Reaktor 5.5’s refreshed interface. Click for a full-sized image.

Reaktor 5.5, the software that’s both a giant bundle of out-there effects and synths and a visual development environment for making your own creations, has entered public beta. Despite the “point-five” appended to the name, it’s a major, new release, with new sound modules, streamlined multi-pane UI, and lots of under-the-hood improvements. And then there’s Lazerbass. We’ll have more details on this soon (Stephan Schmitt and I sat down when I was in Berlin to talk about the direction of the tool).

In the meantime, to introduce the public beta, I turn to Reaktor guru Jonathan Adams Leonard for this thoughts. Jonathan has designed sounds for Kurzweil, KORG, and NI in the past (disclosure: that includes work for NI), as well as the Reaktor toolpack for Kore. Oh, yes – and he built a live rig for Interpol. Suffice to say, he knows his stuff – and as a man who speaks his mind, I think you could say he’s pleased about 5.5.

This story doesn’t make as much sense silent, so Jonathan has whipped up a quick sound demo – more to follow.

CDM Reaktor 5.5 Demo, Featuring Lazerbass by cdm

NI has not released an update for Reaktor in quite a while, so the release of 5.5 is good news for Reaktor users everywhere. Reaktor itself is both an instrument and system for building your own creations. It provides low level methods to prototype just about any sound-making method available, and some you may have never heard of. Most people use Reaktor for synthesis in electronic music, but it also offers fantastic effects for mixing and mastering. Best of all, it’s quite flexible. For anyone interested in learning about sound or making their own custom tools, Reaktor is simply one of the best choices available.

The Facelift

The Reaktor 5.5 update brings significant changes, summed up in the words of Chief Architect and Native Instruments founder, Stephan Schmitt. The first thing people will notice is the facelift and consolidated GUI. Doing away with all the windows for things like snapshots, properties, and the browser, the new GUI is cleaner, with more information in a single frame. Previously, the panel view and structure were two competing views. You could either look at the nice stuff with the knobs and flashing lights, or you could enter the structure view and see underlying wires and objects, but not both at the same time. Now, Reaktor 5.5 offers various ways to split the view into window panes or sub-frames, allowing one to see both the panel and the structure at the same time in a split view.

In addition to the utility of the split view, there’s also a new bookmarking feature. Navigating an object-based environment can be confusing, especially if you don’t know where you are in the structure. Bookmarks can help you return to a location in your structure easily, allowing you to mark places in your creation that need work. The bookmarks serve to reduce extraneous clicking that anyone who has built in Reaktor knows all too well. (Now, where was that iterator?)

Even things like the audio recorder and player are now integrated into the Reaktor main window, so you can immediately capture or playback recorded audio. The panel elements of Reaktor have also been updated, as well. The familiar stock buttons, faders and knobs have all been visuall refreshed, bringing Reaktor’s look and feel more in line with recent NI products like Kore and Guitar Rig.

New Modules and Sounds

Fans of Reaktor over the years have come to appreciate the free updates and content NI routinely provides to customers. This update is no exception, shipping with ensembles previously released as “Electronic Instruments 2” and an instrument called Lazerbass that’s based on a new Reaktor module called the Sine Bank. Designed by synth wiz Mike Daliot, Lazerbass showcases in one instrument most of the new Reaktor. It’s got a beautiful panel design, excellent sound selections as snapshots, along with gut-wobbling new additive synthesis. NI is known for sonic innovation and that “Future Sound” so many producers crave. Reaktor 5.5 delivers with Lazerbass and with this new instrument alone, puts a wide wandering swath of VST crap completely to shame.

The new Sine Bank module Lazerbass exploits so well is complemented by another new module, the Modal Bank. As Stephan points out, this module will foster a whole new category of Reaktor instruments that feature physical modelling. Since it sounds like an instrument designed around this module is in the cooker, we will check back to find out what Stephan and NI will release first that uses it. In the meantime, there is nothing preventing eager testers and builders from trying it out. With Modal Bank, timbres that resemble very closely the behaviour of real vibrating and resonating systems are within reach of a wider audience of synthesists.

New Technology

Since Reaktor has not been updated in a few years, there was an opportunity to bring out significant new technology. Addressing outstanding users requests, Native has improved the autosave function and internal ‘wireless’ send and receive terminals, and added an entirely new snapshot system. Even deeper, though, are changes to how Reaktor works below the structure. According to Schmitt, 30% of the code is new and brings optimizations to both panel and audio functions. NI has been focused on bringing new products to market since Reaktor 5 came out, and much of the development progress from Kore, Guitar Rig, Traktor and Maschine can be seen and heard in this new update.

New Horizons

Besides being just a bug-fixer, offering some eye candy and some crazy bada$$ sounds, NI is showing with this update a direction. Most people will just grab the sounds and whip off some remixes. Others will take this chance to make some new instruments for their synth arsenal. But does this update tell us anything about this kind of technology, its health and future possibility? For some folks, Reaktor is a great example of a successful virtual instrument whose creative and sonic degrees of freedom have not nearly been exhausted. The market for virtual synthesizers, plugins and effects has increased dramatically in size since Reaktor was introduced. Not only are many more people using virtual instrumentation, but there are lots of plugins and synths to choose from. One look at the KVR plugin database is more than enough to show how crowded the VI party has become. Hardware has also gotten better, and so has hardware software integration in products like the Access Virus, and NI’s own Maschine.

NI itself has become incredibly focused on providing market staples for major categories: DJ, Guitar and Instruments. Based on existing products as platforms, NI has also become adept at providing content and soundware for these market staples, whether a piano made in conjunction with a popular recording artist, or a steady stream of effects and sounds for film based on the Kore player. But where is the freaky, blow-your-mind, are-you-kidding-me, insomnia-inducing tools of NI yore? Well, the scientists and researchers at NI have been busy, and while we have not seen much of NI’s chief architect in the last few years, this update is evidence of some serious bit shredding and diligence.

Jo’s tattoo – this is the kind of Reaktor devotion we mean.

Where is the freaky, blow-your-mind, are-you-kidding-me, insomnia-inducing tools of NI yore? …This update is evidence of some serious bit shredding and diligence.

This update seems significant because it not only re-affirms leadership on the part of NI to innovate and destroy, but that plugins are still completely f^%$* cool! You can’t find this thrill in hardware, so enjoy it for what it is; pure hardcore and unadulterated SYNTHESIS.

If you are a synth freak, you owe it to yourself to get Reaktor, and get into this beta. You will learn things and make sounds that other me-too producers will only wonder about.

Requirements for the beta and participation details:
Reaktor 5.5 Public Beta [NI Forums]

  • Can't wait to get to it, awesome. Reaktor is still one of the few things that makes its way into just about every single one of my tunes.

  • I've only really just got started with Reaktor, so whilst this looks awesome, it is more to learn.

    My one disappointment is that I'd hoped that they might make an iPhone app or something for the iPad like a player in the same way as RJDJ works for Pd. I know it was too much to hope for though.

  • Michael Coelho

    Wow – this is great news. Free to existing users? Even better. I can't wait to get my hands on this. Reaktor is an incredible value. I wonder if OSC implementation has been improved?

  • s

    Awesome!! The reaktor GUI was really looking dated next to the rest of the NI software.

    A bit weary about installing the beta over my current Reaktor install though…

  • apalomba

    Well it is about time. At least this tells me that NI is still thinking about Reaktor. Lets see if they actually do something with it in the near future. There is still no usable FFT macros.
    I would love to see more physical models as well.

  • Adrian Anders

    Wow, looks like a total ripoff of the interface from FAW's Circle.

  • Cool. I love Reaktor.

    It looks like 5.5 is going to be a free update which is much appreciated.

  • oh damn….
    very tempted to download the beta!!
    what an amazing tool!

  • steve

    Picking up Reaktor for the weekend they put it on sale for 99$ was one of the best things I ever did. I've had more fun (and frustration) with it, than any other vst!

  • All I can say is… Shiiiiiiiiittt!

  • Loving my $99 Reaktor and the new update. Consolidated window was the best change they could've made.

  • dave

    damn why is everybody talking about 99$ reaktor and why did i miss it :>

  • Mushen

    as a member of the public (i don't own reaktor), how do i download 5.5 which is "in public beta"?

  • David

    Mushen – Public beta just means that any existing Reaktor users can access it, not that it's available to everyone. They want to get bug reports and feedback from existing users.

    It's great to see NI continuing to innovate this amazing tool. The cosmetic improvements were massively needed, and drastically improve ease of navigation and patching for this already-essential tool. Top!

  • Aaron

    While this is wonderful and exciting and all, I really wish they would do something about their ridiculous Service Center program. I am a registered Reaktor user, and while I can see my license and all that when I log into the website, the Service Center refuses to acknowledge that I have Reaktor installed on my computer. It shows my license for things like the Massive Expansion pack, but not Reaktor, which cost me like 10 times more. Would love to test this out, but at the moment, I'm busy trying to reinstall the SS for the 19th time to see if it will let me.

  • Oh, despite me being pictured there, I was not designed by Precious Forever. I do, however, love me some Fritz Cola. Now that I've found a Club Mate source, I need some of Hamburg's beverage, too…

  • We've waited a long time fort this and it looks like just a stop-gap measure. But I imagine NI will monitor the beta closely to see the demand it generates, basing version 6 development on that.

  • nate

    does this come with Laserbass, or do we have to wait for it? i just downloaded the beta and my library doesn't seem to have changed.

  • nate

    well, i just saw this on the forum (should have checked there first)…but i'll share here:

    "Lazerbass doesn't install under OS X. Neither do Electronic Instruments.
    To get them to show up under OS X:
    I had to Right click > show package contents the Installer .mpkg.
    Go to Contents>Packages And run the 'Reaktor 5 Library Update.pkg' manually.
    Now everything is there."

  • nylarch

    You kind of look like a priest in that picture on precious-forever Peter.

  • WantOSC

    still NO OSC in plugin mode……

  • es

    I'm kicking myself for not taking advantage of the $99 Reaktor sale awhile ago – been tempted to purchase it since, but hoping that they will do the sale again this holiday season.

  • Random Chance

    Nice to see a free update coming sometime in the future. Too bad that not every program I use has the same way of giving you many improvements for free.

  • Michael Coelho

    I installed the Beta on my new Snow Leopard machine and the LazerBass is available without any tweaking. I really like the UI design on this ensemble. The VST is functioning properly for me in Live 8. I threw a Max for Live step sequencer in front of LazerBass and walked through the presets which sound fantastic. I think this is a gift to Reaktor users.

  • Graham D

    I actually thought it was a new version of Circle, it's that close!

    Native or who ever do seem to be running out of new ideas…

  • @Adrian: I designed Lazerbass for NI. Please let me give a short reply: Rest assured that interfaces can’t be crafted by ripping anything off anybody (I have deep respect for precious’ work) but by careful consideration and testing.
    Looking at it now, the knob designs of Lazerbass and Circle do share a similar agenda: Go for contrast, go for simplicity and go for character! We see slightly different approaches, though…

    Keep in mind, that knob designs may lead to similar solutions. This shows, that they simply work. I believe that’s a good thing.

    Have fun with it!

  • Gavin@FAW

    I have contacted Peter about this, so hopefully he will do the right thing and add some public clarification on his comments.

  • Quick clarification of my comments. I was correct in saying Reaktor 5.5 was designed by Precious Forever; that's what they say on their site. I was unaware that Max Mondon designed the UI. (Max is not associated with Precious Forever.) I was also unaware of any concerns on the part of Future Audio Workshop.

    Apologies if my comment was flippant. Consider comments a gut reaction. If there's any sort of conflict here, I'd want to have the facts before jumping into the fray, and I don't feel that I do have those facts right now. (Not to mention, I don't represent either NI or FAW, so if anyone feels slighted — users or those two parties — that's partly their business.)

  • For those that missed the sale on Reaktor or the incredible sale NI had last month, you should get yourself on the NI mailing list. They typically offer several very good sales throughout the year.

  • We've been involved with the overall framework GUI design of Reaktor, so that excludes Lazerbass (the currently loaded instrument).

    We have posted a quick update about Reaktor 5.5 going into public beta on our weblog because we where excited about seeing it being announced to the public. For that, we chose to add the exact screenshot that had been revealed by NI in their forums earlier. Removing "Lazerbass" from that shot would have looked quite funny, although we would surely use something else for our portfolio section. Anyway, we have removed the shot from our blog posting to avoid further irritation.

  • Use it. I don't mind.. ^_^

  • Gavin@FAW

    Hi Max,

    I wouldn't be bothered if this was a free ware software, but its a commercial product from a commercial company and you have tried to justify your design choices rather than admit that you were inspired by Circle.

    In my view its the exact same as what Berhinger do, they just copy the look of something because they don't have the skill to come up with something that is as good themselves. Just because it is Native Instruments that are selling the product doesn't mean that it is ok.

    If you look at it, the knobs, module based single pane three column interface, module's on/off switch in the top right and arrow positions in the top left, the greying out of modules when turned off, the large/small knobs with the exact same design bar some little grey lines to make it slightly different. What is the purpose of these lines other than to make them not exactly the same to those of Circle?

    The basic definition of design trademark infringement is that someone would get the two mixed or that the similarities would cause confusion between two competing products. I think that people have already shown that this is the case, due to the comments in the thread. Circle's design is something we value highly, having put a lot of time and effort into it. For a competing company in the same commercial space to then totally lift that design and then publicly try to justify it, without any public admission of the source of the inspiration is not fair to the work we have done with Circle.

    A simple "I was inspired by Circle when designing the interface" and would suffice to remedy this situation.

  • If anything I think circle looks like Kore. Same fonts…similar elements. I think what NI has been going toward in all their latest software is the center of gravity here…and where interfaces are higher contrast, fonts easy to read if not completely bitmapped with no aliasing, knobs with no garbage but a single color spanning 270 degrees….all aspects I cited years ago as necessities for performance to minimize fatigue and let your peripheral vision work better. Just saying I have noticed some convergence and making reaktor UI myself, I favor these stark naked easy to read especially in the dark interfaces. Once you narrow down all the things that interfere with interaction and remove them, I don't think there is a lot of margin for style left. I think sharks look like dolphins for reasons that indicate shared conditions and forces. Likewise, the UI of fighter jets whether US or Russian I can imagine, excepting the difference between cyrillic and roman characters, would themselves converge. The examples are abundant – even arrow heads are a good example of the competition between style and function. Do all arrow heads converge toward the perfect tip? Are they only made to express function? Arrows for birds, arrows for people, arrows you wear around your neck for the prom on the plain?

    I think these things are at work in the evolution of western musical notation. How best to make a musical concept easily readable, with the least ambiguity and flexible to encompass all the possibilities of polyphonic music? Not sure if the current kind of notation is perfect in this respect, but then again, neither is a pigeon unless you follow not the evolutionary but classicist interpretation which is to leave things intact, distant and perfect. When I record jazz or work as an engineer I work not in the evolutionary but classical mode. I work transparently and I don't touch, modify or change the source unless the source tells me to 😉

    You know some people really despise synthesizer or musical tool UI. Some people who make components like oscillators, filters, mod methods – don't give a rats ass how the thing looks and get very uncomfortable when they hear people discussing a musical tools' visual aspect as a basis for critique. In short, it's a focus that subverts the sound priority. Grigory Perelman has turned down multiple monetary rewards for a similar reason I think.

    I have not played circle even once, though after the comments made I did look at the site – looks cool and I can see some similarity like when I see a salmon and a trout…at least for me what I see are not the fish, but the stream. I think UI can change your state of mind and maybe even be something to appreciate all on its own. But mostly I see this as a distraction from the whole point of the doubleclick – to make music and not stare at video like a latchkey raised console sucking adult trying to make music with their eyes and thumbs.

  • CrystalWizard

    Reaktor and Max/MSP are the ultimate in flexible, creative overload fun tools out there for making music, sound, and noise. (my opinion)

  • It is also slightly ironic that FAW would come to this article to highlight one of Reaktors' best qualities – its flexibility. The point here is Reaktor 5.5 and what people make with it is up to them. It is surprising how far this can be taken, and while I don't see circle as yet having a very strong influence, citing my own ignorance, I think what is expressed here is EXACTLY what Reaktor was invented to respond to – an industry and market of proprietary tools that prevented sharing and that was becoming stagnant. Reaktor is dangerously flexible and FAW has made the point perfectly.

    Reaktor will evolve. Its not perfect, unchangeable and distant. Its not a classic synthesizer or effect.

    It is the future of sound. 😉

  • Gavin@FAW

    Jonathan as you have a connection to Laserbass and Native Instruments, I think you have a bias.

    As far as I see it, what has happened here is that the designer of Lazerbass, when accused of "ripping off Circle" commented that his design was a result of a thoughtful design process, as if it was some reverse engineering situation where a given brief resulted in a certain design falling out of fresh air. This would might be a valid claim if the designer was unaware of Circle before hand, but this is not the case. Looking at everything, from the three column single view module based interface, the graying out of components when switched off, the modules on/off switch in the top left, the drop arrow in the top right, the modules positioning and sizes, it just doesn't add up to be anything more than he used Circle as a starting point for his design. All I'm asking for is a simple unequivocal admission of this fact rather than a feeble excuse.

    Here is an image of the two designs one under each other. There is just too much similarities between Circle and Lazerbass for it not to have been the main inspiration behind the design.

    Another point to remember is that Reaktor is a commercial product and the Lazerbass instrument is used to add value to it and as a means to promote the update on a well read music technology blog. If this value is derived from our work then I think it should be credited as being so. If the designer refuses to credit his inspiration then it is a disappointment. In the past freeware has been created that was inspired by Circle and we were totally cool with that as the designer gave credit. It was flattering even. But when a designer does not come clean then it is not fair on the work we have done with Circle.

    Jonathan Ives always admits to being inspired by Dieter Rams, if he was not to do when it was clearly the case, he would loose all credibility. I think that this is what is happening here with Max.

  • cloud codex

    Have a look at the neon on black (as a high contrast design) GUI fad which m-audio used in Torq, long before "Circle" came out…

    The knob design also looks very Ableton-esque.

    modules greying out when inactive? that sounds like a GUI design principle that Apple and Microsoft have used for decades, and many other VST desginers as well.

    perhaps the designers of Circle should admit being inspired by the body of work of the VSTi GUI designer's community, instead of pretending it invented these principles from thin air.

    Lazerbass doesn't have the visual envelopes and LFOs (to its detriment) and Circle doesn't have the central module with side modules, so looks a bit more cluttered.

    It seems like a shameless claim.

  • I've been testing out this new version of Reaktor and so far looking very good! Love the sounds of Lazerbass!

  • Steve Elbows

    Im sad about this argument over the UI design. I think it fails to reflect the realities of increased proliferation of high-contrast interfaces these days. Jazzmutant Lemur, TouchOSC, NI Maschine etc. I understand that when people design something and then later see something elsewhere there is a natural tendency to see your work in the other design, seems understandable, but its a mistake to jump to conclusions as a result. And Im really not convinced that trademark law is used to cover UI design elements very often, although Im not sure, copyright or patents seem more appropriate. The whole legal trademark stuff about causing confusion with consumers is mostly aimed at logos and company names.

  • I find this discussion of the gui here to very unprofessional and very disappointing to see going on in a public space, you should have made this private immediately and voiced your grievance in a non-public space only.

  • Making music for me comes second to my first creative practice… design and art direction. So these arguments have actually been quite interesting to me. I would really like to see some development sketches of the UI's. Maybe that could be great article on CDM "Designing Digital Music Graphics". Or something along those lines.

  • Winnie Norton

    I like this little upgrade;)

  • Another, huge feature of Reaktor that often gets overlooked is the User Library.

    Many people lament the huge learning curve of the software, but that's only if you want to build your own synths. There is a huge community of VERY talented designers whose work is available to download FREE. There are just zillions of excellent emulations and completely original synths available.

    I've been a Reaktor user since version 2 and they've got a customer for life because of the value that this open (sort of) system they've built.


    its a bit like a horse

  • Thomas Grey

    Fantastic. Reaktor is fantastic.

  • laut'

    availiable for free since today… just use google..

  • ed

    gavin@faw…. go make music…

  • Unhappy FAW user

    @Gavin, I would encourage you to spend more time providing support for Circle than engaging in these types of discussions. FAW's forum (not to mention other forums such as KVR and Ableton) clearly represents an unsupported product. Personally, I'm still waiting for support after submitting a support request. Anyone interested in picking up Circle for cheap?