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!