Heavyocity has released in cooperation with Icebreaker Audio two Ensembles for Native Instruments Reaktor. BitRate II is a semi modular drum machine aimed on lo-fi digital drum sounds and Monoboy a monophonic synthesizer aimed on 8bit/lo-fi style sounds.
So wait? The renowned company for cinematic soundstyle sample libraries like Evolve, Damage and AEON goes for 8bit/lo-fi sounds and Reaktor ensembles? Confused for the first moment I was even more curious to finally get it under my fingers.
- Semi modular drum machine with 5 Drums channels
- 4 different sound engines per drumslot for retro digital sound (Chipsounds, FM, Sampling …)
- Extended sequencer with two modulation sequences per drum channel
- Each modulation sequence can be routed virtually to any sound parameter
- Each drum channel can be triggered via Midi or internal sequencer
- Master track with analogue modelled EQ, bus compressor and modelled speaker simulator
- Monophonic synthesizer
- 3 sound generator modes (Wavetable, Dual Pulse Oscillator, DM Sampler)
- Envelope controller
- Easy to use arpeggiator
- 2 Modulation sections with independent sequencers
- Master FX section with bit delay, speaker simulation and tone control
As the Reaktor ensembles are watermarked the download is provided via the Continuata download system which Heavyocity is using for a while now. After the flawless download you get two folders – one for BitRate II and one for Monoboy. The manual explains in detail where to copy the ensembles so that they appear within the Reaktor browser. That’s it! Ready to go.
BitRate II – Basic Information
BitRate II is a semi-modular drum machine with 5 drum channels and a built-in sequencer. Each channel can load any of the 4 different sound eninges and the drums can be triggered either by using the sequencer, or from external MIDI. The output is granted by a stereo output or 5 single channel outputs which help to mix the different sounds in a more flexible way in any DAW or even to beef each single sound up with external plugins.
Each drum channel has its own channelstrip with a 3 band EQ which is routed to the Master EQ before being processed by the bus compressor and last but not least the speaker simulator. The GUI presents in a very clean and easy to read way. Bitrate II has two main sections: On the left side the screen (1) for editing sounds and sequences and the right sided panel for pattern selection, transport control and master effects (2).
If you are used programming drum machines the sequencer of BitRate II should look really familiar to you. A preset (snapshot) contains max. 4 patterns and a pattern contains up to 8 pattern sequences for all 5 drum channels. The patterns can be selected manually, via interface (top right side) or MIDI keys starting from Midi note 60 (C3).
The pattern sequencer and each drum channel can be turned on/off via the power buttons. To edit a pattern, simply left-click and drag in the step sequencer. By right-clicking you can change the length of each sequence so you can create shorter sequences or also poly-rhythms.
On the top panel of the sequencer you will find the tabs for Velocity (Vel), Modulation 1 (Mod 1) and Modulation 2 (Mod 2). Editing works for all 3 sequences in the same way. Pattern controls to edit, clear and copy you will find on the right side below the pattern selection area.
The mixer is pretty straight forward. Each drum channel has its own channel strip. On top the top section you will find the 3-band EQ with several filter options for the high (shelf, lowpass) and low bands (shelf, highpass). The below section contains pan knobs, volume faders and level meter.
The output of the mixer leads directly to the master eq which you will find on the right side of the BitRate II interface. The EQ is modeled after analogue hardware and contains controls for lower (Lo), middle (Mid) and higher (Hi) frequencies.
To shape the dynamics a bus compressor is hard wired after the master eq. Here you have the usual knobs and parameters on your fingertips – threshold, ratio, attack, release, make up and mix. Especially with the mix button which sets the dry/wet amount of the compressor to the dry signal you can achieve from creative sound design to Parallel Compression anything you like. A very useful knob and function!
After shaping the dynamics the signal passes the speaker simulator which emulates the speaker of small electronics. The included speakers are no impulse responses. They are modelled after real speakers means with all their good and bad sides (distortion, mid sound …).
Clicking on the sound tab you get the most important part of BitRate II – the sound engines. And this to be honest is a paradise for tweaking, sampling, sculpting and layering sounds.
The first engine is called CHIP. CHIP again contains 3 different sound modules (Drum Synth, ARP and Wavetable) which cover the synthesis of of the old video games consoles which shaped the 8 bit sound.
The second one is called SMP and is a sampler where you can sample your own sounds. I personally think that this is the most exciting sound generator for creating really crazy stuff with all sorts of sounds. There are two sampler modes available PCM (8bit, 10khz sound with 1 second sampling time) and DM (33khz based on the sample engine of NES/Famicon with 1.8 seconds of sampling time). If you read through the very well written manual, you will read about one important trick using these modes.
Third engine is called IA-OP and stands for Icebreaker Operator which is a 2 operator FM synthesis engine based (according to the manual) loosely on the Yamaha FM chips (hello DX-7) which again has three different modes.
The fourth and last engine is called GL!TCH. According to the manual the GL!TCH engine is not based on any kind of specific synthesis style. It is basically 4 clock oscillators modulating and feeding back into each other.
Monoboy – Basic Information
Bundled with BitRate II there comes also a pretty straight forward mono synthesizer called Monoboy aimed to create the classic 8bit sounds in a fast and easy way. The sound engine contains 3 different synthesis types (Dual Pulse Oscillator, Wavetables, DM Sampler), additional performance, modulation and effect options.
As written the interface of Monoboy is straight forward and can be split into 3 main rows.
- The top row contains the sound generation and performance options.
- The middle row contains the two modulators.
- The bottom row is where you will find the master effects.
The first left sided module in the top row is called voice mode. Here you will also find the easy to use arpeggiator. Easy to use because it can only play the sequences upwards or downwards. For more complex arpeggio patterns you will need a extra arpeggiation plugin. But for most cases (especially if you want to emulate 8bit style patterns) the arpeggiator will do its job perfectly.
The first sound generation mode is called Wavetable. This mode uses 4 banks (Saw, Square, Vocal 1 and Vocal 2) of 16 4bit waveforms as sound source. For shaping the wavetables there are additional controls available.
The second sound generation mode is called Dual Pulse. The sound is generated by two pulse oscillators which again can be used in 4 different ways: Unison, chord, echo and glide. Each of these ways has its specific features which are explained in the manual in detail.
The third sound generation mode is the same sampling engine as used in BitRate II. But instead of two sampling modes. There is only the DM sample mode available. As far as I have seen it has the same technical details and background as in BitRate II.
After the sound generator signal path passes the envelope where the sound again can be shaped via attack and decay. Pending on the additional modes like sustain, legato or velocity the attack and release knob behave in different ways. Same as on the sound generation the manual explains in detail which mode is used in which way. A great feature is, that the envelopes are also lofi like anything else on this ensemble. Means: Dual Pulse envelope has only 16 and Wavetable only 3 steps. So if you shape a sound with a long attack or decay you will exactly hear each of these steps which also creates again interesting sounds.
Before finally arriving to the master section, the shaped signal passes the modulators. The Modulators can act as LFOs, sequencer, or even envelopes, pending on the settings. And also here the features are laying in the details. Lots of stuff can be done here. Last but not least the signal routes through the Bit Delay which is a unique distortion/FSU effect based on altering the digital data in unusual ways. Also here the manual explains the functionality in detail.
One small surprise is hidden in the tone effect section. If you crank up the sub knob you will hear a suboscillator one octave below the input signal and last but not least there is again a speaker emulator whih is nearly the same as in BitRate II.
BitRate II and Monoboy come with 180 snapshots (presets are called in this way in Reaktor) and cover pretty everything for the 8bit/lo-fi genre. Monoboy with Leads, Arps, Basses which really sound lofi, dark and gritty. BitRate II with funky loops of all genres. The presets show nearly everything you can do with these both ensembles and I really heared through every preset and the quality is really high. Often you find thousands of presets in a synthesizer where only a handfull is useful. Not here. Each sound is well crafted and sounds good and useful.
There are sayings which are often true and I think also in the case of BitRate II & Monoboy (at least for me). The first one would be “You should never be taken in appearances”. When I first heard about it I have to admit that I wrinkled my nose why Heavyocity is doing this. Well,this leads to the second saying: “The devil lies in the details”. Both match to 100%.
BitRate II and Monoboy are two serious workhorses when it comes to 8bit/lo-fi sounds. The sound engines sound really good and the sampling option for own sound sources are phenomenal. To be honest I think this feature alone is worth the $49 retail price. Both tools are not overhelmed with feaures and menues. They are easy and straight forward to use even with no experience in drum or synthesizer programming one should get very fast good results. The manual is exellent and really east to understand.
Also especially for electronic music styles like Complextro or Drum ‘N’ Bass this will be a paradise. Lots of sample creation possibilities here. But also Film and TV composers will have their fun when they need LoFi sounds and even if it is only for layering.
Heavyocity also provides beside the ensemble the instrument files – means you can dig into the ensemble structure and make your own additions if you are firm with Reaktor.
So there is only one thing left I dislike … I would like to see both ensembles as real Virtual Instruments (VSTi) instead of Reaktor ensembles. This surely comes from that I personally don’t like Reaktor and its workflow but I am also sure that lots of other customers could be reached without the “Reaktor Dongle” as Reaktor 5 Full Version 5.9.0 or higher required so also no Reaktor Player compatibility.