Review: Digidesign Transfuser

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Transfuser makes great use of contextual menus; right click on any parameter to Learn CC for quick assignments to physical MIDI controls or assign the parameter to one of six Smart Knobs for macro control.

It's hard to review Digidesign's powerful new Transfuser virtual instrument without comparing it to the other big groove-oriented software, such as Propellerhead Reason, Ableton Live, Native Instruments Reaktor and Devine Machine's Lucifer and Guru VSTs. Transfuser is almost a production environment onto itself — simple to use but with staggering potential for complexity. Truly the only thing holding Transfuser back is its format limitation (RTAS only — no stand-alone or external ReWire capability). However, any producer already using Pro Tools should definitely check out this extremely deep and complex instrument/effect/sampler/sequencer/randomizer/remixer.


I tested Transfuser with PT M-Powered on a MacBook Pro; it requires an iLok to authorize. Simply create an Instrument track in Pro Tools and open Transfuser as an Insert; you can immediately drag-and-drop audio files in the Transfuser window. Each instance of Transfuser supports as many as 16 MIDI channels and 128 internal tracks at a time — plenty for most uses. For more detailed MIDI control and for capturing performance data, Pro Tools MIDI tracks can be assigned to any of Transfuser's internal tracks, and the audio from each track can bus out to separate Pro Tools audio tracks for discrete mixing.

There are four basic ways to use Transfuser. One is simply as an effect insert; by using the Input Synth option, audio from any PT channel can go through Transfuser's signal chain for fast and fun sonic destruction. The other three approaches involve using source samples, either the packaged 2 GB sample bank of REX files and loops, a Region from your current PT session or from the Finder.

Each time you attempt to bring in audio, Transfuser asks which approach to use. The first approach slices samples into smaller chunks to manipulate (much like Reason's Dr.Rex instrument or Slicing in Live 7) and pairs them with a Slice Sequencer preset with a “staircase” pattern that plays back the original sample unaltered. In the second, the audio is instead beat-matched to the session tempo using Digidesign's time compression/expansion algorithms. The third option focuses on drums; it slices, frequency analyzes and auto-assigns the slices to a flexible set of 12 virtual drum pads. In all three cases, a track's Synth module is paired with a Sequencer module, which can manipulate the samples either via a 12-note step sequencer or a piano-roll interface. The process is fast and easily does dramatically interesting things to your audio.


Slices can be re-pitched, rearranged, stretched or played via a MIDI controller and later edited just like in a DAW from within the Sequencer editors. Each also has a Pattern section for recalling as many as 12 grooves, and to keep things moving, Digidesign includes a cool new technology called M.A.R.I.O. (Musical Advanced Random Intelligent Operations). Pressing the big Apply button randomizes elements of the active sequence, but you can fine-tune how M.A.R.I.O acts by adjusting the Depth Dial and choosing specific parameter groups from the drop-down menu. It was enormously successful at changing things up in a way that was almost always listenable and helped to quickly put together some unique variations that I could then play back with the Pattern triggers.

Transfuser's built-in effects stand out; the Beatcutter alone is almost worth the price. With cool effects like Repeat, Reorder, Gate, Scratch and Freeze, Beatcutter uses an ingenious Probability Sequencer with 16 steps that let you create a phrase that shifts the likelihood of any of the Beatcutter effects being applied. I also liked using the Force buttons to play the Beatcutter live. Other notable effects include the Gater, Kill EQ with three customizable pads, Pumper for creating sidechain-like effects and bpm-syncable Delay, Multi-Delay and Tape Delay. Each track has four effect slots and two Effect Send knobs for sending to the Master Effects Chain.

You attach parameters to one of the Automation Lanes, an interesting approach that offers several 16-step graphical sequences that can each have an unlimited number of assigned parameters. While perhaps a bit awkward for more traditional automation use, Automation Lanes are great for creating fast variations whose parameters shuffle around for surprising results.

Overall, Transfuser's attention to musicality is obvious. While not necessarily as useful for nondance music, Transfuser is certainly a giant boon for any producer used to working with urban styles within a tempo map/bpm setting. There is so much more than can be covered here, but suffice to say that if you work with beats, create remixes regularly or are a dancefloor producer with Pro Tools, you need to check out Transfuser.



Pros: Quick to learn yet has infinite potential for complexity. Excellent time-based and slicing effects. REX file compatible. 2 GB of samples ready for slicing.

Cons: RTAS only. No stand-alone or external ReWire capability.


Mac: Pro Tools 7.0 or later system; iLok USB key (Check with Digidesign for detailed Pro Tools requirements.)

PC: Pro Tools 7.0 or later system; iLok USB key (Check with Digidesign for detailed Pro Tools requirements.)