Native Instruments has a new synth based on the Reaktor engine, and it’s one about which to be genuinely excited. Taking additive synthesis to a new conceptual level, it works with the concept of per-partial control but adds functions like wavetables, enveloping, and effects to each partial individually. The result is a synth that gets sonically surprising in a hurry, and it represents the sort of multi-dimensional thinking I hope catches on in synthesis.

In a step forward for Reaktor, this synth doesn’t just sound different – it looks different, too. Whereas incredible sonic creations have been hidden too often in software behind banks of bland, faux knobs, Razor’s dynamic spectral display makes both the partials and their transformation in time clear and hypnotically beautiful.

Under the hood, the project packs some 320 partials and internal sound shaping, dual filter sections with 20 filter types, “dissonance effect” modulation, and in case your mind remained somehow unbent, a 34-band vocoder. There’s also a genre-spanning preset library, though the ubiquity of NI tools in Dubstep have caused people to already make that connection. (Fine. Spite them. Go make something that doesn’t sound like any recognizable genre. You have my blessing.)

The software is the result of a collaboration with artist Errorsmith, and represents an ongoing series of artist co-produced software releases from the Berlin-based Native Instruments. For his part, Errorsmith (also part of MMM and Smith n Hack) has been a forward-thinking Berlin staple for many years, and a DIYer at heart, combining just these sorts of modular monsters in his own work. What strikes me is that, working with NI, he’s come up with something that could be widely used. It’s one thing to create a strange creation for yourself, and there’s something even strangely pleasing about making it idiosyncratic. Making a tool that a wide audience can use to vastly-differing results is another matter entirely.

Thanks to advance availability, NI has already got some buzz going around the creation, so we’ve got a tutorial and free loops from our friends to share with you.

Steve Horelick, the man who gave us the Reading Rainbow theme song on his Fairlight CMI and then went on to make Logic Environments that produce otherworldly musical landscapes, has his own take. He walks through the interface one module at a time. Steve does not work for NI – this is what it sounds like when he’s excited about something. Listen closely to what he’s saying, breathlessly, because as always Steve has immediate, sharp insights into what everything’s for and why it matters. If you pay attention, class, you’ll learn something. (Let me say it again: this is someone who finds the Logic Environment intuitive, and can explain it to others. Apologies to Apple and Emagic veterans, but that has to count for something big.)

Updated: In comments, Random Chance does spot two errors in the video – hey, this thing is barely out, so I know it’s easy enough to make mistakes:

The spectrum display does not show the waveform, but rather the real (as in real numbers) spectrum with time as a thrown in as a third axis. And filtering is precisely altering the spectral shape (although you may as well call every signal transducer a filter).

I concur, but otherwise have some patience with Steve’s narrative style (people either hate it or love it), and it’s a solid walkthrough of the modules and why they matter.

Steve also creates training for, and now helms, the massive training site Macprovideo, which in turn has its own blog now, well worth reading:

Francis Preve, fellow Keyboard writer who just launched his new Academik label last week (I was grateful to be there armed with a laptop and KAOSS Quad to open the celebrations), is prolific as always. He has two posts up on Razor, and also tells CDM he’s got some free loops for you to grab built with Razor:

With its über-pretty FFT display of harmonic motion, tons of really unique filters and a couple of beat-synced LFOs, RAZOR makes a deep cut into additive synthesis territory (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

So, I decided to beat everyone to the punch and drop a RAZOR-edged free loop six-pack on ya, so you can get a taste for yourself.

Tech notes and linkage after the jump…

Tech notes:
– Everything’s in the key of C minor-ish.
– All loops are 128 BPM.
– All loops are eight bars long.

Download: NI RAZOR Loop Six-pack [Francis Preve]

Steve Horelick: Francis has a life-sized Yoda figure in his studio, and the force is strong with him. (Seriously.) Synth programming deathmatch, anyone? New York versus Texas?

All in all, that should give you somewhere to start if you’re interested in Razor. I’ll be curious to hear what people do with it. If you’ve got questions you’d like to direct to NI, or if you’d like to hear more about how this instrument was produced, let us know.

  • I have to admit, the initial demo left me cold with it's generic dubstep tropes BUT the tutorial video got me straightened out real quick…some VERY interesting and unique aspects to the engine made it irresistible. Hope to dig into the interesting bits by tomorrow.

  • FYI, I loved dubstep when it came out (especially the promise of Burial's first dubs/records), but like 'Johnny Be Goode' I can only take the SAME sounds/riffs so many times before looking elsewhere for something not trapped by it's own sonic memes. IMHO of course.

  • Just picked up Razor this evening and am really enjoying it.  Additive Synthesis has always left me a little confused but Razor's layout and display really does make sound creation easier.  Well done errorsmith!

  • Ycros

    I totally picked up RAZOR today, after having a look at the videos. After a bit of a play, wow. It looks, sounds awesome, and it's easy to tweak and mess with!

  • Random Chance

    Cool, from the NI blurb I thought this was just a wobble bass synth. Additive synthesis is a really something where computers and the kind of user interface they can provide (can) shine. Compare for instance the original Fairlight CMI which had much the same waveform display, NI's own Absynth which let's you draw the waveform of the oscillators as well as "sculpt" the spectrum in creative ways, or Ableton's Operator which also sports additives synthesis through drawing of partials.

    There are two factual errors in the tutorial video though. The spectrum display does not show the waveform, but rather the real (as in real numbers) spectrum with time as a thrown in as a third axis. And filtering is precisely altering the spectral shape (although you may as well call every signal transducer a filter). Maybe with this kind of display some people will learn what a filter actually is.

    Only thing that makes me a little sad: As a Reaktor user I don't get it "for free" it seems, or it has not yet been added to the Service Center.

  • J

    Some of it sounds so… nasal?
    If it's good the trailer doesn't do it justice.

  • 'j' said "Some of it sounds so… nasal?If it’s good the trailer doesn’t do it justice."

    The trailer does not in my opinion, far better 'in person' so far 😉 I think the real time modulation of some of the new features is where it's going to get really good (Centroid, harmonic pitch bend, envelope echo, etc).

  • s ford

    dubstep's an excuse to make the same tune over and over and over and over again. 

    the NI synth seems pretty cool though.


    cue bitcrusher

  • I really like it, So far. However, with all this " cutting edge technology"  a manual would have been appropriate. Can;t find it in the zip or service center.

  • BDC

    There's a pdf manual available on the NI website. It also gets installed into a shared NI folder where other 'player' instruments are installed. I'm at work and can't tell you the exact location – sorry.

  • dyscode

    Just got this thing for review. I am really delighted. The Manual tells a lot about Dissonance and man, this baby can cry! From Hi to low. Soft sounds are not so interesting with but grim and grizzle is right on.

  • dyscode

    PS: anybody else thinks the narration of the tutorial video is like someone telling a bedtime story in a retirement center?

    PPS: I cannot stand most US teaching/ documentary narrations, so I am biased anyway.

  • Peter Kirn

    It's okay; it's impossible to please everyone with narrative styles. Steve's is certainly distinctive, so people love it or hate it. But the content it nearly all spot-on — thanks to Random Chance for catching some of those minor technical corrections, of course! (Part of why I'm lazy and prefer writing most of the time is that it's easier to edit and check!)

  • Stij

    Yeah, the trailer's WUB WUB DUBSTEP sounds really don't do this thing justice. The other sound examples on the NI site sound much better.

    Love the UI too. I think we need more synths like this. Rather than coming up with new and bizarre types of synthesis, developers should focus on making inspiring and intuitive interfaces.

  • Correct me if I am wrong but the instruments also ported for player are not free right? (like the mouth and prism)I just payed for it and I'm a Komplete owner, so @Random Chance got me 'worried'. But I'm pretty sure these Reaktor ens. are not free for Reaktor users.

    I figured it would be included in the next Komplete Update which I might get if they update reaktor and some other important plugs. But did not want to wait. 

  • And thanks to BDC for pointing me in the right direction!

  • Really liking this. For people whose understanding and recollection is largely visual (like me) this is amazing.

    Looking through the product page though, it seems that in order to save your own presets you need to have Reaktor?? That's…. terrible.

  • 7ONiii.C

    I can't wait to pick this up. I have been hoping for something that doesn't dent the pocket (this is less than $100) and can be naturally Wubby and beyond. In response to those who felt compelled to dis dubstep; yes it's lame that some producers go by "this is dubstep" with their approach, but you get that with ANY genre of music. Scratch the surface, there are some forward moving sounds in dubstep and wubby music. Thanks for the heads up on this!

  • anechoic

    Peter, is there any similarity to the Zynaddsubfx synth? haven't watched the vid yet…

  • @70Niii.C
    Seconded. Just because it's easy to make a cookie-cutter dubstep track and plenty of people do it doesn't discredit the innovation continues to exist in the "genre".

  • Matt Jackson

    Actually to clarify your update Peter, if you press the "Scope" button on the display you do see the waveform. But that is only one of the many views you get 😉

  • Mr lemur

    Razor's got potential! Thanks for the heads up Peter. 

    Steve's tutorial video is exactly that – breathless and packed to the brim with useful instruction. More synth makers should have video tutorials like this. 

  • inspiral

    If someone would ask me whom do i consider innovative in music technology nowadays, NI would be on the list for sure. Great job! Again.

    Haven't tried it yet, but the interface looks very intuitive. Can't wat to play with it!

    @dyscode: yea, after a few minutes i could realize why do i have strange feelings whatching that tutorial. 🙂

  • The problem with additive synthesis is the sheer amount of control parameters it takes: basically amplitude and phase at every point in time for each of the partials. Razor seems to make some shortcuts by offering prebuild waveforms (or waveform models?) and applying spectral modifications on them. According to the limited # of controls this seems to be a very reasonable approach.
    (I´d have to check what Razor is capable of what I can´t do with my K5000)
    Thanks for the heads up.

  • heinrichz

    Yea..getting a bit tired of those wobbles myself, but this a great instrument and kind of a follow up to Lazerbass, which already featured the incredible sound quality of NI additive synthesis quite well..while being very easy to play and btw. you can do much more than just electro-wobbles (i'm sure with Razor as well).

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE Razor! I am working on creating an anti-wobble soundset. If I put on the tutorial video near bedtime it's like Steve is reading me a bedtime story! And all the partials and their modulators lived happily ever after!!!

  • strunkdts

    i dont want to hear the word "dubstep" ever again.

  • strunkdts

    LOL at the vid. His voice makes me feel like a little lost mongoloid. Dudes done way too much E.

  • inspiral

    Has anybody found the manual after installation?

  • Sound massive, but actually all the software from these is OMG… by the way…. I guess always the same problem… the CPU load ;-(

    I have to upgrade my system… 🙂

  • zeitgeist

    The user manual is available from the main Razor page–it's *not* something that comes with the download (it's free to anyone whether you buy it or not).

    See the "At a Glance" section at the bottom of this page, with a big "Download Manual" button:

  • shim

    i think this might be cool in a totally non-wub-step enviro, only. great price point 'tho. nonetheless, probably won't be buying this or izotope's stutter either.

    an aside: i love MPV but really steer clear of steve h's stuff; he's got a good knowledge base but the speaking to a 3 yrs old baby girl/reading rainbow cadence, is for me, the deal breaker.

  • BDC

    @zeitgeist – the manual does come with the download – at least for Mac. It's installed in the same place as the Razor.rkplr file and not that obvious or easy to find.

  • mdk

    same on windows. the manual is exactly where I installed the rkplr file. It wanted to install in the Documents folder, so look there first.

    as for the synth itself, its brilliant and so far not too difficult to modify some basic stuff. things like expanding the range of the synced lfo, which i think for a synth which lends itself to weird ambiences and pads really deserves to have very slow lfo settings available. If anyone is wondering, go Ensemble -> Razor -> Synth -> Modulators -> LFO -> LFO 1 (and 2). In the middle is a constant '4' which is a tempo multiplier, just change that to a control (e.g. 0.5 -> 4 in steps of 0.5).

    anyone else done any interesting / useful mods?

  • @strunkdts: "His voice makes me feel like a little lost mongoloid. "



    All sounds except piano recorded with NI RAZOR.