This week we take a look at the new drum processing, tweaking, twisting , morphing power app from Native Instruments.
Battery 2, from Native Instruments, is the next version of their well known drum sampler application. In Battery 2 you can fine tune any sort of percussion sound sample with tool specifically designed for working with percussion.
Battery is shipped on a DVD install disc that is packed with not only the application but over 3.5 GB of percussion samples. It runs on both Windows and Mac OSX platforms.
Since Battery ships on a DVD, with no optional CD, you need to have a DVD player to install the app. When you install it asks you which components you want to install. The options are the stand-alone application, a DXi plugin, a VST plugin and an RTAS plugin. For you Mac-type people, it can also work as an AudioUnit. In addition you have the option of installing or not installing the over 3.5 GB of percussion samples.
The install itself is relatively simple, like most any installation process. But the registration process is kind of overkill. I chose the quick, over the internet method. You go to a web site, enter your information, verify that it's right, if you choose to create an NI forum account you then need to select a forum name, then verify it's right, then answer a bunch of questions about who you are, what you do, how old you are, which apps you use and so on. Then, after all that you get to the final screen which give you the unlock code for the app, which it also emails to you. It seems a bit much, but, in today's age of piracy I can, on one hand understand why companies are trying some of these methods, but on the other hand, legitimate users really seems to get put through a bit much to simply use the software they paid good money for.
Firin' it Up!
First firing up Battery presents a very cool, very mod and intelligent looking interface. It is not composed of standard components from the OS, but reminds me more of a Macromedia Flash style interface. The menus are semi transparent which made visibility a problem at times, but not generally.
In the upper half of the screen is a large grid and this large grid can have each "pad" populated with a different sample, or collection of samples. The area underneath the grid is split in half with the right half being an envelope filter that contains all the control over it as well as a window containing a sine wave of the sound. The left side is several things. The user can page back and forth between additional envelope control, filters, compression, bit reduction, modulation, saturation and LFO control. The level of personal control over each sound is actually quite impressive.
Sound Morphing Control
The only constant window in the bottom half of the screen is the wave view with volume and pitch envelopes. This little panel is pretty powerful stuff, and a lot of fun to play with. The volume and pitch envelopes control all of the parameters expected from such features and the wave view illustrates the changes you are making with those envelopes. In addition either end of the wave view can be dragged back and forth to shorten the playback to just one small piece or lengthen it to the whole sample.
Each cell has a dedicated filter/equalizer control panel with presets that are made specifically for percussion sounds to get you started in the right direction. The EQ offers very granular control over the sound so you can tweak down to very specific frequency ranges or sweeping changes over broad ranges of your sound. I found this filter particularaly impressive as a morphing tool for most any sound, I took a good solid kick drum and turned it into a stick hitting a piece of cardboard in about two seconds...combine the filter panel with the modulation panel and you have some pretty powerful morphing tools at your disposal. The modulation control allows you to modulate up to 8 parameters of each cell with a very wide range of sources and targets including a freely assignable LFO and additional envelope control.
The graphical map allows you to layer up to 128 samples per cell for an incredible amount of flexibility. You can merge specific sections of each layer of the cell or trigger different sound within the same cell to create a completely new sample from the collection.
Each cell of the grid has its own compressor as well. It offers several presets for some good starting points with all the control you would expect from a compressor available for your additional tweaking beyond the presets. The compressor itself is pretty clean and easy to use, as compression really isn't that tough of an effect to use in the first place, NI did well on this one. Compressors can be tricky when working with percussion sounds, you can really peak them out or totally make them expressionless by over compressing, and it's quite easy to do. One nice thing about Battery, unlike using separate plugins and apps to do all this, when using the compressor, you can visually see the difference it creates in the wave file view on the right of the screen. With that you can see when you are approaching peak territory.
The Loop section allows 4 loops per sample including tuning changes, cross fades and alternating loop functions, allowing you create completely new, unique sound samples. This little tool is a lot of fun, mixing and morphing sounds and layers to create some cool sound designs yourself; no longer needing to be tied to the wav file you were given or recorded.
It's a VSTi
In addition to all the cool, fun stuff you can do with Battery as the stand alone application, it also works as a VSTi in your favorite sequencer, and also registers accurately with the Cakewalk VST adapter for use in Sonar and other Cakewalk Products. As a VSTi it can replace your current drum machine, as it is not only a simple drum machine, like many others available, but it brings with it all of the morphing features of the stand alone.
As a VSTi I have found it most useful, as percussion isn't a primary focus of my music, although I still want high quality sound samples, I rarely go so far as to make any percussion outside of my multitracking application.
There are many ways to do everything that Battery 2 does. Compression, filtering and modulation are nothing new; however, I do have to give Battery credit on this effort, as they really put it all together nicely making a very easy to use and powerful percussion designing application. To do much of what Battery does would take much longer using individual tools that many of us probably already have available. Anything that makes you more productive in the studio is a good thing.
The over 3.5 GB of samples and kits is a very worthy addition to the package, which I have left pretty much unmentioned thus far in the review other than to say they exist. I will say there are some great kits in this package and some very nice samples of all sorts of percussion instruments. Be aware, however, that some samples and some kits can be pretty big. The one drawback of having so many cells available int he interface and so many variable parameters to tweak is that it is pretty easy, if you get tweak-happy, to really use up a lot of memory and processing power using the instrument, so manage your projects and sample use wisely.
If percussion is an important part of your music, Battery could be a very worth while addition to your studio rig. My testing has also proven, however, that Battery is by no means limited to percussion, thought that is what it is geared toward, so don't be afraid to work outside that proverbial box.
I still think the registration scheme is overkill, I will never like some of the measures companies put legitimate users through to register their programs. But at the same time I understand the need for trying new ways. This way, however is a loser...two thumbs down. However, this is in no way limited to NI, I have seen far more involved and far more annoying authorization schemes than this from other companies.I will give NI this, at least they chose not to go the "dongle" route. Kudos for that. Also, I have been told (and it makes sense) that registration the second time around is less of an effort because NI already has your profile so it goes quicker.
One possibly logical improvement I see in the future would be an FX chain where a user could re order and path the effects by means of drag and drop elements for each effect, and possibly putting an effect on only a single layer of a given grid cell and so forth. It could make for some interesting possiblities to the real tweaker.
All that said, I do think Battery 2 will be replacing the drum machine I am currently accustomed to using. I have been slowly working it in to some of my projects, and it really is quite impressive. The only trouble I have had is getting an even volume across samples, but that's just tweaking.
For a street price of $199 Battery 2 may seem a bit steep for "just a drum machine" VSTi, but if you give it a chance, it could very well prove to be much more than that when used to it's fullest capabilities.
I have also been informed that NI is about to release the version 2.1 update next week. This update will bring several new features like Direct-From-Disk streaming, MIDI CC automation, enhanced import browser and much more.
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