Stylus RMX has been on the music scene since 2004 and has been and continues to be a "go to" tool for good reason. There simply hadn't been anything before it that could manipulate real audio files on Windows and Mac systems with the speed and complexity that Stylus RMX could, and it's still the king of the hill. The ability to take real audio files as "grooves" or individual elements and manipulate pitch, pan, filtering, effects, envelopes, patterns, and more -all customized at the individual note level within a graphic user interface -was simply unheard of, and though nothing has matched the functionality of RMX, Spectrasonics has continued to innovate and build on the original. Version 1.9, which is fully Mac OS 10.6, 64-bit compatible, adds some truly amazing functionality that's really tough to overlook when thinking about music making purchases. Major improvements come in the form of new suite editing functionality, 64-bit processing, and a new page in the interface called Time Designer. Most amazing of all, this
upgrade is absolutely free to all Stylus RMX users. The real stand-out improvement is Time Designer. What they've added here is pure groove magic. The level of control of each groove in Time Designer is simply fantastic. Here you have the ability to change and lock any groove (including REX files you've imported yourself) in Stylus several different ways. You can lock to grids, other grooves in Stylus, Time Designer presets, host templates, MPC values, SP-1200 values, or to external MIDI files. Independent of the Groove Lock feature, you can also modify the pattern, change the groove's time signature, and introduce variations of the groove in each time signature or just in the 4/4 version, which means there are variations on all the basic grooves now. It really adds depth to your sample library to be able to manipulate audio in so many different ways and takes your music away from the "loop" feel. You can really just find great combinations of elements and inject your own creativity. In previous versions of Stylus RMX, the content was still amazing, but you had to do some searching and hope that the grooves you loved would work with your project. With v1.9, layering grooves and locking them perfectly is instant and flawless. You can find exactly the sonic content you like best and tweak several parameters to find limitless variations on the groove -all in real time! You can take a swing beat playing sixteenth notes in 4/4 and lock it perfectly to an eighth-note grid in 7/8. Not only that, but you can lock eight individual grooves in each instance of RMX to the same master groove settings and audition different formats all in real-time. Within the Groove Lock area of the interface, there are a few other functions that really let you get some great vibes out of each groove. The Natural function is a really cool little option that will leave notes that aren't close to the grid untouched. Those close to the grid get locked and the ones in between can maintain their original feel. This allows you to do some really drastic things to the groove but keep it feeling real and "live". Two other tweaks in this window give you the ability to Simplify grooves (slowly removing elements from the groove) and Swing it as well in varying degrees. Time Shift the groove for effects similar to Swing, and even tell the groove to play half-time or double-time. You can go half or double-time several times (making it exponentially faster or slower) for some really cool effects and variations. For owners of Omnisphere (Tape Op #70), another amazing feature of Stylus RMX is the ability to lock the arpeggiator in Omnisphere to the groove template in Stylus. This sets you up to really get tracks locked in quickly and elements all working together. The sonics of Omnisphere are easily the closest thing
to replacing analog on Earth, and the ability to lock the vibe with grooves in Stylus allows creative expression without comparison. Tweaking eight different grooves all at once and dropping in perfectly-locked arpeggiated instruments to the exact groove is musical bliss. The level of control and the ability to really get creative quickly is just brilliant, and with the automation of LFOs, mod envelopes, and Chaos Designer, your music is never going to sound like loops.
Another great bonus with Stylus RMX 1.9 is an improvement to their Suites functionality. While users have always had the ability to collect grooves into Suites for use within a project, Spectrasonics has made it a little bit easier to use this feature. Now anything added to what they call the Edit Buffer will be saved with your session. This allows you to audition tons of content and drop those that feel appropriate to your current project into a Suite, where you can easily access them anytime you open the session -really an amazing time saver here. The amount of content is substantial, to say the least (over 13 GBs with the SAGE expansion packs -which is now the standard product sold), and as with everything Spectrasonics puts out, the quality is astounding. There's no rifling through thousands of "fillers" to get to the elements that are going to freak you out. All the content is top notch, allowing you to focus on what elements fit the current vibe and not which elements are up to par, and since you can have any groove match the feel you like from any other groove, the options and number of grooves are almost endless. Having the Edit Buffer really adds a new level of efficiency to my workflow, allowing me to scan for material first and then get into the composition and be able to stay in the vibe. I get to really focus on the development of the track since I know I've already pulled out elements that work well together. Scanning first also allows me to avoid going back through the same sounds over and over, and the pieces end up fitting together better since the vibe of each sound is the main focus.
Stylus has hours of tutorial videos available online, making it incredibly fast to learn the interface. The videos are really well produced with great views of the interface, the DAW, and keyboard (as necessary) -tons of clearly explained info, tips, and tricks. Everyone's experienced the frustration of spending money on a creative tool only to rarely use it simply because you don't have the time or patience to read the manual and never learn the scope of the product's functionality; but Spectrasonics has really gone out of their way to make learning the software simple and interesting. Additionally, the newly introduced user accounts on the website mean the days of having to enter your full name (in two separate boxes) and then go find your serial number for each individual product you want to register, get help for, or update are gone. If you've used the Spectrasonics website in the past, you'll likely applaud this change enthusiastically.
Spectrasonics have really set themselves apart from the crowd in two distinct ways: content and user experience. They've built a tremendous reputation on the quality of the content they deliver and have absolutely mastered the art of the GUI -designing interfaces that are beautiful, clean, and simple to understand and use, yet incredibly deep in their abilities. Stylus RMX is a great example, and it's poised to remain a staple in the toolboxes of musicians, composers, sound designers, and remixers for a long time. (Full package with 5 SAGE Xpanders, $399 MSRP; free upgrade for owners of Stylus RMX 1.5; www.spectrasonics.net)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.