Online Review: Absynth and Battery,
by Native Instruments
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.)