Out of all the piano libraries I’ve tested so far, Hammers + Waves by Skybox Audio seems to be the most exciting one. The capabilities of this sample library are endless. I recently had the privilege of trying it out. It’s a breathtaking library sampled with a custom-made robot to capture extremely precise velocity levels throughout the keys. Right in the first minute of fiddling around, my jaw dropped. The toolset of this library instantly gave me a zillion inspirations. It’s so much more than just a piano library. Let’s get into the detailed review of Hammers + Waves by Skybox Audio.
Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves Review:
What makes Hammers + Waves Unique?
Unlike most sample libraries, Hammers + Waves is sampled entirely through a custom-made robot instead of human interpretation. That robot can autonomously capture an entire 88 key piano at 16 velocities in about 48 hours. A huge benefit of sampling an instrument this way is the amount of precision in capturing velocities. In addition, this sample library features an intuitive GUI with an insanely powerful toolset of granular synthesis and motion & arpeggiation engine.
Hammers + Waves is definitely in my Top 10 sample library list. The instruments are sonically amazing on their own. But the library goes on another level with controls like FRACTALS & SWARM. These controls provide rhythmic and atmospheric cinematic elements to the selected instrument. You can really feel yourself in the scoring world just by dialing in these knobs.
All of the Hammers + Waves instruments are highly modifiable. You can change the attack, tone, color, resonance, and so much more from the SOURCE tool which I’ll cover in a moment.
Instruments included in Hammers + Waves:
1. Hammers + Waves: ACOUSTIC
|Instrument Name:||Modeled After:|
|Modern Grand||Yamaha C6|
|Relic Upright||1890 Schaff Brothers Piano|
|UX Upright||Yamaha UX Upright 52″|
The Modern Grand faithfully represents the punchy tone of the renowned Yamaha C6 grand piano. I tried it in some complex mixes and it settled so well on its own. If you need more character and a fuller tone, Relic Upright is what you need to try. The last piano library in the Hammers + Waves ACOUSTIC bundle is UX Upright. It is modeled after Yamaha UX Upright 52″ which you’ll find in almost every famous music studio. Skybox Audio did an amazing job of capturing the rich, even, and sweet sound of this piano throughout the keyboard.
2. Hammers + Waves: CHIME
|Instrument Name:||Modeled After:|
|Dulcitone||Rebuilt vintage Dulcitone|
|J Celeste||Rebuilt vintage 1950 tabletop Celeste|
|J Toy Piano||Handpicked Toy Piano|
In the CHIME + Complete bundle, you get three beautiful sounding instruments: Dulcitone, J Celeste, & J Toy Piano. Skybox Audio picked up a vintage Dulcitone and rebuilt it to capture its authentic tone. Upon playing, this instrument instantly reminded me of Cher Lloyd’s – “None of My Business”. The J Celeste is modeled after a rebuilt vintage 1950 tabletop celeste. It sounds magical with crisp highs without being harsh. Last but not least comes the J Toy Piano in the Hammers + Waves: CHIME library. Skybox Audio claims it to be the most detailed Toy Piano sample library ever created. I don’t think you’ll need another Toy Piano library after trying out this one.
3. Hammers + Waves: ELECTRIC
|Instrument Name:||Modeled After:|
|EP 200A||Wurlitzer Electric Piano 200|
|Suitcase 73||Rebuilt Rhodes Suitcase 73|
Included in the Hammers + Waves: ELECTRIC + Complete bundle are EP 200A & Suitcase 73 modeled after Wurlitzer Electric Piano 200 & Rebuilt Rhodes Suitcase 73 respectively. You’ll just love how the EP 200A is mellow at lower and grainy at higher velocities. Dial-in a bit of FRACTALS & SWARM and you’ll be able to explore unique sounds that are hard to resist. I tried some presets with these instruments and I was able to creatively incorporate the resulting sounds into genres that I previously never thought I could.
4. Hammers + Waves: PREPARED
|Instrument Name:||Modeled After:|
|Muted Relic||1890 Schaff Brothers Piano (treated strings with a thick coating of gaffer tape)|
|Obscura Grand||Yamaha C6 (delicate strip of felt was woven between hammers and strings)|
In the Hammers + Waves: PREPARED + Complete bundle, there are 2 instruments: Muted Relic & Obscura Grand. The muted Relic is modeled after the 1890 Schaff Brothers Piano. However, Skybox Audio treated the strings with a thick coating of gaffer tape to capture a unique pizzicato tone. Just like Muted Relic, Obscura Grand is also treated, but in a different way. On Yamaha C6, the Skybox Audio team wove a delicate strip of felt between hammers and strings to capture a darker mellow tone.
Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves Toolset Review: Here comes the Fun!
FRACTALS is one of my favorite features in the Hammers + Waves library. It adds wonderful rhythmic elements to the instrument you’re playing. Even if your keyboard skills are at a basic level, FRACTALS will let you create surprisingly good arpeggiations. To access this feature, raise the FRACTALS amount from the knob first and you’ll be able to immediately hear the selected instrument in motion. That is just the beginning.
If you click on the FRACTALS text, you’ll see a whole new set of tools. On the center, there is an XY pad that will let you change the timbre of the instrument. You can experiment a lot with this tool by moving the blue dot at different locations. Just below that, there are additional tools that will let you control the arpeggiation according to your taste. You can change the number of steps in one cycle of arpeggiation, the velocity of the steps, the octave of those steps, and so much more. If you want, you can also toggle the arpeggiation to one-shot or loop.
Towards the left of the XY pad, you’ll see a DESIGN section. On the top of that section, you’ll find a “RATE” knob that lets you modify the measure/bar of the rhythmic patterns. Underneath that, there is an icon that lets you change the pattern of the FRACTALS steps. To further tweak the behavior of the rhythmic elements, you can experiment with additional tools like Reflection, Energy, Length, & Strike.
You can dive even deeper by clicking the “>” icon beside the strike control to change the percussive material. This feature works really well with acoustic instruments.
A Word of Caution!
Bear in mind that the FRACTALS feature in Hammers + Waves consume a lot of CPU power. Anything lower than AMD Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 will give you a hard time. If you’re having trouble finding the best CPU under your budget, check out the CPU comparison charts below:
- Intel 11th gen Core i9 vs AMD Ryzen 9 5000 series Desktop Processors Comparison Chart
- Intel 11th gen Core i7 vs AMD Ryzen 7 5000 series Desktop Processors Comparison Chart
- Intel 11th gen Core i5 vs AMD Ryzen 5 5000 series Desktop Processors Comparison Chart
SWARM is another major tool from Hammers + Waves that adds cinematic atmospheres to the selected instrument. Just like FRACTALS, the SWARM tool is CPU intensive as a lot goes in the background. Try blending a bit of SWARM and FRACTALS and you’ll be amazed by the unique textures and drones you’ll hear. Except for the XY pad, the feature-set of SWARM differs from FRACTALS.
Just below the XY pad, you’ll find the ADSR setting. Towards the left, there is an Intensity knob that controls the intensity of the SWARM effect. Things get more interesting when you change the OCT (Octave) levels. The other two features on the left (Texture & Width) are also self-explanatory.
On the right, there is an ANIMATION section. This area holds the tools that control the behavior of the atmospheric pads over time. With the help of Color AMT & Shift AMT, you can tweak the XY pad movement speed and direction.
Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves library contains over 500 presets. I don’t know how many presets I’ve used so far but I can tell you that none of the presets are there just for the sake of it. Every preset is unique and full of inspiration. It’s both surprising and amazing to see how many different sounds you can get with just one instrument.
To access the presets, click on the instrument name on the top left. Now you can either choose presets directly from the list or filter them out through the tags available on the right area. You may find the “Preview” feature useful above the tags area. When turned on, the “Preview” feature gives a glimpse of how the selected preset will sound. If you find yourself using certain presets all the time, you can also mark them as favorite by clicking on the circle on the left side of the preset name. Additionally, you can also save your custom preset to recall your favorite settings anytime.
SOURCE is a very deep tool that will let you modify the selected instrument from the root. First, click on SOURCE text and you’ll see 3 sections. The REALISM & HYPER REALISM section deals with fine-tuning of the instrument whereas the middle section holds the controls for major modifications.
The velocity graph in the middle controls how the instrument responds to the MIDI velocities inputted from 1 to 127. You can change the minimum and maximum velocity levels according to your taste. Moreover, you can also change the shape of the curve by clicking on the “VELOCITY CURVE”. Further, you can modify the bend of the curve via the < > arrows.
Above the graph, there are 5 knobs: CLS/FAR, COLOR, SHIFT, SHAPE, and OCTAVE. All these features are self-explanatory. With a little bit of experimentation with COLOR, SHIFT, and SHAPE, you can make the instrument sound like a completely different one.
The HYPER-REALISM section on the right is worth talking about. This zone lets you add additional sounds to the attack of the note. You can click on the “>” icon near the “Strike, Sub, & Noise” text to dive deeper and explore the striking/hitting sound elements. I really love turning on the SUB here. It’s just awesome how the sub-bass blends so nicely with the lower register of the instrument. The sound elements in the STRIKE option add a beautiful touch to the instrument and make it sound cinematic without any hassle.
In case you’re not able to hear the STRIKE elements, just make sure that you’ve raised the volume slider present on the left side of the elements.
Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves comes with a high-quality built-in reverb (SPACE) as well. Just use your mod-wheel and you’ll hear the reverb into play. Like other features, SPACE is also deeply configurable. Click on the SPACE text and you’ll land on a new page with all the reverb/delay settings. Hammers + Waves comes with 5 delay models and 51 impulse responses which you can further tweak according to your liking.
The reverb & delay controls are quickly accessible from SWARM, FRACTALS, and SOURCE tabs. To raise the send level of delay or reverb, find DLY (delay) and RVB (reverb) controls on the bottom right and adjust the slider.
The MOD tool in Hammers + Waves allows you to add dynamics and modulation to the selected instrument. This tool contains 17 custom LFO shapes consisting of 4 shapes of “Sine”, “Square”, “Triangle”, “Saw” each and a random shape. Either you can sync the notes with your performance or you may lock the LFO to the grid.
By raising the MOD knob, you may not be able to hear the modulation effect immediately. To hear the modulation effect, click on the MOD text first and raise the SOURCE slider of either VOLUME, PAN, or PITCH. If you have FRACTALS or SWARM into play, you can also modulate their volume pan or pitch on the same page. To change the LFO shapes, click on the shape to select the shape category. Then you can click on < > arrows to explore different shapes in the particular category.
Just like SPACE, you can quickly raise the send levels of MOD as well from the FRACTALS, SWARM, or SOURCE page. You’ll see the MOD send levels available on the bottom left of any of those three pages.
The FX tool is another powerful feature of the Hammers + Waves library. To utilize the FX tool, make sure you’re on either SWARM, SOURCE, or FRACTALS page. Then on the bottom right, you’ll find the FX tool with 4 dots. Click anywhere on that area to open the FX page. At maximum, you can add up to 4 FX modules in any order.
To add an FX module, click on the “NONE” text. This will open a dropdown with 12 high-quality FX modules:
- Stereo Imaging
You can also swap the FX module to the right or left from that dropdown menu in order to change the signal chain. When an FX module is in effect, you’ll see a blue dot near the effect name. To bypass the effect you can toggle that blue dot. If you want to remove the effect, choose “NONE” from the dropdown. Note that the FX settings are page-specific, not global. As a benefit, you can apply FX to SWARM, SOURCE, and FRACTALS individually.
The Hammers + Waves library also includes an AMP tool that incorporates Amp and mic emulations. Bear in mind that the AMP tool is only available for electric instruments. From the Hammers + Waves: ELECTRIC + complete bundle, choose any of the instruments and click on SOURCE. You’ll see an almost identical SOURCE page as with other instruments except for the DI / AMP option. By clicking on the DI / AMP text, you’ll land on a new dedicated page containing all the essential Amp and cabinet features. Both Amplifier and Cabinet are bypassable.
To change the Cabinet, click on the cabinet icon. Now, a dropdown will appear showing all the 8 cabinets available:
- ALTITUDE 1×10
- SUPERNOVA 1×15
- OPEN BACK 1×12
- CLOSED BACK 2×12
- SUITCASE 4×12
- MODERN 1×12
- BHULT-IN 145B 6X9
- BUILT-IN 200A 4X8
On top of this, you also have 5 mic options to choose from:
- RBN 121
- DYN 421
- RBN 160
- DYN 57
- VTG 47
In order to hear the Amp, Cabinet, or mic emulation effect, make sure that the DI / AMP knob is not set to DI only. You can either blend the two or dial it all the way towards the right to hear the AMP effect only.
Not only you can change the mic emulations for the cabinet, but you can also adjust how close or far the mic is from the cabinet.
Conclusion: Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves Review
If you read it all, you now know how amazing and unique this library is. Skybox Audio Hammers + Waves is one of the most interesting piano/keyboard sample libraries I’ve ever tested. The toolset that this library offers is so rich and deep. If I have to pick just one piano library for cinematic compositions or film scores, Hammers + Waves would be it. All of the instruments are sonically amazing on their own. But things get more interesting with the additional toolset that this library provides. Features like FRACTALS & SWARM are stunning and instantly give a lot of inspiration. Unlike most of the libraries where different velocities are captured using human interpretations, Skybox Audio used a custom-made robot for Hammers + Waves to sample extremely precise velocity levels throughout the keyboard.
If you’re a composer, I highly recommend checking out this library. Here’s the link to the official website of Skybox Audio. Hammers + Waves is really worth the money. It just won’t disappoint!