Endless repetition gets old fast, of course, which is why the groove control available with the Latin percussion plug-in Latigo ($299 retail/$229 street)—as well as its similarly priced Arabic/African percussion sister program, Darbuka—is a huge asset.
The architecture is simple. Latigo has 24 styles, and you get 14 tracks within each style. You can mix and match tracks within styles, so you can use, for example, a Calypso conga pattern in a Bolero style. But here’s what makes this plug-in cool: On the main Play page, you’ll find sliders for Variation, Timing, Complexity, and Swing—all assignable to MIDI controllers—that add spice and rhythmic twists to patterns. Remember, too, that these patterns were played by real percussionists from Miami Sound Machine, so when you add “humanizing” variations, you’re humanizing something that’s already, uh, human. In other words, the feel is about as real as you can get from a loop.
A separate Mix page lets you place the instruments graphically in a cool-looking sound stage. Additional controls for each track include Punch, lo/mid/hi EQ, rear balance (for surround), ambience (essentially a send control to the ambience processor), and individual assignments for the four stereo outputs. This page is a tweaker’s delight. You can, for example, make the snare really snap, while submerging maracas in the background. Editing for individual instruments includes control over decay, lead or lag timing, tuning, and dynamic response. Once your sounds are tweaked, you can create arrangements and play them by triggering scenes, or starting and stopping individual loops. You can improvise your percussion parts, or trigger preset patterns via MIDI.
There are some other nice touches to Latigo, such as being able to switch on a high-RAM usage mode for highest sound quality. Although there’s no DXi version for Sonar fans, the VST wrapper works fine (except that you lose the mouse wheel functions for level control and track scrolling). Savvy DAW jockeys might wonder why Latigo lists for the same price as Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX, because the latter has more effects, more sounds, and allows importing other file types to create custom libraries. Furthermore, Latigo can’t save a separate, editable MIDI file to edit playback of pattern slices, as you can with RMX. However, Latigo takes the “playable instrument” aspect further—thanks to its Live-style edit page—and the realism is beyond reproach.
So, while Stylus RMX offers exceptional value, Latigo fulfills its intended function so well—from recording quality all the way through to surround ambience—that you can’t begrudge the price. Latigo and Darbuka are class programs that deliver on all levels, and they deserve the accolades they’ve been receiving.