With its sample-based approach, loop slicing options and extensive groove sequencing capabilities, Steve Duda’s Nerve plugin might not seem like an obvious candidate for inclusion here. Yes, it’s right on the borderline between sample playback and synthesis, but it gets the nod thanks to its sheer power in terms of twisting and processing the samples you load into it.
Yes, there are conventional filters to play with. Sure, you’ll find all the usual envelope shaping options. But turn your attention to the ‘precalc’ section and there are immediate hints that this is a lot more than your average sample-based drum machine. How many drum samplers can synthesise subharmonics or resynthesise the sine, square, saw and triangle wave elements of your drum sample independently?
Nerve’s ‘precalc’ options (modestly referred to as effects but realistically much more than that) set it apart from other sample-based plugins, effectively making it operate like a digital synth with drum samples as the raw sound source. Although you might be starting with a sample in each of the plugin’s 16 drum slots, the resynthesis capabilities very quickly twist and stretch them into completely new territory.
What’s most impressive about Nerve is the way it encourages you to jump in and tweak sounds in ways that you might be scared of trying using conventional synthesis techniques or drum samplers. This is an incredibly user-friendly approach to a complex form of sample-based digital synthesis.
Although in theory the precalc settings are meant to be adjusted before attempting to construct a beat, the majority can be tweaked in real time without any significant glitches. Once they’re locked in, the resynthesis is precalculated (hence ‘precalc’) and loaded into RAM. A selection of key parameters can also be automated or controlled via built-in LFOs for further real-time shaping.
While the sound sculpting options are surprisingly user-friendly, the sequencing capabilities are actually much more complex than they might first appear. There are multiple levels of step sequencing to contend with, split into individual pages for parameters including velocity, pitch and filter settings. The possibilities are vast.