Reaktor by Native Instruments (NI) is perhaps one of the notable modular synthesizers in the market today. With its module library and selection of instruments, it makes sense to have this software cum plugin in your producer’s toolbox.
But it does have a steep price, too. And considering that there hasn’t been any major update since it was released, one may wonder if it’s still worth purchasing today.
Is Reaktor 6 worth it today?
Reaktor 6 is worth it today, as it continues to offer much user-generated content to expand your current library. Moreover, at $199, you’re getting your money’s worth, considering the possibilities you get with the millions of routing combinations you can have.
There are also not many modular synth plugins and standalone apps in the market today. Comparing the cost of buying a MIDI controller and Reaktor 6 versus a modular synth and synthesizer combo, the cost of Reaktor 6 is still cheaper.
A brief history of Reaktor
NI started its journey in modular synthesizers in 1996 with Generator, which was designed for Windows and used a specific sound card designed by the company. Two years later, NI reconfigured the app to allow the use of third-party sound cards.
In 1999, NI released Reaktor 2.0, which included displays of real-time effects, wider plugin support, and compatibility for Windows and Mac OS. In version 3.0, which was launched in 2001, NI developed a new audio engine and interface, which was used as the basis of what Reaktor uses today. Reaktor 4 was released later with a more stable system and wider library.
Reaktor 5 was conceived and launched in April 2005 after NI hired Vadim Zavalishin, who developed the Sync Modular app. Together with Martijn Zwartjes, Zavalishin focused on improving Reaktor by including better DSPs and modules.
In September 2015, NI launched Reaktor 6, which included the Modules feature that made Reaktor 6 similar to rackmount modular synthesizers.
How to get Reaktor 6?
You can get Reaktor 6 on the Native Instruments website. There’s an option to download a demo version, or you can purchase the full version for $199. If you’re using an older version of Reaktor, you can upgrade for only $99.
Reaktor 6 Player
The Reaktor 6 Player is the free or demo version of Reaktor 6. It is pretty much the same as the paid version, but with some limitations on features, which this article shall discuss later. Nonetheless, you get a similar experience when using the Reaktor 6 Player.
Reaktor 6 system requirements
To use Reaktor 6, you need to have a computer running the following operating systems.
Version 10.14, 10.15, or 11, i5 processor and at least 4 GB of RAM.
Windows 10 with the latest service pack, Core i5 or equivalent processor, and 4 GB of RAM.
To activate Reaktor 6, you need a graphics card supporting OpenGL 2.1 or higher. For the supported interfaces, both macOS and Windows support VST and AAX. In addition, macOS will also support AU for Reaktor 6.
Before you install Reaktor 6, you will need to install the Native Access app. This app is a centralized app that allows you to manage and activate all NI apps you own. In addition, you can use it to update any app and check the version numbers of your NI apps.
If you’re looking to buy a full suite of music production apps, you can get Reaktor 6 as part of the Komplete bundle.
Reaktor 6 User Interface and Usability Overview
When you start Reaktor 6 as a standalone app, you’ll be asked to choose what you want to do.
- Play with REAKTOR Instruments
In this function, you can experiment with the built-in instruments that come with Reaktor 6. You can move around connections between synth modules to get new sounds. Likewise, you can also tweak knobs in this mode.
The Lazerbass is one of the sample instruments/ensembles you can use in this mode. This factory preset gives you different bass tones you can experiment with, although there isn’t a way to change the order of effects.
- Patch or experiment with modular racks
This function lets you play around with the modular racks of Reaktor 6. Here, you can experiment with different presets and introduce different racks to modify the sound.
This function teaches you the fundamentals of modular synthesis. You can use preloaded plugins to create different sounds and patch them differently to understand how each routing affects the sound.
- Build custom synths
This feature lets you build a virtual synth or instrument using the different modules available. On the free version, you only get 30 minutes of usage before restarting the program.
This feature creates a new ensemble, which can be a problem for anyone unfamiliar with modular synthesis. While this doesn’t look different from the patch modular racks feature, using this feature requires deeper study to understand. A wider library is also available in this mode, which you can access without restrictions with a paid version.
Connecting a MIDI Keyboard to Reaktor 6
While you can use your computer’s keyboard for Reaktor 6, having a dedicated MIDI controller is highly recommended to have a more natural feel when playing. You can also map out controls to tweak them like any other synthesizer.
There are different ways of connecting your MIDI controller to Reaktor 6, depending on how you plan to use the app.
- To connect your MIDI keyboard or controller when using Reaktor 6:
Plug the MIDI controller into your computer, then open Reaktor as an app.
Go to Audio and MIDI Settings under the File menu in the taskbar.
Look for your MIDI device in the MIDI tab, then select activate. Do this for both input and output.
- If you plan to use Reaktor 6 as a plugin for your DAW:
Right-click a parameter you wish to control on Reaktor, then click on MIDIa & OSC Learn.
Twist or toggle any knob or button, then Reaktor will recognize the parameter and designated control.
Once you’re done tweaking, save the preset you made as an ensemble using the Autosave feature.
Components of the Interface
Reaktor 6 has four panels that let you create snapshots and other sounds you could think of.
- Transport Tool Bar
The transport toolbar holds the information you need to know about the current project or preset open. You’ll find here the name of the preset loaded, the tempo, MIDI activity, CPU usage, and toggle the structure pane.
The panel serves as the virtual interface of your instrument. You’ll find here the virtual knobs you can use to tweak the parameters of each module. You can also connect here the different modules, although it can be confusing to trace the signal using the panel.
Below the panel is the structure pane. The structure maps out how the modules are connected. If you’re looking to organize your signal path, the structure pane lets you drag around modules and arrange them in any order you like.
On the left side of the window is a browser pane. Here, you can click and drag modules or instruments that you want to experiment with. You will also find all the third-party content compatible with Reaktor 6. Likewise, you can find tutorials on Reaktor here.
Rack vs Ensemble
When using Reaktor 6, you will encounter two project types: Rack and Ensemble. While both can create new sounds for you, there’s a difference between the two project types.
The Rack is a simplified project that gives you an easier system to create projects. It’s best used for digital audio workstations, considering its simplicity.
Now, on the downside, Racks only work for users who registered their Reaktor 6, as Racks uses the instruments built into Reaktor. In addition, NI discourages third-party-made modules in Racks and would require an added cost for licenses and encoding.
Racks don’t offer many blocks when on free mode with Reaktor 6. If you want more, you need to buy a license for Reaktor 6.
Ensemble, meanwhile, gives you more flexibility in creating modules. As a result, ensembles are a good option to use if you’re looking to develop a module. It’s also a good option for those wanting to use Reaktor as a standalone app.
However, using Ensembles requires much organization for you to work seamlessly. In addition, you can get lost easily in the hundreds of content in the sound libraries you gain access to. Note that the free version of Reaktor 6 lets you use the build ensembles option for only 30 minutes, before restarting the app.
Navigating Reaktor Modules
Inside ensembles and racks are instruments containing modules, which are the core of each preset you make. You can think of an ensemble as a molecule, with instruments comprising the atom and modules as the parts that make up an atom.
Unlike DAWs, where the effects sequence is based on the descending order, the effects in Reaktor 6 work differently as you route them manually each time. So how do you determine the signal chain?
A dot on the side denotes each module’s input and output point. The signal in Reaktor starts from the left side of each module and goes to the right. Therefore, if you are pairing modules together, you need to connect the left side of one to the right side of another module.
You can also route one output to different inputs, but sometimes, you can’t route different outputs to a single input.
Some modules don’t have any inputs but have outputs only. These are often sampler modules, depending on the audio file you feed. Note that the sampler only reads uncompressed audio, so that means mp3 files are not compatible.
One thing you’ll notice with the effects plugins that come with Reaktor 6 is the multiple input and output points on each block. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of effects processing, you can start with the basic input and outputs on each side. The basic studio effects in the Primary Folder of the Reaktor 6 library function similarly to plugins on a DAW.
One nice thing to note with these basic studio effects is their simplicity of use. You can route the essential effects, such as chorus, phaser, and delay, without routing many parameters. Likewise, the controls are also simple, making them a good stepping stone to getting acquainted with Reaktor 6.
What do you get with Reaktor 6?
With Reaktor 6, you get the standalone app and a virtual instrument plugin you can use with your DAW. Aside from that, you also get ensembles, a 3,000-module library, and an instrument designer.
There’s a difference in features when you get the free version of Reaktor 6. For one, you only get the basic ensembles, unlike the full version that gives you over 80 ensembles.
Some features are only available for 30 minutes, after which you need to restart Reaktor 6.
You can also add NI instruments or presets, which you can install as a demo or paid app. All you need is the standalone Reaktor app for them to work.
A good sample of an add-on instrument on Reaktor 6 worth checking is the Razor by errorsmith, which is a synth that offers a lot of envelope filters and modulations. If you’re looking for more recommendations, you can check this article for recommended instruments to install on Reaktor 6.
Reaktor 6 vs other synth software
There is other synth software that offers similar functions to Reaktor 6. Here’s how they compare.
Reaktor 6 vs Reason+
Reason was one of the pioneers of modular synth software, including virtual cabling.
While sound can be objective, the features draw a line between Reaktor 6 and Reason+.
For one, Reason+ works as a standalone DAW, while Reaktor 6 only functions as a virtual instrument plugin and a standalone synth app. Reason+ has 32 instruments, while Reaktor 6 has over 80 in its full version.
When it comes to effects, Reason+ has 32 effects, while Reaktor 6 has an expandable effects library with Komplete, on top of the 30 built-in modules.
Now, Reason+ comes with a monthly subscription of $19.99 with freebies every week. Reaktor 6 has an upfront cost of $199. If you think you want a growing library, Reason+ is a good choice, but Reaktor 6 is best for those who don’t want to deal with monthly subscriptions.
Reaktor 6 vs VCV Rack 2
The open-source community is not to be beaten in this field of modular synthesizers as it offers VCV Rack 2 as an alternative to Reaktor 6. It’s free and open-source, making it accessible to different operating systems, unlike Reaktor 6, which is exclusive to Windows and macOS.
When it comes to instrument plugins, the Reaktor 6 wins as the VCV Rack 2 only works as a standalone app. If you want to use it as a plugin, you must purchase the pro version, which costs $149.
Content-wise, Reaktor 6 wins by a slightly small margin with 3,000 plus modules in its library. However, VCV Rack 2 is still formidable, with over 2,000 modules in its library, plus the 30 you get when you download it.
Between the two, it’s hard to say which is better, as they have their strengths and weaknesses. But, if you don’t want to spend for a modular synth, VCV Rack 2 makes sense. On the other hand, Reaktor 6 is best for those willing to invest in modular synth software.
Stacking VSTs on an existing synth track
Stacking plugins on an existing synth track might work, but you don’t get the same flexibility as a modular synth plugin. While you can try blending tracks using different parameters, the effect won’t be the same.
Using Reaktor 6, however, gives you more flexibility in routing. And it is also not as intensive as running different plugins on a track. But, of course, it will also hog more processing power if you blend separate synth tracks to get that modular feel. Remember, to avoid dropouts, as you need every possible processing power and memory when recording.
What are the Pros and Cons of Reaktor 6?
Reaktor 6 offers not just quantity but also quality with this software.
- Reaktor 6 tends to sound analog.
One thing to love about Reaktor 6 is how close it gets to analog sounds. It may still be digital, but its accuracy is remarkable enough to replace a rack of modules.
- Reaktor 6 has a comprehensive module library.
With that, the variety of modules with the Reaktor 6 will leave you wanting more time to explore the different sounds you can get. In addition, the library access you get is quite extensive.
But, there are also some disadvantages to Reaktor 6.
- Reaktor 6 can be intensive on the processor.
Processing power is important in music production, and it would be a shame if the recording drops halfway while tracking. If you plug in too many modules in Reaktor, you may need more processing power. Unless you upgrade your processor, expect dropouts when you load too many modules.
- Reaktor 6 can be too monophonic
Another disadvantage with Reaktor 6 is the monophonic tones you get from it. While you get analog tones, Reaktor 6 needs a little more depth to make it have more depth. You can try cloning tracks and adding some effects for variety, but that’s an extra step.
Reaktor 6, for what it offers, is worth considering if you’re looking to expand your palette in music production. In addition, it’s a good option for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with memorizing a lot of signal paths and knob positions, as you can easily save presets for quick recall.
Reaktor 6 also helps reduce the things you need to bring to a gig if you’re also looking to downsize your gigging rig. All you need is a capable laptop, a MIDI controller and an audio interface to route the signal to the front of the house. You can then say goodbye to bulky racks and patch cables that break in transit.
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John Narciso is a guitar player and music technology hobbyist. He loves exploring guitar effects processors in pedal and plugin format and free music applications. His music preferences tend to be diverse, listening to genres spanning from metal to alternative rock and a little hip-hop.