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Anderton

SONOMA WIRE WORKS RIFFWORKS (guitar-centric sequencer/writing tool)

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RIFFWORKS: PROLOGUE

 

One of the great things about doing a Pro Review is I really don’t have to have a clue going in about what I’m reviewing. As the whole point is about a real-time discovery process that covers the pros and cons of a product, the only way to simulate a real user’s experience is to have…a real user’s experience.

 

So I went to the web site to find out what Riffworks is all about at www.sonomawireworks.com. Normally I wouldn’t quote verbatim, but I couldn’t resist passing this along as it’s going to set the standard by which we evaluate this program:

 

“RiffWorks is an inspiration platform...not an editing platform. There are no wave editors and sequencers in RiffWorks, instead the interface inspires people to write songs using a familiar "real-world" interface - it looks like gear! The focus is on playing, not engineering.

 

“With RiffWorks, recording musicians can keep their hands on their instrument and minds on their song, rather than on a computer. RiffWorks requires minimal set-up time with no need to continually refer to a manual. Also RiffWorks is the only program available with a feature that lets you set the tempo simply by strumming your guitar.”

 

But there are other components as well: “InstantDrummer” sessions that provide backing tracks, although you can also import drum parts through a ReWire-based program. There’s also an online jamming/collaboration/podcasting aspect. Frankly, this all sounds pretty interesting to me. For years, various manufacturers have looked for the “holy grail” for guitar players that would get them involved in computers. Is this the one?

 

Let’s find out.

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If the concept seems familiar, it’s because in 2004, RiffWorks was released as a Windows-only product for the Line 6 GuitarPort and PODxt. The program is now up to V2, and that’s what we’ll be reviewing. The Line 6 version is also up to V2, but there are some differences: It’s designed to work with the Line 6 GuitarPort, PodXT, PodXT Live, PodXT Pro, TonePort UX1, and UX2. The standard version works with ASIO and CoreAudio devices, as well as the Line 6 devices as well.

 

So my first choice was which computer do I use? I don’t have my Windows music computer hooked up to the net, which I thought might put a crimp in the online collaboration aspects (you also need an online connection to register the program for use; there are no instructions on how to do this offline with another computer).

 

So, how about my Windows laptop? Okay, so I downloaded the Windows version. But I still wanted to be able to use RiffWorks on a desktop machine, and with my dual G5 still being resistant to online nasties, I downloaded the Mac OS X version as well.

 

These are big down downloads – the Mac one is 150MB. But you’re entitled to eight free InstantDrummer sessions, so figure on downloading another 240MB or so for those. Finally, you’ll probably want to download AmpliTube LE (another 10MB) so you have an instant guitar processor for your computer, along with the processors included with Riffworks.

 

As I write this, the Mac version is about 75% downloaded. As soon as it’s done, I’ll start the installation process and describe how it goes.

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I encountered a problem during installation: When you first run Riffworks, you're required to validate the program with your user name and password. Okay, I used the same password I did when I downloaded the drum sessions, but got an "Out of registration" warning. Huh? I entered a different password, and got an "incorrect password" error message, which is what I should have gotten. In any event, I couldn't validate the program, so I submitted a request for a new password.

 

But it didn't show up, so I contacted Sonoma Wire Works. Their tech people were very attentive; to make a long story short, it turned out that through one of those one-in-a-million kind of deals, I had selected a password that was identical to someone else's, but had done so quite a while before actually activating the program. So when I went to activate it, it thought I was someone else, but my user name didn't match.

 

So they reset the password, and everything was smooth sailing from there. I was assured this had not happened before, but leave it to me to find a problem :) On the other hand, it was encouraging that their tech people solved the problem quickly and easily.

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Click on the attachment to see the main screen. Well, it does look pretty cool, and not too intimidating. When you open it up, a companion help file opens up that gets you up and running pretty fast.

 

I clicked on the Audio Setup button, and set up the Mackie Onyx Satellite as the interface. The initial sample buffer was 1024, but I got some mysterious little pops and crackles. Could there really be latency with that large a setting? I tried a smaller setting, but that didn’t help. So I figured it was a sample rate problem, and simply reset the sample rate in the Onyx. The clicks and pops disappeared. I set the buffer setting for 256 samples…no problem, so I kicked it down to 128 samples…still no problems, so I figured I’d let it sit there.

 

Riffworks defaults to hardware (zero-latency) monitoring, but I felt with 128 samples I could monitor through effects (Riffworks includes a bunch of effects; more on this shortly). I disabled hardware monitoring on Riffworks, set the Onyx Satellite to monitor from the DAW, and was surprised at how little latency there was. Playing guitar felt very natural, with no significant delay…impressive.

 

Also impressive: The audio setup provides info on the input and output buffer, and gives you an honest “round-trip” latency figure. So I thought I’d play latency limbo (“how low can you go?”).

 

With 64 samples, the sound was still fine. It finally caved in at 32 samples. But this was without anything else going on, so I set it back to 128 samples to be on the safe side -- and got ready to dig in to the program.

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Well, this one is probably due to the fact that I spend less time working on Mac than Windows, so I'm not aware of the Mac's various little foibles. I had downloaded the backup drum sounds a while ago, forgot that I did, and downloaded them again after installing the app. Well, the browser renamed the new ones with a [1] in the title to indicate they were a second version, and those were the ones I installed.

 

But the program wouldn't recognize them, so I called tech support again. It turns out the program didn't recognize the altered names, so I removed the little [1] from each name, and they worked perfectly.

 

While I was on the phone, they also mentioned that with Windows, some browsers recognize that the drum files, which have a .SWD prefix, are actually .ZIP files. So the browser goes ahead and renames the files with a ZIP suffix upon downloading, and of course, Riffworks doesn't recognize those. So, bottom line is with some Windows browsers, you need to rename the files back to their original .SWD suffix.

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Greg anderson!

hola!

used to be simple to learn a riff; just slam some vinyl on and put the needle where you wanted it and just keep putting it back till you got the lick down. .

these new fangled ways seem a bit much to learn some licks.

I like the olde fangled ways .

I'm olde.

and tired. Yawn.. :bor:

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The QuickStart guide does indeed get you recording fast, but doesn't really give an overview...but hey, that's why I'm here!

 

Riffworks takes the drum machine pattern programming paradigm and makes it guitar-friendly. It's not about linear recording per se, although you can do that if you want, but more about recording riffs and phrases that you can rearrange and shuffle around. When I first started recording, the default number of measures in a riff was set to a fairly small number, and I thought "hey, my song is going to be longer than that," so I increased it to 160 measures or so. Riffworks didn't complain, but I later found out that's not what this is all about.

 

The backup drum parts encourage this type of riff-oriented recording mentality. They're solid parts (more on this later), and sure beat a metronome (although you can use one if you want). So a typical way of working might be to start a drum goove, come up with a tasty chord progression or melodic line, beef up that riff a bit with some accompaniment, then move on to creating the next part of the song. After creating a number of riffs, you could combine them as desired, then record a more linear track over them.

 

What's also cool is that you can play your guitar or the backing tracks through effects, and these are pretty cool effects. So, let's take a look at how that works.

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As mentioned earlier, you can do hardware monitoring, or monitor through the Riffworks effects. With hardware monitoring, you'd get your sound before going into the audio interface, using your processor of choice (e.g, POD or whatever). With hardware monitoring, you can't enable the build-in guitar effects.

 

But disable hardware monitoring, and a really cool set of software options present themselves. Click on the attachment to see the "effects rack."

 

The Amp button lets you load VST or AU effects installed on your computer. It comes before the build-in effects, presumably because if you're using something like an amp plug-in, that will give the sound you want and the built-in effects will provide the icing on the cake.

 

The Select button chooses various factory presets, which are both for individual effects modules and for chains of effects. You can of course save and load your own presets, but even better, you can load and recall two "snapshots" (the Store/Load A/B buttons). This makes it easy to compare changes to your patches.

 

Frankly, the effects are so cool I'd really like to see this section of Riffworks made available to other programs as a VST/AU plug-in -- either individually or as a chain, whatever is possible...but that's another story, for another time. These are not "E-Z cheezy" effects thrown in for extra value, as we'll soon see.

 

Anyway, for the record, the effects categories you can call up are Filter, Shaper, EQ, Compressor, Modulator, Delay, and Reverb. Oh, and in case you're thinking (as I did) "Gee, it's kinda lame to put the compressor after distortion," just wait.

 

Now let's look at each effect. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sonoma Wire Works people are reading this and thinking "HEY!! When is this guy going to start talking about recording, and putting together a song, and the backing tracks, and..." Patience! I just really happen to like the effects, and don't want them overlooked.

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these new fangled ways seem a bit much to learn some licks.>>

 

I'm really glad you brought this up so I can correct a misunderstanding right off the bat: This isn't about LEARNING licks, but CREATING them, then putting them into a song. Think of it as a recording lab for guitarists that's very guitar-centric in its orientation and selection of modules.

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Before proceeding with the effects thang, I should mention that the effects I've been referring to are monitoring effects. You can also apply the same roster of effects (minus VST/AU plug-ins) to individual riffs, the backing tracks, or to all riffs (a "master effects" kinda thing).

 

However, one limitation I've found is that you can't automate knob changes. For example, if you want to do a wa-wa thing, you can't feed it MIDI signals or whatever. Possibly you can do this after-the-fact by manipulating a control in real time while bouncing down; maybe someone from Sonoma Wire Works can weigh in on the subject of automation to make sure I'm not missing something.

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Hi Craig,

 

On the zip problem:

I mentioned that as an anecdote, we fixed that one. Only the browser naming things with extra [1] still persists. On windows, the extra [1] doesn't stop the InstantDrummer sessions from playing, but it will make collaboration a problem, when RiffWorks can't find the same name because a user has a [1] in it. We're working on a fix for this, but in the mean time just make sure those downloads don't get renamed!

 

About our effects:

Thanks for the compliments! We spent a lot of time listening to my pedal collection (I'm a bit of a junky) while designing those. Dave, the dsp guy, did an amazing job interpreting my comments about this being too squishy, or too squanky into the right numbers to make them sound really great.

 

About a plugin version:

We did have a VST plugin (windows only) of the effects called "Sonoma 7". When we released our new store and the cross-platform version of RiffWorks, we took the plug-in down until we can update it for MacOS AudioUnits.

 

On automation:

You're right, there is no automation of effects parameters in RiffWorks. Clicking the info button on a layer does reveal gain automation. Adding controller support so you can wang the wah and other knobs is definitely on our list of things to do.

 

dug

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>

 

Glad to hear that, they are indeed cool effects.

 

You're right, there is no automation of effects parameters in RiffWorks. Clicking the info button on a layer does reveal gain automation. Adding controller support so you can wang the wah and other knobs is definitely on our list of things to do.>>

 

Glad to hear that too! I don't think it's a serious limitation given all that the current program does, but then again I'm sure you're not planning on stopping development with version 2 :)

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BTW thanks for checking in. Don't be shy about contributing tips or correcting me, readers really like the manufacturer participation aspect of Pro Reviews. It helps make the reviews more accurate, too (e.g., your comment about the .ZIP issue being fixed).

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Dear sir; my name is unimportant. what is important to me is hearink a piece/arrangement/song that you've been able to do so's I can get an idea of what the possibilities are.

I am sort of retarded about names and renameing and looking for files and whatnot but I can hear when something is coming together so's i would like to know iffen you greg anderson my goode and close personal frien', could toss something together and allow me and whoever else is interested to lissen up to what that baby can do.

The idea seems interestink and innovative but maybe it's inherent bugginess about names and nameing and renaming is making the retardation muscle in my brainal cavity throb like rob.

my new machine could handle that program but my mental abilities could be in serious trouble because of my brainal limitations. if it ain't got a strang I can change or a knob of some sort I can turn, then uh I'm lost.

I have problems with my CAKEWALK PROGRAM (mind-boggleing)so i only use the tuner ahahaha! (I can "do" that).

I mostly use cubasis and also N-track in particular for the many similar functions you greg are describing in your review and Ntrack is very friendly to a guy like me. It seems "easy" to work.

i need "easy". real easy.

Easy i say.

 

http://www.sonomawireworks.com/products.php

 

p.s. I went ,I saw I am intrigued by what i went and sawed., uh see'd um you know what i mean..

intrigued I say.

 

P.S.S riffcaster is neat only i is on DIAL-UP and and i might need a lofi link. ahem. takes wayy too long to try to download even less than three MBs so i was unable to check out RIFFCASTER at this terminal. although I am DROOLING for the DEMO. slurp.

I am going to go for that NEWSLATTER yah.

the end thanks for lettin me share.

 

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All right, let's take a look at the effects in detail, starting with the filter. Logically enough, you click on the effect name in the chain to see its screen, and check its check box to enable it. Remember, the order of effects can't be changed.

 

The Attaq filter has three modes, selected by a three-way switch: Manual, Envelope, and Sequence. The controls are Bandwidth, Filter Mode (highpass, bandpass, lowpass), Range (frequency range covered by the filter), and Sensitivity for envelope mode.

 

The step sequencer has its own control set: Speed (with tempo sync from quarter notes to 64th notes), number of steps (4, 6, and 8), and 8 level controls that determine the filter frequency.

 

As you might suspect from an AdrenaLinn fan, I'm thrilled to see a step sequencer included here -- it's also a fun effect to add to a drum backing track, as is the envelope follower. I also found that for drums, the highpass mode is often more desirable than the lowpass mode, which creates a typically murky sound.Click on the attachment to see the filter set up to do envelope following on a drum part.

 

Note that manual mode is basically just a tone control. As you can't alter the frequency via MIDI, there's no footpedal wa-wa action.

 

The envelope-controlled filter works pretty much as expected, but it's quite musical; it seems to me that got the decay constant right, so it doesn't "burble."

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And for your listening pleasure...I figured out how to save a riff as a WAV file (you just hit the Mix button), so I captured part of one of the included backing drum loops (the Demo loop by Matt Sorum) going through the envelope follower in HP mode. I then imported the mixed WAV file into Sound Forge, so I could then export it as an MP3. I did have to convert the file to mono, though, so it wouldn't be too big for what the BBS can handle.

 

Note that Riffworks can export as Ogg Vorbis as well, but I figured the MP3 option was more universal for those visiting the forum.

 

Click on the attachment to listen to the envelope followed drum riff.

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Here's another example of the step sequenced filter, this time using guitar. Click on the attachment to hear this. However, the more I played with the sequenced filter, the more I realized that it doesn't stay in sync over time -- it drifts.

 

After recording several layers, the guitar track and backing drums would usually start off in sync, but eventually drift out (and eventually, drift back in again). It became really obvious when I played several layers at the same time along with drums; there were definite sync issues. This is something that needs to be fixed for the step sequenced filter to be useable.

 

I thought that perhaps this was a function of monitoring through the effect, and that applying the effect to the riff layer itself, as post-processing, would fix the sync issues...but it didn't. This was on the Mac; when I get a chance, I'll try things with Windows and see if there's the same problem.

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Okay, this is more like it! The Shaper is a triple-band distortion, but with a lot of extras...and I mean alot. It's getting late, so I'll post the screen shot and description tomorrow. But I just finished recording a couple of audio examples, and I figured I'd post them now :)

 

Click on the attachment to hear a fairly standard distortion sound, but using three bands of distortion.

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In this example, the Lower band has been set to divide by an octave. This gives that cool "guitar + bass" sound, and it's really quite something.

 

Click on the attachment to hear the guitar + bass shaper effect. In this particular case, I decided to mix two layers along with the drums. Hey, why not? After all, one of the advantages of Riffworks is the ability to do drum machine-style layering...

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I noticed a few problems when working with Riffworks:

 

* Sometimes there was a graphic issue where parts of the effects screen, but not all of it, would disappear under the layer section. I'll try to take a screen shot and maybe the Riffworks people can figure out what's wrong.

 

* When creating a song from a riff, it seems like a little bit of the beginning would be cut off. I wonder if this relates to the timing issue with the filter; many sequencers I've worked with take a while to "get up to speed."

 

* After recording about 10 layers or so and hitting stop, I had to do a force quit because the program stopped responding.

 

Overall, bugs have been infrequent, but I get the sense that there's something wrong with the timing either at the beginning of end of a loop -- like something's cut off that shouldn't be, or added to, or some kind of inconsistency. Everything in between seems fine.

 

I'll try to quantify this further as I work more with Riffworks.

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This effect (called “Tripwire”) is really quite wonderful, and would make a great VST plug-in (hint, hint). It splits the input signal into three bands, Low, Mid, and Hi; two controls set the crossover frequency between the Lo/Mid and Mid/Hi bands. Each band has an on/off switch with Compression, Level, and Drive controls. Note that having compression controls for each band justifies putting the actual Compressor effect after the distortion, as you can still compress the signal before it hits the distortion (something I like). Click on the attachment to see the effect’s set of controls.

 

Drive does what you’d expect, in that it makes the sound more overdriven and distorted. But the “secret weapon” here is that you can shape and harmonize the signal in different ways. Each stage can be set to “Fuzz” (normal distortion effects), but there are also parallel harmony synthesis options:

 

Down: Down one octave

DD: Down two octaves

Up: Up one octave

3rd: Up one third

4th: Up one fourth

5th: Up one fifth

 

The previous two examples gave some standard distortion sound, the next example will demo some parallel harmonies.

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Okay, here’s the shaper with the Mid set to a 5th above, and the Low and Hi sections set to Fuzz. By the way, all these examples use drum patterns that come with Riffworks. Click on the attachment to hear the audio example.

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Hi Craig,

We will definitely take a look at the graphics glitch.

 

About the cut-off sound...

Not all Core Audio (or ASIO) devices report their latency correctly. You can see we've measured the error in the reporting in several devices if you take a look at our Recommended Hardware List:

http://www.sonomawireworks.com/guide/index.php/Recommended_Hardware

 

We haven't measured the Mackie Onyx Satellite. I'll have to take a look at that one.

 

For example, the built-in audio on my intel mac with 1024 buffersize reports:

1054 intput

1024 output

The latency on input and output should always be larger than the buffersize. 1024 samples of actual latency on the output is impossible, and 1054 (only 30 more than 1024) is highly unlikely. So there is definitely some error here.

 

This error can result in the beginning of what you're playing being cut-off in the recordings.

 

dug

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Originally posted by Anderton

And for your listening pleasure...I figured out how to save a riff as a WAV file (you just hit the Mix button), did have to convert the file to mono, though, so it wouldn't be too big for what the BBS can handle.


Note I figured the MP3 option was more universal for those visiting the forum.


i]

 

I clonked'ed, I hoid, I got freaked out .

Thanks cool daddy'o.

That was a real hep snap.

Now that's what I call PROGRESS..

This is an active learning curve..

I really can't GROK* all the technical stoff you know um because of my brainal afflictions an' all, but the ears are tellin' me a thang er two. The quickly loadeink file-ski was crissp and clean and tight as a texas tick, yeehaw!

 

Cooties or, or something like that to my goode and close personal frien' Greg Anderson for usink his brainal musckles to astound and enlighten the less fortunate and the connectivity challenged and speakink for me sef' (arr') It's really fun to me mon' to hear some of the supreme and glorius leaders' impromptu jams. the distortion segment was especially enlightenink. yah gooten!

well done oh wise and mysteriously slim leader.

well done i say.

(fading footstep sounds to silence ) and cut. and print .

thats a wrap babies..

that's a wrap

the end

ovre

and

oot

RL

S

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>

 

It's only on the Mac. If it occurs again, I'll grab a screen shot.

 

Not all Core Audio (or ASIO) devices report their latency correctly.>>

 

Well, you are the zillionth manufacturer who has mentioned having problems with this!! I hear an effort may be afoot to get more accurate reporting out of ASIO interfaces , don't know what's up with Core Audio.

 

>

 

That makes intuitive sense to me. Now the trick is to find a workaround :) I can try some different interfaces, and do some Mac/PC comparisons to see if one is better than the other.

 

Thanks for the comments, it's data such as this that helps make changes happen. As I mentioned, a lot of manufacturers have a problem with the latency reporting issue, and you shouldn't have to deal with that.

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I just went to your recommended hardware guide. I strongly suggest that anyone interested in drivers, audio interfaces, and ASIO check out this page!! It is loaded with useful information and is highly informative, to say the least.

 

Very good stuff, Dug, thanks.

 

Now back to having fun with Riffworks, I'll work on the workarounds later. I have a UX2 I'm using with Windows, but given as it seems to have performed very well in your tests, I can try it out on the Mac when I get home and see if that solves the problem.

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The equalizer section has five stages: Low cut, hi cut, and three midrange stages. Click on the attachment to see the equalizer’s complement of controls.

 

The frequency selections are stepped, like a vintage EQ. The low cut options are 50, 80, 160, and 300Hz and hi cut offers 4k, 8k, 12k, and 16k. The three mid sections have cut and boost controls for +/-18dB. These are centered around 35, 60, 110, and 220 for the low mids, 360, 700, 1.6k, 3.2k, 4.8k, and 7k for the mids, and 10k, 12k, 14k, and 16k for the high mids.

 

Of course, something a three-stage parametric would be more flexible, especially because you could vary the bandwidth of the mid sections. However, given the context, the EQ does its job. It works well not only with guitar, but also on the backing drum tracks, and sounds “musical.”

 

I’ve mentioned liking the effects, but if Riffworks wanted to take things one step further, they should consider adding two more “inserts” for adding VST/AU plug-ins. As mentioned, there’s already one at the beginning of the signal chain, but having one between the compressor and modulator, and another at the very end, would add greatly to the flexibility without impacting the ease of use. You could use only the built-in effects when you wanted to get going fast, but if you’re a tweaky perfectionist, then you could add other plugs.

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Here’s a simple-but-effective processor with Slope, Attack, Release, and Compression controls. Click on the attachment to see the compressor’s front panel. It seems to have auto-gain makeup, because even when fairly squashed, I didn’t need to turn up the master riff gain.

 

My only suggestion, really, would be to have two switches: One to turn on a limiter, and the other to restrict compression to lower frequencies. This is a trick more and more pedal makers are doing to give a “brighter” compression sound.

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Like the Tripwire shaper, this is another overachiever that’s very musical and has plenty of options. Click on the attachment to see the Tempest front panel.

 

First off, it has Phaser, Tremolo, Flanger, Chorus, Vibrato, Autopan, LP Filter, BP Filter, and HP Filter. The filter options are basically swept filters – think of them as “tremolo for the frequency response-minded.” They’re really fun with the drum sound backing tracks if your mind works that way 

 

Modulation waveforms are a generous collection of Sine, Triangle, Square, Sawtooth, Reverse Sawtooth, and Random. The random appears stepped; it would be nice to have an additional “really smoothed random” option. Hey, it’s just a few more lines of code, right?

 

As expected, there are Depth and Range (Width) controls, along with Speed, which can be tempo synched. Unlike my experience with the step sequencer in the Attaq effect, this one seems to lock to the tempo and stay there. Options range from 3 whole notes to 32nd notes. Oh yes, there’s also some eye candy: A “Sweep-o-meter” that shows the modulation amount as an ever-changing bar graph. Fun stuff, and very 50s…

 

Anyway, I tend to be picky about modulation effects, which is why I often designed my own. But these are good. No, you can’t vary the number of stages in the phaser, nor adjust the phase of the delayed, flanged signal when it’s mixed back to itself (for the record, it’s positive). But the Depth signal controls feedback, so you can change the “sharpness” of the sound, and the flanger range seems “just right.” I like it. Ditto the chorus, and having vibrato reminds me of days gone by fiddling with Magnatone amps, and wondering why other amps didn’t have such a way cool effect.

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As I wrote the last post, I thought what the heck, why not do a quick example of flanged drums so you can hear what I¡¦m talking about? So download the attachment and check it out. And in case you wonder why I¡¦ve been so inclined to provide a lot of audio examples for this review (and there will be plenty more), there are two reasons: Number one is that of course, a Pro Review should include lots of audio and graphics. But the second reason is that Riffworks makes it so easy to just whip something up and mix it down.

 

For example, right now I¡¦m away from home, but I¡¦d brought my computer along. So as I hear dogs barking in the background and watch the fading afternoon light on the hills, I figured I¡¦d boot up Riffworks and take some screenshots of the modules for the Pro Review posts.

 

But in the course of doing the screenshots, I of course had to play with the program, and it¡¦s very easy to just drag a riff into a song, mix it down, and generate a WAV file. From there, I just load it into Sound Forge Audio Studio (their ¡§lite¡¨ version of Sound Forge) and a few minutes later, I have a trimmed and edited version, saved as an MP3. Isn¡¦t technology wonderful? Well, at least when it¡¦s working, and it certainly is ƒº.

 

And speaking of which, I¡¦m getting the impression that the Windows version of Riffworks is more solid than the Mac version. That¡¦s probably not too surprising, as the Mac variation is a fairly recent development. The Windows version has been very well-behaved, whereas the Mac is a bit more temperamental.

 

Anyway¡Kon with the show.

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Oh, why not…download the attachment to hear the drums processed through the LPFilter modulation, set to random, and synched to tempo (eighth notes, in case you wondered). It’s a pretty neat effect. Again, the tempo sync did not drift over time.

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In this audio example, I’ve taken a guitar, added a bit of a 4kHz boost with the EQ, did some relatively serious compression, then used the modulation’s chorus option. Download the attachment to hear three effects in action. I think it’s a pretty sweet sound, actually.

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Okay, we all know delay. But this is a pretty nice one; click on the attachment to see the front panel. It’s a four-tap delay (hence the 4 X 4 moniker) with individual delay time and level controls for each tap. Each delay time control can sync to tempo. There are also three master controls: Feedback, Damping (for when you want to trim the highs on successive echoes – an essential delay feature, as far as I’m concerned), and Mix.

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To show off the delay, I figured that drums would be best. I used only two taps: One set to dotted eighth note sync, and the other to quarter note sync. There’s a little feedback, and some damping to keep the highs under control. Download the attachment to hear the delay in action.

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The reverb does a good job of spring reverb emulatiion, but that's all it does. So if you want a hall sound, you're outta luck; and given that the VST/AU insert effect occurs before the Riffworks effects, if you want an external reverb to be the last effect in a chain, you can't use any Riffworks effects. The reverb has five preset sounds that are variations on the "spring these": sweet, shiny, dirty, dark, and whip.

 

Wanna see the front panel? Click on the attachment. The controls are minimal -- size, damping, and mix -- but it indeed sounds like a spring reverb.

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And you probably want to hear what it sounds like, so...download the attachment to hear reverb combined with vibrato. I figured I'd throw the vibrato in there to give a bit of an hommage to the James Bond theme :)

 

Yes, I know the real James Bond theme uses a tremolo, but y'all already know what tremolo sounds like! I like the vibrato in Riffworks a lot so it seemed like more fun to use it.

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So, how do you actually use Riffworks to record? That’s where it gets interesting. First, click on the attachment to see the screen for one possible recording method.

 

As mentioned earlier in the review, think “drum machine style programming.” In one typical scenario (though by no means the only one), you’d click on Backups, enable the Instant Drummer tab, and choose a beat you like. Then, you’d set the tempo, number of bars in the measure, and time signature.

 

Next up, it’s time to record your guitar. Riffworks uses a layered approach, where you can record one layer at a time in the riff. You can choose to auto-mute each layer, or listen to previous layers as you lay down new ones. I generally auto-mute when recording a basic track, but listen to the layers when doing doubled parts and the like.

 

So you click on Record, and hear a two bar count-in (for some reason, though, I don’t hear the beat on “5” – no big deal, though). Then it’s playing time. If you click on Layers instead of Backups, The layers appear, one after another.

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Click on the attachment to see what the screen looks like after recording multiple layers.

 

Each layer has pan and volume, metering, solo and mute, duplicate and delete, and the option to put effects on each riff. The scroll dial to the right scrolls through the various layers. Basically, there are a few ways to deal with editing. What I generally do is solo each layer, and pick the best one. Then, I solo additional layers and see if any of them work well for doubling the part (okay, I admit I like thick guitar sounds). If not, I keep the “keeper” layer and delete the rest.

 

Let’s assume I’ve kept two layers. At this point, I can mess with the panning levels, and of course, have the backing track going on in the background as I do any editing. But even after you stop recording, you can resume recording on additional layers. For example, in this case, I created a “pseudo-bass” part by dropping the guitar down an octave in each band of the shaper.

 

After you get your parts right, then you can mess with the effects...

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Clicking on a riff’s Effects button folds down an effects panel like the one we’ve seen previously, with the seven effects we’ve already discussed. You can’t use external plug-ins with the riffs; you need to use the Riffworks ones.

 

One very cool feature is that whatever effects you used while recording a riff get transferred over to the riff, so when you open up the Effects, you’ll have the same sound with which you recorded. Of course, you can edit this as well. As each layer has its own effects sections, you can go pretty nuts.

 

Incidentally, as opposed to my earlier experiments with Riffworks, this time around I used Riffworks on Windows for two reasons: To evaluate the performance with a different OS, and also, to check out the Mackie Onyx Satellite with a laptop (see the Onyx Satellite Pro Review for more about this audio interface).

 

I set the Onyx Satellite sample buffer to 128 samples, so with 128 samples going in and 128 coming out, the total delay time was just under 6 ms. I was able to record about a dozen layers and use effects with no problems (I didn’t run out of horsepower with a dozen layers, but good musical taste dictated that I’d gone far enough!).

 

For this post I wanted to include an audio example, but the attachment size limitations are a drag: The best I can do is about 8 seconds in mono. So it’s not really fair to judge Riffworks’ sound quality from the audio example, but at least it gives you and idea…download the attachment to hear Riffworks do its thing.. I used EQ on both guitars, compressed the bass, added modulation (chorus) to both guitars, and tempo-synched 1/8 note delay to one of the guitars.

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Now that you have a Riff, what do you do with it? Well, you’ll probably want to create another one. So you click on Create, and a new riff appears on the little grid above the layers window. You can do the whole layering thang all over again to create, for example, a chorus to go along with your verse.

 

You can keep on creating riffs and sticking them in the grid. If the “transport” is in play mode, you click on a riff to hear it; this is a good way to decide on which riffs work well together. However, a riff starts playing the instant you click on it. This is okay, but I’d love to see an option where if you click on a new riff, it plays immediately after the currently playing riff finishes. The timeline allows this, but at that point, you’re already putting your tune together. Being able to play riffs in sequence while noodling around the grid would be cool – sort of an Ableton Live kind of vibe.

 

Okay, now suppose you have your riffs all figured out. You can now drag them into the timeline above the grid, serially, so that the riffs you select play one right after another. Click on the attachment to see the riff grid and the timeline. The timeline has its own play button; click on the layer time button, and playback jumps over to playing the current riff.

 

So now you have your riffs arranged to make a song – again, like a drum machine where you string patterns into a song. But there’s one more option: You can record “Songlayers,” in other words, tracks (layers) that goes for the length of the song. This would be a good choice for doing a lead part over your riffs, adding a vocal, or whatever you want to do that lasts the length of the song. This does not loop.

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Well this is kind of a logical place to break for tonight, as we've covered the basics of putting together a song. Overall, it's a pretty obvious process. You don't need to refer to the manual much, which is a good thing as the manual isn't really all that superbly organized...for example, I could find virtually nothing about how to use the riff grid. I figured it out -- at least I think so. Maybe it has additional uses of which I'm not aware, and if so, hopefully someone from Riffworks will chime in.

 

There are still plenty of things to check out, like using ReWire, the "junt" feature, the RiffLink online collaboration process, and more. But let's take stock of what we have so far.

 

Playing with Riffworks reminds me of the days of using a four-track analog tape recorder (well, without the rewind/fast forward times). It's very immediate, and easy to just lay down tracks. Of course, 4-track recorders didn't have built-in drum machines and effects, but in some ways, the effects have that vintage vibe of effects of that era.

 

The drum backing tracks thing is cool, but clearly, you'd want to have more patterns available. I have not figured out how to adapt my own patterns to the Riffworks format (Dug, help!) or even whether it's possible. I assume that Riffworks would love for you to buy the optional-at-extra-cost drum patterns, but they've also included a REX player and ReWire option, so one of my next stops is to check out if you can create drum patterns in Reason and rewire them in.

 

Let's be clear that Riffworks will not replace a DAW. There's no editing or punching, or any of that kinda stuff. It seems to me this has two main purposes: A very inexpensive way for guitar players to get into using computers (in this context, the effects really take on extra value), and a quickie scratchpad for veterans who want something that just gets ideas down without complications.

 

I'm reminded of a friend who had this great, pro level 24-track recording setup in Paris, but also bought a little Minidisc multitrack recorder. I was puzzled, but he explained the MD was so easy to get up and running that he used it to capture ideas. I can easily see Riffworks providing the same kind of function.

 

In any event, I've been having a lot of fun with it. Let's see what happens in the next phase of experimentation...

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So here I am, sitting in an airport on the way to AES, and thought I'd check out ReWire with Riffworks. I also felt that it would be a good CPU hog test, because I could load up ReWire clients with lotsa tracks. I figured if my computer could deal with running a ReWire client and Riffworks, then Riffworks was probably pretty efficient.

 

ReWire is one of Riffworks' backup track options, and this is a nice touch as you can easily mix in your own backing tracks -- not just drums, of course, but whatever your ReWire-compatible program can generate.

 

When you click on ReWire, a ReWire-specific backup track window appears. Click on the attachment to see the window. There are four slots for ReWire client programs, in this case Ableton Live, Reason, Kinetic 2, and Project5 V2, which are all installed on my laptop. Each of these slots has a drop-down menu, so if you have more than four ReWire clients installed, you can choose the four you want to use.

 

When rewired, the Riffworks and ReWire client transports sync up, and the ReWire client's mixed, stereo audio outs flow into Riffworks. Riffworks provides audio level controls for each ReWire client, along with metering.

 

If you have a long riff and drag the playback cursor to somewhere in the middle, the client starts at the appropriate place -- you don't have to start from the beginning, or worry about timing problems. Also, I set both tight and long loops, and the looping function worked perfectly -- no straying from the sync.

 

Furthermore, you can run multiple backing tracks, like have the Riffworks' backup drums running along with a bass and piano part recorded in Reason. This is also a useful touch.

 

The main limitation is that you can't associate something like a different Reason song with a certain riff. In other words, once Reason is set up as a ReWire client, any riff where Reason appears as a client will play whatever is in Reason. I tried opening up two instances of Reason to see if there would be a "Reason1" and "Reason2" option in the ReWire slots, but Reason refused to open up twice. I also tried saving a Riff preset with different Reason songs, but the preset doesn't get into that level of detail; it will save which ReWire devices are inserted in the slots, along with the level settings, but anything beyond that you have to do manually.

 

This isn't surprising, though. The whole point about Riffworks is that it's supposed to be seamless, and it can take some time to load an entire song in a ReWire client. Presumably, the designers didn't want a situation where there would be silence while a new ReWire client song loaded.

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As there were four slots, I wondered what would happen if I opened up two Rewire programs. So, I opened up Reason and Live, then dragged some loops into Live and loaded a song into Reason. To my surprise, they both played at once as backing tracks. Then I opened up the Riffworks drums as a backing track, and now I had two Rewire clients open along with drums, all playing away. Click on the attachment if you want proof that Live, Reason, and Riffworks can all live together in harmony.

 

Because computers like to show off, I figured I'd open up Kinetic 2 and Project5 as well. But for some Reason, Kinetic 2 refused to talk to Riffworks. When you click on the Riffworks play button, Kinetic 2's measure counter increments, but it won't initiate playback.

 

Huh? So I clicked on Kinetic 2's play button, figuring it would then start to play along -- but instead, it stopped Riffworks. What made this more confusing is that Kinetic rewires just fine into Sonar. Oh well, I'll troubleshoot this further some other time.

 

So then I tried Project5, but it didn't work because the version installed on my computer was an NFR (not for resale) review copy, and it had timed out. Bummer. Well, after all I am going to AES, so maybe Cakewalk can loan me another NFR to test the thing out. However, my sense is that if Riffworks can do two ReWire clients, it can probably do four...Dug? Comments?

 

Being able to handle multiple clients also makes the preset function more useful, as you could have one client with its volume up in one riff, and a different client with its volume up in another riff. Still, the inability to switch the client's backing tracks with different riffs limits the usefulness of the rewire function.

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But we're not done yet with backing tracks, and this option is a real gem. Click on the attachment to see the REX player window. For those not familiar with REX files, these are digital audio files that have been specifically designed to loop, as well as time-stretch as you change tempo. For example, if you play back a REX file at 90 BPM and then increase the tempo to 120 BPM, the REX file will follow right along.

 

Like Rewire, there are four slots into which you can load REX files. These slots have level controls and metering, but also include a pan control. If the REX file is shorter than the riff, it loops within the riff; if longer, it jumps back to its beginning at the end of a riff. So far, so good...and having REX playback opens up a whole world of drum loops and backing tracks (there are at the very least hundreds of sample CDs that contain REX files), particularly because you can have four loops going at once.

 

But what makes this really useful is you can save presets using different REX player settings and even different REX files, and associate the presets with different riffs. So, you could have one REX drum pattern and a REX bass pattern associated with one riff, then when you call up another riff, a different drum and bass pattern play along. Nice.

 

REX files tend to be compact, as they employ a lossless data compression scheme (based on not having to store silence), and I didn't notice any gap when switching presets; as soon as you change riffs, the backing track is ready to go. There's only one real caution: have a consistent place to store your REX files, because if they're not where the program expects to find them, it won't. Instead, it will ask you to locate them.

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The final backing track option is a metronome. Click on the attachment to see the metronome window. This is pretty basic: You can choose the sound, the level, and the pan position. And yes -- it will run along with the other backing track options. However, you can't choose a different sound for the downbeat; it's just louder than the other clicks.

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We've gone through the major aspects of Riffworks, although we still have a ways to go before we can consider this review to have covered everything. But I must say I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been more interaction from readers. I'd like to think it's because I'm explaining everything so well no one needs to ask questions :), but I don't think that's the case. Actually, I think that people might not quite know what to make of this program, and that's probably why Sonoma Wire Works wanted a Pro Review: To explain as much as possible what Riffworks is all about.

 

Clearly, this is intended to be a user-friendly environment for guitarists. But like all other attempts to bring the average guitarist into recording with computers, it cannot overcome a basic, fundamental problem: Computers are not a user-friendly environment for guitarists. While a guitar player might look at Riffworks and feel reassured by the familiar transport buttons and effects, if they can't decide what kind of interface to use and how to deal with Riffworks' Audio Setup menu, there's a problem. This is the same problem faced by IK Multimedia, Native Instruments, Waves, and all other companies trying to convince guitarists that computers are the way to go.

 

Let's face it: To work with an amp, you 1) turn the power on, 2) plug in the guitar, and 3) adjust the knobs. To work with a computer, turning the power on is just the start. Especially with Windows machines, you better know how to install drivers, and you better know to set the system priority for "Background Services" if you're running ASIO. Nor are Mac users immune; many don't realize that the Sounds icon in the system preferences section won't take them where they really need to go, which is the Audio and MIDI setup section under Utilities.

 

Then once that's figured out, they have to understand the concept of buffering, samples, and latency...and that's assuming they've gotten past the interface stage of things.

 

So programs like Riffworks face a difficult task right out of the box. Furthermore, few (and Riffworks is no exception) include comprehensive, hand-holding instructions for guitar players that delineate the pitfalls of using computers. In the case of Riffworks, although the documentation is excellent at getting you started quickly, it doesn't provide the kind of computer background that the beginning guitar player needs. Nor does it provide an overview of Riffworks' philosophy, which I think would be helpful to those trying to wrap their heads around the program.

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Okay, I do know about computers...and I have a wonderful studio with pro level programs. And I use a lot of them! I can work my way around Sonar, Acid, Pro Tools, Live, Cubase, Vegas, Samplitude, Digital Performer, and many others. So do I need Riffworks? No.

 

But do I like Riffworks? Yes. It's just plain fun, and doesn't take anywhere near the amount of setup time and fussing around as other hosts. Turn up the guitar, choose an effect, click record, and you're creating a riff...with a backing track, then combining those riffs into songs. As an idea generator (or capturer), Riffworks is like taking a vacation from complicated programs.

 

Honestly, Riffworks is not at all what I expected. I thought it was going to be a toy, but features like ReWire, REX file players, and cool effects work take it out of the toy range. I thought it was a lot about online collaboration, but while I admittedly haven't explored that yet, I feel Riffworks justifies its existence all by itself.

 

So will I use it once the Pro Review is over? Actually, I think I will. It takes me back to the days of just punching record on my 4-track, playing some guitar, then deciding I wanted to take it further. I doubt that I'll develop full-fledged songs on it, but certainly, if I come up with something I like, I can mix it down and import it into my favorite "major league" host. But there is a lot more to it, like the Riffcast component, so my assessment may be premature. I sure wish some Riffworks owners would chime in as to what they think of the program...after all, this is a Pro Review!

 

Anyway, I'll be swamped shooting videos at AES for the next several days, so I won't have much time to play with Riffworks, although I will be checking this thread. Any Riffworks owners out there? Let us know what you think.

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Mr Anderton (Reminds me of the Matrix for some reason) I'm Rich and I am an avid Riffworks user. Having Riffworks from the inception with a Line 6 Guitarport. I have also upgraded to the Standard edition and now use a Toneport. I have written many full songs with this program and do as you have stated by Editing my work with Adobe Audition 1.5 and 2.0.

 

I must say that Riffworks is an ideal no fuss program designed especially for guitarists. I own many different programs Adobe Audition 1.5 and 2.0, Propellarhead Reason, Ableton Live, Acid Pro 6, and a few others. As far as simplicity Riffworks wins hands down. Also the ability to synch drums is by far way easier than any midi application and most of the drum packages sound as real as can be.

 

The simplicity though is the best part. I can watch tv and play my guitar and find a riff I like and before I lose it. I just plug in and go. It is truely plug and play. Fire up the program plug the guitar in and hit the record button. That simple. It also has great quality and as you have stated excellent effects. And yes it does bring the fun into playing. Also It makes me personally want to play more because it's not a hassle to get set up to record. So my playing has improved alot and fast.

 

So if anyone is interested in the program I strongly rate this a 9 out 0f 10 and the only reason for the 9 is because I like to use Adobe Audition to Master my songs. If I wasn't into editing now and just laying something down you can get an excellent mix with it and I would then give it a 10 out of 10. Granted I'm a novice musician. Still learning how to record and master. However with that in mind I have some really good songs that I've recorded and totally have enjoyed the final product. Cheers to Sonoma Wire Works

 

My Music

http://www.soundclick.com/strychninekid

Not all my stuff is here. Also would love to chat it up about this some more

 

With Respect

 

Rich Konkler

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Craig, I also D/loaded a version of Riffworks 2 (given by the company as a promo) and same problem with the password. It took quite a while (3 days) to get a response from them to change the password.

 

As this was a freebie - no problem for me, but imagine it being an important session, that could be quite annoying.

 

Another big gripe I have with the program so far is the way it handles the drum samples. First off you pay for these loops so they should be available as some more standard format, say acidized files that can be ported in other software. Also unless you get a proprietary drum loop you can't bring yours in and set the song to that. If you can - I haven't found a way to do it properly yet. In my case - I have a drum machine and several Acid drum libraries so it is redundant to spend extra cash on plain drum loops.

 

On an up note - the Matt Sorum drum loops are actually quite good.

 

One more problem I encountered was loading the community sessions where you collaborate through the user forums. The software crashed on me several times while loading them. They eventually loaded but something seems buggy in that part of the module.

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