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]