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Native Instruments REAKTOR

Manufacturer: Native Instruments
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided DigiFreq with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
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With the advent of todayís powerful personal computers, there are now applications on the market that allow musicians to build their own virtual software-based synthesizers, and then play them just like any other electronic MIDI synth. One such application is REAKTOR from Native Instruments. Now at version 3, REAKTOR is one of the most powerful music applications on the market. By dragging and dropping virtual elements called modules and macros to create Instruments, which can be combined to form multitimbral Ensembles, you can literally build your own synths, samplers, and even effects processors that can be used to process your audio in real-time.

Of course, with this kind of power also comes complexity. If youíre a complete beginner who knows nothing about synthesis or audio signal processing, you may find it difficult to build your own REAKTOR creations. But the product comes with a very good userís manual containing some nice tutorials to get you started. More importantly, REAKTOR ships with a large number of pre-built Instruments and Ensembles so you can start playing right away without having to worry about building your own. The included Instruments allow you explore analog modeled, additive, FM, and unique synthesizers, groove with real-time time compression and expansion, mix with compressors, EQs, pitch shifters, filtered delays, distortion, and more. And the Native Instruments web site hosts a huge REAKTOR user community where you can download and swap creations with other REAKTOR-ites.

If youíre more advanced, however, and you would like to create your own REAKTOR instruments, the program provides over 200 basic modules, which can be combined. Some of these include analog and sampling oscillators, various filters and envelopes, shapers, delays, and sequencers. Some of the new modules in REAKTOR 3 include XY Control with real-time display, the Audio Array (which allows you to create oscillators out of audio files), the Event Array (which allows you to draw in envelopes with an unlimited number of curves), the Pro-52 filter module, the Ladder filter module (an authentic emulation of the classic Moog filter), the Grain Cloud module (which gives you the power of granular synthesis), the 8-Tap Delay, and the 8-Channel Scanning Mixer.

In addition to new modules, REAKTOR 3 provides a number of new features: a completely rewritten core audio engine that is optimized for the SSE and AltiVec instruction sets on the Intel Pentium and Mac G4 processors; a new user interface, which includes knobs, sliders, and buttons that have been redesigned for greater clarity, and drag and drop functionality that works with audio files, instruments, and macros; new professional Level Meters with course and fine modes; an enhanced toolbar and floating property inspector; audio data display in sampler modules and importing of AKAI format sample data.

Even with the new features, REAKTOR could still use a bit of improvement with its user interface, most notably in dealing with complex instruments. Module connections can get quite confusing and thereís no way to route connections on a grid. Instead the connection lines are drawn directly from one module to another, which can lead to quite a tangle. It would also be nice to have some kind of automatic module arrangement feature so that when a new module is added to an existing project, other modules move to make room for the new module. And on my wish list is a way to compile my REAKTOR creations so they can be run independent of the main program. This would be wonderful and would also cut down on the processing power needed to run the program.

Youíll need a fast computer to run REAKTOR, but itís a small price to pay for all the power that this program provides. It basically sets your audio imagination free to create never before heard instruments and effects, and it can save you from having to spend more money on hardware-based synth solutions. REAKTOR is one major piece of audio programming that will provide you with many inspiring solutions for all your studio sessions to come.
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