Rack ’em and stack ’em
One of the earliest ‘rack’ utilities was Reason’s Combinator. The idea was simple: instead of having two separate instruments or effects ‘floating’ in the project in the normal way, group the two together by housing them in a Combinator. Once the devices had been united in this way, their parameters could be tweaked and the entire Combinator patch saved and recalled later. Custom instruments, channel strips, ready-mixed drum kits – you name it – could be used, saved, loaded, shared and even sold. A new ecosystem was born. We’ll show you exactly how the Combinator system worked at the bottom of this page.
With the self-contained nature of a rack setup, it can often be possible to route the signal flow in a manner that suits you. Your DAW project might have sends and returns, wet and dry blends and so on, but these wouldn’t be saved in a rack patch – hence the need for racks to include their own signal tools, mixers, crossovers and more to help give you ultimate flexibility. Tracktion Waveform and PreSonus Studio One 3 are great solutions for complex routings of this type.
Possibly the most impressive feature of rack systems is their usually-included macro controls.
So you’ve got five effects loaded up in a rack – are you going to open, tweak and automate a parameter from each to move simultaneously? Ain’t nobody got time for that! With a rack, you can link multiple parameters to macro controls, mapping several parameters to one master knob or slider in the rack’s housing, and then just twiddle, tweak or automate that one control to make them all move.
Using mapping editors, you can determine exactly how much change each macro control commands over the parameters it’s assigned to. A little like a modulation matrix, you can select the ‘amount’ or ‘depth’ of a macro control, or set the values of the mapping when the macro is at its minimum or maximum.
Each DAW has a different way of serving up racks. From Logic’s Smart Controls to in-depth nerdery like Tracktion Waveform’s ‘Racks 2.0’, there’s always a slightly new take to adapt to, with more or fewer capabilities and a slightly different way of working. On the whole, though, every DAW’s take on the rack concept will be offering the same basic service: easy combining, storage and recall of multiple individual processors.
So, over the next few pages, we’re going to head a little deeper into the rack-osphere, telling you how it’s done in different DAWs, showing you the limits of what’s possible in different systems, and giving you the inspiration to push racks further and come up with your own creations.
Who knows, you might even be able to make a bit of cash from your hard work. These days, whole companies exist that create inspiring and useful racks using the in-built processors of the DAW in question. The sky’s the limit, it seems, when it comes to this technology.