ULTRAKICK Review (2019)

Credits

Max For Live developer and UX/UI designer, Daan Pothoven recently gave me the opportunity to take his Max device 'ULTRAKICK' for a spin. In this post I’ll explain what ULTRAKICK is, provide a tour of its features and share my ULTRAKICK experience with you.

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What is ULTRAKICK?

ULTRAKICK is a Max For Live device, available for download from isotonikstudios.com.  It is a synthesizer specifically designed and developed for creating kick drums, although as I soon discovered, it is easily capable of much more. 

In addition to kick drums you can build an entire drum kit from the ground up with ULTRAKICK to design snares, hi-hats, toms as well as a multitude of other-worldly sounds just waiting to be discovered.


Tour de ULTRAKICK

  • Features

    • 100% synthesis - everything coming out of ULTRAKICK is a product of synthesis, samples get to have a night off.  This is pure percussive sound design exploration!

    • 3 channels which include 2 oscillators and 1 noise generator.

      The 2 oscillators can be used to design the initial transient and body of your drum.

      The noise generator provides white and pink noise, important for designing the ‘tail’ of a snare or open and closed hi hats.

    • An Audio Flow tab view which provides a very clear visual overview of ULTRAKICK’s routing .

    • Tuning capabilities at each point for all frequency related envelopes.  You can easily tune your kick to E and toms to B.

    • Undo and redo button.

    • Ships with over 60 presets which are a great place to start.  You'll soon be on your way to shaping your own beats.

    • Point and click precision envelope sound design.  To remove a point, simply press shift and click.

    • Export to WAV feature so you can drop your creations into Sampler or Simpler.

    • Actions are available via a drop down menu so you can copy, randomise and reverse envelopes.

    • Includes a great user guide, explaining all the features with meticulous attention to detail.

  • User Interface (UI) & User Experience (UX)

ULTRAKICK exhibits characteristics of great user interface design. 

The clear and simple layout made me feel very comfortable and soon enough I was navigating it with confidence.  Its tabs are logically arranged and there’s no doubt about where you are if you are moving from one tab to another.  In the screen shot below it is clear I am looking at the amp envelope of oscillator 1:

Fig. 1 Osc 1 Amp Envelope

Fig. 1 Osc 1 Amp Envelope

Safe in the knowledge there were undo and redo options available, I was quite happy to explore the device without the fear of being unable to back out my changes to a sound I was working with.  I felt in control and could relax.

I found the interface easily accessible and selections clearly indicated.  With approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world being colour blind - myself being one of them - its modest colour scheme is most welcome on my screen.

ULTRAKICK’s design is intuitive, helped along by the consistency of its fonts and icons.  Did I mention the Audio Flow tab?  If you want an easy to understand visual of ULTRAKICK’s routing, then look no further.

The language used in the device is very familiar too and there’s no reinventing the terminology for features that are used in other devices.  Great news for me - I’m confused easily enough as it is!


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Verdict

ULTRAKICK is a beast.  Yes you can design a meaty kick drum … but there’s so much more waiting to be unleashed from this device.  If you are interested in spending time with sound design and building a kit, there is plenty of fun to be had here.  It’s evident that Daan has taken great care to give ULTRAKICK a clean and intuitive interface whilst packing it full of features.  A challenging balancing act but he has achieved it nonetheless.

Daan continues to update the device, the latest (v1.3.0) update was released during this review to addresses performance issues when editing envelope curves with many points. I’ve upgraded without any problems and can say that I noticed an improvement.

If I could add one thing to ULTRAKICK, what would it be?  Okay, if it is possible, undo and redo shortcut keys, please.

If you want total control over your synthesized beats, look no further.  Check out ULTRAKICK  at isotonikstudios.com.


Workflow Tip

These days I try to separate sound design from writing tracks.  I set aside a specific session for sound design and another for writing tracks which I find more productive.   The lines can still blur somewhat but I find doing this can prove more fruitful. 

With this in mind, I created and saved an ULTRAKICK drum rack over the course of a couple of evenings. The following evening I put some chords and a melody together, pulled out the drum rack and et voila, I had a ready made drum rack I’d prepared earlier.  The final step was to tune the kit to the key of my track and to lay down some beats.

The result of my time with ULTRAKICK is below.

ULTRAKICK - Review Track (2019)


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Article References


ULTRA KICK Download From Isotonik Studios

ULTRA KICK Facebook User Group

Brian Funk AKA Afro DJ Mac: Program Realistic Drums With Ableton Live Tutorial

Max For Live