SoundFonts (.sf2)

SoundFont, a registered trademark of E-mu Systems, Inc., is a name that collectively refers to a file format and associated technology to synthesize audio in the context of computer music composition. The exclusive license for re-formatting and managing historical SoundFont content has been acquired by Digital Sound Factory.

A SoundFont file, or SoundFont bank, contains one or more sampled audio waveforms (or samples), which can be re-synthesized at different pitches and dynamic levels. SoundFont banks are related to MIDI devices and can be seamlessly used in place of General MIDI (GM) patches in many computer music sequencers.

The original SoundFont file format was developed in the early 1990s by E-mu Systems and Creative Labs (used in Sound Blaster AWE32). Files in this format conventionally have the file extension of sbk. The SoundFont 2.0 version was released in 1996 and was fully disclosed as a public specification to make it an industry standard. New versions up to 2.4 have been relased in the past years and the new SoundFont files conventionally have the file extension sf2.

There are other sound formats available, e.g. The DownLoadable Sounds (DLS) standardized by the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA),  the DLS-Level 2 and the Structured Audio Sample Bank Format (SASBF )standardized by he MPEG standards body in collaboration with MMA and MIT and  proprietary formats developed by Yamaha and other music companies. Nevertheless the sf2-soundfonts became a de-facto standard and are widely used today.

There are a lot of websites available that offer free and commercial sf2 soundfonts :

The following tools are best suited to use SoundFonts :

  • SynthFont : a free midi file player using SoundFonts
  • Viena : a free SoundFont editor
  • FluidSynth : an open source real-time software synthesizer used in several music applications
  • Gervill : a software sound synthesizer for use with the Java Sound API
  • SFPack and SFArk : archivers for SoundFont banks which use different compression techniques