New sample manipulation software from Native Instruments offers to slice, dice and stretch your loops. We investigate and try to come out of the experience Intakt…
Manufacturer: Native Instruments
Price: $229.00 £149.99
Web: Native Instruments
Intakt is the latest release in Native Instruments’ collection of sampler software, following on from Kontakt, Kompakt and Battery. It does sample playback but at heart it’s a loop slicer, dicer and manipulator.
Installation is easy but you must register the program within 30 days or it will stop working, and you must register to get updates and support. If you don’t mind giving the company personal details then that’s fine but being forced to do so to use a relatively inexpensive piece of software in an age when personal data is such an issue is barely acceptable.
The program installs a stand-alone version plus various plug-in formats including VST, DXi, RTAS and Audio Unit. The advantages of running Intakt as a plug-in include integration with your host sequencer, synchronisation with sequencer tracks, and the ability to automate parameters. As a VST plug-in, for example, Intakt outputs audio through the VST mixer which can be used during mixdown. Of course, you can apply other effects and plug-ins to the outputs should you wish.
At Intakt’s basic level is the Sample but, perhaps a little confusingly, this is also sometimes referred to as a Zone.
Sampler architecture begins with a sample which could be a ‘one shot’ sample such as a single drum hit, a loop consisting of one or more bars of a drum pattern, or a more complex loop such as a bass or melodic synth riff. Samples are commonly ‘mapped’ across several keys, a process sometimes known as zoning. Each key plays the sample at a different pitch so a single sample can be used to play tunes. Drum samples and loops are not usually mapped but mapping can create interesting results by changing the pitch of the drums. The Tracking function in Intakt lets the sample change pitch when played by different keys.
The Beat Machine can slice a loop into sections and each section can be mapped to a different key allowing you to play back the beats within a loop in any order. You can also map individual slices so different keys play them at different pitches.
The program has one main window divided into four horizontal sections – Source Edit, Modulation, Effects and Keyboard.
Source Edit is the core of the program and in the middle is the Loop Editor which displays a waveform of the sample currently undergoing manipulation. You can set Start and End points here, create loop points and move them around the sample, and make the loop play forwards as is usual or play forwards then reverse.
The Instrument Amp section is used to change various aspects of the sample including volume, pan position, tuning and velocity. The settings only affect the selected sample so you can apply different settings to different samples which makes the system very versatile.
You can play and edit a sample in three modes – Sampler, Beat Machine and Time Machine. Sampler modes works like a ‘standard’ sampler where part of the sample can be looped to create a ‘sustain’ section. Playback can be assigned to keys on the keyboard and with Tracking enabled the pitch will change according to the key pressed although this function also changes the duration.
On the beat
The Beat Machine is undoubtedly the most interesting part of the program. If you’re familiar with Propellerheads’ ReCycle, many of the features here will be familiar.
Essentially, you adjust a Sensitivity control to cut the sample into slices, the idea being to slice the sample into beats. Each slice can be mapped to individual keys on the keyboard so the slices can be played with different timings and in different orders creating different rhythmic patterns.
The 1.2Gb of samples supplied with Intakt come in NI’s own custom format. They install as two 600+Mb files which Intakt’s browser reads, deciphers and splits into components samples for loading into the program. While this is neat, it means you can’t access individual samples to edit in an audio editor.
A randomise function randomises the playback order of the slices so you can keep selecting it until you get a pattern you like. You can also apply different effects and modulations to different slices so there is lots of scope for producing a wide range of patterns from a single loop. Inevitably, the Sensitivity control will not catch all the beat points you want so you can add and remove them manually although this isn’t as obvious as it could be.
The Beat Machine has two sub modes. As its name suggests, Global Edit mode allows effects and modulations to be applied to the entire sample. Changing the tempo stretches the beat without transposing the sound which is obviously very useful. Changes made in this mode are retained when you switch to Sliced Edit mode. Here you can choose the base key for the slices to be mapped to, and save the timing template as a MIDI file which can be used to trigger the slices from a sequencer.
If you go back to Global mode from Spliced mode, you lose all the splices and settings you made which seems unnecessary. At least you could be given the option of keeping them or saving the changes as a new loop.
The manual describes Time Machine mode as a granular synthesiser in that it can change the speed of a sample while preserving the original pitch and vice versa. You use the Instrument Amp controls for this plus a few more that pop up when Time Machine mode is selected. These include Legato which preserves the sample playback position when switching between samples rather than starting from the beginning of each newly-triggered sample. There are also some Transient controls to help maintain sound quality through the processing.
The Modulation section includes a Pitch Envelope, an AHDSR (Attack, Hold, Decay, Sustain, Release) Envelope, an Envelope Follower, and two LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators). The Hold phase of the second envelope can help create punchy bass and percussion sounds. This envelope can be routed to several destinations including volume, pan, tuning, cutoff frequency, resonance and the LFOs. LFO 1 can be routed to volume, pan or tune, while LFO 2 can be routed to the cutoff frequency or resonance. The Envelope Follower channels the amplitude envelope of the sample to one of four sources (cutoff frequency, resonance, volume, pan and tuning), which can generate both interesting musical results and interesting effects.
The Effects section features a Filter, Lo Fi, Distortion, Delay and a Master Filter. The Filter is quite comprehensive with six filter types and a little graph to show the shape of the filter as you adjust the controls. Lo Fi can change the sample’s bit rate and resolution while Distortion creates an overload effect that adds harmonics. You can change the position of the Lo Fi and Distortion in the signal chain. Delay is simple with time and feedback controls. The Master Filter has four filter types and uses nodes which you can drag around the filter curve to make changes.
The modulations and effects can be applied to individual samples and slices, and are excellent ways to further tweak your samples and loops.
Pressing the trigger
The final section is the Keyboard which you can use to trigger the samples but, more importantly, it shows the keys and zones the samples are assigned to. These are neatly colour-coded so you know at a glance which sample modes (Sampler, Beat Machine or Time Machine) have been used for the samples under each key. Creating zones on the keyboard is neat, easy and intuitive once you know how but unfortunately the instructions aren’t terribly clear about how to do it. Or maybe we were having a bad hair day.
If you’ve used Native Instruments software before, the interface will have a degree of familiarity. Although the ‘one window’ interface idea has ease-of-use appeal, it also has drawbacks. The main Loop Editor, for example, would benefit from opening in a larger window of its own, and while you can create loop points, there are no looping aids such as zero crossing point finders or fades to crossfade the end of a difficult loop into its beginning.
NI has taken to designing its own menus and Intakt even has its own browser (similar to the one in Kontakt) to ‘unwrap’ the large ‘container files’ used by the sample libraries.
It would be nice if it remembered the current folder when you close the program. While the Windows and Mac menu systems may not be perfect they are, at least, a standard and you know where the menus are. If you’re going to redesign a feature you need to bring something new and better to the party. Apart from being scattered around the interface, the pop-up windows can’t be moved and they’re dull, more reminiscent of DOS than a modern hi tech state-of-the-art design. The program is not as immediately intuitive to use as it would like to be and the manual could have helped enormously here, but use will bring familiarity.
Operational niggles aside, the program has vast potential to totally transform existing loops and samples and create new ones from the ashes. If you’re more a loop tweaker than a loop creator, the 1.2Gb of samples may prove particularly tempting and the program will give you immediate access to more killer loops than you can shake a beat slicer at!
Three playback algorithms
Includes mega 1.2Gb loop library
Imports all major sample formats
Plug-ins enable controls to be automated
Not quite a stand-alone sampler
Non-standard interface and uninspiring menus
Samples in NI’s custom format
A powerful loop creator but be prepared to spend time becoming familiar with its interface and sometimes awkward operation.
Minimum system requirements
PC: Pentium III/Athlon 400MHz (700MHz recommended), 256Mb RAM (512Mb recommended), Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
Mac: G3 500MHz (G4 733MHz recommended), 256Mb RAM (512Mb recommended), Mac OS 9.2 (10.2.6 recommended)
Box includes PC and Mac versions
Plug-in and stand-alone versions included
Three sampler modes
Up to 128 stereo voices
96kHz sample rate
Sync loops to MIDI