IK’s SampleTank was one of the first sample-based software instruments to really capture the imagination of producers. In fact, I remember using it back in the mists of time when virtual instruments that could do lots of “real” instrument sounds believably were pretty thin on the ground. IK takes its time developing major updates, and SampleTank 4 is the latest version. Though the look is familiar, a huge amount of work has gone on under the hood to bring it up to speed with the latest technologies. So let’s dive right in.
The first thing you notice is that version 4 is now scalable - the interface has been vectorised so that it can be freely resized (although there is a minimum window size) to suit any screen. It’s smoother and more slick throughout, and feels great to use. There’s up to 200GB of new content (depending on which version you buy) comprised of over 90,000 new samples, covering keyboards, brass, strings, drums, synths, vocals, percussion and much more.
The sound libraries can be downloaded from your user area of the website and at full stretch will use 256GB of hard drive space, though the library can be offloaded onto a secondary or external hard drive, thankfully. It’s possible to download individual instrument libraries so you don’t have to grab the lot in one go.
SampleTank 4 is more than just an instrument - it’s a workstation, with the ability to record patterns and songs as well as layering up instruments and effects. It’s designed to be as much a live performance tool as a studio tool and as such, can do an awful lot without needing you to be running it inside a DAW. It manages to arrange its controls and functions very logically, and the learning curve is gentle despite it having a great many abilities. The audio engine has also been improved, and there are sample streaming options for you to tweak according to your particular system for optimum performance.
As far as live performance goes there are new dynamic groove players - arpeggiator, strummed and pattern and loop players - to help you sequence. There’s also a new Live Mode where you can create set lists and map parameters to quick controls and to MIDI hardware controllers. There are 8000 instrument presets in the MAX version, with the ability to split and layer these meaning essentially a near-infinite sonic canvas.
Opening the Edit section of a patch presents you with the redesigned sound engine, where you’ll find that there’s a lot of synthesis and sound shaping going on as well as just sample playback. There’s enough here to satisfy even ardent sound tweakers, with advanced synthesis controls offering amazing levels of detailed control.
The four new player sections are easy to get to grips with and make animating or loading MIDI presets easy. I especially liked the Loop Manager, with pitch, grain and time controls for really mangling loops in a creative fashion. Then of course there’s the powerful mixer section, with the new Parts interface providing quicker and easier access to inserts and all mix parameters than ever before. And regarding effects, you get 13 new models bringing the total to 70, as well as a new mod matrix for creative modulation.
This review barely scratches the surface of what SampleTank 4 can do. Interestingly the application itself is the same whether you get the SE, Regular or MAX version - it’s the bundled instruments that are different. You can find a very detailed comparison of these here: https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/include/st4/soundlist/SampleTank_4_comparison.pdf The price differences seem fair considering the content that comes with each.
I have reviewed the MAX bundle, but you may find that your needs are served by one of the smaller packages. Whichever one you go for, you’ll find SampleTank 4 an absolute powerhouse of sounds, programming, sound shaping, sequencing and mixing that will serve you equally well on stage or in the studio.