
bas:Punchy 2 116
bas:Punchy 3 117
bas:CB 1 118
bas:CB 2 119
bas:CB 3 120
bas:CB 4 121
bas:Synthy 1 122
bas:Synthy 2 123
bas:Synthy 3 124
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. 

 

Percussion

 

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. 

 

 Arps

 

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.

 

Beats

 

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.

 

 

Note: You can put the World Expedition Rom in  of  other emu modules that have open slots
 

 

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. 

 

Overall

 

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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