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Review: Native Instruments TRK-01 – A Monster Bass and Percussion Plugin

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When Native Instruments added TRK-01 to their Komplete 12 suite of instruments a year ago, I was admittedly a little underwhelmed by the concept. What possible use could I have for a kick-drum and bass sequencer plugin inside a DAW that can already sequence and synthesise kick drums and bass sounds?  Now that I’ve finally upgraded to Komplete 12 (thanks to their current 50%-off sale on upgrades, on until 31.7.19), it’s clear that I’ve been a bit of an ass.

To step back a sec, TRK-01 is double instrument featuring an engine dedicated to designing and sequencing kick-drums, and an engine dedicated to designing and sequencing bass lines (but really, it doesn’t have to be a bass line). It’s very much a hardware inspired instrument, with plenty of similarities to classic step sequenced drum machines and famed synthesisers *cough-1980s Roland gear-cough* but adds a number of modern features that make it far more exciting, like per-step parameter locking (that’s very much like a certain Swedish manufacturer’s hardware) and some really excellent quality FX.

The kick-drum engine is a dual layer deal with 4 different types of engines; Sample, Synth, Rumble and Noise with each layer having its own filter. The synth engine features five different types of synthesis; Classic (analogue style), Super (super-saw style), West (west coast synthesis wave folding), FM (frequency modulation) and Modern (wavetables). I won’t bore you with a full outline of the features, you can get that via the Native Instruments website here.  What I mostly want to get across in this review, is that TRK-01 is simultaneously a wonderfully designed, intuitive and deep instrument, that sounds absolutely bananas, and I love it. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • The modulation matrix of each modifier is possibly the most logically visualised layout I’ve ever come across (see above).
  • You can adjust on-the-fly how many steps your pattern has on both the Kick and Bass sequencers, making for easy poly-rhythm experimentation. You can also nudge each sequence back and forth in single steps.
  • With the click of a button, you can tune your bass drum to the root note of your bass-line. How is this not a thing on anything else I’ve come across?
  • The swing and groove functions show you a visual representation of what they’re doing to your rhythms. It’s so simple and easy to understand.
  • While the bass sequence view enabled, you can still see what steps your kick drums are on. Another simple but very useful inclusion.
  • The ducking envelope and its modulation matrix provide an easy way to wildly change more than simply the volume of your bass line each time a kick drum hits.
  • The Bass and Booster sections of the master FX, sound absolutely phenomenal. How they’ve managed to reduce one of the trickiest ranges of frequencies to mix right down to a few sliders, is beyond me.
  • If you’d prefer to simply use your DAW’s sequencer rather than the onboard one, you can.
  • Parameter locks mean you can have a different synth or kick drum sound with individual FX settings on every step. You can also open each parameter’s own sequencer by double clicking on it.
  •  There’s 16 tuning scales for you to choose from, or you can design your own – limiting to the bass-sequencer to only hit that you’ve allowed it to.
  • NKS support means it’s ready to go with Komplete Kontrol software and Native Instruments’ range of controllers.
  • Did I mention it sounds really good? Here’s a little thing I slapped together with the West synth engine.

As for downsides, well, there’s no way to achieve a smooth evolving sequence of parameter changes at the moment. You only have a resolution of however many steps are in your sequence to work with so trying to program in a smooth sequence of, for example, the filter cut off opening and closing is fairly impossible. Perhaps this could be addressed by adding a lane in the parameter lock focus view with a per-step ‘Morph’ input, that morphs between the parameter settings on each step. But until then, for smooth parameter changes you’re limited to the LFO and envelopes.

It would also be pretty amazing to set the number of steps in each parameter sequence, independent of the main note sequencer, for interesting evolving sequences.

To address what I said in the first paragraph, yes I could do all this in my DAW already. But Native Instruments’ TRK-01 makes it easy, fun – and quite frankly – does a better job of the mixdown than I could probably do myself. And as is always the case with Native Instruments software, getting high quality sounds just seems to happen really easily. This has quickly become one of my favourite instrument plugins.

You can get TRK-01 as part of the Komplete 12 suite of instruments, or you can buy it separately directly from the Native Instruments website here.

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