Review – Rapture Pro by Cakewalk

 

Cakewalk’s Rapture synth has enjoyed a lot of popularity over the years and to a lesser extent so has Cakewalk’s Dimension Pro.  Now they have become one in Rapture Pro.  Find out more here.

 

by David Baer, July 2015

 

The Rapture synth has always had a special place in my heart.  It was the first software synth that I got to know really well.  I studied it intently to learn more about what synthesis was all about.  So, I was especially eager to get my hands on the new incarnation: Rapture Pro.  And although there is little in the new version that adds to the originals additional sound production capabilities, it is nevertheless an interesting story.

Specifically, Cakewalk integrated the Rapture Synth with their rompler software Dimension Pro (hereafter DP) to very good effect.  DP was somewhat of an also-ran in the rompler marketplace, with Kontakt undisputedly acting as the gorilla in the room and several other offerings fiercely contending for second-place status.  But Rapture had a lot going for it and adding a healthy amount of sample content and a few additional capabilities to it has made a good synth even more attractive.  We’ll discover how in what follows.

 

The Lay of the Land

First let us explore the basic architecture of Rapture for those unfamiliar with the synth.  I will defer a discussion of what’s new to the section entitled “So What’s New?”.  Those who are already familiar with Rapture may wish to skip ahead.

Rapture has always called itself a wave-table synth, but there’s some question as to how valid that designation is.  Most synth enthusiasts think of wave-table instruments as ones having two or more waveforms in an oscillator that has the ability to morph between those waveforms.  Rapture oscillators, which reside in sound production structures called elements, hold only one waveform at a time.  However, they can also hold samples in the form of wave files (of several varieties including rex loops) and SFZ sample sets.  A sample file of less than 3000 samples is considered to be single-cycle.  Anything more is a conventional sample.  This in turn dictates whether several features are available, most notably multiple detuned oscillators (unison mode), offered only for single-cycle waveforms.

Rapture has six identical elements, each with plenty of capability, so rich and complex sounds are certainly achievable.  The UI for an element is seen below:

 

The basic signal flow within an element is as follows:

  • The oscillator originates the sound
  • The signal then is passed to a filter/DSP section in which two filters (of the usual types), and three DSP units can be configured in a variety of ways. The DSP units are mostly various types of distortion.
  • A three-band EQ section comes next.
  • An insert effect follows (more effect slots are available further down the line). We will look more closely at FX later.

Per-element modulation is abundant.  We have an LFO, a multi-segment envelope generator and a step generator each for pitch, pan and amp.  We also have these three modulators for the cutoff and resonance level of the two filters.

 

Modulation

Modulation is done is two ways: using the per-element LFOs, etc. and using the modulation matrix.  We’ll get to the modulation matrix later.  One of the most appealing aspects of Rapture is all the modulation capabilities in each element.  Let’s start with the envelope generator:

 

Basic ADSR is available and more.  There’s nothing especially exotic here, but one piece of advice is to read the manual.  There are several keyboard assists available for defining envelope behavior (such as velocity effect on envelope segment duration) that are neither obvious nor intuitive.

The LFO is likewise reasonably standard.  The LFO shares a tab with key follow.

 

20 LFO waveforms are supplied, with 80 more slots available for user-supplied waveforms.  Two slots don’t hold a waveform but supply a random signal, one bipolar and the other unipolar.  One complaint of sound designers has not been addressed: a third-party sound developer cannot distribute custom LFO waveforms safely since there’s no way of knowing how a user has allocated his free slots.  Both delay and ramp times can be specified, and of course, the rate can be synced with host tempo.  So in all, there’s nothing exceptional but neither is anything lacking.

The key follow modulation shares the same graphic space.  It will be in effect whether or not the LFO is enabled, although that’s not clear from the UI.  We’ll look at this a bit more closely when discussing filters.

Finally, there’s the step generator.


The step generator is quite powerful, offering up to 128 steps, the speed of which can be synced to host tempo.  A smoothing parameter can make the stepwise jumps more gradual.  Depth controls the strength of the modulation, the units being dependent upon the target.  For pitch and filter cutoff, it is cents; for resonance it is dB; and for pan and amp, it is percent.

 

FX and Filters

There are plenty of FX capabilities on board, with 31 different possibilities.  Note that although an element can contain only one insert effect, more slots are available further down the line.  The image at the right shows what’s available.

With respect to filters, once again there’s nothing particularly noteworthy but neither is there anything lacking except perhaps for some “character” filters like a Moog-ladder emulation.  However, the filters are bundled in to the same section with various types of distortion, so if you are looking for less-than-polite filter behavior, this is gives plenty of opportunity for filter assertiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to the Mixer


The element outputs can be serial (an element output is mixed into the output of the next) if it is desired to share the insert effect of the last element in the chain.  But normally, the element outputs will go to straight the mixer stage where final polishing is accomplished.

One omission I find a little bit annoying is that the mixer tab does not duplicate the element level volume controls.  To balance multiple elements, you must visit each element tab to set its level.  This is the one feature of the original Rapture that has been withheld, probably due to the lack of space on the Mixer tab courtesy of everything else that’s now present.

Once the element outputs reach the mixer stage, there are several more types of processing.  We have two more FX slots available, which can be used as sends or as serial inserts (more on this shortly). 

Below that, we have the master three-band EQ.  This shares the same real estate with a tab offering a stereo step generator pair controlling amplitude (one for each stereo channel).  The modulation matrix also shares this space on its own tab.

Finally we have one final global FX slot.

 

The Modulation Matrix

Although the elements have plenty of modulation capabilities, modulation via MIDI CCs, performance properties (e.g. aftertouch, keyboard note-on gate), random values, two X/Y pads and eight macro knobs are set up using the modulation matrix. 

 

It’s not for the faint of eyesight given its tiny size, but it is reasonably capable and offers much flexibility, with a vast number of modulation destinations.

 

So What’s New?

So we finally get to what a lot of Rapture fans have been waiting to find out.  Many of them may be disappointed because there’s not a lot that wasn’t already there in either Rapture or DP.  But Rapture and DP, although they had many similarities, were not completely compatible.  Rapture could not handle rex loops, for example.  DP’s effects were send-effects, Rapture’s were insert effects.  DP had a vector mixer which Rapture lacked.  There’s more, but you get the idea.

So, obviously, one of the initial challenges facing the design team was how to reconcile the architectural differences between Rapture and DP so that they could become a single instrument that could play the legacy content of each.  The thorniest of these issues was probably solving the FX insert discrepancy, and this was done in a fairly clever fashion.  Note the lower corner of the mixer tab pictured right.  In Send position, the send level controls to the right are enabled, otherwise the series sends go to shared inserts.  The result is that both Raptures and DPs FX legacy architecture is accommodated.

But we actually do have a few new features.  For one thing, there are four new filter types: variable state LP, HP, BP and BR (band reject) 2-pole filters.  Is the “variable state” attribute significant?  Not in any way I can tell.  But the filters do offer a different character than the original 2-pole alternatives.  In designing sounds, I would suggest trying both and choosing whichever tickles your fancy.

Also, there are new options in the filter/DSP topology.  Originally, we had two filters and two DP slots serially available in several different orders.  We now have a third DP slot and more routing options of which some are parallel.  Three of these (out of a total of fourteen possibilities) are shown to the right.

We have a few new FX types, primarily some new reverb options.  We have the ability to have the step sequencer trigger envelopes.  We have a new browser (shown at the very top of this article), which is nothing special but a moderate improvement.  The overall interface of the element tabs and the mixer are both somewhat crowded, but nevertheless they offer about 50% more screen area than the original Rapture.  And finally, we have the instrument performance tab, pictured below.  In it we have a second XY control and a vector mixer that gives easy access to element relative-level setting.  Additionally on this tab we have macro controls not found in the original Rapture.  The vector mixer is a welcome addition but it lacks the automated movement capabilities we’ve seen in some recent synths like Rob Papen’s marvelous Blue II.  Something like that could have turned Rapture Pro into a powerhouse contender to true wave-table synths with their waveform morphing capability.

 

I have one small complaint.  I often like filter cutoff to be modulated by keyboard tracking – move note number up one octave and the cutoff responds likewise.  In Rapture (both original and Pro), to get cutoff to track 100% (i.e., the cutoff is always a fixed distance from the note) you need to set the leftmost position at 25% and the rightmost at 75%.  In Rapture we had grid lines (see small image to right).  Now, you’re on your own.  I would very much like those grid lines back or some tool-tip help added to display y-axis values for precision key tracking specification.

 

Factory Sound Content

Cakewalk claims there are over 1000 presets and 10GB of samples – not something I cared to take the time to verify.  That preset number probably includes the “Rapture Classic” and “Dimension Pro” libraries, and the 10GB of samples is probably mostly the newly-included DP content.  But no matter – there is a boatload of sounds, quite a few brand new, and the there was nothing wrong with the “classic” content to begin with.

I found some early third party Rapture libraries I had acquired (too long ago to remember where they came from) seem to have showed up in the Rapture Pro browser with no additional effort on my part.  All in all, Cakewalk has done nicely with the factory content, and if you have other legacy libraries, you should have full access to them as well.

 

Is Rapture Pro for You?

Rapture Pro is available as VST 2, VST 3i and AU formats in both 32- and 64-bit.  For Windows, a standalone version is also supplied.  The current pricing is $199 USD for a new license or $99 for an upgrade from several qualifying Cakewalk software products.  I think it likely we’ll see some price reduction down the line.  At the $200 level, there is some awfully compelling competition for musician’s dollars in the crowded soft-synth marketplace.  For upgraders, I don’t believe there are enough new features to induce a lot of current Rapture owners to spend $100.  Cut those prices in half, however, and there’s a persuasive argument to jump in.  So, stay tuned – it will be interesting to see how the pricing story develops.

Although I think it’s a tad overpriced currently, I’m certainly not suggesting that there’s little to like in Rapture Pro.  I always found Rapture to be a favorite go-to synth for electronic piano sounds, but I generally overlooked it otherwise after my early infatuation – so many synths, so little time!  With this update, I have realized (or remembered) that this is a wonderfully capable instrument worthy of some love.  There’s a lot going on and Rapture Pro is worthy of considerable respect.

What makes it even more attractive is that we can now easily make excellent use of all the included DP content to create hybrid synth/sample sounds.  There’s enough here to keep a dedicated sound designer busy for months if not years.  Hopefully some A-list sound designers will sign on to create some new, must-have third party content.

My installation experience had a few rough spots using the fairly new Cakewalk command center.  But all was good after a little patient coaxing.  There is a lot of sample content, so expect a somewhat lengthy download session.

The initial release of Rapture Pro had some significant issues, the most obvious being a painfully long load time.  A maintenance release (V 2.0.2) appeared only the day before I’m writing this.  For the most part, this release seems solid and reliable on my PC, although a few minor issues are still awaiting resolution.  Maybe Cakewalk took Rapture Pro out of the oven a little early, but it’s well on its way to being a nicely baked, thoroughly tasty concoction.

For more information and to purchase Rapture Pro, go here:

http://www.cakewalk.com/products/rapture

 

 

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