Battery 2, Native Instruments' premium virtual drum module, is an easy-to-learn, highly flexible and configurable software sampler. At $229 retail, it

Battery 2, Native Instruments' premium virtual drum module, is an easy-to-learn, highly flexible and configurable software sampler. At $229 retail, it comes ready to roll with more than 3.5 GB of sounds (that's more than 9,400 professional drum and percussion samples) organized into various acoustic and electronic collections. Combining these great sounds with an easy-to-understand, clutter-free interface, NI has provided musicians with an extremely powerful, elegant and user-friendly musical instrument. Battery 2 makes the process of sample management and manipulation a pleasure, and it stands as one of the best samplers (software or hardware) available today.LOVE AT FIRST SIGHTI installed Battery 2 on an Apple Mac G4/1.67GHz PowerBook with 2 GB of system RAM and Mac OS X (version 10.3.9). For a host sequencer, I used Apple Logic Pro 7. Registration was relatively easy: I filled out a form with my serial number, and NI e-mailed me a code to unlock the software. (You can also send the form through standard mail.) This is an easy process, assuming you have Internet connectivity. If you don't, you may want to hold off on buying this program until you do. Not only is registration a bit of a hassle, but Battery (like most audio programs) requires you to periodically download updates to fix bugs, stay current and make sure everything continues to work well together with your host sequencer and operating system.After loading the program, I was immediately struck by Battery's utilitarian look and feel: no fancy graphics or logos; no dangling cables; no dark, shadowy “consoles”; no dancing light displays. This olive-green wonder is a serious tool. If you are already a user of other NI products (like Reaktor or Kontakt), you will probably feel right at home with this interface. Otherwise, you might want to dedicate a bit of time to getting your bearings before you get to the serious tweaking.AN INTERFACE LIKE NO OTHERBattery's interface, in many ways, is truly genius. It's efficient and inviting, and it allows for easy experimentation and manipulation over scores of samples simultaneously, without overwhelming the user or crowding the screen. Starting at the top of the screen, you will see the master section. There, you manage and import drum kits, which, in Battery speak, are collections of sounds. The sounds that come with Battery are organized into more than 20 different kits, including traditional selections, like Old Jazz Kit and Afro-Cuban Kit, as well as more eccentric ones, like Dirty Circuit, Simple Waveform or BeatBoxElliot.For testing purposes, I started with Dirty Circuit, but you can also import your own sounds into any preset kit or make your own kit from scratch. Clicking on the import button opens up a browser, within the interface, where you can view your computer's files in a file tree. You can preview sounds by clicking on them and then dragging them onto the matrix below. Battery can handle any bit rate from 8 to 32 as well as almost any common sound format, including AIFF, WAV, SDII, SoundFont 2.0, EXS24, GigaSampler, HALion, Akai S1000 and S3000, REX I and II, SampleCell and (of course) any NI library. From the master section, you can adjust the master audio level for the instrument, and you can also see how many notes of polyphony the program is using at any given time as well as how much memory the current patch requires.Moving down the screen, you will see a large grid with 72 individual cells, arranged 12 by 6. This area is called the Drum/Sample Matrix, and it can be customized down to a 9 by 1 matrix, if desired. Because I began testing with Dirty Circuit, each cell was loaded with a sound from that kit, which included sounds like F-mod, Dusty Cricket and LFO Clave. Along the bottom of each cell are color-coded mute and solo buttons. Clicking on any of the grid boxes allows you to preview the sound. Any of the sounds can also be played using a MIDI keyboard, as each cell has a corresponding MIDI note or set of MIDI notes assigned to it. Typically, this would look something like C1 for the bass drum, D1 for the snare, E1 for a closed hi-hat and so on.Besides making it easy to see all of the loaded sounds at any given time, the grid has many interesting functions. For one thing, it makes multiple-sample editing a breeze. If you Shift-click, you can highlight any number of cells and edit parameters like pitch, volume envelopes, filters and sample start and end points across all of the selected samples at the same time. You can delete boxes, or even whole rows, if you are not using them. It is also possible to swap cells or move them around by drag and drop. The cells can also be randomized if you need something to jump-start the writing process. And if you are looking for a good live application, it's possible to place all of your percussion sounds in one row, bass sounds in another and so on and then use the mute and solo functions to bring in or take out different rows, while your sequencer is playing, for easy arranging on the fly.Digging a little deeper, you can see that each cell can actually hold more than one sound. In fact, Battery allows you to map different samples to different velocity values within a cell. This function is vital when dealing with complicated sounds like snares, rides and hi-hats. Taking a snare, for example, you could map the sample of a light snare hit anywhere from 1 to 30 on the cell's velocity scale, a medium snare hit at 30 to 100, a harder hit from 100 to 120 and a maximum hit at 120 to 128. With Battery, you can crossfade between these different samples, providing a continuous flow between the light, medium, hard and superhard samples. This makes for an incredibly real-sounding, dynamic snare sound. And don't think that you have to set all of this up yourself — many of the drum kits in Battery already make use of multilayering techniques, especially with the presets that include snares and cymbals.SO DEEPAnytime you trigger a sound, you will notice that the waveform of the sound appears in the waveform display, below the grid, in the area called the Edit pane. There, you can manipulate each sample. Within the waveform display, you can easily set start- and end-time parameters for any given sample by just clicking on either end of the wave and moving the end points. A Volume Envelope is provided above the display to adjust attack and decay. There is also an extremely responsive, great-sounding Pitch Envelope.Along the side of the waveform display is the Modify section, where you can adjust overall pitch, saturation, bit reduction and sample-rate reduction for each cell. Battery makes lo-fi processing easy: Simply turn the bit-reduction (Bits) knob and listen to the sample transform to 8-bit. The Hertz control is particularly interesting, allowing for sample-rate modification from 15.8 down to 1 kHz. This produces some nice metallic overtones and, when used in conjunction with the saturation and bit-reduction controls, can really destroy a sample — in a good way. As you move to the left within the Edit pane, you will notice a set of tabs labeled Cell, Map, Mod, Filter, Comp and Loop. This is the area of the Battery interface devoted to expressive signal processing, and it deserves some special attention.Pressing on the Filter tab, you can access the cell's unique filter parameter. It is possible to draw in a filter curve; use the Freq, BandW(idth) and Gain knobs; or pick from 15 presets. Furthermore, from this view, you can use an LFO, an envelope or a MIDI controller, specified within the Mod view tab, to modify the filter. Next is the Comp tab. Compression is a vital piece of the production chain when making beats. The compressor is optimized for percussion sounds, and special attention was paid to the way it handles hard transients. Overall, the compression in Battery seems to work like any other basic digital compression. But that's not a bad thing. It's simple, and it works.Next up is the biggie: the Mod tab. This is ground zero for making sounds twist and morph. Battery allows for an amazing amount of flexibility when assigning modulation to different parameters of a sample. You can use LFOs, modulation envelopes, MIDI controllers (like velocity, pitch bend and so on), the Volume and Pitch Envelopes or even several different randomizing functions to modulate filter parameters, pitch, volume, panning, saturation, bit reduction, hertz, EQ, sample start time or looping. For any given cell, you can control eight of these parameters simultaneously. Think of the possibilities: You can manipulate attack time on your hi-hat with a knob on your keyboard, have your crash pan left to right as it slowly pitch modulates, slap an LFO filter on your snare and have the attack time randomized. You can see how easy it is to really start tearing things up.And that's not all. In Battery, you can take any sample, loop a certain length of it and have it repeat for a given amount while the cell is triggered. This is great for creating interesting decay effects for a sound. And if that's not cool enough, the Loop section offers four loops per sample. Each loop can have separate tuning, start, length and count parameters. Battery is capable of some serious sonic manipulation, and it's all tucked away in these little tabs in the lower-left corner of the interface.SOUL MATESBattery 2 comes with a short, easy-to-read manual that covers every aspect of the program and even includes some helpful tips and tricks for mixing, “humanizing” beats and breaking out of common drum-machine creative ruts. A basic understanding of MIDI is definitely a requirement before jumping into bed with Battery, but for the intermediate to advanced beat maker, this program is simply a must.I was enchanted with this program from the moment I loaded the first patch and clicked around. Battery has established itself as a vital piece of my music studio, a tool that I go back to again and again. Above all, Battery makes the process of programming and customizing beats refreshingly fun and engaging. There are a ton of ways to experiment, and so many of these techniques spark new ideas. Battery 2 is a highly addictive and sophisticated music-making machine.NATIVE INSTRUMENTSBATTERY 2 > $229Pros: Incredibly easy to use. Top-notch interface. Tons of amazing presets and included sounds. Innovative tools. Fast learning curve. Excellent flexibility and compatibility.Cons: No granular-synthesis tools, delay or reverb effects, or beat-slicing capabilities.Contact:www.nativeinstruments.comSYSTEM REQUIREMENTSMac: G3/500; 256 MB RAM; Mac OS 10.2.6; AU-, VST- or RTAS-compatible host for plug-in operationPC: Intel-compatible/400; 256 MB RAM; Windows XP; Windows-compatible audio interface; DXi-, VST- or RTAS-compatible host for plug-in operation

PLAY WELL >Like other NI products, Battery 2 can run stand-alone or as a plug-in instrument with most sequencing software.