Hands-On Review:Native Instruments Guitar Rig SESSION

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Affordable, intuitive recording with world-class tone

By Ara Ajizian
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer


Although computer-based recording has experienced a huge boom in  recent years, for many the process can seem like an obstruction to being  musically creative. There's a reason for the existence of engineers and  producers: they allow musicians to focus on their performance without  being preoccupied with how it will sound on tape (or disc, as the case  may be in the digital world). Having pioneered world-class guitar and  bass tone in a software package with the Guitar Rig titles, it only  makes sense that Native Instruments would take it one step further and  create a complete hardware and software solution that makes it easy for  musicians to record their songs. That solution is Guitar Rig SESSION.


Plug and play


The heart of this package is the compact, brushed aluminum SESSION  I/O interface. Its 4-3/4" x 4" footprint fits in the tightest spaces,  yet this little box has all the connectivity a singer-songwriter needs  to record guitar, bass, and vocals over a fast USB 2.0 connection.


Channel 1 has both an XLR and 1/4" input, and another 1/4" input is  offered for channel 2. Both channels' inputs can be set to either mic or  line level (selectable with the push of a button), and each has an  independent gain control. 48V phantom power is also provided if you use a  condenser mic. Two 1/4" outputs allow you to plug in your monitors, or  if you're on the go, there's a headphone jack on the front. As a bonus  mobile feature, SESSION I/O is bus-powered, so you don't need to haul  around a wall wart. Sound quality is superb as the SESSION I/O handles  up to 24-bit/192kHz audio and uses high-quality Cirrus Logic AD/DA  converters for pristine recordings.


Bundle of joy


Guitar Rig SESSION also comes with loads of killer software that will have you recording  great-sounding guitar, bass, drum, and vocal tracks in no time. Guitar  Rig 3 XE is a "best of" collection of tones from the full version of  Guitar Rig 3. There are five guitar amps to get you started—Gratifier,  Lead 800, Citrus, AC Box, and Twang Reverb—each with a familiar look and  control set, as they are based on some of the world's most popular  vintage and modern amps. The Bass PRO bass amp is a juggernaut of  low-end growl, complete with three-band EQ and mid-shelving knobs. The  new Matching Cabinet function takes the guesswork out of finding the  right cab, making for an easier setup of your virtual rig.


21 superb effects are also at your fingertips, from distortions and  overdrives to flangers, phasers, delays, and everything in-between. Just  as in previous versions of Guitar Rig, there's a digital rack tuner and  metronome onboard, as well as two virtual tape decks for recording and  playing back your performances, or incorporating loops and other sound  files.


Also included with Guitar Rig SESSION are Native Instruments' Kore Player and Pop Drums Soundpack. The Kore  Player's attribute-based browser makes it effortless to find exactly the  sound you're looking for, along with adding any effects or EQ. Its  streamlined controls have the most important and frequently used  parameters assigned to various knobs and buttons. Plus, it has a Learn  mode that integrates seamlessly with your MIDI controller for instant  control over any parameter.


Two premium drum kits were recorded for the samples on the Pop Drums  Soundpack, and the result is studio-quality drum tracks for your own  recordings. There are variations on the size of each kit as well as  patches with effects added. It's easy to get started using the built-in  MIDI grooves, and you can also assemble your own beats as needed.


Tying everything together is Steinberg's Cubase LE 4, a basic version  of Cubase 4 that gives you everything needed to record, edit, and mix  your audio and MIDI tracks to completion. Cubase LE 4 is ideal for  beginners because it doesn't overwhelm you with complex features only  advanced users need. Once installed, simply load the Kore Player and  Guitar Rig 3 XE as VST plug-ins, and you're ready to start laying down  tracks. Cubase LE 4 handles up to 48 tracks of audio and 64 MIDI  tracks—more than enough for most home-based projects. It also includes  22 plug-in effects and eliminates many of the limitations of previous  versions of Cubase LE, providing a functional, effective DAW  environment. And if you do outgrow it, Steinberg offers specially priced  upgrades to other versions of Cubase 4.


SESSION in progress


If you've been feeling a bit bewildered trying to get your head  around computer-based recording, it's understandable. Modern DAW  software is designed to be a "studio in a box," and few of us are  engineers as well as musicians. With Guitar Rig SESSION,  Native Instruments has taken the software essentials needed for great  tone and high-quality recording and combined them with a no-nonsense,  portable hardware interface. This package makes it easy to hold on to  your inspiration and turn your ideas into fleshed-out songs, without  getting bogged down with the technical aspects of recording. If you've  been waiting for that "all-in-one" computer recording bundle that's  simple to use and delivers studio-quality sound, your wait is over.


Features & Specs


  • USB 2.0 bus-powered audio interface with sturdy aluminum casing
  • 24-bit/192kHz quality, Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters
  • Includes Guitar Rig 3 XE, Kore Player, Pop Drums Soundpack, and Steinberg Cubase LE 4
  • 2 balanced inputs: 1 mic/line/Hi-Z (phantom power supplied), 1 line/Hi-Z
  • 2 - 1/4" outputs
  • Headphone out
  • Individual gain controls with activity and clip LEDs


System Requirements:

  • Mac: Mac OS X 10.4/10.5, G4 1.4GHz or Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 512MB RAM
  • PC: Pentium III or Athlon XP 1.4GHz, 512MB RAM
  • USB 2.0 interface, DVD drive

Guitar Rig 3 XE:

  • 6 supreme-sounding guitar and bass amps, emulated in stunning detail
  • 21 effects: meticulously modeled stompboxes, distortions, volume pedals, and other popular units
  • Essential tools: integrated tuner, metronome, and two tape deck modules for easy recording

Kore Player:

  • Intuitive sound module with 300MB sound library
  • Includes sounds ranging from synths to acoustic instruments to drums
  • Sound library can be instantly expanded with downloadable Kore Soundpacks
  • KoreSound Browser finds any sound by desired musical characteristics
  • 8 knobs and 8 buttons make complex tweaking actions a breeze
  • Up to 8 sound variations per sound with unique sound morphing
  • Automation and Total Recall in the audio host/sequencer
  • Knobs and buttons can be controlled via any MIDI controller box

Pop Drums Soundpack:

  • 20 KoreSounds
  • Quick-use versions of each kit
  • Selection of MIDI grooves