The virtues of software instruments are clear – at least to the Native Instruments team: Infinite possibilities, unbeatable cost effectiveness, (almost) zero maintenance – the list goes on. But even the most hardcore of soft-synth fanatics harbour a soft spot for the old, dusty stuff. Whether it’s the hands-on experience, the particular pops and crackles of an individual beloved unit, or even that funny musty smell that gear develops around a certain age, there’s just something about great vintage hardware that doesn’t quite translate to the world of zeroes and ones.
Luckily, there are some very dedicated Native Instruments users out there who are committed to having the best of both worlds. Since the creation of the REAKTOR User Library they’ve been tirelessly working to recreate their favourite gear, and make it available to the world – for free. These ensembles may not smell like the originals, but they certainly sound the part, and some of them have the looks to match. Best of all, provided you’re already a REAKTOR 6 user, they won’t set you back a penny. Here are five of the best.
Roland RE 201 Space Echo
Released in 1974, Roland’s RE 201 is still regarded by many as the definitive tape delay. Well used and much loved by artists as diverse as Johnny Greenwood, Portishead, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Space Echo’s distinct warbling repeats can be heard scattered across big tracks from most every genre. REAKTOR ensemble builder Jesse Voccia’s superb-sounding take on the unit comes with a vintage-spec green and black interface, which may not alter the sound, but definitely dials up the retro mojo.
You’ll never have to change the tape.
Dirty old tape sounds pretty cool.
The 1970s saw the introduction of a number of polyphonic synthesizers, designed to produce a portable, if not entirely convincing, replacement for a live string ensemble. Robert Sigmundtowski’s REAKTOR-based take on the concept bears a passing resemblance to instruments from ARP, Korg, and Roland among others, and packages three great-sounding instruments with a simple filter and delay section, plus added LFO and gain control.
Sounds just like a 70s string synthesizer.
Doesn’t sound much like actual strings.
The 106 was added to Roland’s legendary Juno line in 1984, and featured on a wide range of the rest of the decade’s biggest rock and pop hits. And since these synths were built to last, they’re still easily obtainable and widely used today for that instant-80s vibe. If you still can’t find one on eBay, however, don’t despair: There are a fair few tributes to the Juno series dotted around the REAKTOR User Library. This particular example comes from serial vintage emulation builder Stephan Becker, which – to those in the know – is a strong indication of quality.
Get that 80s sound.
Everyone else has that 80s sound too.
Okay, this one’s not for everyone. It is, however, for a large number adults of a certain age that used to own a battery-powered Casio VL-Tone keyboard as a kid. If that’s triggering any nostalgia at all for you, be sure to check out ensemble builder Adam Hanley’s beige plastic blast from the past. He’s even gone to the trouble of circuit-bending it for you.
Sounds just like the original.
Sounds just like the original.
Veteran ensemble builder Boscomac’s creations aren’t part of the REAKTOR User Library, unfortunately. But they’re still free to download, and this one in particular is too good not to share. This synthetic orchestra takes inspiration from the ARP Omni string synthesizer, and sports the classic orange/black livery of the 1978 Mk2 edition. It’s not an exact recreation of any one machine, but that’s hardly the point – it sounds fantastic.
Just listen to it.
Set aside a few weeks to explore out the rest of Boscomac’s excellent free creations.