Razor Oscillators

Review: Native Instruments Razor

Price: €69

Available: Now

Compatibility: Mac/PC, within Reaktor 5 or Reaktor 5 Player

Of all your synthesisers, the majority are likely to be subtractive. Subtractive synths work by taking a raw sound wave and using filters to remove harmonics and change the sound wave as it passes through them. Conversely, additive synthesis, which is the technique of choice for Native Instrument’s latest synth Razor, works almost backwards. If you consider that at a basic level all sound waves are created by the sum of individual sine waves, it’s possible to model those individual waves, or partials, to combineand create any sound. That’s what Razor does, and so right off the bat it has not only a different range of easily accessible sounds to many synths in your arsenal, but also a slightly different interface and very different way of creating those sounds.

“Everything you see on Razor’s interface is really just a simulation”

Everything you see on Razor’s interface is really just a simulation. Whilst you may see two oscillators and two filters, there’s really just a single big oscillator that generates up to 320 partials, or harmonics of a sound – the partials are manipulated by the controls to behave as a final result, rather than an actual sound that goes through various stages.

The oscillators range from classics, pulse, saw, and noise, to more inventive and avant-garde sounds, such as the Prime oscillator that only creates partials on prime number frequencies and the pitch bend oscillators that create the audio effect of a pitch bend without actually altering the oscillator’s pitch.

“Razor is deep, but also relatively complex to a newcomer to additive synthesis and even intermediate sound design fans”

There’s also a formant generator, which contains a variety of different wave shapes and creates phoneme type sounds. As an added modulation option, when used on oscillator one the formant oscillator alters the phase of the partials on the entire sound – Razor is deep, but also relatively complex to a newcomer to additive synthesis and even intermediate sound design fans.

Because most of the filters and effects are created by manipulating the partials of the sound, it’s possible to do things that can’t happen by simply using an effects stage. Reverb tails and delay echos, for example, can be ‘played’; rather than being created after the generator stage they are an intrinsic part of the generator. Aside from the way that they’re generated and the unique opportunities that provides, the effects are fairly standard stereo effects: auto pan, stereo spread, chorus, reverb, synced reverb, unison noise and simple pan. There’s also a dedicated echo section.

“There are two filter sections, each with different filter types”

There are two filter sections, each with different filter types. Filter one has a few different low pass designs – ramping, broad, phaser, and dirty – as well as a band pass and an interesting EQ decay filter which allows you to program a five band EQ to surge or decay. There’s also formant, a formant decay filter, and an even more explicitly phoneme based vowel filter, as well as a vocoder setting, which allows you to send an audio input to the plugin, use the oscillator section as the modulator and the filter as a carrier for some mad results. Filter two contains more standard filter types such as low, high, and band pass, comb, and there’s also a phaser which has a less linear sounding alternative called waterbed, pseudo pitch bend, noise, and gate.

“The dissonance effects mess with the harmonic spacing of the partials”

The dissonance effects mess with the harmonic spacing of the partials, which can create interesting and unnatural sounds. When using the dissonance effects, the loss of low frequencies are often a side effect. To counteract this, Razor features a Safe Bass section that acts like a crossover and prevents bass frequency partials from being modulated. There’s also the danger of out of control harmonics becoming overloud, and so the Spectral Clip section transparently clips partials (it can also be used more aggressively to simulate a low pass filter).

The only effects that are more standard are the final dynamics stage, with the saturator, compressor, limiter and clipper which help to even out some of the drastic modulations in amplitude and tone that can occur with the modulation of the parameters – there’s an amp envelope and two freely assignable ones, two LFOs, everything you’d expect to be able to tie to a parameter from velocity to aftertouch, and the ability to tie a parameter to the steps of the echo effect.

The frankly beautiful display in Razor shows the amplitude of the partials in the sound at various stages, and can also be set to an oscilloscope view. Aside from looking great, it’s makes it a lot easier to grasp how both the additive synthesis engine and harmonics work; it’s almost a science lesson in your sequencer!

“The system toll in Razor definitely depends on the complexity level of the patch you’re working with”

The system toll in Razor definitely depends on the complexity level of the patch you’re working with. With both oscillators, filters, and the dissonance, stereo, and shaping stages active you’re going to be looking at a pretty hefty whack – the Oh Drat 2.93gHz i7 iMac started to splutter at around six instances of some of the biggest polyphonic presets each playing three or four note chords at 96000Hz and my preferred buffer size of 64 samples. Thankfully there’s a processor economy switch in Razor, which help you to go a little further with the patches. Another point of interest is that the synth gets more power hungry as it’s required to generate more partials. Chords are an obvious way of creating more, but also lower frequency sounds take more to render.

A point of interest is that Razor’s not actually a standalone synth, but a Reaktor instrument; it doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of power requirements but an annoying thing about the package is that whilst Razor works just fine without the full version of Reaktor, you won’t be able to save your own presets within the free Reaktor Player. Whilst this isn’t a total deal breaker, it’s a feature that for the price of the synth should be standard.

So, having looked at its unique qualities, what’s Razor really good for? For a start, and probably the main thing that it’ll get used for by many, is its ripping bass sounds. It does a tremendous job of generating harmonic laden, crisp sounds with nasty bottom end – and thanks to the Safe Bass dial and the dynamics section, modulating the sounds to get talky, morphing growls and barks without losing bottom end thickness is possibl

It does a tremendous job of generating harmonic laden, crisp sounds with nasty bottom end

Long, pad like atmospheres and sound beds are also a strong point of the additive synthesis engine, with realistic and dynamic changes to harmonics as the partials interact. It’s definitely not a go to synth for every day sounds, and it’s not really ideal for synthesising realistic instruments or ‘sweet’ tones.

THE WRAP UP

Razor sounds great at what it’s designed for, and that’s creating tearing bass sounds and huge, morphing soundscapes. It’s definitely a synth that you’ll enjoy bringing out when you have a specific sound in mind rather than being a good all rounder, and if you don’t have the full version of Reaktor then you’ll likely be annoyed that you can’t save presets. The additive synthesis engine is really deep and creates very varied sounds, but the included presets are a powerful library of current popular electronic music sounds that you’ll enjoy without learning how every last dial works.

 

A video review of Razor’s sounds and capabilities will be available soon!

MOTU Audio Express

MOTU Announce Audio Express Interface

MOTU have just announced a new desktop audio interface: the six channel in/out, hybrid USB/FireWire400 Audio Express. Featuring two TRS jack and two pre-amped combo inputs, four TRS outputs and 24/96 stereo S/PDIF in/out.

The most interesting feature of the Audio Express is its standalone capability

 

There’s also MIDI I/O, complemented by MOTU’s Direct Digital Synthesis for sample accurate clock locking,and a headphone out.

The most interesting feature of the Audio Express is its standalone capability; aided by front panel mixing controls, the Audio Express doesn’t require a computer connection to accept inputs and route them through to its outputs, and MOTU’s Precision Digital Trim technology enables 1dB audio adjustments with save and recall of channel settings.

Audio Express looks to be a really interesting purchase for a home and small band user that uses a computer for tracking and finishing, but has standalone instruments they use for composition – its £330GBP retail price is quite high in light of competition from Focusrite, but its hybrid nature and combination of portability and mixing control sets it apart slightly. More news on how it sounds when it’s released and I get to test it… until then, you can check out more at MOTU’s site.

Footnote: I’m also conscious of the number of forward slashes I’ve put in this piece.

Mike

Apogee Announce Mike

Hot off the heels of their recent JAM announcement, Apogee have unleashed another new product – the adorably named Mike, the USB microphone. Finer technical details are thin on the ground for now, but Mike promises to deliver Apogee’s PureDIGITAL technology for professional quality recording quality to iPhone, iPad and Mac, all via its diminutive 4.5″ frame.

Mike promises to deliver Apogee’s PureDIGITAL technology for professional quality recording quality to iPhone, iPad and Mac

Mike looks like it could be the ideal tool for field recording, podcasting, and no nonsense multi purpose recording with its plug and play design and iOS ready connectivity. Tech specs and price are yet to be unveiled, but if JAM is an indication of the price/performance ratio that Apogee are aiming for with their ultra portable range then then Mike could be a must have for the on-the-move recordist…

 

jam-gain-control-knob

Apogee Announce JAM

Apogee make some gorgeous audio interfaces. From the studio level I/O and quality of the Symphony series to the refined, minimalist features of the ONE and Duet, their A/D converters are some of the crispest on the market. Until now, though, they’ve commanded a premium that’s placed them out of reach for some.

we’re reaching the level of technology where professional level recordings can be made anywhere

Enter JAM – a sleek single channel audio interface featuring Apogee PureDIGITAL converters, designed not only for Mac but for iPhone and iPad, too. Better still, it’s $99USD. This is potentially a very exciting release, especially when twinned with Apple’s impending iPad 2 (in fact, there’s a JAM in the premiere video for iPad 2); we’re reaching the level of technology where professional level recordings can be made anywhere, affordably.

The JAM has been designed for electric guitar and bass, but it will of course accept any similar input source. One thing is it tied to, however, is Apple. Mac, iPhone, and iPad are supported, but in grand Apogee tradition Windows is left out in the cold. JAM launches on the 31st of March, and I’ll be getting my hands on one to test the quality in due course…

Adobe AuditionScreenSnapz001

Adobe Audition Mac Beta

It’s been over four years since Apple began its Intel chip led foray into the personal computing mainstream. For many creatives, Macs are central to their workflow – despite Adobe’s generally relaxed attitude to the platform. It wasn’t until over a year after the release of the first Intel Core Duo based Macs that Adobe released a Universal Binary version of its Creative Suite, and many a Mac adopting music producer has been left scratching their head after finding out that Audition, the ubiquitous audio editor for Windows, isn’t available for Mac. Until now, that is.


Just released, Adobe is finally bringing Audition (now up to version 4) to Mac, with an open beta available for download. I eagerly downloaded and proceeded to prod around, and was treated, more than anything else, to a hefty gust of nostalgia. Audition translates handsomely to the OSX environment, and behaves snappily and sleekly, yet the basic interface still harks back to those heady old days of Cool Edit.

Audition translates handsomely to the OSX environment, and behaves snappily and sleekly, yet the basic interface still harks back to those heady old days of Cool Edit.

My current workflow doesn’t necessarily warrant Audition – I don’t even remember the last time I opened Audacity, its clunky-yet-free alternative. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether the way I work now is shaped by the absence of the powerful audio editor and multi tracker, and whether the release of Audition for OSX will give me back time I never knew I’d lost… Time, I suppose, will tell.

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