New stuff on the horizon; but is it all good news?

First of all my apologies for all of you who were hoping for more regular posts in the past months.

I’ve been out of it for a while. First due to work which was getting the better of me, and to top that I also had a family issue where a relative was struck by a terrible disease. Not the best combination there is, which automatically leaves very little time for anything else. But I’m slowly picking up the pieces again and I’m going to continue where I left off (of course ignoring the parts which have become kind of obsolete in the mean time).

Forget stress balls; get a synth instead!

One last off topic bit…  Very often I worked rather long times (8am – 2am has been no exception) and especially after a hectic day I can’t simply jump in bed and expect to get a good sleep. I need a moment to relax a bit; sit on the couch, drink something; maybe read a paper and after 30 min. or so I’m relaxed enough to get some sleep.

What also worked quite well for me was simply turning on my equipment (either just my keyboard or in combination with Ableton Live extra’s) only to start playing with it without having a plan or a goal or anything. Just play some stuff, create some sound effects, play a little more. Sometimes mixing things a bit but nothing too serious and too complex. All of it without actually thinking things over or trying to work stuff out (Max is a no no). That can sometimes truly be so tremendously relaxing. Esp. when you managed to create some fine soundscapes which you can then give some variation yourself. Priceless… Sometimes even emotionally devastating. Which is in my opinion one of the true powers of sound.

2011: The year of major releases

It’s hard to miss, even if you didn’t keep up with the recent developments. Major companies like Cycling ‘74, Native Instruments and Propellerhead (in alphabetic order) have all announced that new versions of their software can be expected in the near future. I’m talking of course about Max 6, Komplete 8 and Reason 6.

Good news you may think. But I truly wonder if the recent developments are all as good as they look. There are several good developments going on, no question about it, but I think some of the major new releases also show a nasty dark side. And I’m not too sure if that’s all for the best.

Let me elaborate…

Reason logo

When looking at the 3 new releases I think Reason 6 shows the most surprising development. After Reason 4 (which has been maintained for years) the ‘Propellerheads’ tried to fill in a demand living with many Reason users; namely the option to actually record something.

The main problem was that Reason was never really a ‘DAW’. Sure; it had a sequencer, many instruments and such. But it wasn’t really capable of recording or processing (sort of) external audio.

And so Record was born. Although it could be used separately it was basically an extension for Reason which brought recording capabilities to the Reason environment.

Obviously this lead to some confrontations. Like for instance when a freely available upgrade for Record was released which couldn’t be used without upgrading to Reason 5 (which wasn’t free of charge).

And so, with the introduction of a new version, Propellerhead software announced that it merged Reason and Record into one new product called Reason 6. But isn’t it a little too late to try and introduce a new DAW(-like?) environment which will also introduce some serious limitations ?

Reason 6; too little too late or… ?

Now, this may sound a little more negative than its meant but I seriously wonder if the new features will really weigh up.  Lets look at some of the new features of Reason 6…

New effects: Pulveriser, The Echo and Alligator. Because Record is now part of Reason 6 all of those effects are now also part of Reason. So stuff like the new mixer panel or the Neptune pitch adjuster for example. And another big issue is that Reason 6 is now also available as a native 64bit application.

I have serious mixed feelings with all this to be honest. First; I’m ignoring the 64bit issue here since I think its being way to much overhyped. 64bit has certain advantages, but by far as many as some claim.

Alas; there are several quirks. Even though Reason 6 now looks more like a DAW than ever before it does not support a ReWire master setup. Something I honestly cannot understand. Especially now that Reason 6 gets full sound recording capabilities. What better way to extend on your main environment by using other fine products ?

Now, this is speculation on my part but if Reason and Record are really bundled into one product it might also make using Reason as a ReWire slave a lot harder. I can imagine Reason + Record taking up much more resources in comparison to using Reason in a stand alone fashion. I think this to be a big deal because using ReWire has always been a key feature in my opinion. Especially since Reason can do so much crazy stuff which you simply won’t easily reproduce in other environments.

As to the effects..  I dunno. While they maybe new in the Reason universe its not really something completely wild and new when looking at the whole market. Pulveriser sounds like an interesting effect, sure, but I seriously doubt if it will cope with already available specialized effects. For example; when I need a good distortion I usually resort to using Native Instrument’s Rammfire effect. Just listen to the sound demonstrations on both product pages and judge for yourself.

Alligator also looks quite interesting but can it really stand up against The Finger or The Mouth (or the combination of both) ?

Now; I’m not saying all this to be negative or uber-cynical. But I seriously wonder if all of this isn’t merely one big “catching up”. Is it enough to interest people who may already have turned to other sequencers because they couldn’t wait for Record (or who got pissed off during the last “free/not free” upgrade) ?

Komplete 8; less for more or… ?

Screenshot of Komplete 8 package.

 

There used to be Komplete. And for those who considered it a little bit too overwhelming we also had Komplete Elements. And if you wanted neither but merely use one or more of the available instruments and effects that was possible too.

You could simply grab the freely available Komplete Players and expand on that as you saw fit. A move which was applauded by many people by the way, including yours truly.

Yet it seems that Native Instruments is heavily cutting on price v.s. product. For example; not too long ago they heavily cut Komplete Elements thus turning it into a small fraction of Komplete instead of the “Perfect introduction to the world of Komplete” which it honestly was.

Now I get the feeling that they’re somewhat doing the same with Komplete 8.

Komplete 8 consists of 27 included products (instrument and effects) which is 3 more than the previous version 7 (which had 24). 11.000 sounds; so 1000 more sounds. But lets be realistic; a ‘sound’ is basically nothing more than a preset.

What is also noteworthy is that Komplete 8 also comes with the most recent versions of some of their flag products: Kontakt 5 instead of 4, Reaktor 5.6 instead of 5.5 and Guitar Rig 5 Pro instead of 4.

And one has to admit; the pricing seems fair. Or is it ? Komplete 8 costs the same as 7; namely E 499,-. Upgrades are available for E 199,-. But how fair or realistic is this really ?

Some major components of Komplete 8 are Kontakt, Reaktor and Guitar Rig Pro. A separate Kontakt 5 upgrade will cost you E 99,-. An update for Reaktor appears to be free and upgrading Guitar Rig Pro will cost you another E 69.-. That’s E 168,-. Of course one should also keep the new extra products in mind: Studio Drummer, Transient Master, West Africa and Retro Machines MK2 (wait… That’s 4 new products is it not ? Why does the comparison chart speak of only 3 extra included products?). Which in total makes up for another E 416,- worth of extra’s.

So in comparison the price value seems high. But is this really a valuable upgrade when compared with Komplete 7; also when looking what you’re actually getting? I don’t know, but it feels somewhat underwhelming to be honest. Studio Drummer looks quite nice, sure, but there are Reaktor ensembles out there which can also provide some very serious percussion effects and loops.

The most important aspect to keep in mind here: is the sound in Komplete 8 really that much different as it is in Komplete 7 ?  I seriously doubt it.

More and even more?

If this isn’t good enough for you you can even upgrade to a higher version: Komplete 8 Ultimate. 50 included products instead of 27 in “normal 8” or the 24 in Komplete 7. A sample library which will gobble up 240Gb of your precious disk space compared to the “meager” 110Gb which Komplete 8 will take.

Truth be told you get a lot of extra stuff. But shouldn’t The Mouth have been part of Komplete 8 already given that ‘The Finger’ is somewhat dated by now ?  And how realistic is it to continue with only including Abbey Road 60s drums while ignoring the 80s or even modern drums ?

And what about Komplete Elements?  3Gb of material vs. 110Gb (Komplete) to 240Gb (Komplete Ultimate) ?  Are those still realistic differences or has Elements been reduced to a “Komplete teaser” for which people still have to pay money ?

My advice?  Don’t bother just now and don’t even think of pre-ordering. Wait for upcoming December to see what N.I. will do next. I’m pretty positive that they’ll come up with another form or reduction. And should sales be disappointing its probably going to be big again. Just wait for it.

Patience is a virtue

Max 6

And finally; Cycling ‘74 has announced the upcoming 6th version of their Max visual programming environment.

Now; comparing a programming environment with a DAW(-like) environment or a huge library of sounds and effects maybe a bit of awkward, but I still think that in this context its also an important comparison.

Maintaining a programming environment is a costly endeavour. It will take up time and thus money, yet it is something people who use the environment will still expect. And lets be fair; Max comes with heavy price tag. One which is worth it, but still heavy to get into.

So picture my surprise to learn that Accessibility is one of the key features of the upcoming Max 6. And this does not only refer to issues like education and support. No, C’74 is also planning to make Max more accessible by lowering the retail price to $399, effective immediately.

I’m an “earlier adopter” so to speak; I stepped in a year ago. Yet I still think this is good news for all of us; more accessibility will mean more people using it resulting in a likely, yet potentially, increase of available Max devices. At the very least an increased availability of experience gained through the several forums and communities.

Everyone profits there.

Next C’74 also talks about enhanced performance (code generation, new objects like gen~ and so on) and enhanced quality. Granted; ‘quality’ leans close to more marketing talk but enhanced filters, oscillators and 64bit precision are really cold hard enhancements when talking about a programming environment.

Having the right idea?

I know I’m biased but I cannot help wonder if Cycling ‘74 and Ableton had the right idea all along. The most important one being to join forces which result is shown in the likes of Max for Live. Ableton users get into contact with Max (and may choose to expand on it as well) whereas Max users get into contact with a “Maxed sequencer” which may very well benefit their devices and/or purposes too.

In both situations Ableton and Cycling ‘74 profit from the customers of the other partner.

In comparison it seems that Propellerhead software is sort of turning to the same marketing tactics which other companies used before them. For example by offering several versions of the same product. We’ll get Reason 6 as well as Reason Essentials; see this comparison chart for more information. I’m not too sure if these are developments for the better, but time will tell.

Native Instruments?  Not sure what to make of all that. I doubt that upgrading from 7 to 8 is really worth it. I also think that it’s an utter shame that they decided to discontinue certain products so quickly. For example their North India Kontakt soundbank; an awesome instrument for those very typical Asian string sounds. Yet it is no more…

I can’t help wonder if such developments won’t drive certain people towards more “alternative channels”, although I sure hope not.

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7 comments

  1. good to see you back again!!

    agreed about those filters on reason but why should that be a problem? there are dozens of vst effects and such around, no ?

  2. What you did not mention is that NI has also dropped Kore out; they completely discontinued the product.

  3. Doh, indeed quite right.

    When looking I now also understand why the ‘new’ Komplete Elements suddenly started carrying 3 out of 4 sound engines; they removed Kore because they were going to discontinue it anyway.

    Thanks for your post!

  4. Hi there!

    As the other poster mentioned; Reason doesn’t support those. A caveat I also sort of overlooked in my post.

    I bet that there are plenty of Reason users out there who’d trade the 3 new effects over VST support any time of the day.

  5. @reason 6

    I’ll be cynical for ya. Props are now trying to catch up and are moving away from the rock solid stability that we all love. I embrace the 64 bit but if your in the beta program you know what I’m talking about. I love reason 4 but I doubt i’ll upgrade until recycle is integrated (and even then maybe not)

    @komplete 8

    Waste of money until next summer when they get issues ironed out and even then komplete 9 should actually see advances in reaktor, massive, fm8, absynth 5

    @ max
    don’t own so can’t really comment. The only thing I will say is that you said that ableton and max have the right idea teaming up but I disagree. Now ableton has to depend on cycling. Now that max 6 is out then ableton has to update MFL and then update ableton 9. This is a very difficult to do and maintain stability.

    I’ve babbled enough talk amongst yourselves. Topic European companies in desperate need of capital due to unstable economic climate releasing updates that are minor at best.

  6. I just saw in the comparison chart that reason essentials doesn’t even have an arpeggiator, equalizer or limiter…

    like WTF? Do those guys think people can sound great without a frickin equalizer?

    thx for posting that link; think im skipping this one (6 is too expensive for me)

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