by Kevin Lamb with Stephen Fortner
The biggest problem I have running plug-ins is hitting the ceiling ofmy CPU resources. I know I’m not alone. We’ve all known the frustration of freezing tracks, increasing buffer settings and thus latency, and drinking heavily in an attempt to eliminate dropouts and distortion.
When we reviewed the original Receptor in the Nov. ’04 issue, there was nothing like it. Though it had a computer running a custom version of Linux under the hood, it handled like a keyboard workstation’s Multi mode on steroids—you just inserted soft synths and effects in the 16- channel mixer and played. MIDI routing was on hand for creating splits, layers, and even velocity-switched multitimbral setups, and audio inputs let you process vocals or instruments through VST effects. In the studio, it was a robust plug-in farm for your DAW. Onstage, it was the only platform many pros trusted to play their favorite virtual instruments.
On all levels, the Receptor 2 dramatically improves on the original. Computers have improved a lot since 2004 as well, accruing not just CPU speed and RAM but also gig-focused software hosts such as Apple MainStage. Can the R2 hold its title as heavyweight champ of hosts? Over the past few months, Keyboard editor Stephen Fortner and I have been beating up two Pro Max units—one with a solid-state drive—to find out.
The Receptor 2 runs as a standalone box or as a plug-in for your DAW of choice via UniWire, which we’ll get to in a bit. Initially, we played it standalone, and found that setting up sounds using only the front panel controls was as intuitive as on any hardware rack synth, especially when preloading sample sets. Add a screen, mouse, and keyboard—or go Ethernet to your Mac or PC and open the Receptor Remote—and the R2 becomes incredibly easy to program. The front panel also has a 1/4" guitar input, stereo headphone out, and a recessed USB port for plugging in an iLok, Muse’s copy protection method for plug-ins that require it.
Right off the bat, the Receptor 2 was a lot more stable and predictable than older Receptors I’d encountered. I was expecting at least a few crashes, headaches, and some latency, but was proven completely wrong and found myself impressed with the R2’s simple setup, ease of use, and flawless performance, whether playing it by itself or using it with Logic via UniWire.
More after these links:
- Hot tips for playing your Receptor live
- Tons of tutorial videos
- Grand Central for all Receptor-ready plug-ins
It was pure luxury to have three fully-loaded instances of Native Instruments Kontakt, three of Massive (each set to Ultra fidelity), and two of Spectrasonics Ominisphere playing in real time, with no processor hit to my Logic machine, a 17" MacBook Pro. Having it all within my DAW, with no effort or steep learning curve, was too much fun. To be honest, I had to stop myself from adding instruments just because I could.
Lacking any such self-control, Fortner loaded up all 16 channels of his R2 with plug-ins including Massive, Reaktor, Synthogy Ivory, IK Miroslav Philharmonik, and large libraries in Kontakt. He then mapped every one of them to MIDI channel 1 and held a two handed-chord. His observations:
“The R2’s CPU meter got near the top, but at 96kHz and a buffer of 256 samples, the audio didn’t choke, and this was the regular hard drive unit, not the solid-state. Keep in mind you’d never trigger this many notes from this many plug-ins at once in any real music production. I tried the same experiment in MainStage on a MacBook Pro with similar specs: Intel dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 7,200 rpm hard disk. I got about three quarters of the way to where I’d been on the Receptor 2 before things became unplayable.”
Speaking of solid-state drives, they’re still more expensive than their spinning elders, but are falling in price. Our SSD-equipped R2 included Synthogy’s Ivory virtual grand piano, and trust us, once you’ve seen the fullsized Italian Grand load before you can say “Italian Grand,” you’ll be spoiled for conventional hard drives for life. Still, even on the original Receptor (for which SSDs weren’t an option), Snapshot mode let you change Multis without waiting for samples to reload, and the R2 retains this function.
Uniwire is Muse-speak for a single Ethernet cable providing all audio and MIDI connectivity to and from your computer. The Receptor 2 comes with a “crossover” cable for direct connection to a Mac or PC; a standard cable lets you plug one or more Receptors into a hub, which is how you’d share them among work suites in a commercial studio. UniWire works without eating up too much bandwidth on a multi-computer network, but really screams when plugged into a single Mac or PC.
Once you’ve installed the Receptor Tools software on your computer, insert the UniWire plug-in on a track in your AU, VST, or RTAS host, and the R2 pops up like any other virtual instrument. A checkbox in the plug-in toggles whether UniWire carries MIDI only (in which case you’d use the R2’s analog or digital audio outs), or audio as well. Muse recommends that in audio mode, you sync the R2 via S/PDIF from your audio interface, but I didn’t, and still heard no glitches. Though UniWire sets the R2’s buffer size at twice that of your host, we heard no latency even with our computers set as high as 256 samples and our Receptors at 512.
Says Fortner, “I recorded a Wurly from Lounge Lizard hosted in the R2 alongside multitrack audio running in Pro Tools LE. I made the sound brighter to accentuate any latency I might hear, but had no timing problems at all.”
One caveat if you want to automate Receptor-based plug-ins from your DAW: Since they’re living in external hardware, you need to think of them as such and automate them using MIDI CCs—your DAW’s proprietary automation won’t drill through to them.
The Receptor 2 is incredibly robust for anyone who, rather than hanging it off their computer, wants to take it onstage instead of a computer. For touring, I’d take two, with solid-state drives. The Receptor’s mixer is MIDI-controllable (volume faders, for example, respond to CC7 on the respective channel), but what about tweaking the soft synths therein, using knobs on your MIDI controller? Provided, of course, that the Receptor channel hosting the synth is listening to the same MIDI channel on which your keyboard is transmitting, the R2 won’t get in the way of controller messages, so performance setups where you can twist away at filters and envelopes are certainly do-able. If a plugin supports click-and-wiggle MIDI learn, that works fine whether your controller is hooked directly to the Receptor with a MIDI cable, or to your computer via USB.
While viewing any plug-in, clicking a little horizontal-sliders icon brings up a page of all the published parameters for that plug-in. From there, you can select which parameters you want to show up on the main screen’s Edit page, reorder parameters, and even tie the first four in the list to the four hardware knobs beneath the Receptor’s LCD. Each Mixer channel also gets 16 reserved CC slots for directly controlling plug-ins, to which you can assign parameters as you please. Though we’d prefer a more graphical approach (think MainStage’s Edit view) that feels less like managing a lot of lists, these are powerful tools for managing control assignments.
The Receptor 2 is completely bad-ass. In a previous draft, the next sentence was “But it’s expensive compared to a second computer.” Strike that, and not just because you should never begin a sentence with a conjunction. The day before we went to press, Muse announced a major price reduction, and the new street prices (see page 58) make the three models eye-poppingly competitive with similarly-spec’ed Macs or audio-optimized PCs. Since I run Logic, I have the option of putting other Macs on my network as nodes to distribute the CPU load. Even so, the Receptor 2’s UniWire is so absolutely seamless that it makes the prospect of setting up multiple computers to do the same job unattractive—and I thought that before the price drop. For anyone touring or moving from studio to studio, the Receptor 2 is almost too obvious not to use. With knockout processing punch, it’s as much the heavyweight champ of hardware hosts in 2010 as the original was for 2004—and then some. In light of the new pricing, its performance earns it another prize: our Key Buy award.
Pros Nigh impossible to choke. Virtually no audible latency compared to a computer at the same buffer setting. UniWire passes audio and MIDI over Ethernet, makes Receptor a plug-in in your DAW, and works very well.
Cons Mixer interface, though powerful, feels a bit dated by today’s standards. Needs a more elegant way to map hardware controls to plug-in parameters.
CONCEPT Rackmount hardware host for plug-in instruments and effects.
MULTITIMBRAL PARTS 16.
PROCESSOR Standard: AMD 64-bit dual-core 2.8GHz. Pro: Intel 64-bit dual-core 2.53GHz. Pro Max: Intel 64-bit dual-core 3GHz.
HARD DRIVE Standard: 320GB. Pro: 750GB. Pro Max: 1TB. Solid-state drives available at extra cost.
FORMATS HOSTED VST.
WORKS WITH HOSTS AU, VST, and RTAS (Pro Tools).
W x D x H 19" x 12" (including knobs) x 3.5" (2U).
WEIGHT 14.5 lbs.
Receptor 2 Standard: $1,599
Receptor 2 Pro: $1,999
Receptor 2 Pro Max: $2,499
All prices street