SFZ is a markup file format for samples and was introduced by rgc:audio (later bought by Cakewalk). It has capabilities similar to Soundfonts or GigaSampler sets but with a difference that the sound files are not included in the SFZ. As the SFZ file is pure text it is easy to create and – more importantly – easy to tweak.
The SFZ Format is widely accepted as the open standard to define the behavior of a musical instrument from a bare set of sound recordings.
What that mean is that it’s a great format when sampling instruments, both when it comes to speed when creating new sample sets and that there are sample players compatible with more or less any platform and DAW.
Royalty free format
Any developer can create, use and distribute SFZ files and players for free or commercial purposes. This is great both for portability and cost efficiency. That matters both for the musician, the software developer and the sample content developer.
SFZ is an open format
To understand the power of an open format it’s the best way to look at a closed format first. A closed format (or proprietary format) is considered a trade secret, only the owner of the format can use it or give others permission through licensing to use it. In contrast an open format is a file format that is published and free to be used by everybody. This means SFZ support can be implemented by both proprietary and free and open source software and that means a SFZ file can be used in many programs that do different things. Pretty much in the same way you can choose what web browser to browse the web you can choose a sampler or synthesizer to play your SFZ files.
SFZ is an open format one more way
SFZ is also an open format in the way that you can open it up in any text editor and see what makes it tick. This is great cause if you want to make a small adjustment to a SFZ you bought or downloaded, you can.
Creating and editing
There are some graphical editors that can create SFZ files but SFZ files are advantageously edited in a text editor. If you are familiar with the basics of web programming the concept is similar. You got one markup file (the .sfz file) and then a bunch of assets (.wav files or .ogg files) which you reference in the markup file. There are settings and values, called opcodes, which enables you to for example connect a sample to a specific key or velocity range, set loop points, set attack and release values and so on…
For most people learning the SFZ file format is a bit to steep and they will just load it up in a sampler and make a preset, and that’s great. But if you are into sampling and want to create sample sets or modify a sample set learning the basics of SFZ file syntax is not that hard and it is very rewarding. With some search and replace something that take ages in a graphical interface take a split second.
More tutorials on creating SFZ files
Using SFZ files
I personally like sforzando by Plouge, it has a simple minimalist interface and the best support for the SFZ standard. It has great disc streaming which makes loading and playing even very big sample sets a breeze. It is available as a standalone application and as plugins (VST, AU, RTAS, AAX) for both 32bit and 64bit OSX and Windows.
sforzando – Free SFZ Player. Simple but Powerful For Advanced Users
Alchemy Player – Free Sound Library & SFZ Player
Zampler//RX – A Powerful Sample Workstation for VST & AU
Linux Sampler – A free, streaming capable open source pure software audio sampler with high stability, efficiency and very low latency.