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Native Instruments Reaktor 4.0.3 and Reaktor Session 1.02
Virtual Instruments for Mac & PC

Reaktor 4 and Reaktor Session get a 10 out of 10 Beat Mode Rating.
"Indispensable. Must have. Cream of the crop!"

Native Instruments Reaktor 4 and Reaktor Session
Beat Mode review by Mike Liebner

The release of Native Instruments Reaktor 4 was one of the most eagerly anticipated software upgrades ever. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. And apparently I was not alone! Preceded by a wealth of pre-release product information presented on the Native Instruments web site and several posted and delayed release dates, there was a swell of interest. The Reaktor community forum was getting restless and so was I. But finally the release became reality and we finally got to play with this exciting upgrade and subsequent updates.

A little background... I have been a user of Reaktor dating back to Reaktor 2. To say I am in awe of this impressive software is an understatement. Version 3 brought a number of enhancements and new ensembles that made it the best of the best. Reaktor 3 received a coveted 10 out of 10 Beat Mode rating and was proclaimed as being at the top of my "Desert Island List" of Software Applications. (see our Reaktor 3 review).

How could Native Instruments possibly up the ante and top what was already the cream of the crop in virtual instruments? In this review we'll discuss what Reaktor is all about, the improvements version 4 brings, as well as some of the features overall. We'll also compare Reaktor 4 with it's little brother Reaktor Session.

Reaktor 4 is a music sound design and effects building application with a modular structure that allows anyone to construct almost any synthesis and effects processor imaginable. Think of Reaktor 4 as the shell program behind 1,000's of already constructed musical instruments that cover most anything you could possibly imagine.

The Junatik ensemble updated for Reaktor 4 and Session - one of the 30 included in the box. (click to enlarge)

Reaktor is not just one kind of instrument, but rather a complete synthesis and effects programming environment that allows modification of existing instruments and effects (highest level instruments and effects are called ensembles in Native Instruments speak), as well as an environment to build from the ground up. A result of this programming environment is a vast library of Reaktor instruments that are fully finished and functional. Reaktor 4 ships with a healthy dose of 30 new ensembles, plus there are over 1,000 free user contributed instruments and effects available from the Native Instruments web site. In addition the libraries from previous versions of Reaktor are now available for use in Reaktor 4. Also Native Instruments has made available a cd-rom of additional ensembles and effects called "Reaktor Electronic Instruments Volume 1" (see review). And there are also some third parties that market Reaktor ensembles.

Now, lets get something out of the way up front... Reaktor Session (List $249. US) is a separate lower priced version of Reaktor 4 (List $499. US) that allows you to utilize any of the 1,000's of instruments made with Reaktor. The major difference being that you do not have the building or modification capabilities of Reaktor 4. The sound quality on both are identical and of the highest quality. Reaktor Session was previously called DYNAMO which can be upgraded to Session for $99. US.

Reaktor 4 and Reaktor Session both can be used as standalone applications and can also be used as a plug-in with VST 2.0 (Windows, Mac OS9, Mac OSX), Audio Units (OS X), and DXi (Windows). Ensembles are identical and work in both Reaktor 4 or Reaktor Session.

Which version is for you? Well, if you have the extra cash, Reaktor 4 is highly desirable as you can tweak the existing instruments building blocks and easily construct variations with the features you desire. Or you can go all the way and build your own creations. It's a nice capability to have even if you don't see yourself as a programmer or plan on building a lot of instruments. Now, if you don't have that spare cash, don't worry as Reaktor Session will be more than capable of blowing your mind with 30 excellent effects and instruments included in the box, plus the 1,000's of instruments in the user library which are all free when you register your product. And each instrument has the usual tweakable parameters to create and modify presets. Plus if you ever get the desire to create your own instruments you can upgrade from Session to the full version of Reaktor 4 at a later time.

Personally, I don't spend a great amount of time building instruments from scratch, but I have from time to time made a few changes and experimented with modifying existing instruments. It's easy and fun if you are so inclined.

Check out the Reaktor 4 and Reaktor Session comparison chart

General Reaktor Principal - Ensemble:

The ensemble is the highest structural level in Reaktor software. In an ensemble you store your complete work in its current state so you can restore it later. As the name suggests it is an assembly of different instruments.

When understanding the internal organization in Reaktor, the levels of organization should be clear:

* Top level is the Ensemble

* An Ensemble contains Instruments

* An Instrument contains Macros.

* A Macro contains Modules

* Instruments can have their own Panels with switches, knobs and faders

* Macros can have a rectangular frame in the Panel

Waveweaver Ensmemble Panel (click to enlarge)

Waveweaver Structure (click to enlarge)

OK, let's get back to what Reaktor 4 and Session are all about. The 4th generation of Reaktor has been improved significantly with many new features and a sleek new look. Highest on the list are improved sound, new modules and interface elements, an integrated browser, graphical sample mapping and new preset options including randomization. It also includes a new library optimized for Reaktor 4.

Check out the Reaktor 4 and Session Core Library descriptions

The new snapshot/preset functions make Reaktor more pleasurable than ever to work with.

Snapshots can now be selected from either within the instrument window or from a new free floating snapshot window. In addition Reaktor now allows up to 16 snapshot banks with 128 snapshots per bank allowing for 2,048 presets instantly available. No more running out of space to save those new ideas!

Also of great interest to myself was the new Random Snapshot Generator. A randomize function that alters the snapshot according to a user selected amount from 0 to 100. Select an amount, say 25, and then hit randomize - all the parameters are scrambled and a new sound is created. In use, the randomized results are often mixed, however a little persistence and you'll end up with some incredible new found sounds.

Also fun to play with, RND Merge (Random Merge) creates a new sound by fusing two existing snapshots according to a randomization factor. Countless new sounds can be created and immediately saved as new Snapshots.

And there's still more - "Snapshot Morphing" allows two separate patches to be selected (An A & B preset) and smooth transitions from one to the other are achieved by moving the crossfader bar. Very cool!

Another improvement to Reaktor 4 is the way that it handles samples. There are 2 different sample map views:

1) Graphical Editor (no it's not Kontakt!)

Samples can be positioned on the keyboard per drag and drop, while root key, sample zone, and velocity range can be graphically defined using the mouse. Velocity splits are now also possible (calling various samples according to how hard a key is struck).

Each sample has individual settings for pitch, volume, and pan. The integrated waveform editor with zoom and pre listen functions allows users to draw in loops with total precision.

REAKTOR 4 samplers now support samples with resolutions up to 32-bit (REAKTOR 3 was only 16-bit). Hooray! No more restriction to 16 bit samples!

2) Old Classic but "extended" Mapping Editor

Sure looks a whole lot prettier than version 3! And not restricted to 16 bit samples!

For "Instrument Builders" ONLY! - Improvements in Reaktor 4

Sound Modules
Improved oscillators from Pro-53
Grain Cloud Delay - with freezing and live sampling
Mod diffusor delay (allpass) - audio input for delay time
Unit Delay (based on optimized module processing order)
1-Pole Allpass filter
Advanced Saturator
Sample lookup module now has select
Resizable Select (replaces crossfader, scanner, audio relays)(2 ... 16 inputs Event/Audio, 1 output; Control by Event or Audio; Step and Crossfade/Scanning mode; Smoothing-Time)
Resizable Router (replaces event router 16, stereo pan)( 1 input, 2 ... 16 outputs Event/Audio; Control by Event or Audio; Step and Panning mode; Smoothing-Time

Graphical Modules
All lamps are resizeable
RGB lamp - three inputs (R, G, B), continually changing color possible
Background bitmap, all controls have alpha channel
Movie - if multiple bitmaps are arranged into a single bitmap (like a film reel), the input to this module determines the offset (frame) that is displayed in the panel.

User interface modules
List: text list that sends out numerical values. Can be displayed in panel as a pop-up menu, matrix list (like preset display of FM7 or Absynth), or as radio buttons.
Send/Receive: audio and event can be transmitted without cables, and the user can select receive destinations from the panel (matrix synths made easy). 4 Views: Radio-Button, Up/Down, List, Menu.
Multi text: essentially a multi-comment with an input to control which comment is displayed.
Panel objects (knob, fader, button, selector) can be controlled through a new internal communications protocol, supporting OSC on all platforms
Snapshots can be controlled through structure/panel with full support for morphing (Patch A, Patch B select, morph index)

Math (Audio and Event)
sqrt(), 1/sqrt(), log(), 1/x()
arctan(), arccos(), acrsin(), sin()

Event processing:
Support for C-style for() statement.

So, now that we know what Reaktor 4 and Session offer, how do they work?

Reaktor 4 installed painlessly on my Windows XP test machine with 1.7 Ghz P4, 512 RAM. There aint no dongle no more, so one must do the challenge/response dance to get it authorized. You get 30 fully functional days after your install to get your response and authorize your drive, so that isn't too much of a problem. Granted it'd be preferable to not have that added hassle, but we understand Native Instruments deserves the right to protect their products.

Unfortunately one of the first things I tried after installing Reaktor 4 was to load some of my old Reaktor 3 ensembles (instruments, whatever you wanna call 'em!) and I was greeted with several crashes. They choked my machine. I gave up trying to load "old ensembles". Fortunately within a couple of weeks Native Instruments updated most all of the old library and posted the ensembles in zips on the Native Instruments web site. I was annoyed however that 6-Pack, one of my fave Reaktor 3 ensembles was not updated.

In addition they updated Reaktor Electronic Instruments Volume 1 so it now works in Reaktor 4 (also as download on Native Instruments web site).

In addition there have been updates with bug fixes to Reaktor 4 and now all is working well.

Reaktor 4 is still the king of all virtual instruments. The improvements to sound and functionality are significant. Reaktor 4 sounds like a million bucks. The new ensembles included in the box version are all excellent with a few standouts that really sparkle (see ensemble notes).

Reaktor 4 is a very versatile program. In addition to the highest quality bread and butter synth sounds and effects, you will be exposed to a whole new world of sounds that you never knew you were capable of coaxing from your computer. Sequenced evolving soundscapes.... Granulized samples that evolve into unimaginable sounds... Yes, it may be true that some of the sounds can be found elsewhere on other synths, but Reaktor 4 has it's share of unique tricks that as of yet simply cannot be achieved elsewhere.

Think of Reaktor as a grab bag of tricks. A giant grab bag! You get endless possibilities. And best of all, even if you are not into programming your own instruments there are so many other brilliant Reaktor chemists out there creating new and free Reaktor ensembles and effects that you will constantly be served up with fresh and new inspiration. Just regularly visit the Native Instruments user library and you'll find all new inspiring tools! And for free!

Is it worth upgrading? If you have Reaktor 3 and are contemplating upgrading to Reaktor 4, I say RUN don't WALK.... Despite the few snaggles I've encountered, Reaktor 4 is a worthwhile upgrade to the already stellar Reaktor 3. Personally I have both versions on my computer and still fire up the old one if I encounter a finicky old ensemble. And Reaktor 4 sounds so damn good! The quality improvement alone justifies the modest upgrade fee, especially if you utilize the capability for 24 bit samples and better. Add in the wonderful new preset capabilities (randomization, morphing etc.) along with the improved sample mapping and you'll be one happy camper with your upgrade.

If you do not have Reaktor 3 yet and still have not dived into Reaktor 4 or Reaktor Session, I say - get a 2nd job if you have to! Whatever it takes, scrape up the cash and get in on the most revolutionary new sound sculpting tool ever devised. You need not be a rocket scientist for either version. If all you are looking for is brilliant, unique sounds and effects and spit loads of presets to push upon, you will be thrilled by adding Reaktor 4 or Reaktor Session to your bag of tricks. You'll be exploring for hours upon hours! And if you're like me, Reaktor 4 will soon be on your "Desert Island List" of must have programs.

Reaktor 4 and Reaktor Session get a 10 out of 10 Beat Mode Rating.
"Indispensable. Must have. Cream of the crop!"

Reaktor 4 Suggested Retail $499.00 US
Session Suggested Retail $249. US

Beat Mode Reaktor 4 Links

Reaktor 4.1 Update News

Library Additions for Reaktor 4 and Session - here you'll find the conversions of previous Reaktor ensembles

What's New in Reaktor 4.03 - info on the fixes in the latest update for Reaktor

Beat Mode review of Reaktor 3

Recording Loops and Exporting Audio w/ Reaktor - tips


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