Crow Gold Pack 1.1 ($119) is a suite of 26 instrument and effects Ensembles for Native Instruments Reaktor 5. Most of the Ensembles can be purchased separately,
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Crow Gold Pack''s Oberline Ensembles emulate the vintage Oberheim line of synths, built from Synthesizer Expander Modules and a little pattern sequencer.

Crow Gold Pack 1.1 ($119) is a suite of 26 instrument and effects Ensembles for Native Instruments Reaktor 5. Most of the Ensembles can be purchased separately, and the instruments and effects are available as separate bundles for $79 and $59, respectively. New Ensembles, when released, are free to Crow Gold Pack users. You will, of course, need Reaktor 5 to use this package, and to make the best use of the effects Ensembles, you'll want audio-editing or digital audio sequencing software that will host Reaktor 5 as an effects plug-in.

The instruments in Crow Gold Pack include emulations of classic analog synths, early electronic and electroacoustic instruments, and digital synths that could be constructed only with modern software synthesis and sampling technology. The effects range from classics such as tape echo and tape flanging to the otherworldly Space-Boy, which combines a mono reverb with a panner for space and motion effects.

The Synth Zone

Musicrow's strong affinity for vintage instruments is reflected in its three electroacoustic offerings: Accordion Virus, Theremin, and Future-Bass, a Fender-style bass and guitar synth. Accordion Virus is a pulse wave — oscillator subtractive synth (no samples are used) that produces quite authentic accordion sounds. In a clever twist, it routes MIDI Pitch Bend Change messages to control the effect of the bellows. Theremin starts with samples from several theremins and adds simple controls for managing vibrato, tuning, and sample looping. Musicrow even throws in a 440 Hz reference tone so you can be authentically out of tune.

My favorite of the two classic synths is Oberline, modeled after synths using the Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM). There are Oberline Ensembles with one, two, and three SEMs, and all include the 8-step pattern sequencer found in the Oberheim 2-voice and 4-voice synths. As many of the 179 Oberline presets illustrate, this little sequencer is loads of fun.

Among the modern synths, Orpheus and Blue Crow, which use similar synthesis engines, are standouts for producing fat leads and evolving ambiences. These are 3-oscillator subtractive synths, but what makes them interesting is that two of the oscillators are actually sample players playing very short loops that act as complex waveforms. The third oscillator can morph through a variety of standard waveforms. Both Ensembles come with a small collection of useful samples, but adding your own samples greatly expands these synths' sound palette.

My favorite of the modern synths is Trancoid, which is aimed squarely at the trance and dance crowd. Trancoid has hard-sync and FM oscillator banks that feed a multimode filter. That produces a huge sound, but it's the three built-in pattern sequencers that make this synth. One gates the output, while the other two control filter cutoff and resonance. It's the motion that counts (see Web Clip 1).

For Effect

Crow Gold Pack effects fall into three broad categories: delay-reverb, filtering, and phase-flange-chorus. The four reverbs — Plate, Electro Verb, Ultraverb, and Space-Boy (described earlier) — are as good-sounding as they are different. Plate has no early reflections and a fast buildup. Electro Verb emulates the room placement of four mics and emphasizes an in-the-can sound. The high-end Ultraverb gives you extensive control of early reflections and the reverb tail.

Among the phase-flange-chorus effects, Tape Flanger, Tape-Loop Echo, and Ultra Chorus stand out for realism — you can feel the tape residue on your fingers. GrainD Lay and Golden Crow Delay are both capable of a wide range of effects. GrainD Lay samples the incoming audio, chops it into grains, and munges it to your specifications. The impact is more resynthesis than delay. Golden Crow Delay splits the input into ten frequency bands, with separate delay settings for each band. It's great for broad-spectrum material.

The newest effect is the multiband, granular Vocal Modeler. Although it has a decidedly vocal sound, Vocal Modeler is useful on almost any material, from drums to leads to pads. Each frequency band has its own granular delay line with color, chorus, pitch-shift, and grain-playback controls.

With a couple thousand free Ensembles in the Reaktor User Library, commercial Ensembles have to offer a lot to be viable. The Ensembles in Crow Gold Pack definitely do; they're cleverly designed, well built, and great-sounding, and include hundreds of presets. My one objection is that the Ensemble structures have been purposely scrambled, which makes modifying them tedious, though not impossible. That seems both unnecessary and contrary to the spirit of Reaktor. But Crow Gold Pack is a lot of bang for the buck and a worthwhile addition to your Reaktor library.

Value (1 through 5): 3
The Musicrow Group