Kreative’s Kristal Audio Engine

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The best free multitrack app on the market today?

Note: The bulk of this review was completed by flametheband, who actually worked with the app more, and continues to use it, dB Masters added the more technical details of the review of this app.

Kristal Audio EngineI happened across Kristal as a freebie on Computer Music magazine, and, being bored with my current set up thought id give it a try. It's a full version, no limitations, seems cool. What's more, if you missed the magazine you can simply download it for free from It's a nice small download for such a useful app.

General Overview

Think of this programme as the bare bones of any high cost commercial recording app. Nothing too fancy to complicate it...nothing but what you need. Record and playback options...cutting and editing features...eq adjustments and plug in options. Perfect, I reckon, in its simplicity. Lets you get on with what youre doing, concentrating on the music, not the software.

I found CPU drain much lower than anything else I've ever used, which is a bonus for those of us on older machines, and much less 'stuttering' when you start to pile on the heavy effects, reverb and stuff, than on for example Cubase. This is good. Less lock ups and dropouts makes for happy music making. It comes with a selection of its own plug ins, which I will get into in a bit, but it supports VSTs, so anything'll go if ya don't like what's there. The program offer 2 VST inserts per channel and 3 VST inserts on the main bus.

Kristals built in effects are decent. There are four of them, KristalChorus, KristalMultiDelay, KristalReverb and Kristalizer. The Chorus, Multidelay and Reverb are quite nice for bundled effects, while there are much better effects available on the market, these effects just make an already very good value application much better. And the reverb really didn't seem to suck up as much CPU power as some of the higher-end reverbs available, which is a plus. That brings us to the Kristalizer. While I am not exactly sure which type of effect to classify this as, it is quite fun and useful. It does everything from preamp type of use to a compressor to a maximizer to...well, ya just gotta check it out.

The ability to bounce tracks down into a single track is actually incorporated into the programme, a nice feature, considering the kinda machines it might well be used on. No more false-mixdowns to get a bounce, just use the feature as it was intended and bouncing is made quick and easy.

It'll let you adjust a volume level at any point in any track, layer two tracks over each other and get 'em to play simultaneously in one channel and fade parts in and out without an external wave editor. Bonus.

Admittedly it has no midi capability YET, and is limited to only 16 channels but these things are to be rectified in a later version apparently (its only at version 1 as it is) but hey, its free and these are small gripes.

My only real fault with the programme is thus. Say you've got a drum loop you wanna use throughout a song. A five second loop say, which needs to run throughout the song for 3, 4 or 5 minutes. The only way I can see to do this is to copy and paste one by one for as long as you need. Time consuming and soul sapping. A feature which will let ya automatically repeat a selection would be a godsend, or an implementation comparible to Acid Loops or Sonar's Groove Clips would be quite handy, and make this programme superb, as opposed to just very good as it is now. But hey, maybe this is all to come, this program, in this it's first incarnation, is quite impressive as it is and shows much promise.

Audio Editing and Project Management

The track, mixer and transport tools are standard, easy to use and understand. Importing a track is easy, and the dialog to browse and open files display the attributes of the selected file and allows the option to preview the file before completing the import. Handy to have if you have a lot of audio tracks to dig through to find that one you need.

The transport panel is simply, play, rewind, fast forward, record...all the usual suspects. It also contains the BPM, time, metronome and precount controls. The precount is a handy tools to have, I am surprised how many apps don't include this, or make it hard to find. Kristal is well served having it quickly accessible.

The mixer is typical for an app of this sort, has a complete channel strip for each track including volume fader, LED, panning, solo and mute for each track exist, the two inserts for each and the same for the master out, as well as the three inserts on that bus. It also has a PC performance LED that indicates the CPU usage to know if you are pushing your PC to it's limits or not.

The track view is the real meat here, as it is with most multitracking apps. This is where the editing and recording happens and is displayed. Editing is nice and reasonable straight forward, it has snap abilities that can be turned on or off for precise cutting and pasting. One thing I did find odd is that there is no undo/redo buttons or menu options in the menu bar, but it is on the right click and the common shortcut keys exist for it as well (ctrl > z and ctrl > y). Cutting, pasting and moving clips around took me a little bit to get used to, as it is not like the app I usually use, but once I used it a couple times, it made sense and was very easy to work with. Track level fade in and fade outs are quite simple with little flags that appear on either end of the highlighted clips, which I found to be a very neat implementation for those functions.

Technical Details

The programme features a 32bit floating-point audio engine and supports 44.1kHz to 192kHz sample rates, and is capable of using both the old-school MME driver types as well as the new, high perfromance/low latency ASIO drivers. In addition to supporting it's own Kristal project file it also supports WAVE, AIFF, FLAC and OGG Vorbis files.

Configuration of the app is very straightforward. Audio device setup and configuration is very complete allowing the user to fine tune it by adjusting playback and recording buffers, block size and sample rate, which is very unusual for a budget (much less free) application, as most of those choose to have the PC control everything. And selecting the different drivers to use is as easy as a series of checkboxes. I found using the configuration tool for the drivers and selecting different cards somewhat confusing for the input and output selections at times, but part of this may be due in part to the fact that one of my two cards is currently a beta card I am testing for the manufacturer. I have spoke with Kristal about the problems and was told many people are confused by how this works and they may rethink how it is set up before their commercial release. Regardless, Kristal choose the proper card and set it up optimially configred by default, I was just hacking the options to see how it worked, tho I had no immediate need to.

There are three little detail features that I found particularily cool. The first being the simplicity of importing a file into a track, no menus to dig through, file types to choose and such, just a little "Browse for File" button right on each track that opens the dialog to choose your file...I wish every app did that. The second is something amazingly simple, but it is the ability to make the knobs work by moving the mouse in a circular pattern around the knob, rather than just up and down after clicking on it...simple, but neat. The third is, in the preferpences dialog, it allows you to use the bundled VST effects, plus, assign up to three other folders that contain VST effects for use in the program.

In Conclusion...

In short, many Cubase SX or Sonar users will never consider using an app like this because of its rock bottom simplicity compared to what they use now...but that's the beauty of it. Press record. Go. The end. Simple as that, no frills. It's a V8 50's rod compared to a Ferrari F1 racer. And that's a good thing.

What rocks:

  • Free...
  • Easy to use interface
  • Good sound quality and support for 16, 24 and 32 bit files
  • High sample rate support
  • Simple, unique track bouncing function
  • Low resource overhead

What doesn't:

  • No native looping support or support for Acid Loops or Grooveclips
  • No MIDI
  • No mp3 support
  • limited track inserts
  • No WDM Support

Kristal Audio Engine is HRC RecommendedBottom line: Unarguably the best freeware multitracker available and has earned itself the "HRC Recommended" badge in The Gear Bag at HRC for their outstanding contribution to the freeware movement. This program can easily stack up against any multitracking freeware and many shareware apps.

Kristal is planned to be a commercial product with the release of version 2 including more track, more effect inserts, virtual instrument capability and much more. It is too early, at the time of this writing, to get any information about the pricing or the different levels of the application they may produce, however.

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User-submitted comments

Sep 12, 2004 05:14 am
Make Kristal more powerfull
You can use Kristal in combination with audacity.
If you do so you cou get a free application with quite a lot of possibilities.
It's great tool for audiorecording!
Maybe in the future it will also support 'MIDI'...that would be great (for a newbie like me anyway)

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