Gigasample collections are extremely high quality samples, intentionally sparing nothing to save on file size. Soundfonts, generally speaking, are small in size, using compressed formats for storage and using a few shorcuts to save on space.
The Soundfont format was innovative when it was released decades ago, and in many ways still is. It gives everyone equal access to classic sounds simply by being so old that they can be found littered all over the Internet. Many of the soundfont collections online are, by nature of being old, are snapshots of synth history.
The soundfont format is well understood, so you can edit soundfonts, make your own, and use them in a good number of synths, samplers, and DAWs.
Gigasample collections usually map each note to multiple samples based on velocity, and are often gigabytes upon gigabytes in size as a result. Soundfonts, generally (not always) speaking, are simple straight maps without an effort to “fake out” the audience.
Soundfonts have been around for a long time, and mostly pre-date concepts of Creative Commons. Most soundfonts online are just presumed to be functionally Creative Commons Share-Alike with Attribution, because that was the innate culture of the synth community in the '90s and early '00s (and arguably much longer). That said, assumption is not a contract, so if you have concerns about legal use of sounds, then do whatever you feel is best.
Several stashes of soundfonts exist:
- http://www.hammersound.com/cgi-bin/soundlink.pl?action=view_category&category=Bass&ListStart=0&ListLength=15: classic soundfonts and classic sounds
- http://www.synthfont.com/soundfonts.html: random collection
- http://sso.mattiaswestlund.net/index.html: a full orchestra set
- http://slackermedia.info/sprints: collected sounds from all of the above sites, in one place for convenient download
Using Soundfont with Synths and Samplers
Soundfonts require a player, just like samples need samplers. The most common plugin Soundfont trigger is Fluidsynth-DSSI, while the most common stand-alone trigger is QSynth; both of which are frontends for Fluidsynth.
Fluidsynth is also bundled as a plugin along with LMMS.
If your workflow revolves around it, and you aren't afraid to do some code compiling, the recent editions of Linux Sampler can trigger not only
GIG samples, but
sfz Soundfont files as well.
Slackermedia does not support either of these applications solely due to inexperience with them, but for the brave artist technicians who want to try it, you can edit and create Soundfont banks:
If you make any, remember to license them!