Saw X Film Horror Sound Design & Sound Effects Asbjoern Andersen


Saw X – in theaters now – is the 10th installment of the Saw franchise, which began nearly two decades ago. These horror films are known for Jigsaw's death traps, which require the victims to physically harm themselves in order to save their own lives. The traps are inventive, and brutal, and offer extraordinary opportunities for sound! Here, supervising sound editor/sound designer Adam Stein and sound designer David Rose talk about creating the sound of the death traps (and the resulting gore) in Saw X.
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Lionsgate Films
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Jigsaw – the main antagonist of the Saw horror films – seems to have an endless supply of death trap ideas. They continue to be horrifically inventive, extremely brutal, and require the victims to do unimaginable harm to their bodies in order to ultimately save their own lives. Even after nearly two decades and 10 films including the latest release Saw X – in theaters now – the traps still make you recoil in horror. Imagine cutting off your own scalp, sawing through your skull, and picking out a chunk of your brain tissue… are you cringing yet?

Here, award-winning sound designers Adam Stein (also sound supervisor on the film) and David Rose talk about their experience of working on a Saw film for the first time. And they dive into the details of how they created the sound for each of the death traps in Saw X, and include ‘juicy’ details of what went into the gore sounds.



SAW X (2023) Official Trailer – Tobin Bell


SAW X (2023) Official Trailer

Saw is a well-established horror franchise. Is this your first Saw film? What was it like to jump in with the 10th release?

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Sound supervisor/sound designer Adam Stein

Adam Stein (AS): Yes, this was my first time working on a Saw film. I was 19 years old when Saw was first released, and I remember how it changed the landscape and rules of the horror genre forever. So there was immense personal pressure for us to bring something original and experimental to the project, while still maintaining the integral foundations of the filmography. Like most large-scale productions, there is always this element of restlessness, especially when you’re walking into a franchise that started almost two decades ago, and with a majority of the same creatives still steering the ship.

We had a lot of homework to do before we started to create anything. There’s no one who understands the world of Jigsaw better than our director, Kevin Greutert. He was a vessel of knowledge for us.

During our first watch-through, I am almost certain that I became ill and heavily distressed. I remember reconvening with Dave afterward and he remarked on my appearance of pure horror within my little square on the Zoom call. Once those guttural emotions subside, like any other first viewing of a new Saw film, we were able to see the immense latitude available for sound in the film.

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Sound designer David Rose

David Rose (DR): It was also my first time working on a Saw film. Honestly, I was somewhat trepidatious at first due to the over-the-top gruesome nature of the series. Once we got going though I was able to put my squeamishness aside and view it through the lens of the horror films I grew up watching like Friday the 13th and Halloween. Enjoying the campiness and making everything as over-the-top as possible became the name of the game.

 

How did the previous Saw films influence your approach to Saw X? And what’s something new that you wanted to bring to the sound of the Saw franchise?

AS: In conjunction with the Saw films before this one, the auditory world had to possess a visceral nature that was raw, splintering, and metallic. The reality of this approach occurs during the first frame of this film with the MRI machine blistering us into an abstract space, unsure of where we are. Everything needed to be sharp and poignant. This is something we needed to carry forward from the films before Saw X.

…the auditory world had to possess a visceral nature that was raw, splintering, and metallic.

Like all of the films before this one, every square inch of it was covered with sound; from the blood to the chains, the screams to the score, or the swells and sweeps accenting head turns and hard cuts. And if you listen hard enough, you’ll be able to pinpoint some signature sounds pulled from previous installments.

This film in particular included various pieces of heavy machinery that ran the traps. Not only did we want these to be original, but we really wanted them to be forceful and possess heavy drive, while still maintaining their vintage properties.

DR: Our director, Kevin Greutert, has worked on the entire series, going right back to editing the first film, so he kept us on the straight and narrow in terms of not straying too far outside of what people expect from the series.

…we had plenty of freedom to try new things and try to make things more modern-sounding.

Having said that, we had plenty of freedom to try new things and try to make things more modern-sounding. Although Adam and I were newbies on the series, we were working in conjunction with Dialogue Supervisor John Laing at Urban Post Production in Toronto, which also provided the mixing facilities. Urban has provided sound editorial to all the films in the series so we had access to some of the signature sounds if we needed to reference something from past films.
 

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The death traps that Jigsaw constructs offer such a great opportunity for sound! The sound that these traps make is what makes them feel real and horrifying. Let’s look at some of the death traps in Saw X, and discuss your sound work on them…

– What went into the sound of the first death trap that John/Jigsaw envisioned for the hospital custodian (The Eye Vacuum Trap)? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

AS: This scene was all about propulsion. Pause. Then propulsion. Pause. Then propulsion. This approach helped create severity in the violence – hitting hard with the bone snaps and mechanisms, then a hard pause, then thrusting ourselves back into the engine of the vacuum as furiously as possible. Creating short fades and frame gaps between each sound allowed for those half-seconds of anxiety and empty space to breathe, not knowing when the chaos would begin again. Similar to the downslope on a swing, we wanted brief moments of limbo before hitting the ground again.

…we ran the shop vac through Soundminer’s Radium and increased the pitch manually, applying modulation through various pitches.

The first element of the vacuum was, well, the recording of a shop vac. The scene is over 2 minutes long once the vacuum is turned on, which is a large amount of time to create suspense with merely a vacuum. So in order to create ascension in the sound of something as stagnant as a vacuum, we ran the shop vac through Soundminer’s Radium and increased the pitch manually, applying modulation through various pitches.

After many tries and failures in getting the correct speed and timing against the pauses, this layer became our base layer for this trap and all of the elements that came after it.

Kevin specifically wanted them to sound like the snapping of a large carrot. So, large carrots he got!

We then began to add more aggressive elements, like table planers and low-frequency wind turbines, applying the same technical procedures that we ran the shop vac through via Radium.

A high-pitch milling machine was added halfway through to create a mid-stage of the sequence, and a helicopter turbine near the latter half to carry us out of the scene.

We also utilized Cargo Cult’s Envy in order to envelope the amplitude for certain sections of the risers. However, I do really enjoy the natural inflections of a sound as they occur when they’re recorded, so we tried to keep the usage of Envy somewhat tame in this scenario, as much as I love and rely on this specific plug-in. It was really just meant for more manual conforming.

…the eyeballs sliding around the tubes was a recording of aloe vera being spread across a slightly corrugated yoga mat…

The finger snaps were various vegetables. Kevin specifically wanted them to sound like the snapping of a large carrot. So, large carrots he got! The gore of the eyes being sucked out of their sockets were various mechanical air releases used to create the unmanageable force of suction against the face, allowing only the smallest amount of air to get through. Hydraulic elements such as boom poles were also used, specifically for the eyeballs whipping through the tubes and catapulting back into the shop vac. The actual slime effect of the eyeballs sliding around the tubes was a recording of aloe vera being spread across a slightly corrugated yoga mat at different speeds and modulated. What a waste of a yoga mat.

I must admit, the ‘oomph’ of the eyeball being sucked out of the socket to the ‘plunk’ of the eyeball exiting the tube has to be my favourite part. It’s such a smooth segment.

 

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What went into the sound of the Pipe Bomb Trap he devised for Diego the Taxi Driver/Dr. Cortez? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

AS: This scene was one of the more tame and literal traps, in my opinion. It was the one that made me the most ill, but still one of the tamest in terms of creation, I suppose. It was a combination of meat, slime, and sticks.

The complexity of this scene was how meticulous the movements had to be when editing.

The complexity of this scene was how meticulous the movements had to be when editing. Once all of the elements were ready, it was just a matter of lining each of them up perfectly to every movement, whether it was slow and precise, or fast and aggressive. The variations in the flesh tearing, for instance, had to be discernible or it all begins to sound the same. Dodging in and out of certain elements and some gentle modulation also helped create that contrast.


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Kevin was adamant about making sure that the scalpel periodically connected with the metal pipe bomb and wiring around his arm. Tess Moir and the rest of the foley team really made that possible.

Diego’s vocal efforts were vital for this scene, as well. Bryson Cassidy, Jeremy Laing, and John Laing had their work cut out for them in this scene. I’m incredibly happy with how all of the elements blended together. It was a cornucopia of grotesqueness.

 

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What went into the sound of the Bone Marrow Trap he devised for Valentina? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

AS: Similar to the first trap, Valentina’s trap consists of an initial element of a heavy machine, followed by manual anatomical destruction. It also follows the same creation process of the first trap. John turns the suction apparatus on halfway through the start of the scene, and it doesn’t reach its full culmination for another 10 minutes. So again, we relied upon Radium and external controllers to manipulate the pitch and modulation of each layer of the machine. This time we relied on antique milling mechanics, letterpresses, exhaust fans, Soviet conveyer engines, and coal mills. Saturation was applied in order to bring out the character and depth of these antique machines.

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It’s a very well-crafted trap, with the brake clunks and winding latches of the ratcheting gear pulley giving us intermittent pulses of dread that ultimately act as the rhythm.

Then, of course, there is the Gigli saw sequence. It’s really quite simple: a Gigli saw, or rather many Gigli saws, and enormous pieces of roast and prime rib from our local butcher. The amount of Gigli saws and pieces of meat we went through for this scene is unthinkable. Finding the right sound took a bit of time.

The speed of the sawing changes as Valentina goes through her leg, which also made the quantity of meat a necessity. A Gigli saw can do quick damage to flesh, so the meat didn’t last that long. My wife thought that perhaps we could somehow salvage the meat for meals. She wanted no part of any of it once she saw the butchering in action. The change in tempo and depth of the cutting really helped accentuate the pain Valentina was going through in this scene.

Utilizing the Sanken CO-100K during these recordings helped us out immensely when manipulating the source recordings to create variation and layers to the cut, so to speak. Dave also had these incredibly interesting bone saw recordings that we used once Valentina was through her flesh and reached the bone. It took that stage of the scene to a completely different level.

 

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What went into the sound of the Brain Surgery Trap he devised for Mateo the anesthesiologist? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

DR: The trickiest part of this section was the sound of the bone saw. We wanted to have an irritating dentist drill-type aspect to it but, of course, that can be a bit thin and uninteresting if you aren’t careful. We tried recording a few different tools but settled on a Dremel which allowed us to get good pitch variation as it ground into his skull.

We tried recording a few different tools but settled on a Dremel…

Pitched up significantly, it gave us a sound that matched the speed and intensity of the quick-paced editing of the sequence. A fairly significant amount of distortion and heavy compression, chiefly through guitar pedal simulators, allowed us to tame some of the super high-frequency content and bring out the mid-range to cut through the mix as it cut through his head!

…which allowed us to get good pitch variation as it ground into his skull.

The distortion also helped it to feel as if the audience was hearing the sound as he would, resonating through his skull. Lots of good juicy bone crunches and blood squirts helped fill it out.

I’m particularly happy with the sound of his brain matter wiggling in the tweezers as he brings it over to be weighed.

 


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What went into the sound of the Radiation Therapy Trap he devised for Gabriella? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

DR: This was a tricky one and went through a few versions before we landed on the right one. There is nothing obvious that makes sound apart from the mechanism that moves the radiation machine around. The radiation itself would be silent and, of course, the visual threat is really just an orange glow so it was up to us to sell the threat through sound.

Our first couple of versions were a bit too simple. Perhaps a bit too obvious with various electrical buzzes and hums rising in pitch and complexity as the radiation intensifies. When Kevin heard these early tests he told us he wanted the machine to feel more like it was a living creature. It was then that we started to think of it as a fire-breathing dragon instead of just a machine.

…we started to think of it as a fire-breathing dragon instead of just a machine.

We did keep the electrical elements but did a pass with additional fire rumbles and whooshes as well as some judiciously placed animalistic roars, particularly on the intensity changes. That gave us some good bass content to work with and allowed the machine to feel fully threatening and give Kevin what he was looking for.

Of course, the gore sounds had mostly to do with Gabriella trying to free herself from the chains. It was tricky to sell that she was hitting herself hard enough to break bones to remove the chains but not so hard that she would amputate a limb! We had to spend some time carefully building up the gore and bone breaks to a climax when she breaks free.

The machine possessed so many different, well-crafted frequencies that had the potential of interfering with the score…

AS: To expand on Dave’s notes, this was one of the most complex traps, not only in terms of the design but also in terms of the mix of the entire scene. Our mixers Keith Elliot and Rudy Michael had their hands full when it came to allowing the music and radiation machine to live independently of one another. They absolutely crushed it.

The machine possessed so many different, well-crafted frequencies that had the potential of interfering with the score that it was important for us to get the design of it to Charlie Clouser, the composer, as early as possible in the editing process. This proved vital in the final manipulation of the scene, as it often does in scenes like this.

 

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What went into the sound of the Blood Waterboarding Trap? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

DR: Well my favorite gore sounds are the whole scene! When we first watched this sequence, I was quite flummoxed trying to imagine how I was going to record that amount of goopy liquid pouring continuously for almost 3 minutes! I have to say that Soundminer’s Radium sampler was my best friend in this sequence. I’ve recorded lots of blood dripping sounds in the past and, of course, have some commercial libraries with good blood pours as well. The problem is that none of them lasted more than a few seconds.

Using Radium’s multiple randomization parameters, I was able to build patches that could play for long periods of time without ever feeling repetitive.

Using Radium’s multiple randomization parameters, I was able to build patches that could play for long periods of time without ever feeling repetitive. Also, I could create enough textural variation so that we could highlight blood on skin, blood on metal, blood on wood, and multiple textures of each depending on where the camera was pointed. It was so critical in a scene this long that the sounds are adjusting and changing throughout, otherwise it just becomes a wall of noise. This was the most fun sequence for me in spite of the particularly horrifying nature of it!

 

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What went into the sound of the Burning Gas Chamber Trap he devised for Cecilia and Parker? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

DR: In some ways, this is similar to the radiation machine in that gas releasing is not a particularly threatening sound on its own. It also has the problem of being essentially white noise, so while the gas sounds are strong and heavy at the start and end of the scene, they needed to be dialed back during all the fighting and flashbacks that are really the most important part story-wise. Of course, we have lots of good flesh sizzles to sell that it’s actually burning them. Much of the threat in the scene comes from the timer. Although it’s a simple sound, the constant pulse is very disconcerting.

 

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What went into the sound of the Scar Tissue Trap he devised for Henry? And what were some of your favorite gore sounds for this scene?

AS: This trap went through a few different iterations. In the final hours of our final mix, we decided to pivot from the majority of the mechanical elements of the machine, and focus more on the blades. We ended up utilizing the original gore elements of tearing meat to quietly (yes, quietly) play underneath recordings of a myriad of knives being sharpened or scraped on various surfaces. We also used this opportunity to draw us back to earlier Saw films and incorporate designed slicing elements from earlier installments.

 

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What went into the vocal processing on the anesthesia scene, when John is getting his ‘brain surgery’?

AS: This scene has a lot going on in it. From Priezor EMF recordings of electronic equipment to granulated lab equipment, it was actually one of the more peaceful scenes of the film, in my opinion. I really enjoyed working on this scene. The dialogue processing stole the show though, and became incredibly important for Kevin.

Keith Elliot and Bryson Cassidy helped create this portion of the dialogue edit and mix. Again, it was done by utilizing granular synthesis against the production dialogue and ADR in order to create broken cycles through John’s perception; all strategically spaced throughout the scene.

 

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What was the most challenging scene for sound design? What were the challenges?

DR: For me, it was the radiation machine. Starting with a blank palette is always the trickiest thing in design. Coming up with the concept is often more challenging than actually creating the sound itself.

…the sheer quantity of material was pretty daunting. We only had 4 weeks from turnover to pre-dubs…

Also, the sheer quantity of material was pretty daunting. We only had 4 weeks from turnover to pre-dubs and apart from the big “trap” sequences there is also an enormous amount of “designed” musical-type elements. Booms and braams and whooshes and hits and the like play a key role throughout. Keeping a steady pace and trusting your instincts was key to getting through the workload.

AS: For me, it was the eye vacuum trap, and for the exact same reasons as Dave just noted. The conceptualization against the schedule is incredibly stressful. As much as we want to be as creative as we’ve ever been, we are also constantly up against strict deadlines, which is both reassuring and at the same time, daunting. And again, as Dave noted, aside from the design of the machine itself, the scene possesses a multitude of musical-type elements. Not to mention carrots. And aloe vera’d yoga mats.

 

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How has working on Saw X helped you to grow at your sound craft?

DR: This film taught me the value of pushing the boundaries of good taste! Haha! In all seriousness though, these types of genre films require you to get the sound to the place you think you like, and then go one or two steps beyond what you think is acceptable. You can always dial things back but we rarely did!

…working on ‘Saw X’ reinforced in me the endless connection that people have to film.

AS: You know, aside from what it’s taught from the position of a Sound Designer and Supervising Editor, which is almost always the importance of collaboration, working on Saw X reinforced in me the endless connection that people have to film. This team has been making these films for nearly 20 years, and the audiences have grown up and engaged with them throughout their entire lives. New ideas formed, new techniques used, new props created, new technology mastered, and of course, new traps assembled. The passion of the creators just continued to grow. We were incredibly lucky to have been a part of it, especially for something as iconic as the 10th installment.

 

A big thanks to Adam Stein and David Rose for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Saw X and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:

  • Dinosaurs Vol. 2 is the second edition of our popular Dinosaurs sound effects series.

    This library contains a wealth of pre-historic sound effects, covering a range of different dinosaur types. Inside we have carnivores, herbivores, scavengers, flyers and even baby dinosaurs, allowing you to craft your own custom Jurassic soundscape.

    To create this collection, our audio craftsmen unleashed their inner Dinosaur, recording a diverse array of sounds that includes roars, growls, sniffs, breathing, eating, and eggs hatching.

    This library is perfect for use in monster movie projects such as Godzilla, King Kong, Jurassic Park, and is also well suited to covering video game creatures and enemies.

    All files are supplied in 24Bit 96kHz allowing for further sonic manipulation and have been tagged with extensive UCS compliant metadata for ease of use.

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  • Creature Sound Effects Dinosaurs Play Track 32 sounds included $16.80

    Witness the terrible and wondrous sounds of the long gone rulers of Earth, with our new library, Dinosaurs, containing audio brought back from 65 million years in the past.

    Our Audio Craftsmen have captured the roars, rumbles and groans of a variety of Dinosaurs, from Triceratops to the King himself, T-Rex!

    All sounds were recorded in our acoustically treated Foley suite in 24Bit 96kHz allowing further sonic manipulation. We then meticulously edited and tagged the files with extensive UCS compliant metadata for ease of use.

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  • Vielklang Instant Harmony 2 is an instrument for easy generation of harmonies from an audio or MIDI melody. The utilization of voice leading and harmony progression models allows vielklang to create harmony parts in a more musical way than traditional harmony processors and makes it a versatile and creative tool for musicians, songwriters and producers.

    vielklang utilizes zplane´s widely-used élastique SOLOIST engine for high quality pitch shifting and time stretching.


    The new version introduces the following features:

    • advanced pitch editing with direct tool access
    • new sleek interface
    • vibrato and tremolo generator
    • hybrid view for score-like harmony visualization
    • MIDI harmonization
    • multiple file harmonization
    • Instant Harmony V2.0 & Advanced Pitch Editing
    • Harmonize your melody with one single click – loading a single-voiced audio file – and create natural-sounding background choirs and brass arrangements.


    vielklang Instant Harmony generates harmonies with 2-4 voices. It is packed with musical intelligence and music theory: it detects the best fitting harmonies for each individual input melody, and automatically synthesizes up to four voices with the voices not merely running in parallel but with their voicings selected to sound most natural (voice leading).

    The advanced pitch editing controls (full version only!) give you fast and easy access to pitch, timing, vibrato control, formant shift, and to many more editing options.

    DOWNLOAD THE DEMO HERE
    WIN | MAC

Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Animal Sound Effects The Animal Symphony – Watusi Play Track 183 sounds included, 10 mins total $12

    The Animal Symphony will be a series of animal recording libraries, created to offer a wide variety of authentic animal sounds. Over the next few months, each installment in this series will capture the essence of different animal species.

    General description:
    The Animal Symphony – Watusi” features a total of 52 audios, with 183 individual sounds of Watusis mooing, all recorded in exceptional quality. Using two high-end microphones, the Sennheiser MKH 8050 and an EM258 capsule microphone, we have managed to capture every detail and nuance of these natural sounds. Each recording was made at a 192 kHz, 24-bit, ensuring professional clarity and depth.

    Featured Features:
    – Variety of Watusi Sounds: Enjoy a wide range of Watusi sounds, from soft moos to powerful calls, perfect for adding realism and authenticity to your projects.
    – Diversity in Recordings: With multiple takes and variations, with long, short and group moos, so this library offers the necessary flexibility for any type of production that requires this type of animal.
    – Careful Editing: All recordings have been carefully edited to eliminate any external noise, such as birds, wind or people, ensuring pure, clean sounds.

    This collection is ideal for a variety of applications:
    – Video games: Add realism and depth to the natural environments of your games.
    – Cinema and Documentaries: African environment and scenes that require authenticity in fauna.
    – Educational Applications: Use these sounds in educational projects to teach about wildlife and animal behavior.
    – Multimedia Projects: Ideal for any project that seeks to enrich the user’s listening experience.

    Technical details:
    – Total Audios: 52
    – Total Sounds: 183
    – Format: 192kHz/24bit
    – Equipment Used: Sennheiser MKH 8050 Microphone and EM258 Capsule Microphone

    License:
    The sounds from “The Animal Symphony – Watusi” are available under a royalty-free license, allowing their use in multiple projects without additional costs or royalties. You can use these sound effects in your games, trailers, Kickstarter campaigns, and more, as many times as you like.

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  • This library covers the sounds of the Trabant 601, equipped with a two-cylinder, two-stroke Otto-type engine from the late 1980s.

    The driving section contains 48 tracks with a total length of about 36 minutes. These tracks include engine ramps and driving sequences at various constant RPMs, suitable for game implementation. Additionally, there are takes featuring more common driving and pass-bys, which are better suited for linear media usage. Interior and exterior mixes are also included.

    The foley section comprises 23 tracks with a total length of 8 minutes. It covers all basic sounds, such as opening and closing doors, hood and trunk, gearstick shifts, handbrake usage, and horn sounds. These sounds were primarily captured from a close perspective using a shotgun microphone.

    Microphone setup:

    • Sennheiser MKH8040 (ORTF) – Cabin
    • Neumann KMR81i – Cabin / Foley
    • Neumann KM184 – Exhaust
    • Shure SM11 – Engine bay
    • Shure VP88 (M/S) – Exterior
    • Tascam DR40 (XY) – Exterior
  • Sports Sound Effects Pool Play Track 351 sounds included $5.99

    This is a sound library containing the sounds of cue sports games such as pool or snooker. Includes a range of sounds such as ball interactions, potting, breaking, and more, with sounds from both a standard set of 2″ pool balls and a smaller set too.

     

    Features: 

    • 350+ audio files in 24 bit 96kHz quality WAV format
    • “Multi” and “One Shot” files provided for most sounds
    • All files are metadata-tagged, allowing for easy searching in sound library management tools
    • UCS compliant file naming
    • Available for commercial or personal use without attribution

     

    View a summary of included sounds here

    View a full list of included files here

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  • 30 Alicante sound effects recordings of urban street life from a southern Spanish city.

  • Soar across the skies with Boeing 737 jet airliner interior clips from idling, taxiing, flying, landing, and others.


   

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