Native Instruments Battery: An In-depth Review For Your Music Business 2021

Manufacturer: Native Instruments
Price: zZsounds

Battery’s CoreThe manual modestly describes Battery as an “unparalleled programming and playback environment for drum samples”. I say modest description because while Battery was designed from the ground up for percussion, its ability for creative sound playback and manipulation goes far beyond drums. One stunning aspect of the Battery is that all sample playback and processing is done from a single window on the desktop. This window is broken into 3 major areas:

The largest is the Cell area; or Sample-Matrix, a bank of up to 54 Cells, each with a maximum of 128 Velocity Layers. This may sound like a ton of information to be displayed with only one window. It became convenient for me to think of a Dewey Decimal card catalogue you might find at a library. Just imagine 54 drawers (Cells) arranged in front of you, 6 drawers going down by 9 across. Each drawer has a main label (Sample), and within each drawer 128 cards (Velocity Layers) give you the location and subject of the individual sample that card represents. Looking at it this way it becomes apparent that for its simple interface Battery is a deep program. Yet, to NI’s credit immediate access to just about every parameter is available in a non-cluttered, easily navigable interface.

Just underneath the sample-matrix containing the Cells is the entire sample manipulating tools section for Battery. There is a wide range of processing and envelope options, layering options, MIDI controller functions, as well as loop functions. All of these controls work on the currently selected Cell(s) with its associated samples, and the current sample also shows up as a graphic waveform display that reflects any processing that has been done to the original sample (i.e. if you press the Reverse Sample button you will immediately see the results in the Graphic Waveform window as a reversed sound). Going down the right side of Battery’s window is the Output Section. This area allows you to load entire drum kits, individual samples and panning information, as well as audio output destinations. Battery can output up to 16 mono tracks and eight stereo tracks depending on your sequencer software and hardware.

Battery’s Features

My first objective was to simply launch Battery in stand-alone mode and demo some of the sounds. All I had to do was mouse click on a Cell (which displays the sample name as well as user defined information about the sample — usually the MIDI key that the sample is triggered from) and I could hear the sample: snares, bass drums, and toms of various sorts as well as cymbals and other strange percussion sounds were all around me. The samples that ship with Battery sound fantastic and cover a broad spectrum, from smoky jazz kits to noise-drenched industrial sounds. It even has a kit of percussion sounds that were created with NI’s flagship program Reaktor. Battery also supports Akai sample CD’s as well as Steinberg’s LM4 sample format (used by Steinberg’s VST 2.0 LM4 drum plug in). 24bit LM4 sound sets are available from companies like Wizoo, and supposedly have stellar sound quality.

I spent some time listening to the 20 kits that ship with Battery and was very impressed. Many of the kits cover standard areas like drum and bass, jazz, rock, reggae, house and 80’s electro. It sounds like time and effort was put into these samples. Bass drums and toms were full and deep sounding and the decays on cymbals and snares sounded completely natural — no early cut-offs. The thing I like about Battery is that it can sound realistic when you want it to. Also, the entire dance-oriented kits sounded like they could drive any techno/dance song right into after-hours.Of course, some kits have little to do with standard percussion sounds. All the sounds in the Vinyl kit sound like they have been sampled off of an LP, with all the crackles and pops associated with vinyl as well as an open, airy sound. The Hip-Hop kit has great samples that sound like they could be coming right out of an Akai MPC. Some kits, like Argon and Wicked have some of the strangest, noise induced percussive sounds I’ve heard. They also provide good examples of the sound manipulating tools in Battery.

My next objective was to launch my audio sequencer and see if I could run Battery’s audio output into Digital Performer for recording and further processing, as well as using MIDI to sequence the playback of Battery. Thankfully, the thorough manual explains the different audio engine choices available and how to install and activate them for direct routing into a particular digital audio sequencer. An important consideration to avoid audio gremlins and improper playback via your hardware is to set the latency for your audio card properly; this is something that would be covered and configured by your audio hardware and its documentation.

It was exciting to monitor the playback through DP and my audio hardware, record my performance (either audio or MIDI), and process the drum sounds with DP’s plugins, all without a single physical plug or patch.

Scrambling through the hundreds of individual samples I started to make my own kits, choosing different snares, bass drums, or toms and mapping them to my keyboard and recording MIDI patterns. Keys C1 to G1 were snares, C2 to F2 were bass drums, etc. Within minutes I had different beats and could change from one snare sound to another by changing the MIDI note value in my sequencer during playback. Of course, I also swapped sounds directly in Battery by click-dragging between the cells. The properties of what info (modulation, envelope, root key, etc.) gets swapped between the cells is user definable — a very convenient feature. Battery worked flawlessly and it was easy to fully integrate into my studio with its clearly laid out documentation and simple, straightforward software options.

And There Is More

As mentioned above, Battery provides various tools to manipulate samples and display info about the samples being used. Some of these are standard; like Tune, which controls the pitch of the sample, Waveshape, which works like an expander/compressor, and Sample Reverse, which reverses the sample. Yet, Battery provides some functions that separate it from more standard “drum machine” programs for someone needing more control and ability to edit their samples.

One interesting aspect is the Mute function. Of course, mute is a standard option on most drum machine style software. Yet, Battery takes the concept of muting a bit further by allowing the user to Mute Group. In other words, the trigger of one sample will mute another. This is great for instances were you have open and closed hi-hat samples. Simply Mute Group the two hi-hats so that whenever you trigger the closed hi-hat it will automatically mute the open hi-hat, giving more realism to your drum tracks.

Another plus for Battery is that it can identify loops within a sample, so that if you made a looped file in Peak or some other sample editing software, Battery could identify the loop points. This allows you to play the sample like a sampler would — looping the sound within the sample until you release the key and then continuing on into the decay portion of the sample. On top of being able to recognize loops in AIFF and WAV files, Battery provides an FX-Loop section that allows you to loop any sample, giving you parameters for Zero Crossover, Loop Count, and Loop Start points.

On top of its various loop functions Battery also provides a Modulation Section — a little mini-menu that allows you to designate the various sample manipulating functions in Battery to dedicated MIDI controllers. In other words, you could assign your MIDI keyboard’s pitch wheel to the Tune section so that you could change the pitch of the sample in real time just like on your keyboard. Of course, your pitch wheel could also control Volume and Envelope functions, the Waveshaper, Pan, or any other parameter. Although Battery provides a wealth of choices for MIDI controllers, I wish that the software would emulate the changes. In other words, if I link my keyboards pitch wheel to the Tune knob I would like to see the knob going from left to right as I manipulate my pitch wheel, so that I could see the changes as well as hear them.

Another sound shaping device that I was exited to try was the Bitreduction function that allows you to take a 24 or 16 bit sample and reduce, or truncate, it into a 12, 8, 0, or any bit in between sample. This function has great sonic possibilities. For instance, the original Emu Emax was a 12 bit sampler whose lower bit rate gave a grungy sound that was adopted and loved by many Industrial trailblazers — like Trent Reznor. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the Bitreduction function in Battery to be as musically “grungy” as others I have encountered. It seemed a bit too hissy, and I had to go all the way down to 6 bits in many cases to get a sample that sounded more raw and dirty. Of course, this is being nit-picky.

In Conclusion

All of the above options and abilities push Battery past regular “drum machine” software and into the realm of a simple yet fairly powerful software sampler. Battery is a very elegant piece of software that can really do some powerful sonic drumming. Yet, more importantly in my opinion, is its ability to dive the user right into the world of sampling while at the same time providing great sounds and dedicated features for drum programming. I’m sure we’ll be hearing quite a few Battery “Kits” on the radio waves, yet Battery’s support of various file formats and extensive processing abilities would allow a user to fill his computer with his own personal and unique sounds. I also think Battery is a great piece of software for someone who is looking for an easy, yet powerful software sampler at a great price (less than some sample CD‘s). Simple enough to use, powerful enough not to outgrow in a few months – I found a great Battery to power up all my audio toys.

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