As a beginner in those topics, recording, home studio, and so on, I would like to record my own instrument samples -- a lever harp -- and I would like to be able to use this instrument in Cubase in some way.

I planned to record each note separately, so that I have separate sound files for each note. And then I would like to bring this in a digital format which is readable by Cubase (Elements).

As far as I know after searching for this topic a bit deeper is that I would need either Steinberg's Halion or Native Instrument's Kontakt to do this. Is this correct? The manuals to do this look quite complicated. And I don't want to buy all those sounds, I don't need them, I just want to use my own sounds.

Is there a simpler (and less expensive) way or format to do this? I know that there are much more features of a real virtual instrument than just the notes, but that would be enough for me (for the first step at least, just trying around).

  • 2
    Searching "best free sample playback VST" will probably find you some things worth considering... Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 21:00

2 Answers 2


Recording audio for this kind of use is called sampling, and an instrument that can record and play samples is a called a sampler. There are software and hardware samplers. A sampler that cannot actually record is (sometimes) called a playback sampler or sample player, to distinguish them from "real" samplers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampler_(musical_instrument)

You can either do the sampling with a stand-alone sampler that can actually sample, or record the audio in a DAW (or audio editor) and then import (perhaps drag&drop) the recorded clips into a sample player such as Kontakt or HALion. You'll have to slice, trim, level, clean, name, tune, sort, group, pitch-map, velocity-map, note-map, maybe loop the samples somewhere, with or without the help of automated tools. Search for "sampler that can actually sample" and you'll find some product alternatives. Some DAW applications come bundled with a sampler plugin, and even if the plugin itself cannot actually sample, you can see the integrated DAW + plugin combo as a full sampler.

Some samplers make creating sample programs easier than others, for example by auto-thresholding/slicing start/stop locations and auto-detecting and mapping pitches, so you don't have to manually spoon-feed every small detail for the sampler. Depending on the instrument and the level of authenticity you're after, even a few separate samples can be enough, particularly if the listeners aren't familiar with the instrument's sound. But for some instruments, a well-made sample program can have thousands of separate samples.

Using the actual sampler software might not be the only thing to learn. The physical act of recording, mics, mic placement, room acoustics etc. is important as well, and those things aren't trivially easy to handle. Background noise can be somewhat of an issue for polyphonic instruments. Every recording has some background noise, and if you record a whole performance, you get the noise "once", but if you record individual notes and play back, say, 10 such recordings simultaneously, you're playing 10 copies of the background noise. But you'll learn these things as you go.

  • Thank you for this long answer! Yes, that's what I planned, use my Cubase to record and adjust the sound samples (yes, I know, there is a lot to do to do it "right", but for the first step I just want to try it). The step after this was missing Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 7:33
  • With the help of this information I now found a few alternatives/ways to go. And I think a nice, simple and very flexible one (as it can be used in a lot of applications) would be sforzando. So I'll try to create a custom soundfont and use sforzando as instrument in Cubase. I found another interesting possibility in Cubase: The sampler track (works for one sample only), and Groove Agent SE, it's possible to put custom wave files for each midi note. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 8:31
  • @PaulWellnerBou Good luck! It would be interesting to see and hear the results. I must say, by wanting to create your own sounds, you're in a very small minority of people. :) These days it's rare to encounter anyone with this question. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 9:52
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    Thanks again. The first try was quite promising, I think: music.wbou.de/virtual-instruments/2020/11/18/… I have some more projects in the pipeline... more formats of this one (Kontakt, DecentSampler), a strummed Ukulele, another harp we have here, my clarinet, my french horn,... Not sure when I'll have the time for it though. Besides this, I collected a few links and information on this topic: music.wbou.de/virtual-instruments/2020/11/17/… Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 7:37

Wrapping up what I found out researching:

There are lots of samplers out there, commercial, free, expensive, less expensive. The comments and answers regarding samplers helped me to find the right search terms.

If you have Cubase already, the new sampler track of Cubase 11 is able to do a lot of this already out of the box.

But there are not very much samplers which actually can save and package virtual instruments or even sound fonts (or at least I did not found much).

So I collected a few of them here:

The "big ones" -- as far as I was able to find out:

  • Native Instrument's Kontakt
  • Logic's ESX24
  • Steinberg's Halion

But with neither of them it is possible to create or export instruments in a format which can be distributed for free so that it can be used by others without a Cubase, Logic or Kontakt license.

So here some options based on free specifications/software:

SFZ Format

  • Free
  • VST and standalone application available: Sforzando
  • Documented: SFZ Format
  • Sfz files have to be written manually, there is no UI to build your instrument
  • No packaged format: An sfz is just a text file referring to audio files

Soundfont 2 (sf2)


I am not the only one looking for an instrument format which can be shared easily: DecentSampler, created by David Hilowitz is a response.

  • Free
  • XML Format, similar approach as SFZ
  • VST with graphical UI and custom controls for your instrument available
  • Files have to be written manually, there is no UI to build your instrument

Compatibility and conversion options

Kontakt to SFZ

SF2 to SFZ

  • Sforzando can read sf2 files and save them as SFZ

DecentSampler to SFZ

SFZ to SF2

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