Horn Section HD review – Go Independent Records bring us brass loops in an iOS app

Download from iTunes App StoreHorn Section HD logo 1Yes, this is going to be a review of the new iOS music app Horn Section HD, but first, a little context. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat…. and, when it comes to making music, the choice of approaches are pretty much infinite; no rules… you just do what works for you (providing, of course, you don’t infringe anyone else’s copyright!).

At a more specific level, the same ‘multi-choice’ exists with specific instrument groups. For example, with drums, you can record a real drum kit, play or program a performance using a virtual instrument (sample-based or synth-based) or find a suitable set of pre-recorded drum loops from a commercial sample library and roll them into something of your own. The choice is, of course, yours, within the constraints imposed by the music technology resources you have at your disposal.

Fancy some brass? Horn Section HD might be just the thing....

Fancy some brass? Horn Section HD might be just the thing….

Some of us (er… not me) are fortunate enough (and determined enough) to have learned how to play multiple instruments. The first approach mentioned above – to actually play the part required using a real instrument – may, therefore, be a viable option. For others (that’s me then), that’s not always possible so the virtual instrument or pre-recorded loops route become very useful – and necessary – alternatives.

Some ‘real’ instruments (that is, sounds that are supposed to emulate a real instrument rather than being intentionally synthetic) are easier to pull off in a virtual instrument than others. So, for example, a piano, organ or harpsichord is perhaps an easier (although never easy) instrument to render in a sample-based virtual instrument than, for example, a violin or a saxophone. And, if you just need a dab of violin or saxophone (for example) to add an ingredient to the occasional project, then audio loops – pre-recorded audio of an original, ‘real’, instrument – can be the right choice.

Get the horn

Brass instruments – and in particular, solo brass instruments – can be amongst those that fall into the ‘difficult to do with samples’ category. Yes, it depends upon the complexity of the music, how ‘exposed’ the solo instrument is within the overall production and just how good the sample-library behind the virtual instrument is. Brass sections are perhaps a little easier to pull off, especially if it is just a few stabs or a swell here or there…. but, even so, to make it sound ‘real’ can still be a challenge.

Horn Section HD's lop content is organised into a number of musical style sections.

Horn Section HD’s lop content is organised into a number of musical style sections.

Which is why some ‘real’ brass – albeit supplied via some pre-recorded audio loops – can be just the ticket in some contexts. On the desktop, there is no shortage of commercial loop libraries, including plenty of good solo and section brass. If you have the time and a suitable desktop system, there is no reason why you could not buy into a desktop sample library product and then copy the required loops over to your iPad DAW/sequencer.

However, if it’s brass section sounds you are after, and you want it in an iOS-friendly format, then Go Independent Records’ new Horn Section HD – priced at just UK£7.99 – might be just the thing. The app requires iOS7.0 or later, is universal and comes in at around 180MB in size. At its heart is a collection of contemporary (as opposed to classical) brass section loops/phrases, covering in a range of musical styles, and all supplied in a range of tempos and keys with a simple system for auditioning loops and then exporting loops to either Garageband or another iOS DAW/sequencer app. Audiobus and IAA support mean you can also pass audio from Horn Section HD directly into another app should that provide a better workflow for you.

The material has obviously been played by an excellent set of players....

The material has obviously been played by an excellent set of players….

Indeed, if this all sounds a bit familiar, it may be that you have already used Go Independent’s Drum Loops HD and Percussion Loops HD – both of which I’ve reviewed here on the Music App Blog in the past – as Horn Section HD follows a very similar format.

Blow your horn

The user interface for Horn Section HD is very straightforward. You start by picking a style and are then presented with a list of loops organised by tempo and key. From the list you can then start auditioning loops (which will loop their playback) to find something suitable for your needs. Each of the loops represents a short phrase (often a couple of bars in length) and played by a small brass section comprised of two Trumpets, a Trombone and a Sax (although there are some Flugelhorn and Baritone Sax in places).

The Swells, Stabs and FX/moods (shown here) provide some very useful 'generic' phrases that can be added to any style.

The Swells, Stabs and FX/moods (shown here) provide some very useful ‘generic’ phrases that can be added to any style.

The styles – as shown in the screenshot – include funk, disco, pop, soul and jazz plus categories that cover stabs, swells and ‘fx n moods’. In fact, given the very consistent sounds used across the whole library, it is pretty easy to mix and match loops from one category to another. Equally, you can also layer different phrases (or the same phrase with a different roots note if your understanding of harmony is up to it). The musical performances are very good. The phrases tend to be fairly straightforward and workmanlike but that’s actually a good thing as it makes them easier to slot into a wider range of musical contexts.

Having found a suitable loop, you then simply press the ‘copy to pasteboard’ buttons for either Garageband or another DAW. This sends that particular loop to the iOS pasteboard. You can then switch over to your DAW and – providing it supports suitable paste functionality – import the loop to place on a suitable track. I had no problems with this process with Garageband and Cubasis and Go Independent give detailed instructions for these apps and Auria and Music Studio on their website. If you use a different DAW, you might want to check that it’s compatible before making a purchase.

Brass in pocket

There are some obvious constraints with this working process. First, unless your DAW includes some tempo-stretching functionality, you are stuck with working in the tempos supplied by Horn Section HD. Thankfully, these cover a sensible 90, 110 and 130 bpm range. If you are using Garageband, however, it will automatically tempo and key match the imported loop to the current project. Loops are exported in a 44.1kHz/16-bit sample format.

I had no problems using the copy/paste process to move loops into Garageband.

I had no problems using the copy/paste process to move loops into Garageband.

Second, you are also stuck with the mix supplied of the brass section. I have to say that the recordings sound very good – crisp and well balanced – with a modern (fairly dry) sound and a nice sense of stereo image. While 24-bit audio might be nice to have, I’d have no problems with the audio quality of what’s here, nor in using these loops in a ‘serious’ musical context; dial in the required reverb in your DAW of choice and enjoy!

The copy/paste process also worked well with Cubasis.

The copy/paste process also worked well with Cubasis.

Third, you are – of course – stuck with the musical phrases supplied. While you get a good choice in terms of tempo and key options, the trade off here is that means fewer actual phrases as each individual phrase is presented in all of the key/tempo choices. As with any loop library, therefore, you might soon find yourself reaching for the same musical phrases when what you really want is something ‘new’. Some cutting, chopping and pasting can obviously get a bit more from any loop library but, ultimately, you have to work within the limits of the supplied material. Still, at just UK£7.99, it is difficult to argue that this isn’t a modest price for the content on offer.

Given the styles covered – and the range of phrases supplied – I can imagine the most obvious applications for Horn Section HD would be to slot into an arrangement that just needs a touch of brass as one flavour in the overall musical production. There probably isn’t enough content here to build a track where the whole focus is on the brass section but, as an element in, for example, a guitar or piano-led pop or soul track, Horn Section HD could provide just the dash of authentic brass needed to lift an arrangement. Again, for UK£7.99, perhaps that’s as much as you have any right to expect….

The app includes Audiobus and IAA support if you prefer this as a means of getting the content into your DAW app.

The app includes Audiobus and IAA support if you prefer this as a means of getting the content into your DAW app.

Finally, despite the inclusion of Audiobus and IAA (both of which are welcome), having to copy/paste each loop you wish to use one at a time is a little labour intensive. Such is life….   the results, however, are going to be worth the effort if you want/need a ‘real brass’ sound.

In summary

Not every iOS musician will have a need for the sound of real brass. However, outside of iSymphonic Orchestra or Heavy Brass (both of which have more orchestral-based brass sounds amongst their arsenal), iFretless Brass and iFretless Sax, and SampleTank, compared to the desktop world, iOS has a fairly modest selection of sample-based virtual brass instruments to choose from. There are, at present, even fewer dedicated brass loop libraries for iOS. If you do want the sound of ‘real brass’ in an occasional project, Horn Section HD is, therefore, a very neat option.

As with any loop library, you are constrained by the range of supplied phrases but, within that limitation, Horn Section HD provides a combination of great sounding and very useable brass section phrases that you can scatter into your music as required. While the copy/paste process is a but low tech in a high tech music tech world, it works in a very reliable and straightforward (no learning curve) fashion; just drop your chosen loops into your DAW and get arranging.

As with Drum Loops HD and Percussion Loops HD, Horn Section HD offers a slice of real performance with real instruments in a format that is designed specifically for the iOS musician. If you don’t have a budget to hire a real brass section (ouch!) then Horn Section HD’s UK£7.99 price tag (ahhh!) might make the sound of ‘real brass’ a much more realistic proposition.

Horn Section HD

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    1. What puts me off this, is the fact that every sing made with it will sound like every other song made with it. Ultimately, producing something like Uptown Funk lite. Which to my (possibly cloth) ears sounds like a poor imitation of KC and the Sunshine Band.

      • Hi Nathan…. thanks for this…. and, yes, a point valid for any loop library. As I indicated in the review, you have to work within the constraints of the supplied content and, yes, so will every other user. I guess that’s why I indicated that these loops are perhaps best used as seasoning in a production rather than trying to create a piece where they are the featured instrument. In that sense, they give you a taste of real authentic brass playing but without dominating a mix…. and maybe can be stretched a little further as a consequence? best wishes, John

    2. Vincent Wan says:

      Fretless Brass and Sax are iOS sampled brass.

      • Doh!…. both of which I’ve reviewed here of I’ve added the links :-) Thanks for the nudge…. Very best wishes, John

      • Yes, along with Heavy Brass. I bought all of them, because I feel that they let me dabble more, playing what I like and in what combinations.

    3. Beakhawk also has a “Brass Riffs” IAP which has various instrument “hits” and instrument loops for baritone saxophone, horn section, saxophone, trombone and trumpet. The sample editor has a built-in time stretch as well.

      • Got BeatHawk ages ago, and find much to like. Reliability issues notwithstanding. Also, their customer relations are truly abysmal. They never answer e-mails.

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