Muse Research's Receptor ($1,699), a DSP host for Windows VST plug-ins, is based on the notion that most computers make lousy musical instruments. The Receptor is a task-specific, 2U rackmount PC that operates as a signal processor and instrument-playback system. Because it was designed only to execute plug-ins, you can't use it to print documents or browse the Internet (for an in-depth Receptor 1.0 review, see the February 2005 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com).
The Receptor 1.5 contains an AMD Turion 64-bit processor with a 1 MB Level 2 cache. According to Muse, the cache is critical for efficient performance. The base Receptor comes with 256 MB of memory, which you can upgrade to 2 GB using DDR400 RAM. The unit currently ships with an internal 160 GB hard drive, which you can upgrade to a maximum 750 GB. The Receptor runs Linux with a Windows VST Dynamic Link Library (DLL) wrapper layer.
The Receptor 1.5 can take the load off your computer by hosting dozens of VST instruments and effects plug-ins. The rackmount unit is built around an AMD Turion 64-bit processor, up to 2 GB of RAM, and a maximum 750 GB factory-installed hard drive.
The Receptor provides 16 channels assignable to instruments or effects, as well as 2 effects buses and a master channel. An instrument channel contains a virtual synth or sampler with up to three insert effects. An effects channel is similar, but its audio source is one of the Receptor's real-time audio inputs. The two effects buses and master channel each allow three effects plug-ins. The Receptor can run as many as 16 instruments and 57 effects plug-ins simultaneously, along with a 16-channel software mixer.
The preinstalled software includes freeware plug-ins such as PSPaudioware PianoVerb, commercial plug-ins such as LinPlug RMIII, and demos for other commercial plug-ins such as GForce Minimonsta. Muse has teamed up with many plug-in manufacturers to officially “Receptorize” their software instruments and effects. You can download custom prep files that allow you to use the unit with user-installable commercial software you purchase elsewhere, including plug-ins from Native Instruments. The Receptor also has an Unsupported Plug-ins folder for plug-ins that Muse hasn't tested and sanctioned. You can purchase plug-ins, download software updates and documentation, and access the Receptor knowledge base at www.plugorama.com.
New and Improved
The Receptor 1.5 has two new features that help speed up patch changes. One is Z-Load, which precaches plug-ins to reduce instantiation time to milliseconds. Some plug-ins can be persnickety, however, so test your setup thoroughly before using Z-Load on a gig.
The second new feature, Snapshots, offers instantaneous bank loading. A Snapshot Bank can preload all the plug-ins for 16 channels simultaneously, as well as any necessary samples. After that, when you switch from one configuration, called a Snapshot Patch, to another, you instantly change which plug-ins are active. Any plug-ins you no longer need are bypassed; they still reside in RAM but don't affect your processor load. Snapshots give you more CPU cycles by powering only the instruments you're playing at the moment. You can load a Snapshot Bank that contains all the samples and patches you need for a song or set, and then change the Snapshot Patches to instantly reroute your MIDI controller.
Another recent feature is UniWire, which greatly increases the Receptor's usefulness as a DAW accelerator. With UniWire, all MIDI and audio data travels between the unit and your computer over Ethernet; no other cables are required. The Receptor appears as individual VST plug-ins in your digital audio sequencer (an RTAS version is nearing completion and will be free of charge to Receptor owners). UniWire is terrific for mixdown, because you can route 16 channels of audio into the Receptor and insert 3 effects on each channel. Configuring UniWire so that it worked properly took a little doing, but once everything was up and running, it was stable. You'll need a wired 100Base-T or better Ethernet router. If your computer has wireless networking, use that for the Internet and connect the Receptor to the computer's Ethernet port with a crossover cable.
The Receptor has come a long way in the last two years. Despite five free updates (including a hardware upgrade) since the first version, its most significant drawback is the lack of a built-in sequencer. Considering the Receptor's usefulness as a performance instrument, a performance-oriented sequencer would be a major plus. Muse has not made any official announcements but considers onboard sequencing a high priority.
The Receptor is a well-designed DSP monster with low latency, impressive stability, and regular updates that add functions and fix bugs. Features such as UniWire and Snapshot Banks make using it easier than ever. If you want a road-ready alternative to laptops or are tired of pushing your computer's CPU to the breaking point, check it out.
Value (1 through 5): 4