Take it to the NN-XT level

Posted by Mattias on 2006-01-09 in Tutorials

Productivity

This time around the keyword is Productivity – we’re going to learn how to work the NN-XT at warp speed, streamlining the workflow, boosting the power. If you’ve only scratched the surface before, here is an invitation to dig deeper.

The NN-XT is more than a big brother to NN19; it is by far the most advanced, capable, adaptive and deep Reason workhorse. When Propellerhead got around to creating Reason’s flagship sampler, they got a chance to once and for all tackle their main gripe with hardware samplers – the lack of a fast and intuitive interface. With their invariably tiny LCD displays, awkward menu systems, keypad parameter editing and absence of a qwerty keyboard (meaning you had to painstakingly enter sample names like you enter high score initials on an arcade game), most hardware samplers suffered from a bottleneck syndrome in the user interface department – it took aeons to program them.

NN-XT became the opposite – with tons of rotary dials for swift parameter access, a generous display and super-fast macro functions like pitch detection and automapping, NN-XT lets you do in a coffee break what used to take a weekend. Now, let’s have a slice of that pie…

Multiplicity

Disovering Part9 1As we know, a sequencer track in Reason can only control a single device. But if that device happens to be an NN-XT, the sky is the limit. While you can’t load multiple patches into an NN-XT through the Patch browser, it is still possible to get any number of patches into it. The trick is to use an intermediary “scratch” NN-XT to load the patches, and then copy them one by one into the primary NN-XT. Through this process you can put build a combo instrument featuring dozens of patches. Here’s how:

  • Create two NN-XTs.
  • Load a patch into the first NN-XT.
  • Right-click the Group column (labelled “G”) on the far left of the display and select Copy Zones. If the Patch consists of multiple Groups, highlight them all and select Create Group.
  • Right-click the display on the second (empty) NN-XT and select Paste Zones.

Done. All parameters pertaining to Group (such as polyphony, portamento) and Zones (envelopes, filters, outputs etc) have been preserved, so essentially the patch has been cloned – with the exception of Global Controls and Main Volume.

Now repeat this process for each new patch you want to add to the “combo” patch. Each time you paste in a new one, it will automatically be created as a new Group. By clicking in the “G” column you can easily select all Zones within a Group, and when you change a parameter such as Output it will affect all selected Zones – a quick and efficient way to route each patch to a separate output pair. Typically, when you create a “combo” patch on a hardware synth you will lose the FX settings for individual Patches, but not so with the NN-XT because you can route each Group to a separate output and any number of FX units.

Note also that there is some measure of selective automation possible, because you can switch Filter on/off for each Zone – hence, the Global Controls for Filter will only affect Zones where the Filter is enabled. If you for example have a Piano+Strings combo, you can switch the Filter off for the Piano, so when you automate the global Freq knob it will only affect the Strings. You can also experiment with different Filter types for different Groups, e.g. HP on the first, BP on the second, LP on the third etc, and sweeping the Global Frequency will yield interesting results.

Here’s a Reason Song file featuring an NN-XT with a combination of two bass patches and some additional samples: quadrabass.rns.

Separability

In case you didn’t know it, here’s a newsflash: NN-XT (as well as NN19) can load REX and REX2 files as Patches. Just like in Dr.REX, the slices are laid out over the keyboard range – one per key – but the possibilities are much greater thanks to all the additional parameters and functions NN-XT offers: per-slice filter, full ADSR envelope, individual outputs and much more. Editing slice parameters in the Dr.REX can be tedious if there are many slices, but in the NN-XT you can save a lot of time by dividing the slices in Groups. The NN-XT is a REX powerhouse.

  • Create an NN-XT. Click the browse patch button and load a REX drum loop.
  • Create a “partner” Dr. REX. Load up the same REX file you just loaded into the NN-XT.
  • Click the To Track button on the Dr. REX.
  • Drag the created part from the Dr. REX track to the NN-XT track (you can now delete the Dr. REX, or keep it around in case you need it later).

Discovering Part9 2Now onto the fun. First we need to isolate bass drum and snare slices from “the rest”. To do this, hold down the [Alt] key and click on each sample name in the left column to audition the slices. Whenever you encounter a bass drum slice, hold [Shift] or [Ctrl] and click on the sample name. Keep doing this as you scroll down the list, and once you’re done you should have all bass drum slices highlighted.

Discovering Part9 3Go to the edit menu and select Group Selected Zones. Now repeat the above steps for the snare drum slices. Voilá: Now you have three Groups – Bass drum, Snare drum and “other” – which will make the rest of the task a breeze.

To the left of the name list you have the Group column. This column now has three vertical bars and by clicking on either bar you highlight snare, bass drum or “other” for editing.

Discovering Part9 4Click on the snare group. Now you can easily route all snare slices to a separate output – turn the Out dial to 5-6. Select the bass drum group. Turn the Out dial to 3-4. Now you have three separate stereo pairs that can be treated externally with individual levels, panning, effects, EQ, muting etc. You can also now macro edit Groups – changing pitch, level, envelope, filtering, modulation, LFO etc will affect all Zones in the Group.

Here’s a couple of examples where the slices have been divided in three Groups with individual FX and other settings (A-B alternating between Dr. REX and NN-XT to showcase the difference):nnxt_rex1.rns | nnxt_rex2.rns

Relativity

The NN-XT is a great starting point for getting a grip on your ReFills. As we know, ReFill is a read-only format. And once your sound library has grown to include half a dozen ReFills, some converted Akai ROMs, a bunch of SoundFont banks, a few home made REX files and patches and plenty of WAV samples – phew – it becomes a challenge to maintain a good overview of the library contents. “Where was that great drumkit again…?”

What many overlook is that while samples are locked inside the ReFill, patches are not, even if they use samples from ReFills. This opens up the possibility to build a completely new “personal favorites” patch library for NN-XT/ReDrum/NN19 outside of the ReFills, while the references to the actual sample sources will be kept track of by Reason’s index. Malström, Subtractor, RV7000 and Scream 4 patches are not ReFill dependent at all, so these can be re-saved and reorganized completely.

Discovering Part9 5

Here’s one way to do it:

  • Before starting Reason, create a new folder and call it something that makes sense to you, e.g. “Reason Library” or “Reason Patches”.
  • Create any number of subfolders and organize these in any way you want. You might want to sort your sounds by genre, BPM, device, file type, instrument type – that’s all up to you. If you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry – you can make as many “favorite libraries” as you want.
  • At this point you might want to consider gathering all your ReFills, samples, REX files, SoundFonts and other raw materials in one place. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to use their location as the primary access point to your sound library again.
  • Now start Reason and start working your way through all your ReFills and other library sources, device by device. Every time you stumble upon a “keeper”, save the instrument Patch to the corresponding subdirectory in your patch library. If you can’t be bothered with navigating right then, just save all patches to the desktop or some other scratch location – you can always organize the patches neatly later (they can be moved around, as long as you don’t move the ReFills they point to).

This procedure may require a few late nights sessions, all depending on the scope of your library, but you will thank yourself later. Think about it – in order to check out a ReFill, you must load the sounds one by one anyway, right? So while you’re at it, why not just pick up the habit to hit the Save Patch button each time? Soon enough you’ve built up an extensive library of favorite patches, organized just like you like it. Now make this one of your four main sound location in Reason Preferences, and you’re done.

It should of course be noted that REX is the one format you won’t be able to include here since Dr.REX does not have a Patch format as such. However, as pointed out earlier you can load REX/RX2 into NN19 or NN-XT, and then save them as .smp or .sxt files, so that’s an option.

Tip: You may want to consider creating “audition” Patches for collections of miscellaneous samples that have no “home”. For example, in Reason’s Factory Sound Bank you’ll find folders like “Other Samples” and “xclusive drums – sorted”. These homeless samples are something you might miss out on if your habit is to browse Patches to find what you need. One way to get a grip on all these samples is to load the bulk of them into NN-XT (well, in managable numbers at a time of course), and save as new Patches featuring key maps with one sample per key. So whenever you need a bass drum, an effect sample etc, you just load up your custom NN-XT patch “bass drums” or “FX” and presto: you have all samples of a particular category at your fingertips and can instantly try them out one by one in the song you’re currently working on. This is much more efficient that scrambling through samples in the browser window.

Suggested procedure:

Discovering Part9 6Click the NN-XT sample browser button and select all samples you want to include in the “audition” patch. In this illustration it’s all the bass drum samples in the Factory Soundbank.

Discovering Part9 7With all Zones selected, change the key span to a single key.
Discovering Part9 8Start placing out the Zones, one per key. You can have as many as 128 (if you can reach this entire range from your keyboard that is).Here you can make use of the “scratchpad” trick mentioned earlier, i.e. using one NN-XT for loading samples and trying them out, and another as the destination. Load your huge bass drum collection Patch, enable select Zone via MIDI. Play the samples one by one and see how they feel. When you get stuck on one that you like, its Zone is already highlighted automatically, so just select Copy Zone and Paste into the second NN-XT. Bass drum in place, great, now load the snare drum collection into the scratchpad NN-XT… and so on. An efficient, hands-on way to build a drumkit.

Note also that the Polyphony parameter is group independent, so if you need to emulate the “Channel 8&9 exclusive” function on the ReDrum, just put the hihat samples in a separate group and set the polyphony to 1.

Bottom line

If there is one Reason device you should learn to master, it’s the NN-XT. Those who dig beneath the surface (like the creators of the new Proton ReFill which turns the NN-XT into a multi-oscillator analog synth) will wonder what the heck they were waiting for!

Text & Music by Fredrik Hägglund

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