Online Review: Absynth and Battery,
    by Native Instruments


Absynth

Battery



Sounds say more than a thousand words. Online Absynth sounds preview:

The Berlin (Germany) based software supplier Native Instruments is well known for its high standard VST instruments. That is when I have to believe the rumors and talks I hear every now and then. And the very positive reviews in magazines. So, we decided that maybe it was a good time to find out by ourselves if NI is such a good supplier indeed. We listened to some of the sample files at their website and got thrilled by the sounds presented there. After being chilled down a bit, we invited NI for an online review. Let's see if NI delivers up to the promise.

NI sent in two products. Absynth, a soft-synth, and Battery, a VST drum kit. Both applications come in a box, filled not only with the software CD, but also with a well written manual in English, French, German an Spanish. Good: this multilingual manual will be understood by more or less the whole world. Only, where is the Dutch ;-)?

Installation goes smoothly, and there is a copy protection scheme you will have to follow only once (where others like Emagic repeat this authorization every now and then, which is annoying I can assure you). Only when you reconfigure your machine (e.g. a new hard disk), you will have to redo the authorization of course.

Absynth (Macintosh only) can be used as a stand alone application (in this mode it supports Apples Sound Manager and ASIO for audio and OMS and Free Midi for midi) and as VST instrument. In this mode, you will need a hosting program that can cope with VST instruments, like Cubase VST or Logic Audio. IN VST mode, the Absynth Engine will launch in the background to provide you with editing capabilities from within the hosting application, and to generate the sound. We tested under Logic Audio version 4.7. In VST mode, Absynth supports Apples Sound Manager, ASIO, DirectConnect and MAS.

In the Battery box you will find two CD's: one with the program (for both Macintosh and Windows, we tested the Mac version), and one with a large set of drum kits. The manual of Battery in in four languages as well. The whole makes a good and well worked at impression. Good. Battery runs as VST instrument and as stand alone instrument as well.

Too much functions to describe.

After having tested with Absynth and Battery for several nights, I concluded that it does not make any sense to try to describe all features of these two products of Native Instruments. There is just too much to discover, and the only way to do that is buy. So, in this review I just try to give you a rough idea of the versatile creative toolkit, hidden in these two products. I will show you some screenshots to give you an idea, and for the rest: you will have to discover for yourself. I can assure you: it's worth the effort and money. This stuff is good, though somewhat difficult to learn. I'll get back to that later in this review.

Some technique.

To give you some idea about the parameter possibilities of Absynth, I mention here some of the functionality's that make you shape sound. You can load patches, and then reform them as much as you like using stuff like waveshapers, ring modulators, LFO's, oscillators, graphical modulation and delay. And all this per voice. All editing you do is in real time, so you can hear directly what you are doing. Your creative sky is your limit. Very good.

Sounds and Kits.

Both Absynth and Battery come with a tons load of sounds and drum kits. Here is the list of sound stuff (see the Sound Library in the screenshot below) you get delivered when you buy Absynth. Every sound library contains a bold collection of good sounding samples:



And here is the list of drum kits we found in the Battery folder. The list is so long that it even didn't fit on my 19 inch screen set to 1280 x 1024. There are 31 kits in total, enough to cover almost every musical trend need:



The samples folders contain mono and stereo WAV files. Where stereo is not needed directly, such a with a bass drum, the files are mono. A China crash or ride is e.g. sampled in stereo. But sometimes, the choice is not logical to me. A snare brush was sampled mono, where I would have used stereo. Well, maybe a matter of taste. The quality of the sample files is perfect, and that is what matters in the first place. The are sampled in 44 kHz, 24 bits. Battery works at an internal 32 bit resolution. Using Battery, you can access large sound libraries. It supports the formats AKAI, SF2, LM4, AIFF, WAV and MAP.

Hard disk recording always consumes huge amounts of hard disk space. And when you start using VST instruments with good samples, count on an extra fat load upon disk capacity. The drum kit folder e.g. contains about 565 MB data. But with that amount of sounds, you can fire up 54 separate instruments in Battery. Enough, right?

Load only once.

Where both Absynth and Battery are disk capacity consumers, they do a relatively small attack upon your computers memory. They only load once, and then are accessible from different midi channels. The Absynth application is launched plus the Absynth Engine.



Battery can run both as a stand alone application, and within the "borders" of the VST host. Absynth can handle up to eight different midi channels, as you can by the buttons at the top left in the screenshot below. Channel 1 is activated, channel 2 and 3 are loaded, and another 7 channels are not used yet. The black rectangle in the middle contains the samples names, to which you can add from the kits you saw in the screenshot just a few lines back.



This "load only once" is a different approach than most of the other VST instruments, that load a fresh new instrument for every midi/instrument channel, like Emagic does. Smart software engineering.

Editing in Absynth.

Absynth comes with a bunch of editing features that matches the upper-class old fashion hardware synths. Let's make a quick trip through the windows that give you access to all the modification tools of Absynth.

The Patch editor. Notice the convenient pop up menus, that give you quick access to -in this case- a long list of factory presets. This concept is used throughout the other editing windows, where needed of course.



The Effect Editor:



The Envelope Editor:



The LFO Editor:



A section for midi effects is present too:



And the Spectral Waveform editor:



As said before: all you do in these screens is heard in real time, which makes editing sounds real fun. No waiting, no guessing, no annoying retrials. Very good.

And: if you're ready editing and want to return back to your music, just press the Host button on the Navigator window, and you're back in the VST hosting program. Here is the Navigator, that let's you also switch between the editing modules quickly.



User interfaces.

In general I find the user interfacing of Absynth and Battery just fine, but you will need some time to discover the logic behind it. It is somewhat difficult to learn. The buildup of the screen is not always "Macintosh logic": it does not match the user interface standards we Mac users are used to. This especially goes for Battery, which is available for Windows too. The user interface seems to try to be a "middle of the road" between Mac and Windows user interfacing, with a little touch of Linux here and there (see screenshot below). This kind of mix is (specially between Mac an Win) not always a happy marriage ;-).



The Windows or even DOS idea gets stronger when you load a drum kit into Battery. You will see DOS-like text running over the screen, giving you a flashback to DOS 3.1 times. Gives also an impression of working horse power, though: you can actually see that Battery is working hard to pump all that drum stuff into memory. Look:



It's worth the effort.

The somewhat difficult interface will confront you with a longer learning curve. But, as far as I'm concerned, it's worth the effort. If you take your time to get to know all functionality's well, you will have a strong creative tool companion in Absynth and a good working drum kit in Battery. And let's face it (I've said this before): good stuff always takes it's time, right? Cubase for example has an interface that is not loved by everyone, but the software became big thing in the market. So, why should such not happen to Absynth and Battery? The sound quality and creative tools these packages provide, are great! It has my blessings, so to speak.

Conclusion.

It will take some extra time and effort before you can unleash all power of Absynth and Battery. The user interface is not always as logic as I would like it to see. But once you've mastered the basic scheme and commands of main and editing screens, you will be creating and editing quickly. The libraries of drum kits (Battery) and sound kits (Absynth), that Native Instrument deliver, are of very good quality and "fat" enough to keep you going for a long time. The total of 31 drum kits under Battery give you enough stuff to cover most music styles. The superb editing features will do the rest.

Absynth and Battery will certainly remain in our studio G4/500 PowerMac for some more in-depth discoveries.

AudioMac rates both modules with a 9- (on a scale of 1 to 10). A good score that expresses exactly what we found: strong creative and good quality horsepower, but just a little minus for the somewhat difficult to master user interface, which has beautiful graphical "looks" by the way.

Final: NI has produced two supers strong products, that I can recommend to anyone who is serious about soft-synths and drum kit under VST.

Addendum 1 on Battery.

Just before we started testing, NI announced an upgrade of Battery to 1.01. We decided to leave version 1.0 from the box as is, and tested the upgraded version. Some of the changes in 1.01, according to NI's press release:

reads AKAI MPC-2000 samples & programs (mapping only),
reads SoundDesigner SDII samples (MAC only),
8-Bit AIFFs were not read correctly. Fixed.
Level meters were showing the left channel on both sides. Fixed.
The layer volume display did not always show the right value. Fixed.
User interface graphics (e.g. flashing cells) were quite performance-intensive, causing dropouts on some machines. The graphic performance has been improved in this update.

(Absynth was tested in version 1.2 as it came out of the box.)

Addendum 2 on Battery (01-05-2002).

Battery is now also available for the PC platform. ABSYNTH PC runs stand-alone or as a VST and DXi plug-in with up to eight instances. More info:
http://www.native-instruments.com/absynthpc

More detailed product info can be found at the website of Native Instruments.

Native Instruments also has some demo productions available for you to get an idea of the sounds of Absynth.

See also: review on Studio Drums sample library for Battery.


All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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11.10.2002