Coming up with new ideas from scratch can be tough. As musicians, we're often on the hunt for a great song idea, or the perfect sample to kickstart our project.
That's why sample-based producers look for high-quality content they can chop up and infuse into a new project. The traditions began with DJs digging through crates of vinyl tryin to find a new drum break, but over the past 30 years there's been a shift toward curating digital libraries.
If you've already collected high quality samples, you probably have what you need to kickstart a new project. The hard part is finding other related samples that will go along with projects you've already started.
Bloated sample libraries are commonplace. Organizing your samples is a critical and often overlooked part of working efficiently as a music producer. Without that step, you can easily waste hours sifting through all the options.
Sample managers add an extra layer of metadata to our audio files, making it easier to search for ideas based on information like key signature and BPM. Metadata about the audio's source can also help you with legal compliance, if you end up writing a hit.
In this article, I'll review the core features that any producer should look for in a sample manager, along with our favorite software programs on the market today.
Table of Contents
Main benefits of using a sample manager
To get started, let's take a closer look at the value you'll get when you find the right sample manager. Some of these ideas may seem obvious, but we want to make sure the super clear before we jump into specific examples.
Organization: Your computer already comes with a basic file management system to display basic information like audio file size and length. The beauty of a sample manager is that it lets you add a layer of critical data about the key, bpm, instrument, genre, mood, and more. Making the effort to add that information makes it easier to retrieve the samples you're looking for in a fraction of the time.
Workflow Efficiency: With your audio files neatly organized and labeled, the sample manager will become a critical part of your creative workflow. Just filter through the library to grab what you need.
Preview and Audition: To preview audio files on a computer, you typically have to key through the file folder using your arrow pad. Some folder views will include a play button, but in most cases you have to double click each file to listen to it. This can become time consuming and annoying. Sample managers reduce the effort required to preview samples.
Create your own Metadata: Technical information about the file, like duration and file size, will automatically load into most sample managers. You can input additional information from the sample's file name, like BPM and key signature, and add a final layer of information about mood, genre, etc.
Integration: Sample managers sometimes integrate directly into the DAW as a plugin. This eliminates the need to tab back and forth between applications. Instead, users drag and drop files directly onto an audio track when you find something.
Instant Inspiration: Browsing through a well-organized sample library can trigger creative ideas. If you're using one-shots, sample management programs sometimes include features associated with drum machine, like sample pads and sequencers. Use rhythm presets and randomization for instant inspiration before dragging the idea into your DAW.
Backups and Safety: Some sample managers sync with cloud storage services, in case your hard drive fails and you lose all of your audio. That additional layer of security can provide peace of mind.
Space Management: Seeing all of your audio files in one place makes it easier to identifying duplicates, remove unused samples, and compress files when needed.
Those are the main things you should be on the lookout for when you're looking for a new sample manager. So with that out of the way, let's go deeper into some of the options available to you.
6 Popular Audio Sample Managers
Each sample manager comes with a different set of perks. For example, Splice has a free tool with a great collection of built in sounds, but doesn't let you upload your own samples. To help you get better visibility on some of the big players in this space, we've outlined their core features below.
ADSR Sample Manager (VST/AU)
The ADSR Sample Manager is a powerful and versatile tool that comes with tagging, visualization, and drag-and-drop capabilities. Other applications in this niche can cost $50-100, so ADSR's free program is a no-brainer for getting easy access to a file manager. Here are some of the key features that it offers:
Features of the ADSR Sample Manager
Sample Browsing and Organization: Automatically categorize your samples into different groups like instrument, genre and BPM. This lets you search for specific sounds without having to go through numerous folders manually. It's also designed for tracking any new samples you add, updating and organizing your library automatically.
Cloud Integration and ADSR Website Sync: Synchronize sample packs that you purchased from ADSR's library and they will sync directly with the Sample Manager. This saves you time downloading and sorting each file in the sample pack.
Random button: Don't know where to start? Hit the random button to select a random sample and get your project moving.
Sample Manipulation and Editing: The Sample Manager features a waveform display to edit the start and end points, along with applying fades.
Drag and Drop: The Sample Manager is designed with a straightforward, user-friendly interface, enabling a simple drag and drop process to the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of your choice.
Metadata: Samples within the ADSR Sample Manager are rich with data, from basic information like file format and sample rate to musical features like key, tempo, and timbre. You'll be able to find other related samples later by filtering on those attributes.
The minimum specification for ADSR Sample Manager is Windows 7 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.9.x 4GB RAM, MAC 64 bits, and PC 32 bits and 64 bits.
Splice Sample Library and AI search
Splice is another big sample manager used by musicians today. The big difference between Slice and ADSR is that you can't load your own, personal libraries into Splice. It only manages files that are hosted on their own site. This makes it totally ineffective if you're trying to organize audio files from outside their platform.
Like ADSR, Splice offers their file manager for free and charges a monthly premium for access to a certain amount of credits per month. If you don't use all of them in a month, they roll over automatically to the next month. The only catch is that you'll lose all your credits if you cancel the subscription. That's how they tend to keep people hooked.
That being said, you can find exclusive sample packs from some of the biggest artists in the music industry on Splice. For top-shelf, professional sounds that take your music to the next level, it's one of the best options around.
If you find something you like, Splice also includes an AI search tool that finds similar sounds on their platform. This goes beyond basic metadata and pulls from machine learning models, meaning you can quickly find very similar sounds without relying on words alone.
How to access Splice's AI-powered Similar Sounds feature
To find samples that sound similar to the one you like, click on the vertical ellipses located on the far right of the row, as shown below. Then select Show Similar Sounds to open up the right-navigation menu.
With the right panel open, you can browse through a collection of tracks that could help you achieve a similar feeling to the original. They won't necessarily be in the same key or BPM. This feature is best if you found a sample that's almost what you wanted but not quite it. Here's what that menu looks like:
When you use a credit to obtain a track, the Splice Sample Library lets you drag and drop it directly into your DAW. This makes it great for any music production workflow, as long as they have the samples in their collection that you're looking for.
Sononym (AI-powered sample grouping)
Sononym is like a blend of the ADSR sample manager and Splice app. It allows you to upload files from your sample library like ADSR, but like Splice it can identify sonic characteristics of a sample to find other samples with similar sonic traits. This feature, backed by machine learning algorithms, enables a much more advanced and personalized sample searching process. It can be incredibly helpful when you're looking for a particular sound or feel.
Additionally, Sononym provides a suite of tools for detailed sample analysis, including key, pitch, rhythm, and timbral characteristics, allowing users to manipulate and optimize their samples to better fit their creative needs.
The application can support deep file categorization and labelling, promoting an organized and efficient workflow. This approach enhances the creative process by connecting users with the perfect sounds more rapidly and intuitively than traditional methods.
Waves Cosmos Sample Finder
Cosmos Sample Finder is a comprehensive program that utilizes artificial intelligence to manage and auto-tag your entire sample library. Here are some of its key features:
Identification and Cataloguing: Cosmos can identify and properly catalogue samples, even if they are not correctly named. For example, a sample named "#5B #1" might be identified as "Kick Hip Hop Electronic Hit and Dry." This feature makes it easier to search for samples that lack adequate data.
Advanced Search Capabilities: Cosmos uses a neural engine to discern specific qualities of a sample, from style to instrumental content. For instance, if you're seeking a soul sample with vocals from a vinyl, you can simply input these parameters into the search bar, and Cosmos will serve up the results.
Key, BPM, and Instrument Recognition: The software can filter results by BPM and key (including relative key), thus helping to find samples that fit the current project. Moreover, it can identify the instrument used in a sample, even when it's not explicitly named.
One-Shot Browsing: The Cosmos interface allows users to view one-shot samples as a constellation of dots, where each dot represents a specific one-shot on your device. These can be organized by brightness or instrument, making it easy to find and drag-and-drop samples right into your project.
Flexible File Management: Users can control the files and folders the software analyzes, avoiding the potential overwhelm of having the program categorize massive sample libraries.
Inspiration and Efficiency: Instead of using the same samples because you know where they're stored, Cosmos helps discover new sounds, making sample browsing a more creative and efficient process.
A word of warning - due to the use of AI to analyze each file, it can take a long time to upload larger collections.
XLN's XO vs Algonaut's Atlas 2 (Drum sample libraries)
XO by XLN Audio is a sophisticated and intuitive sample management tool that stands out in the digital audio software landscape. Designed to serve as a sequencer, mixer, and sample explorer in one, XO offers a unique approach to sample sorting and creating drum loops.
One of its innovative features is the Space interface, which sorts one-shots by similarity, organizing them in a visual cloud where close proximity indicates similar sound characteristics. This visual clustering creates an engaging and productive way of browsing and selecting samples, simplifying the process of finding the perfect sound.
One aspect of XO that sets it apart is its timbre matching feature. It utilizes a powerful spectral analysis algorithm to compare the sonic characteristics of different samples. When you select a sample, XO immediately highlights other samples in your library with a similar timbre, creating a simple and intuitive way to find matching sounds.
We've previously shared a review of XO's main competitor, Atlas 2, and a comparison of their features. Check out that page for more context. Atlas 2 offers a robust and versatile solution to help producers, sound designers, and musicians manage their sample libraries.
Like XO, Atlas performs timbre clustering in a visual map, with provides a library browser and advanced filtering options. Unlike XO, you can create an unlimited number of maps to accommodate different libraries. Atlas also comes with a more powerful sequencer for creating AI drum loops.