The first and most noticeable of the changes built into Battery 4 is the new design. Native Instruments transitioned from the familiar green GUI (which had been showing its age) to one that fits into the design theme that's unified many of its creations of late. The cell color options are more vibrant, and the device controls now have highlights that change to match the color of the cell currently in focus. This kind of visual cue is very helpful in preventing accidental parameter changes. To this end, NI suggests color-coding each sample type differently. With practice it becomes pretty obvious when you're editing the parameters of a kick versus a snare just by looking at the colors of the controls.
Also in keeping with recent NI design themes is the updated browser, which can be toggled to take up the left edge of the interface. This browser now has a library that utilizes the same type of sample- and kit-tagging mechanism in place in Maschine, which makes it leaps and bounds more helpful than the previous Battery browser. Of course, only the kits and samples that come with Battery 4 are pre-tagged, but it's pretty simple to import and tag your existing samples. If you prefer your own folder organization, the browser can also navigate and load from the file system directly.
Once you have loaded a sample into a cell, there are helpful buttons that allow you to quickly audition alternative samples. Battery is smart enough to adjust the list of possible alternatives depending on what mode the browser was in when you selected the sample. If you loaded from the file system the list will include the other files in the same folder, and if you loaded from the library it will include the other library items that match the tags or search string that you used to find the sample. This smart bit of functionality can really help you find the right sound quickly.
Loading a sample from the browser into a cell in Battery automatically creates a single sample layer on that cell, spanning the entire range of possible velocity levels. Sample layering is one of Battery's calling cards, and Battery 4 makes this process quite easy. Clicking on the editor tab reveals a row of open layers for the currently selected cell, and adding new sample layers is as simple as clicking and dragging a sample from the browser into an open layer. The ranges of velocity that will trigger each sample layer can be set by clicking and dragging the edges of the layers themselves. You can also distribute the velocity ranges across each layer equally at the click of a button.
In general, dragging-and-dropping has become a central theme in Battery 4. In addition to what we've discussed, there is much more that becomes possible with this simple and intuitive mechanism. You can route the audio output of cells to the four output busses by dragging the cell to the bus fader. You can set up sidechain compression by simply dragging one cell to the compressor module of another cell. You also make host and MIDI automation assignments by dragging the automation points to the device parameters. Finally, the built-in effects in Battery 4 can be reordered freely—a seemingly innocuous change that results in loads more sonic sculpting power.
Speaking of effects, you can find the same powerful set from Battery 3 in the new version. Lo-fi, saturation, EQ/filter and compression all remain in the cell effects chain. Inverter has now become a quick access option of the cell editor page, and delay and reverb still hold their place on the master page. There is a new addition called Transient Master, which controls the attack and sustain of a sound. Many of the original effects have been beefed up with new modes as well. For example, the EQ/Filter and Compressor effects now support the Solid G-EQ and Solid Bus Comp analog-modeled algorithms, and the saturation module features a tape saturation mode. Considering the success producers had with the original Battery 3 effect arsenal, I think NI's approach here was on point.
It's clear Native Instruments heard the cries of the Battery faithful over the past couple of years and decided to bring it up to date with the latest tech in their arsenal, rather than letting it die in favor of Maschine. The browser and workflow improvement make the upgrade worth the investment for any current user, and the effect enhancements are the icing on the cake that make Battery one of the top options for drum sculpting. The only thing missing, in my mind, is tighter integration with Maschine. As someone who uses both, it would be good to be able to use Maschine to control and sequence Battery natively (rather than just loading it as a VST and playing it with keyboard mode). Maybe that'll come later. Until then, the new additions to Battery 4 build on top of its already rock-solid foundation, making this an easy recommendation.
Ease of use: 4.5/5