Stylus RMX: The Horse Beaten

The hot beat maker plugin is Stylus RMX. Professional gurus claim it to be among their favorite synths of all time and the KVR user reviews don’t get much better.

I picked up my copy a few days ago (yes on extended financing — and no, this won’t be the last entry I will post from that shopping spree) and I’ve been playing around with it in a few hosts.

Stylus RMX is a VSTi/AU plugin instrument that you call up in your host to handle the beats and percussion. The best thing RMX does is consolidate a world of stuff under one roof into a very productive environment. A very, very, very productive environment. I want to emphasize that because in the rest of this article it will be easy to forget why to get this plugin in the first place.

Except for a few standout unique features and the very cool notion that one percussion loop engine can be used in just about any host, the vast majority of what RMX does can be done with with FL Studio plus Beatslicer or Reason with Recycle or several other solutions. For all the cool sounds in the 7 gigabytes (with a ‘g’) of drum samples that come with RMX it’s nothing a resourceful remixer couldn’t dig up. (Eventually.) The bulk of the stock library seems to be taken up with noisy industrial drum loops which are not that useful to me. I’m assuming their marketing is telling them who their audience is.

Make no mistake: you do pay for that productivity. At 200+ Mb of RAM per instance, 7 gig of hard disk space and $300 you pay.

Having said that, if you have a spare $300 lying you should just get it, it won’t hurt your system (assuming you have a DAW compensatory with having $300 lying around) and it’s a fine thing to have at your disposal.

If you don’t have $300 available at all (even at zero-interest loans from Guitar Center) then you can consider this article for information purposes only because RMX is less a VST plugin and more a business model. And not a very good one. The worst part of RMX is the completely unnecessarily proprietary file formats it employs. Worse: the only thing you can import are other proprietary formats: AKAI (a hardware format) and REX (a format only one tool in the world, Recycle, knows how to make). None of your ACID loops or SoundFont files or WAV or MP3 or AIFF or AppleLoops or anything can be pulled into the system. If you’re broke then you might as well fashion your own powerful slicer from freebie software or use any wav editor to good effect in FL Studio.

For everybody in between, consider that RMX has three top-tier functions, all available through exactly the same user interface:

  • Beat slicer think Rex, Beatslicer, etc.
  • Drum sampler like Battery, those built into Ableton Live, Reason, FL, etc.
  • Sample trigger think ‘live’ mode in FL and scene/clip view in Ableton.

Mainly it’s about the beat slicing. They do a clever thing: they slice the component parts of a drum loop separately. So when you “stretch” a drum beat, all the parts (kick, snare, hat etc.) stretch at different points, based on their patterns. Of course this only works when you have the component parts separated out. If you import fully mixed REX loops you don’t get that advantage. The beat slicing engine, even on fully mixed tracks, is very good but not perfect and the fact that I can’t control attack or release to make up for crackly slices makes it less useful than REX or Beatslicer.

People go gaga over the ‘Chaos’ feature. This is where you control the amount of “randomness” applied to the order of notes and other parameters of loop playback. It is definitely a time saver but it’s not all that — for example, ACID users are used to splitting events and dragging them around to form cool variations of stock loops. And in FL or Reason, dragging MIDI notes around in the piano roll after you’ve dumped a Beatslicer or REX loop into a track is not that heavy a task. And then there’s the less sexy but freebie SuppaTrigga which I used in extreme measure for Cop on the Take that works on audio input (!) to accomplish much of the same results.

Having all this functionality and being a plugin has some weird side effects in the user model of the tool. For example you can capture Chaos note triggers and repeats in MIDI, but all the other Chaos parameters like pitch and reverse can only be captured as audio in your host. Another example: for all the marketing hype about it being a ‘realtime groove module’ like any plugin, you can only capture knob turns in your host. I’m grateful it’s automatable but in 2005 that should be a given.

There is one ultra-sexy feature that I haven’t seen in other tools. They call it ‘edit groups’ because they probably couldn’t think of a more descriptive name. RMX lets you isolate parts of your loop based on the beat, slice or part. For example an edit group can be made from 1/8th note upbeats, or just the backbeat (2 and 4) of each bar or every dotted-16th, etc. etc. If a beat loop is a composite then an edit group can be based on a specific part, like just the hi-hats. Once you’ve identified an edit group, you can apply 100% of the same functions to that group that you would to the loop as a whole. That is, you can assign it to another output channel, give it its own filter LFO, change it’s pitch, etc. etc.

I’ve gotten pretty productive in ACID over the last 7 years so it wouldn’t be a big problem for me to erase the downbeats of a loop, select it and Render to New Track. Once it’s a new track, it is a first class citizen in the system and I can do anything I want with it. In Abelton Live it’s just a matter drawing an envelop in clip properties.

Like most features in RMX, experts in other tools will tell you they have a way to accomplish the same end effect but the fact is, RMX simplifies a class of repetitive, tedious operations that, having been made easier, will probably make you more creative as well as productive. If you can afford it.

(My latest ccMixter upload EMCEE ONE (treatment) used RMX in FL Studio.)

2 thoughts on “Stylus RMX: The Horse Beaten

  1. craig

    Kontakt 2’s ‘beat machine’ has edit groups like this (and probably also the original Kontakt and Intakt, though their beat machines are confusing).

  2. fourstones Post author

    yea, and after I posted this I thought of a few different ways to do it in ACID and FL that doesn’t involve making a copy of the clip.

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