Reviewed: Output REV
We need to talk about tech. Producer tech. The fact of the matter is, there’s a divide here. There’s a plethora of incredibly in-depth forums out there covering Plug-Ins, VSTs, modular synthesis and the best places to buy analogue synths, but for the aspiring producer, for the bedroom hero, for the ‘Just downloaded a crack of Ableton. Now what?’s amongst the online community, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. So DT are making a stand. We’re going to be providing straight up tech reviews in plain English, with products aimed squarely at bedroom producers. To kick things off, we’ve started with Output’s REV.
Tech software outfit Output Sounds launched REV at the beginning of 2014 with a series of reassuringly sexy videos. The concept was simple. It plays backwards. Specifically, it plays a series of instruments and samples backwards.
To a bedroom producer, and to the multitude of plug-in forums out there, two immediate questions beckoned. One was – what’s the big deal? Every DAW (Geek speak for a music software platform, capable of running plug-ins, responding to MIDI hardware, So Ableton, Logic, Reason, FL Studio, et al) in use today has a button somewhere that flips the sample round – why the need for a plug-in? Especially one that costs about £120?
Having spent several days in a hole of Inception-like audio-weirdness, DT can confirm that it’s so much more than that. REV was almost two years in the making. The audio behind the 200+ samples, loops and presets isn’t simply switched up, it’s been recorded and mastered in such a way that the sound itself is completely transformed. The audio in question is indeed an element played backward, but it lacks the strange, sucking sound that only seems to work if you’re Flume or Binary Finary at the end of the 90’s. Instead it’s brought out the weird, harmonic element of each instrument. If one can imagine shuffling, or moonwalking. It may be moving backwards, but it’s pretty neat.
Here’s the need to know:
REV has 4 ‘engines’
Each has the same layout – but serves a different purpose.
‘Instruments’ – it’s flagship range of samples and presets
‘Loops’ – A bank of loops and presets featuring found sound percussion, guitars, harmonics and sound design strangeness
‘Risers’ – A wide array of samples dedicated to giving you a wide range of alternatives to the ubiquitous white-noise swoosh for your build-ups and break-downs
Timed Instruments – The same idea as Instruments, but cut down to note or half note length, so they can be used in melodies, riffs and more complex patterns than the wide swooshiness (a very technical term) of the straight up Instruments engine
REV runs inside the Kontakt Player.
REV runs inside Native Instruments Kontakt. The good news? That means it runs inside an infamously well-designed, well-engineered, just very German platform, which in turn runs on any DAW you can think of. The really good news? REV runs on the Free Kontakt Player – so when you’re directed to the NI page to download Kontakt, don’t freak out about the several hundred Euro price tag, it doesn’t apply. It’s also worth pointing out (because the NI page is a bit vague on this) that the Free Kontakt Player really is free – it doesn’t quit after 15 minutes – as other demo variants of Kontakt do.
Promised we’d keep the language simple, didn’t we? REV’s over 1gb in size, and takes up a fair old chunk of processor power when it’s running too. 99% of the time this won’t be an issue, but for those of you (this writer included) using incredibly old laptops, it’s worth bearing in mind that your machine might sweat a bit if you’ve got 3 or 4 REV tracks open at once. But then, if you’re a bedroom producer- perhaps this is a good thing – it encourages a disciplined production workflow!
An instant sell for REV is its appearance. To start with – it’s very pretty. Superficial as that sounds, if you’re going to spend the best part of four hours a session looking at something, it may as well be easy on the eye. Secondly – it’s brilliantly intuitive – the workflow moves from both left to right and top to bottom, and if like 90% of other people out there you’re one of those people that dives in without the instructions, you’re going to find your way around very quickly. In the case of the two instrument engines – the multi layer Wet/Dry tabs allow you to get your head around sounds in the simplest A/B format, whilst in each engines case the inbuilt stutter, filter and envelope effects are simple – there’s no numbers or graphs – just a dial – but effective. Likewise the saturation, delay, auto panning reverb and EQ audio effects on the bottom of the engine ladder – are simple- but given their intended use as a ‘nudge’ toward the right sound – rather than a replacement for your DAWs own processors, they work perfectly as a way of experimenting and tuning up the world of strange sounds this piece of kit offers.
REV’s build quality is seamless. Aspiring producers used to the gauntlet of free plugins (it sounds great, but don’t for God’s sake press that button. It’ll crash Ableton….) will instantly see the results of their investment with perfectly smooth handling – its dials, its dry/wet effect progression, even the slick animation of it’s piano roll all speak of quality. A neat colour coded system automatically maps everything through your midi keyboard – one portion for sounds, one for changing key, and an option to activate effects through your piano keys as well. Better still – for the loops and risers section – the audio key can be adjusted on one portion of the keyboard as before, but on the other portion different loop samples can be activated on different keyboard keys – allowing you to cycle through ideas and presets fast when you’re experimenting. Saving presets is childs play – though REV’s own extensive selection will also give you plenty to think about right out the box.
Rev’s Colour Coded Keyboard
REV’s primary focus – a point made obvious in its sound, design and advertising, is to play samples backwards. Native samples, at that. Output’s focus has paid off remarkably well – the sounds this piece of kit create are haunting, otherworldly and above all, very original. For the beginner producer – the speed and ease with which you can swap through percussive loops, different styles of chord progression and effect presets will allow for banks of recorded samples to kick start track ideas thick and fast. For the more intermediate or advance producer – the risers, hi-hat loops and timed instruments will have you adding that finishing sheen – those risers – that little smack of panned percussion to projects that may have stagnated. REV’s strength is its originality – reversed samples are not a new idea, but taken to this level of production and detail, they allow you to put a fresh perspective on tracks – which, after all, is the reason you went plug-in shopping in the first place.
Wonderfully easy to use. Hours worth of presets and settings. A very original sound
Very few. It’s not the cheapest plug-in on the market – but for the raw convenience of a go-to machine for reversed samples – or, more likely – a go-to machine for fresh inspiration, it’s well worth it.