- iZotope and producer BT's first collaboration yielded Stutter Edit, an effects suite which allows you to channel individual instruments or audio tracks—or an entire mix—through a series of processors designed to chop audio into slices, apply filtering, bitcrushing and more. It combined ease-of-use with a collection of ear-catching effects and has proved so popular that it's no surprise they've teamed up again. The fruit of their latest collaboration is BreakTweaker, a software instrument fusing sound design, sequencing and effects processing. It's dubbed a "future beat machine," and while beat programming is a big part of its remit, it's capable of much more besides.
The installation places a 2 GB library of sound content onto your chosen drive, and iZotope have also released additional libraries (sold separately) entitled Beats And Snares, Vintage Machines and Cinematic Textures, with more likely to follow. To understand these in depth, let's start with BreakTweaker's sequencer. Loading a preset from one of a number of genre-specific banks provides six sounds, which are stacked in a vertical row down the left side of the GUI. These incorporate both beat and synth sounds, and they can be auditioned separately, with the first sound triggered in one-shot fashion by playing C1, the second by C#1 and so on.
You can simply record these individual sounds if you like, but BreakTweaker's sequencer provides more powerful playback possibilities. Playing C2 will trigger the first sequencer pattern, which provides playback of all of the sounds combined, with blocks indicating the positioning of each sound within the sequence. Further patterns can be played by triggering higher keys, with 24 available at once to be triggered between C2 and B3. Each sequence line features its own playback speed, so if you want the snare to play back twice or four times as quickly as the kick drum, simply select this option. Remember, this is true for each sequence pattern, rather than as a global change across all patterns.
But things get better still. You can click each step of a sequence to access its MicroEdit settings, which is where the fun really starts. A single step can be divided Stutter Edit-style into a number of individual slices, which can either feature a gate-like time control (imagine chopping a held bass note into 16-step slices, for instance); a speed one, where a sound's playback can accelerate or decelerate; or by pitch, so that pitch bends and slides can be applied. Then, you can apply slopes to whichever method of warping you've selected, so individual sounds can zip, ramp, stutter or grind to a halt. You can extend a single sequencer block to the length you like, with warping scaled across its duration. There are further controls, too, with pitch offsets for individual steps, so you can create bass or synth patterns, and individual fades. It's worth stressing that, as with the playback speed control, each MicroEdit parameter set only controls the chosen step, rather than acting as a whole control across all steps within a pattern. This means that raw and processed versions of a sound can happily play within a single sequence. It's powerful, fun and, after you've got your head around the possibilities, hugely intuitive. Each sequencer lane also features its own gain and pan controls, and you can route each lane to its own physical output.
This brings us to the sounds themselves, where they come from and how they're generated. Clicking the wave icon between the names of the sounds and their sequencer lanes loads the Generator page, which is where a sound can be created from scratch or edited from a preset. Each sound is formed from up to three summed sources, created from samples or BreakTweaker's own synth engine. Samples can brought in from the factory library, the expansion packs or anywhere else on your hard drive. The synth engine offers access to a wide array of basic waveforms, from sine, saw and square to noise, wavetable, formant, more complex formations, spectral and so on.
Each of the three layers feeds into a series of shaping parameters, which can be coarse- and fine-tuned and feature their own gain offset, before moving on to distortion, filtering and mixing modules. There are multiple distortion algorithms, whose amount and tone controls can be dialled in, with up to two processors available at once. In the filter section, New York, Tokyo and Brick Wall models are available, with low-, band- and high-pass options available within each, complete with cutoff and resonance dials. None of these settings in any of those engines, however, needs to be static. There are four envelopes and four LFO engines on board, which can be tweaked and then routed at will. If you want Envelope 2 to control the distortion amount, or LFO 3 to create a pitch wobble on your chosen sample, no problem. This is powerful stuff when you consider that each of the three sound sources can have its own independent settings in each of these categories. Usefully, the sequencer pattern for the sound you're putting under the Generator microscope appears as a single lane at the top, so if you want to tweak sounds on the fly, in the context of a whole pattern, you can. You can also access the MicroEdit page to apply per-step processing, so there's no need to be constantly toggling between the Generator and sequencer pages.
There are further options. In Gate Mode at the bottom, a sequencer pattern will only trigger for as long as you're holding your finger down on a key, but a Latch Mode sustains performance, so a sequence pattern will keep cycling until you trigger another key. It's a great feature for live performance. Additionally, an intensity dial in the top-right corner provides a kind of built-in buss compression, so if your settings get wild, you can temper the output to ensure against volume spikes.
BreakTweaker is excellent. As it allows you to access sample content from anywhere on your hard drive, then provide the kinds of warping controls you'll already associate with BT and iZotope if you're a Stutter Edit user, this would be a compelling enough feature to pique your interest. However, the plug-in offers so much more. The factory library is packed with great, contemporary and powerful samples, and the expansion packs bring yet more. The synth programmer in you will love layering sound sources, applying modulation and getting your hands dirty. Let's not forget that the sequencer then allows for multi-tempo playback of a pattern you've programmed, complete with further per-step warping. Whether you intend to use BreakTweaker as a pure drum machine, a hybrid plug-in for beats, bass and synth or a more complex sound generator for sample content, it has plenty to offer.
Ease of use: 4/5