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Native Instruments Razor
Review by: Tony Grund


3 Stars

Native Instruments Razor


Razor is a soft synth that continues an interesting and new tradition by Native Instruments: selling instruments and effects that are built and housed within their Reaktor synth and player.  For those of you who don’t know, Reaktor is like a Lego toolkit for building effects and synth plug-ins. Since its inception back in the late ‘90s, Reaktor’s user community has built thousands of patches, some better than others. Most of these are free to Reaktor users, but recently, Native Instruments began selling a few of the greatest creations that hadn’t yet been released out into the wild. Other synths and effects in this category include The Finger, Prism, Spark, and The Mouth.

Originally developed by artist Errorsmith from Berlin for his own personal use, Razor is specially built for electronic music. It uses a combination of additive and subtractive synthesis, which is pretty unique in today’s world of analog emulations. For those of you who don’t know, additive synthesis means combining waveforms to create new waveforms. It is a pretty uncommon way to make sounds, and only a handful of additive synths have been made throughout the years. Usually additive synthesis tends to be pretty difficult when it comes to sound design, but Razor has taken a simpler, more artist-friendly approach to this by offering up a handful of predefined starting points, kind of like traditional synthesizers, and going from there. Sure, this may limit creativity a bit, but trust us, there are enough choices here to keep most people happy.

The output of all this additive craziness is a soft-synth that specializes in hard-edged sounds, best used by angry teens. Razor excels at creating the type of sounds used often in Drum n Bass, Dubstep, Electro House, Industrial and other dance styles that have bite. Although this is not all Razor can be used for, it definitely excels in these areas. Imagine the sounds of sonic warfare and you've brought to mind the audio capabilities of Razor. For this reason, we recommend this soft-synth to any and everyone who is making straight-up electronic beats. These producers will love everything Razor has to offer. For people who are into rock or pop, you can probably skip this release in favor of some of the other soft-synth offerings.

There are fourteen waveforms to choose from, which can be loaded into each of the two oscillators. These include Pulses, Saws, Hoovers (and Hoover Sync), Noise, Mixed Pitchbend, Sick Pitchbend, Primes, and others. Some of you may be scratching your head right now, wondering what the heck is a “Sick Pitchbend”... Well, we wonder too, but it sounds sick... er, phat... er, really cool!

The filters are even crazier than the oscillators, with over twenty different filter types split between the two filters on tap. The only downside to the filter setup here is that the same filter types are not offered between the two filters, and you must choose which one to use. To be honest though, this is not really too big a deal — we only point it out for those of you who are the most picky about your synth routing choices. Like the additive oscillators, the filters on tap are truly unique in the synth world, with the exception of the traditional low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass ones.

Native Instruments Razor Filters

Aside from the filters, three effects can be used simultaneously within a sound: Dissonance effects, Stereo effects, and Dynamic effects.  Dynamic effects are pretty much what they appear to be – compressors and limiters. Dissonance and Stereo effects are a bit more complicated. They don’t effect the audio signal in the traditional sense, meaning that no audio actually passes through anything to get the effect. Instead, the signal is altered at the oscillator stage between the left and right outputs to create chorusing or panning simulation. The final outcome is very similar to what you would expect in the traditional sense, but it’s interesting to see the trickery that goes on behind the scenes. More about this is discussed in Razor’s manual.

On the surface, Razor is very simple to operate. The layout is clean and well designed. It’s easy to see where everything is, and the signal flow is not hard to figure out just from looking at the screen. But underneath the hood is a monster of a synth, very complex in its design. Not surprisingly, Razor can eat a lot of CPU power very quickly. It’s important to note the CPU Quality Selector if you’re pushing your computer to its CPU’s limit.

In spite of this, or maybe because of it, there are certain limitations to the synth. For example, choices must be made as to which effects to use in each of their respective areas. In the stereo effects section, you have to choose a reverb or a chorus. You can’t have both. But instead of feeling limited by the simplistic nature of Razor, there is a certain amount of freedom that comes from being limited with your options. By not having an unlimited number of routings and effects slots, you are forced to learn the guts of the synth better, and can therefore figure out how to create the sound you want fairly quickly. The uncluttered interface is a joy to use, and invites the twisting of knobs and the tweaking of settings.

Don’t forget — you need Reaktor to use Razor, but if you don’t own Reaktor, have no fear. Reaktor Player is a free download that can be used to house Razor. Just download it from the NI website, and you can buy Razor (and other synths) to use within it. The good news is the free player includes three of the more famous synths from Reaktor: Carbon 2, Newscool, and SpaceDrone. Razor itself can be bought individually, or can be found within the Komplete 8 Ultimate bundle.

Price & Contact Information

NI Razor: $79.95, or included with NI Komplete.

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