Newbie try to understand HALion

Hi,
I’m a bit confused about the programs (instruments?) used inside HALion.
Are they VST instruments? Because when going in the Steinberg shop for instruments, it does not mention VST or HALion compatibility. So are they the same?

Content Libraries that you purchase from Steinberg (I.E. Iconica, Dark Planet, HALion Symphonic Orchestra, etc.) will work in a free HALion player called “HALion Sonic 7” in any host that supports 64bit VST3, AU, or AAX plugins. Sonic 7 can also run in a stand alone application mode. It is not required to own full HALion 7, or “Collection” to purchase and use these dedicated HALion libraries.

For hosts that only support VST2, one would require an older version of the free HALion Sonic 3 SE player, or to set up HALion/Sonic 7 through some sort of third party VST2<>VST3 bridge.

You can find a full overview of the HALion tiers here:
HALion: VST Sampler & Sound Design System | Steinberg

My Summary:

Sonic 7 can be downloaded and used for free, but the free version does not ship with any sounds/instruments beyond a few basic ‘initialized’ synths. Quite a few Steinberg hosts (some free, like Dorico SE) do ship with various content libraries.

There are also products called “HALion Sonic 7 Collection”, and “HALion 7”. Both variants come with a lot of Content Libraries.

HALion 7 is the most fully featured flag ship product. It comes with all of the “Collection” content, but also provides all of the power user tools to make your own instruments from the ground up, as well as the ability to make scripts, macro editors, and everything you need to ‘package’ your own custom libraries. H7 grants access to a plethora of sampling and synth engines. You can pull in your own custom waveforms and wavetables. There are even some obscure features like pulling samples from old Akai or Roland sample disks (if you make an ISO first and register it properly). Other perks to H7 include support for up to 64 MIDI/VST channels over 4 unique ports/inputs, and customizable program tables (of interest to live/gigging players).

Sonic 7 Collection Is essentially the free Sonic player, but it comes with a long list of content libraries (Same ones that come with full HALion 7).

If you have a Steinberg Host such as Cubase, Nuendo, or Dorico, then you should already be familiar with Sonic. Such hosts all ship with it, and typically come with some Content Libraries as well. At a minimum you will usually get a full General MIDI set of instruments, and most hosts also come with a bit more.

If you have never used a Steinberg product in your life, and would simply like to have a look around then I suggest the following route to check it out.

  1. Grab Dorico SE. This is free, and it includes Sonic 7. The Dorico SE key also unlocks Sonic on the same system, and a set of General MIDI compliant sounds plus a little extra.

  2. Once you have Dorico SE and the included version of Sonic installed and properly ‘activated’ you should find that in addition to exploring Sonic through Dorico; that, any other hosts on your system that support VST3/AU/AAX will also be able to access Sonic and its registered instruments.

Some extra free sounds and libraries do exist for HALion/Sonic at the following links (and you can probably find more with your own web searches).
Virtual Instruments & Sample Libraries | Steinberg

Free Sound Banks & Virtual Instruments for HALion | VST Warehouse

Latest user-content topics in HALion - Steinberg Forums

You’ll also be able to launch Sonic in stand alone mode if you’d simply like to browse and play sounds, or run some standard MIDI files through its built in player. (Sonic can be put into a General MIDI mode in the OPTIONS tab).

After putting Sonic into GM mode, you’ll find that Sonic automatically loads some EFFECTS on AUX FX1 (Hall Reverb) and AUX FX3 (Chorus). Sonic will also accept RPN events for the basics like tuning, pitch bend range per channel, etc.

While Sonic doesn’t accept GS,XG,GM2 style sysex events to choose/manipulate effect setups, you can manually set them up as you like here in the Sonic UI, and save your favorite configurations a number of ways (effect presets, or save the entire Sonic instance as a ‘multi program’. Also, in a true VST DAW all of this stuff can be ‘automated’ via VST lanes. You can also have Sonic controls ‘learn’ CC events and automate things via MIDI).

As per the GM2 protocol, each of the 16 MIDI channels can ‘share’ these ‘reverb and chorus’ effects via ‘aux sends’ from each instrument slot using CC91 for Reverb, and CC93 for chorus.

At this point you have a respectable reference player for Standard General MIDI files (Better than the GS MIDI player that ships with Windows, and easily on par or superior to products like the classic Yamaha S-YXG plugins, or Roland Sound Canvas GS plugins) that conform to GM or GM2 standards (minus the sysex stuff, or extended program banks…rather than having GS/XG/GM2 banks, you’d ‘number and rate’ replacement sounds if you want/need them), with the ‘Standard Drum Kit’ being forced on Channel 10. If you want a different Drum Kit locked in then you’ll need to rate the preferred kit with more stars in the media browser.

From here, the question is do you want to buy the “Collection” of sounds?

Do you want the full sound crafting and editing abilities of HALion 7?

To answer this question, the best thing to do is apply for a Demo Key for Full HALion 7 and try it out yourself! The HALion 7 demo will allow you to try the content through both players (Sonic and HALion).

If you like the sound of Yamaha MOTIF keyboards, and want a big box of easy to use/mix sounds, to me it’s worth it. If you want a good bread and butter platform that covers many ‘eras and genres’ for playing live on stage for doing quick and easy demo tracks, the content is quite nice. Loads of pianos, organs, legendary synth leads/pads, some stashes of more ‘modern sounds [Granular/Wavetable]’ and more.

For orchestral stuff, it’s fine for testing arrangements or laying simple background beds or establishing easy to mix ‘symphonic like sonic textures’, but if you’re looking for huge sample sets with loads of round robin style variance and loads of hot-switching articulation choices…the HALion Collection won’t help you much there…Iconica or other ‘orchestral suites’ might be a better investment.

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The learning curve is VERY steep, and there is no help available to show you how to use Halion. Just a manual describing functions, but no in-use examples, not in the manual not on Youtube. It is like telling a kid this pedal is the clutch, but not explain you push down the clutch to change gear. So much potential, but really hard to learn. You are on your own…
Steinberg should fix this…

Thanks for the lengthy answer. But this doesn’t answer my question.

Are the Instruments/Effect for HALion actually VST instruments/effects? Or are they completely different?

The instrument as such would be HALion Sonic 7 (or HALion 7).

What you buy is basically content, this is not only sounds and samples though but can also come with custom and dedicated user interfaces (within HALion Sonic).

They’re all HALion, Padshop, Groove Agent or Retrologue presets or instruments as far as I’m aware. Most are HALion instruments with their own interface.

I’ve not seen anything that is it’s own VST Instrument outside of these.

Edit: Actually, Backbone is it’s own instrument… ahem… .Welcome to the confusing world of Steinberg. :slight_smile:

And yes, they’ll be VST3, AAX or AU (if you’re on Mac) compatible via the parent plugin. Steinberg are moving away from VST2 if that is a concern.

One other thing to consider is that I don’t think all those libraries are on the new ‘online’ Steinberg licensing, I really don’t know how much of the additional catalogue has moved across yet. (Sorry to add more confusion here).

Are you considering buying HALion or were you just looking at the instruments available and using it with SE/Sonic version?

Content for HALion uses the Sonic or HALion ‘plugin’ in a host, or, you can run them (Sonic/HALion) as a stand alone application.

It’s similar to the free Kontakt player for Native Instrument libraries, ARIA for Garritan, Opus/Play for East West, and so on.

No, the stand alone versions of HALion/Sonic can NOT ‘host’ external effect or instrument plugins, but the HALion engine does include a moderately advanced selection of internal effects (reverbs, filters, gates, compressors, chorus, delay, etc.).

HALion/Sonic does NOT come with any external ‘effect’ plugins. The HALion/Sonic VST plugin will not run in effect slots (unless you bridge it somehow with a 3rd party app). It only works in instrument plugin slots.

When running HALion/Sonic as a plugin in a VST/AU/AAX host, HALion/Sonic by default gives you a single stereo pair of outputs, but it is possible to have multiple outputs, hence allowing you to isolate an instrument and run external effects (real hardware ones, or as plugins in your host’s effect inserts). I.E. You could set up a new set of outputs, route just the drum kit to it, and then run it independently through the effect chain of your choice in your DAW mixer.

HALion/Sonic has a number of built in ‘effects’ that can be applied to any sound running inside the HALion or Sonic instance. These effects are pretty much duplicates of plugins that come with all versions of Cubase, Nuendo, and Dorico (sound very similar and have similar control parameters). Such effects can be applied directly in the bus path of individual ‘sounds/programs’, or they can run on an internal ‘aux bus’ (Sonic has up to 4 AUX busses per ‘layer’, and can host up to 4 ‘layers’ per slot, while H7 can have unlimited aux busses and layers), where any combination of hosted instruments can ‘send’ to them.

It is not conventionally possible to route other sounds (from other plugins or routing via a DAW mixer) into Sonic/HALion just to use the built in effects. It’s kind of possible to route in an external sound to ‘effect’ process a stereo pair inside the full version of HALion 7 using/monitoring its ‘sampler inputs’, but probably not worth it just to use some HALion effects unless it’s something super simple in a stand alone live/gig scenario.

Most sounds sold directly by Stienberg are going to be hosted in either HALion/Sonic, or Groove Agent.

There are a few exceptions for instruments like Pad Shop, Retrologue, and probably some others. Some of those may still be based on some version/generation of the ‘HALion’ engine deep under the hood, but simply cut through the bloat and use their own dedicated plugin wrapper and GUI instead of the larger general UI of Sonic/HALion.

Sorry, I’m still confused.
When looking at theire Zaria instrument for instance, it says that it is compatible with HALion 7. But it also says that the plugin format is VST 3, AU and AAX.

Does this mean you actually get two types when you buy it?

  • the HALion 7 type
  • standard plugin type (VST3, AU or AAX)

So I can use it in HALion 7, but I also can use it in my (none Steinberg) DAW?

The HALion libraries, like Zaria, can only be used inside HALion (full version or Sonic). There’s no standalone version. I guess the website mentions VST3, AU, and AAX because HALion is available in these plugin formats.

HALion is standalone application AND a plugin.

So yes, you can use any of the additional Steinberg instruments in any DAW as long as it supports VST3/AU/AAX.

i.e. In your DAW you would first select HALion as an instrument, and then use it’s built-in preset browser to load the sound you want from any of the libraries you have, such as Zaria.

When the preset loads, so does the interface for that instrument library.

Okay, I understand now.
It is a HALion instrument only working inside HALion.
But HALion can be used as a VST plugin in any DAW that supports it.

A bit misleading to say the plugin format of Zaria is VST, AU or AAX, It suggests that it can be used as such. But you need an expensive HALion plugin.

Thanks all!

No, you can also use the free HALion Sonic which also comes as standalone application and VST3/AU/AAX plugin.

The Full (Paid for) version of HALion allows you to create your own instruments, HALion Sonic is free.

And yes, it’s quite confusing if you’re not used to the ecosystem. :confused:

Okay, that is good news.
I thought the HALion Sonic was limited in functionality. But I guess that is wrong.

Thanks

It’s typical of sound libraries that work as plugins. You do not need full HALion 7 in the cases you’ve cited (it might allow you to deep edit some things, but isn’t necessary to use the library as designed). The free Sonic player is fine.

Here you can see a Solo Violin from Halion Symphonic Orchestra running in Sonic (free):

And here is the same Violin instrument in full HALion 7:

Here’s a partial list of the many HALion ‘Instrument Libraries’ that I currently have on my system. They work in all of my VST3 compatible DAWS.

Since I also use Sibelius and Finale on Windows, and neither of these support VST3 yet, I use a special VST3<>VST2 bridge plugin (Bidule or Kushview Element (free)) to force Sonic or HALion to work with these old hosts (If I were on a Mac instead of windows, I’d just use the AU plugin instead and be fine).

The ‘libraries’ for HALion aren’t much different from competing products when it comes to requiring some kind of universal Plugin to browse/manage the sounds, load, and play them.

Examples…

If you buy properly registered libraries from Native Instruments they have a similar scheme. You can use a free Konakt player to play the sounds in a host of your choice. Optionally, you can buy their full Kontakt dev kit (Power Building/Editing/Distribution tools like the full version HALion 7) if you like, but it’s optional. Occasionally you’ll see third party libraries or presets for Kontakt that ‘require’ a full version of Kontakt to use, but this is because NI has special process to ‘register’ libraries to work with their free player and the developer decided not to bother with the process/fees/whatever to make it work in the ‘free Kontakt player’.

Steinberg’s HALion 7 is a bit different from the NI scheme in that any user of H7 can develop and pack a library that will work in the free Sonic player.

The list goes on. If you buy libraries from EastWest, you’ll play them with Opus or Play.

Here is a Goliath Library Guitar running in Cubase/Opus:

Here you can see a couple of instances of East West Symphonic Choirs running in Dorico/Bidule/Play:

East West doesn’t have a user dev kit like HALion 7 that I know of. Users cannot deep edit the libraries and sounds and scripts at all. Users can’t make their own base sounds for Opus or Play.

If you buy Garritan Libraries, you’ll use their ARIA player. It uses sfz opcodes to build an instrument and it’s possible for end users to tweak or make instruments for the player, but it’s not ‘fully documented’ for end users, and properly ‘registering’ a library in the UI requires applications and processes with Garritan/Plogue.

Here is an instance of Garritan’s ARIA player set up as a string quartet in Dorico/Bidule (Notice the list on the left showing a bunch of Garritan brand ‘instrument libraries’):

If you buy Vienna Instruments…again they have a series of instrument players and servers. The base level player is free with any library, and there are ‘options’ to get players with more features (Serving sounds to multiple systems, orchestrator options, etc).

I could sit here all day doing paragraphs about different brands, libraries, and sound making platforms/engines. The list goes on, and on, and on. Most of them center around a common plugin to manage/load/play the instruments.

Instruments out there do exist that seem to live in a wrapper and player engine of their own. Some examples I can think of off the top of my head are plugins by Sonnivox). While these developers choose to split instruments up into separate ‘plugins’ rather than loading it all into a single ‘universal player’, it’s still pretty likely that they use some kind of in-house ‘development package’ that allows all their plugins to share common code and packaging for everything they crank out. They simply choose to maintain their own ‘closed’ development and distribution platform.

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As a player for purchased easy to play content…Sonic and HALion are pretty straight forward to me. The sounds are usually set up kind of ‘dry and loud’ out of the box, so you’ll want to dial them back, use EQ (Many HALion sounds already have a few knobs for this on the Quick Control panel…it’s usually enough to get the sound ‘under control’), to roll off harish harmonics (unless you want it harsh) and ‘place the sounds’ in the mix where you want it. Otherwise, it’s not that bad.

The philosophy behind the default sounds/presets, is that it’s easier to ‘take things away’ than it is to add it! So, a lot of the sounds for HALion are intentionally pretty ‘loud/rich/brash/strident’ by default. Just ‘dial them back’ (EQ and Notch Filters are easy to use and great for this) when it’s ‘too much’. Warm them up with a touch of reverb. Add dimension/depth across the stereo field with various ‘chorus effects’.

I.E. HALion Symphonic Orchestra sounds in Dorico as they are loaded by default can be pretty BAD. They load up panned dead center, and as loud as they’ll play. The samples were made with a close mic in a dead room. They are LOADED with ‘harmonics’ (on purpose, because again, it’s easy to ‘shape’ the sound with EQ and ‘roll away’ the bits you desire…so the same sample can make very loud/busy/aggressive sounds, or soothing and warm sounds). By ‘default’, it’s just ‘too much’ coming through both speakers full blast!

Once you understand this, it’s quick and easy work to ‘shape’ the HSO sounds for the needs of your score and mix.

A few minutes setting up the HSO ‘mix’, and it doesn’t even sound like the same library anymore. It can be very musical and pleasant (dial the gain back a good bit, adjust body/air, tweak the velocity curve a little, pan it and tweak the stereo ‘spread’ for a better sense of ‘origin/dimension’, use EQ to roll off any harish edges left over, add a touch of reverb, etc)! Make user presets as you go…it doesn’t take long to establish good templates that you can reuse in future projects.

The con to HSO is you, the user, will need to get involved in ‘mixing it’ to your taste and needs.

The pro to this, is that the library is super versatile. It can be worked into ANY kind of ‘mix’. Classical, pop, country, rap, EDM…whatever you want to roll, you can ‘put these sounds’ exactly where you want them in the ‘mix’.

For content creation…this is true about a steep learning curve. It’s more intuitive to people who have been using hardware synths, romplers, and samplers since nineteen eighty weird. It’s all pretty standard and typical for these users.
Zones (Set up the base tone engine)
Key/Velocity Maps (Map the zones to keys and velocities)
Layers (Each having at least one zone, plus Filter/Amp/LFO settings)
Programs (Yet another set of Filter/Amp/LFO)
Midi Modules (layer switching/bouncing, control matrix, arps, etc.)
Program Table
Multi-Programs

It’s all pretty standard run of the mill stuff for those of us who’ve been using Yamaha/Roland/Korg/Kurzwiell/ETC workstations all these years.

Otherwise it can be pretty daunting…

It has a power user UI (fork off endless numbers of fames/windows and arrange them any way you like). It’s awesome in that you can control the thing and build an endless assortment of displays and workflows. The downside is it’s so powerful that it can take some time to understand and maximize all the potential.

When it comes to learning how to ‘build sounds’…the best teacher for HALion 7 is to look into the unlocked factory content and study it.

The HALion 4 content is great to look at for grasping the ‘basics’. These sounds do not feature the fancy ‘macro editor’ screens at all. All of the layers will be ‘unlocked’, including zones that use samples. So one can really dig in and see how it all works together.

When it comes to making those fancy macro editors…really, they are totally optional. You don’t need to bother with them at all unless you ‘need’ a version that runs in the free Sonic player, and want more controls ‘on display’ than the Quick Control panel can provide.

None the less, there are a few unlocked macro templates to learn from, as well as a decent library of ready made elements (knobs, sliders, displays, and more).

A really good place to start with the Macro Designer is to study the libraries that were ‘new with HALion 6’ such as: Studio Strings, Studio Brass, ANIMA, and Eagle/Raven. Since these have unlocked macros and scripts, you can get an idea of how to build a basic macro of your own. You could even use the templates as a base and make some minor cosmetic changes for your own libraries.

Start simple…learn the more advanced goodies as you go.

When it comes to building macros and lua scripts, I’ve found that there are some cracker jack users in the HALion forum who are very good at helping us out. I’ve never had to wait more than a day to get major help there. A few of the people there will even toss up examples, or fully working scripts that are ready to go!

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