Hands-On Review:Native Instruments Guitar Rig SESSION
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
- 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
- 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