by Evan James

TWENTY FIVE: Reimagining a quarter-century of iconic sounds

Discover the sound-design stories behind our free, retro-futuristic instrument.

In celebration of our 25th anniversary, we’re giving you TWENTY FIVE – a free, limited-edition Play Series instrument that lets future generations revisit and reimagine our sonic legacy. Packed with iconic sounds from 1996-2021, the instrument features exhilarating hand-picked presets that span the entire NI portfolio from GENERATOR to MASSIVE X. But the really interesting bit is that it allows you to pair up two of these sound sources at a time, and sculpt them into something entirely new with powerful FX and sequencing – it’s near-limitless retro-future fun.

To truly understand this unique instrument, we have to go back to the beginning. 25 years ago, we unveiled GENERATOR, a groundbreaking software modular synth in a graphical interface that empowered sound designers to build entirely new instruments of their own. Though relatively simple by today’s standards, it ultimately paved the way for the revolutionary REAKTOR, and – a quarter century of seminal sounds later – dynamic, next-generation synthesizers like MASSIVE X. Looking back on two and-a-half decades of subsequent innovation, we had a strong desire to pay homage to some of our sonic milestones while also celebrating the future-forward philosophy that inspired them. And thus, the concept for TWENTY FIVE was born.

When it came time to create sounds for the instrument, we tapped US Sound Design lead, Justin Adams, and his Berlin counterpart, Antonio de Spirt, for a transatlantic collaboration that sought to fuse LA’s predilection for hip hop and pop with Berlin’s electronic roots. For Adams, a key component of the process was relinquishing the concept of genre loyalty in favor of inspiration and innovation: “20 years ago, hip hop was ‘you can’t use that synth because that’s some house shit’ and EDM was ‘you can’t use those drums,’” Adams says. “But in today’s world, everything is a hodgepodge. You might have the biggest synth nerd ever behind some of the hardest hip hop drums, and that’s because of NI making these sounds accessible to the masses.” Adams draws a parallel here with a change in his own workflow: “I used to strictly sample vinyl and keyboards, and would have been stuck in a box back in the day. But BATTERY inspired me to think different, and helped me get out of that box.”

With this in mind, the team opted for a deliberately broad and inclusive approach that would showcase Native’s evolution as a company. “It’s a tool for us to tell a story,” de Spirt says – and what better way to tell that story than to showcase distinctive sounds from the entirety of NI’s diverse roster? With the concept firmly in place, de Spirt started combing through the massive library of presets from engines that NI had created over the years. “One thing which we had to keep in mind was that the sources had to be good and useful in a range of different circumstances. I also made sure to collect plenty of high frequency sounds and bass sounds for variety, and then we resampled them to create multi-samples. Then, per preset and engine, I just went through and said ‘Okay, what’s the dopest or most-used sound in here?’” This approach led to a kaleidoscopic collection of iconic sounds garnered from classic engines like ABSYNTH, MONARK, RAZOR, and the discontinued PRO 53, alongside more recent instruments like STRAYLIGHT and PHARLIGHT.

Given that some of these sounds come from entirely different eras, it’s likely that many of the combinations in TWENTY FIVE have never been heard before. But creative fusion is at the heart of this instrument, and TWENTY FIVE makes the process incredibly simple – unless you’re a fan of hands-on complexity, in which case you can tweak the sounds themselves, add effects, or sequence new patterns from within the instrument itself. “You can detune, you can pan it, you can make bitcrushed stuff on it…” explains Antonio. “You can have a filter on top. You can add modulation and assign the LFO to the pan or the tune to make it a little bit more gnarly and generate multiple waveforms to add a tape simulation. And once you know how to select a sound and manipulate it, you can add effects like the REPLIKA delay. And then you can do the same thing on the other layer and blend them back together, because there are separate effects chains for the A and B layers.”

With so many options, TWENTY FIVE may appear daunting to novice sound designers – but it’s actually an excellent starting point for beginners thanks to another surprise addition. “If you hit the icon in the lower right hand corner, it will pick two sources at random and add settings from the effects chain. So you can come up with your own custom sounds without doing a lot.” The whole design is so deceptively simple, that you can easily underestimate its potential. But hiding behind this apparent simplicity is the opportunity for much deeper innovation within the instrument itself.

As a testament to NI’s collaborative legacy, the team also worked with partners like Curtis “Sauce” Wilson and Rochard “Ro” Holiday (the team behind the glossy, vocal vibes of GLAZE) and Michael “MSimp” Simpson, the sound designer behind LoFi Glow, Faded Reels, and Soul Sessions. The end result? A historic, genre-scrambling instrument that boasts 150 unique presets, from pads, to percussion, leads, and basses, based on 73 resampled sounds and 43 wavetables – all taken from 37 classic instruments.

Here’s to 25 more years.

Spotted: the sounds of TWENTY FIVE in the wild

Along with sleeper classics from the NI vault, TWENTY FIVE is also packed with popular sounds that Native nerds may recognize from hit records. Atlanta rapper Playboi Carti is clearly a fan of FM8, having used it at least twice on his debut mixtape (listen for the Classic Flute preset on “Magnolia,” and Wheelrocker on “Yah Mean”), while Modeselektor and Thom Yorke used Reaktor AKKORD’s Berlin in Ghana preset on their glitch-heavy IDM anthem “The White Flash.” But it doesn’t get any bigger than the haunting, otherworldly organ on Travis Scott’s multi-platinum “Sicko Mode,” whose dissonant hook was written on Kontakt FL’s Rapman WAW — a fan favorite that, while previously buried in the KONTAKT Factory Library, is now immediately accessible on TWENTY FIVE.

For even more preset spotting, check out Made with NI: 25 for 25, also on the blog.


Click here to download TWENTY FIVE for FREE, and be sure to check out the 25th Anniversary Collection – an ultra-exclusive range of KOMPLETE. MASCHINE, and TRAKTOR hardware in your choice of Ultraviolet or Vapour Gray.

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