Reaktor 6 is here! This is the first new major version of Reaktor since 2005, and expectations are high. Does Reaktor 6 satisfy our lofty expectations? Here’s what’s new:
The big wow-factor in R6 is Blocks, which is a set of synth modules implemented as connectable units on the instrument level, mimicking the style and functionality of hardware modular gear. Blocks is exciting for a number of reasons.
- It sounds awesome! Blocks comes not only with its own new and great sounding modules but borrows bits and pieces from Monark, Rounds and Driver. Did I mention that it sounds awesome? The oscillators and filters in this package are among the best I’ve heard.
- It’s easy to get started. Compared to building your own instrument, even using stock macros, this is a lot simpler… deceptively simple, perhaps. There’s deep potential lurking under the simplicity. And the ease of adding and connecting blocks will help casual users discover those depths.
- It allows audio rate modulation of parameters. This is fun and encourages experimentation. You can plug anything in anywhere. Audio rate filter modulation? Yes indeed. And that’s just the most obvious option.
- Speaking of audio, you can easily build Blocks effect chains to process incoming audio. Run your guitar or voice through the Monark filter, modulate its filter cutoff with an LFO, then run the result through the Rounds delay – it takes a few seconds to drag Blocks from the sidebar into an ensemble and patch them together, then create modulation routings.
- There’s a flexible 8 step sequencer, a clock divider, and a pitch quantizer – if you want to do the kind of self modifying modular composition that’s next to impossible in a linear DAW, Blocks will get you there. Simple example: you can modulate the offset controls in the sequencer and the quantizer for hypnotic morphing sequences that walk the line between order and chaos.
- There’s a framework for creating your own blocks. I can only imagine what this is going to mean for the Reaktor user library – I predict we’re going to see some mind melting uploads from users. Remember, everything’s easily interoperable with everything else in Blocks, so even Block creators will have little idea what strange purposes other users will find for their creations.
Table Framework: A New Sampling Paradigm for Reaktor
From the documentation:
“Table References are a new signal type in REAKTOR 6. They allow flexible and efficient shar- ing of data in the structure.
“A table is a two-dimensional array of data, and Table References allow you to access this data anywhere in the structure. These properties make the Table Framework ideal for working with samples.
“Core Cells read tables from a Table Reference like they have always handled tables and arrays. The advantage is that a Table Reference can exist in the Primary level, thus it can be used to share data between Core Cells, and can be stored in a Snapshot.”
TL;DR: it’s a whole new sampling paradigm. The primary-level sampler modules are sealed black boxes, whereas core cells are user-modifiable and buildable. The table framework is designed to get sample data into Core cells easily. This is a big, exciting change. Reaktor 6 comes with example sampling macros to give you a starting point. The new paradigm comes at the expense of CPU – the new sampling macros use more horsepower than the primary modules – but the trade off is arguably worth it since users can forge their own knives and blenders to chop and warp samples.
New Look and New Building Features
Reaktor 6 has an updated GUI, but it’s not just a change of skin. The structure cables now behave differently, curving to more easily show you what’s connected where. And the cables change colors to indicate what kind of signal they’re carrying.
One of my favorite new features is in-place editing for macro, control, and port names, and constants. No more jumping between the properties palette and the modules to change names and values.
Like to design panels for your own instruments? You can finally turn off the 4 pixel snap-to grid and place panel elements freely. There is also support for changing font face, colors and sizes in the text and multi text modules.
A neat feature you’ll notice quickly when using Blocks is that instruments and macros can be set to “flexible” mode in structure view, allowing them to stretch to accommodate larger icons and longer names for ports.
In a DAW, you can now drag the Reaktor plugin window larger in edit mode by grabbing the bottom right corner. Great! No more fussing with auto-resizing and setting static window sizes in the preferences. Very handy for building or tweaking in your favorite host.
New Core Features
The cornerstone of the future of sound since Reaktor 5 has been Core, and there are new building features here, too. Bundles pack and unpack multiple wires, keeping your cells organized. And scoped buses work a little bit like variable scope in a programming language, making connections between different layers of a Core structure. Scoped buses can send bundles. In-place editing works in Core too, allowing you to quickly change macro names, constants and quickbuses.
Two features that will excite Core builders are the ZDF (zero delay filter) and envelope toolkits, providing elements to more easily create your own filters and envelopes. If filter design is not your thing, the reorganized and repopulated library of core macros is stuffed with ready made oscillators, filters and effects begging to be Frankensteined together.
Reaktor now includes an event watcher debugging tool, based on a macro originally developed by Reaktor user Chris List which I’ve used often in the past when designing new instruments. This is a super handy tool for anyone who needs to wrangle Reaktor events and is wondering why things aren’t working as planned. There’s also a comprehensive MIDI monitor, redesigned scope and a 2048 band spectrum analyzer with A and B inputs whose signals can be compared, added and subtracted.
My goodness, what ISN’T in this release?
It’s not all cake and ice cream, sadly. I’m disappointed that some features and fixes were passed over.
- Abstractions: Reaktor needs a class / object hierarchy in its macros, so that modifying a macro doesn’t require editing or replacing every copy that’s hardcoded throughout an ensemble. My wrist is aching just thinking about it.
- Scripting: some programming chores are clearer and simpler in a textual language. Kontakt has KSP; Reaktor deserves some RSP.
- Sampler bugfixes: the primary level grain cloud sampler has a bug involving detection of sample length. I’ve had to code workarounds for years. The table framework is the new hotness, but there are hundreds of great sampling ensembles in the user library that were built with the primary sampling modules, and they could use a little love.
- MIDI out tightness: Reaktor’s MIDI out timing has jitter proportional to the audio buffer size, and this can be noticeable when driving external hardware and software.
- Multi-core support: would have been sweet, especially for running standalone, but I can imagine this would be a nightmare for NI to implement in the infinitely flexible Reaktor engine, if it’s even feasible. Maybe someday. I’d rather see abstractions and scripting first.
Putting aside the gripes, though, this is a solid Reaktor update, and I expect to see people building tremendous new ensembles with the table framework and Core additions, as well as quickly learning to make music with Blocks – whose ease of mix and match patching will probably attract a new population of users, and perhaps lure them into diving deeper.
I love Reaktor, I’m passionate about it, and NI’s dedication to keeping it fresh means that my love affair can continue. Between that and the new features, I’m very happy to see this new release.
What do you think? Do the improvements and additions outweigh the gripes?
More Info on Reaktor 6 from Native Instruments, inlcuding upgrade pricing