Native Instruments has been teasing new instrument software in recent days, and now we get to see what they were previewing: a new virtual-analog monosynth and a remade version of their drum sampler.
But, hold on, before everyone yawns and leaves the building – there’s reason to pay attention to this news.
First, yes, there is something notably absent in today’s announcement. While NI is making Komplete, their bundle of their extensive stable of software instruments, available for preorder, there’s still no sign of a big upgrade to Reaktor. The fact that the Monark video showed Reaktor patching may have confused matters further. In fairness, Reaktor did get a couple of important upgrades recently; both simply had the misfortune to be labeled as point releases rather than “Reaktor 6.” (Reaktor 5.7 is nonetheless a major new version with a substantially new UI, and Reaktor 5.8 brought an industry-leading, user-friendly OSC implementation.) But fans of the modular software no doubt want more.
What you do get, though, is still big news. Monark may seem like just another modeled virtual analog synth, but under the hood, it represents significant advances in modeling technology, a labor of love from some of NI’s DSP mad scientists. And Battery 4 shows that NI is committed to an instrument in a category all its own.
Oh, yeah, and Komplete is still a ridiculous amount of software, though that’s not exactly news. Let me explain.
We’ll be looking more in detail at Monark with the engineers at NI who built it. What NI can’t say, legally, I can: this is clearly a model of the classic Minimoog. (NI has to legall call it “a classic analog monophonic synthesizer that has shaped four decades of popular music.”)
CDM got an exclusive hands-on with the instrument, and it sounds extraordinary in a way software virtual analog instruments usually don’t. For people just looking for vintage sounds, it’ll fit the bill, because the Minimoog is such a part of music. But I think it could also appeal to synth lovers. Now, the Minimoog is perhaps the most-modeled, most influential synth ever, in some way influencing the design of countless hardware and software designs that followed, so the idea that a new model is “revolutionary” may seem downright odd. From an engineering standpoint, though, NI is applying the latest research in digital filter models. In fact, you can read research on the technique, if you like such things:
There are years of modeling work that went into Monark, which explains some of NI’s press materials on this. They’ve modeled not only the individual components, but the way those components behave together, including filter overload, filter/oscillator drift, and envelope behavior.
What NI has that its rivals don’t is the person who authored that book. (Ahem. In fact, for anyone complaining about Reaktor upgrades, my question for you is, have you mastered Core yet? DSP science? No? Then you should make your own five-year plan wrapping your head around Vadim’s extensive DSP tutorials.)
Many models of the Moog, while aesthetically copying the front panel, are fairly generic in terms of how they actually model the sound. That’s perfectly fine for musical purposes, but it means you don’t get the sorts of dynamic behaviors and sounds you did on the original. So, when Arturia announced they were porting their Minimoog models to the iPad, while that’s nice enough, you could choose instead something that sounds more like a Moog on your computer (Monark), or Moog’s own more creative take on what an iPad could be (Animoog). As far as modeling, Monark simply goes a lot further. (The best competition, as readers observe, is Urs Heckmann’s DIVA. An A/B of those two could e fascinating. But DIVA, unlike Monark, eschews the classic Minimoog front panel for a more complex, knob-laden design, which destroys some of the elegance of the original from a usability perspective. The flipside: DIVA also does more than the Minimoog original, so could appeal to those who want something that extends the original concept.)
None of this will mean much if you’re just tired of monosynths. But even looking to more futuristic instruments, Monark should give you hope. The same filter tech that works here to replicate a classic, decades-old synth could also be applied to more ground-breaking digital instruments to come, too.
(I have more to say about filters, virtual analog, digital, and real analog in regards to the MeeBlip, our own hardware synth project, but that should come … another day.)
Battery 4, for its part, is good news for people who rely on drum samplers. This category is beginning to look threatened, replaced by more general-purpose samplers on one hand, or drum machines on the other. Battery 4, then, fits a significant niche for people who want sophisticated, complex drum samples. You get a workflow designed as such, with drag-and-drop editing to create drum patches and route effects. To that, Battery 4 adds more NI effects, including NI’s recent “Solid Mix” EQ and compressor, a transient follower/effect, tape saturation, low fidelity processor, and convolution reverb. The UI has also been overhauled and looks far clearer and more modern, with a new color coding system to make it easier to follow what you’re doing.
Komplete 9, as the latest version of Komplete, remains utterly massive, with 370 GB of soundware for some 65 instruments and effects. You now get the Mix Series for use in your favorite DAW, a string ensemble, the “world’s largest upright piano,” and other additions. In fact, while Native Instruments gets a regular flogging in comments on this site (cough), there’s still not anyone else who offers everything from Reaktor-based interactive instruments to traditional soundware of horns and bass, the full-featured Reaktor development environment and Kontakt sampler and Massive synth in one box. The real challenge for Komplete as a product remains that almost no one would need or even find a way to use all those things. But if you can find some way to use just a fraction of it, the value remains, especially as Komplete is sticking with its reduced price: $559 / 449 € for the basic edition. (Ultimate runs you closer to a grand.)
Upgrades start at $149 / 149 €, and the software arrives toward the end of the month.
Stay tuned for more details inside the process of designing Monark; I think you’ll like what the engineers have to say.