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electronic MUSICIAN

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS Guitar Rig 2.0.1 (Mac/Win)

By Mike Levine | June 1, 2006

When Guitar Rig 1.0 was released last year, it garnered acclaim not only because it offered a large model collection and flexible routing structure, but also because it integrated software and hardware (its Rig Kontrol pedal) in an innovative manner. So the release of Guitar Rig 2.0 begs the question, what can Native Instruments do for an encore? The answer is plenty.

FIG. 1: Guitar Rig 2.0 has more amp, cabinet, and effects models than its predecessor and integrates a new hardware controller pedal.

Guitar Rig 2.0 (see Fig. 1) introduces four new amp models (including a dedicated bass amp); ten new effects and stompbox models; six new cabinet models; five Modifier components including a step sequencer, envelope generator, and LFO; a high-resolution audio mode; and a revamped hardware controller: the Rig Kontrol 2.

Rigging It Up

Like its predecessor, Guitar Rig 2.0 is amp-, cabinet-, and effects-modeling software that runs as a VST, RTAS, or DirectX plug-in in Windows; a VST, AU, or RTAS plug-in in Mac OS X; or as a standalone program on either platform. In addition to its collection of models, Guitar Rig 2.0 gives you utilities such as a tuner, a metronome, two digital recorders, and, new to version 2, the Loop Machine. (For more details on features and models introduced in Guitar Rig 1, see the review in the January 2005 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com.)

You get a large selection of editable preset rigs, for a variety of musical styles, but you can also build your own rig by dragging visual depictions of the various components into your virtual rack in any order you want. You can then tweak them using the various parameter knobs and buttons. The Rig Kontrol 2 can be assigned to control or turn on or off virtually any parameter using its expression pedal or one of its six footswitches.

On the Platform

For PC users, the minimum system requirements are Windows XP Service Pack 2, a Pentium 700 MHz or Athlon XP 1.33 GHz processor, and 256 MB of RAM. The minimum on the Mac is OS X 10.3.x, a G4 733 MHz processor, and 512 MB of RAM.

I tested Guitar Rig 2.0.1 and the Rig Kontrol 2 on both a Mac and a PC. For the former, I used a dual 2 GHz Apple Power Mac G5 (with OS X 10.4.4) running MOTU Digital Performer 4.6 and Apple Logic Pro 7.1 through a MOTU 828mkII FireWire interface, and the same computer running Digidesign Pro Tools LE 7 through an original Digidesign Mbox USB interface. My PC setup included a Dell D610 Pentium M laptop running Cakewalk Sonar 5 Producer Edition through the FireWire audio interface of an M-Audio Ozonic.

Getting Amped

The addition of four amp models doubles the number of Guitar Rig amp models to eight. The new amps (see Fig. 2) help round out the collection. My favorite is probably Tweedman (modeled after a Fender Bassman head), which offers a variety of vintage-Fender-type sounds, mainly on the warm and crunchy side.

FIG. 2: Guitar Rig 2.0 offers four new amp models: Lead 800, Jazz Amp, Tweedman, and Bass VT.

Also new is a Roland JC-120 — inspired model called Jazz Amp. When set correctly, it sounds a lot like a JC-120, and it gives you a choice of chorus and vibrato effects that are similar — although not quite as warm, to my ear — to those on the original amp. I found that I had to be pretty careful with Jazz Amp's tone settings or it ended up sounding brittle and overly bright.

The Lead 800 amp model emulates a Marshall JCM-800 and includes all the same knobs. It provides high-gain, Marshall-type sounds that are more heavily distorted and sustaining than those on Guitar Rig 2.0's other Marshall model, Plexi.

The other new amp is Bass VT, an Ampeg SVT — like bass head. It's the first dedicated bass-amp model in Guitar Rig (technically, Tweedman is also a bass-amp model, but like the real Fender Bassman, it's likely to find more use as a guitar amp). Bass VT offers a range of tones, from bright-and-thin rock to round-and-fat reggae and a lot in between. You can even dial in distortion from it using its Gain control. In addition to its virtual knobs, Bass VT also has a 9-band graphic EQ, similar to that on certain models of the Ampeg SVT-Pro.

Native Instruments also added six new bass-amp cabinet models to pair with Bass VT, ranging from a 1 × 15 to an 8 × 10 configuration. In addition, it added several new mic models aimed at bass-cabinet miking.

I tried Bass VT with a Fender Precision and was able to get some very usable bass tones (see Web Clip 1). The addition of Bass VT won't change Guitar Rig's primary mission as a guitar modeler, but it does enhance the program's utility, giving you a number of choices for processing bass sounds.

Effects Central

Ten new effects have been added (see Fig. 3). Highlights include Mezone, which is modeled on a Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal and offers a thick-sounding, harmonic-rich distortion. TransAmp emulates a Tech-21 SansAmp pedal and provides many impressive-sounding distortion options (see Web Clip 2). I used it in a rig with no amp or cabinet models, and like the box it emulates, it gave me some fat, distorted “direct” sounds. I particularly liked its California Amp setting.

FIG. 3: Mezone, TransAmp, Stomp Compressor, and Gain Booster are among the new effects added in Guitar Rig 2.0.

Gain Booster lets you dial in up to 30 dB of boost, and it adds a little extra oomph to any tone. AutoFilter gives you plenty of options for auto-wah effects. Stomp Compressor is a smooth-sounding emulation of the Keeley Compressor, a boutique pedal from Robert Keeley Electronics.

Cry Wah is an excellent-sounding wah based on the Dunlop Crybaby. And Pro Filter is a synth-style filter that's great for automating with the new Modifiers.

Mod About You

The Modifier (MDF) components are a significant addition, opening up Guitar Rig 2.0 users to a wide range of beat-synced effects (see Fig. 4). The Modifiers modulate and rhythmically affect your sounds in a multitude of ways.

FIG. 4: The Modifier components include LFO, Envelope, Step Sequencer, Analog Sequencer, and Input Level.

The LFO component introduces a low-frequency oscillator into your signal, and it's really easy to control its effect on the sound. You can choose from several waveforms, including Sine, Square, Saw, Triangle, and Random.

The Envelope component is an envelope generator that can be programmed using its large graphic breakpoint display. Step Sequencer lets you program up to 16 rhythmic control signals. Analog Sequencer also gives you 16 control signals, but they can be individually adjusted for level, which provides a lot more possibilities. Input Level generates a control signal that's triggered by the input of your guitar.

You can use one MDF or a combination of them, and each one can be assigned a target parameter to modulate by simply dragging-and-dropping its Assign control on top of the knob or button of an effect. You can assign multiple targets to a single MDF. With the exception of Input Level, all of the MDFs can be synced to your host's tempo (see Web Clip 3).

Programming the MDFs is relatively easy. You can find a lot of ideas for how to use them by checking out the presets in the Modifier bank.

The Loop Scoop

A powerful addition to Guitar Rig 2.0 is the Loop Machine component. It lets you record up to 99 layers of looped audio, which can then be exported — either layer by layer or as a mix — in WAV format. To get the most from Loop Machine, it's best to set one of the Rig Kontrol's footswitches to govern the Rec/Play/Dub function.

Once you get the hang of how to start and stop Loop Machine's record function at the right time, you can start seriously looping. You get options such as reversing one of the loop layers, comparing your new loop with a previously recorded one, panning your parts (on input), and automatically extending the length of the loop when overdubbing (great for soloing over your loop; see Web Clip 4). If you want, you can change sounds before recording each layer, which opens up a lot more sonic territory.

Every once in a while, when using Loop Machine, the audio dropped out for a fraction of a second. Although it was distracting, it appeared to have no impact on any layers I was recording.

Upping the Ante

When you activate Guitar Rig 2.0's High Resolution mode, it upsamples the audio, reducing aliasing and adding more definition in the high end. I found its effect to be noticeable, especially on high-gain patches. However, engaging High Resolution mode doubles the CPU load, so unless you have a really fast computer, you may find yourself using it only selectively.

Even at its normal resolution, Guitar Rig 2.0 requires a lot of CPU power. The more components you drop into your rig, the more it uses. When using Guitar Rig 2.0 as a plug-in, I found it helpful to freeze or bounce down the tracks I'd applied it to, once I'd dialed in the sound I wanted. That way I could still benefit from its sounds without too much stress on my processor.

Pedal of Metal

Much about the Rig Kontrol 2 pedal is different from the original. Besides having an entirely new look (see Fig. 5), it uses USB 2.0 to control the Guitar Rig 2.0 software. Not only does this USB capability make it much faster to set up than the Rig Kontrol 1, which used an analog control signal and was a bit tedious to get up and running, but it also gives it the capability to act as an audio and MIDI interface. It's bus powered as well.

FIG. 5: The Rig Kontrol 2 features a rugged metal casing, analog inputs and outputs, USB audio, MIDI I/O, an expression pedal, and six footswitches.

Among its rear-panel connections are two high-impedance ¼-inch inputs, two balanced ¼-inch outputs, a ¼-inch headphone out, MIDI In and Out, a USB 2.0 port, and two pedal inputs for connecting external expression pedals and switches.

The Rig Kontrol 2's own expression pedal can be linked to virtually any editable parameter, and it has a toe switch for turning on and off effects like wah. You also get six programmable footswitches for stepping through patches or turning on or off effects or parameters. As with the previous Rig Kontrol pedal, programming is a cinch and is accomplished entirely within the Guitar Rig software.

The Rig Kontrol 2 lets you input audio into Guitar Rig through its USB 2.0 port. The audio is then output through USB to the Rig Kontrol 2's analog outputs. These audio capabilities will be extremely handy if you're planning to use Guitar Rig 2.0 live with a laptop. You'll be able to patch Guitar Rig's output directly into the P.A., using the Rig Kontrol's balanced ¼-inch line outs. Doing so is markedly preferable to using the flimsy ⅛-inch stereo output found on many laptops' audio cards.

In order to get the Rig Kontrol 2's audio I/O to work with the Guitar Rig 2.0 software, you must set it as both the audio interface input and output in Guitar Rig's preferences. Therefore, in a studio situation, all of your audio will have to come through its analog outputs (or be monitored through its headphone jack), rather than through whatever audio interface you normally use.

If you use a DAW that lets you specify multiple audio interfaces (like MOTU Digital Performer), you can work around that limitation. Simply set the Rig Kontrol as your input and your regular interface as your output.

If you're running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), you could theoretically use the Audio MIDI Setup utility to construct an Aggregate Device that utilizes the Rig Kontrol 2 for input and the Mac's built-in audio for output. I tried this approach on Guitar Rig 2.0 in standalone mode, and as a plug-in in Apple Logic Pro, but was not able to get the aggregate driver to function correctly.

Buffer In

When you use the Rig Kontrol 2 as your audio interface and run Guitar Rig 2.0 as a plug-in, latency is controlled by the buffer setting of your host sequencer. When you run Guitar Rig in standalone mode, you have to adjust the latency slider in the software's preferences. When using my MOTU 828mkII and the M-Audio Ozonic as Mac and Windows audio cards, respectively, I was able to set the latency slider down to its lowest setting, 2 ms.

However, on my G5 when using the Rig Kontrol 2's audio interface, once I got the slider below about 6 or 7 ms, I started to hear clicks and other audio artifacts. To be fair, the latency wasn't noticeable at 6 or 7 ms, so it wasn't necessary to go any lower.

My PC wouldn't let me set the latency any lower than 8 ms when using the Rig Kontrol's USB I/O, and at that setting I did notice a slight latency delay. It wasn't enough to disrupt my playing, but it was clearly there. What was odd was that when I used the Ozonic as the audio interface and set it to 8 ms, I didn't notice that delay. The only explanation I can think of is that perhaps the Rig Kontrol's Windows XP audio drivers aren't as efficient as the Ozonic's. Unless you're going to be using Guitar Rig in a live situation, you'll probably find it easiest to use the Rig Kontrol 2 only as a controller, and let your primary audio interface handle the audio I/O.

If you already own the Rig Kontrol 1, you don't necessarily have to purchase the Rig Kontrol 2 when you upgrade to Guitar Rig 2.0. If you don't want or need the features of the new pedal, you can save yourself $280 and just upgrade the software. That said, I do recommend getting the Rig Kontrol 2 if you can swing it. It's much easier to set up and gives you many more options than the original Rig Kontrol pedal. If you're buying the full version of Guitar Rig 2.0 (rather than upgrading from Guitar Rig 1.x), you can't buy the software without the pedal.

The Big Rig

With the Guitar Rig 2.0 release, Native Instruments has taken an excellent product and made it even better. The fine new effects and amp components make its model collection even more formidable. Adding the bass amp gives the software another layer of usefulness. The Modifiers offer a whole new dimension of tempo-synced control, providing the tools to really stretch out your sonic palette.

If you already own Guitar Rig, you'll find a wealth of desirable new features in this upgrade. If you're not already an owner but are shopping for an amp- and effects-modeling product, you'll definitely want to give Guitar Rig 2.0 heavy consideration.


Mike Levine is an EM senior editor.

GUIDE TO EM METERS

5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology

4 = Clearly above average; very desirable

3 = Good; meets expectations

2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable

1 = Unacceptably flawed

RIG KONTROL 2 SPECIFICATIONS

Audio Inputs (2) unbalanced ¼"
Audio Outputs (2) balanced ¼" TRS, (1) ¼" TRS headphone
Additional Ports USB 2.0, MIDI In, MIDI Out, (2) ¼" pedal inputs
Bit Depth 24-bit (32-bit floating-point internal processing)
Sampling Rates 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz
Input Impedance 1 mΩ
Output Impedance 200Ω (balanced); 100Ω (unbalanced)
Programmable Footswitches 6
Programmable Expression Pedal 1
Power USB bus powered
Dimensions 14.1" (W) × 4" (H) × 9.3" (D)
Weight 5.7 lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS
Guitar Rig 2.0.1

amp-modeling software with hardware controller
$579
upgrade, $399
software-only upgrade, $119

PROS: Excellent new amp models. Bass VT model offers bass processing. Modifiers add tempo-synced effects. Rig Kontrol 2 is easy to set up. Loop Machine component adds multilayered looping. High Resolution mode provides improved sound quality.

CONS: Glitches from Rig Kontrol's USB I/O when latency set too low. Loop Machine exhibits occasional audio dropouts. Uses a lot of CPU power.

FEATURES...4
EASE OF USE...4
AUDIO QUALITY...4
VALUE...3

MANUFACTURER

Native Instruments
www.native-instruments.com

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