Background (real) story of my XLN Audio LIFE review: when this software came across my inbox, I jumped at the chance to have a go at it! I have a couple of other XLN products, and they’re not only top quality; they push the boat out a little creatively, and give you slightly new avenues to explore with your music making. I particularly like the XO plugin (see our XLN Audio XO review), which gives you a new method to audition ALL the drum single shots in your library, and stick them in your project, with minimal fuss.
Using AI to create beats and rhythms from sound sources that constantly swirl around you is a very enticing prospect indeed. In this XLN Audio LIFE review, I took on the challenge to see how effective it is as a music tool.
Essentially LIFE empowers you to capture any sound around you in your daily life, from your morning walk, the sound of your kids chatting away, drinking your coffee to a bustling cityscape, and quickly transport and intelligently transform it into fresh and relevant rhythmic gold within the DAW of your choice.
Let’s find out more in our XLN Audio LIFE review, starting from the trailer below…
Capture Life Around You, Even On The Go
LIFE comes with a free app for iOS and Android. When your ears perk up at an unusual sound, grab your phone, open the app, and record away. This is where LIFE becomes so instantly available. It depends very much on you having your mobile phone readily accessible to capture the sounds around you. The sound is stored for when you return to your studio environment.
When you get back to your computer and DAW – a quick pairing over the internet, and the second part of LIFE comes into action. the AU or VST plugin automatically reads all the audio you’ve recorded, and transports it to the computer. As it transports it, the AI algorithm finds interesting audio from within the recordings, slices it up intelligently (not by timing, or equal slices), and then sequences the slices it has picked into interesting rhythms.
The source audio is displayed as a waveform across the top of the GUI, and the selected slices are highlighted in bright colour – the similar colours are similar sounds.
Below that, in the middle of the window, is a circular sequencer with 4 ‘lanes’ that contain one, or several slices of audio. The sequence is picked from a pre-created preset list of rhythmic patterns.
Immediately you can tell that the emphasis for this tool is on ‘speed of process’.
XLN Audio LIFE – If Time Is Money…
I’ve done the exact same thing for sound design work in my own personal projects, and this software can literally cut HOURS off the sound design process, if you work with field recordings.
I was extremely impressed with the initial audio that came into the computer – the rhythms were not random – the algorithm had definitely picked out particular sounds from the source audio, and there were 108 different rhythmic archetypes (preset grooves) that the software referred to when making the loops of audio. Time and time again, the audio was INTERESTING to listen to. It was head-nod worthy straight away.
Tweaking Sounds And Grooves
There are things that you can do straight away that will tweak the sound and groove in a macro way. The Random button isn’t entirely random – instead it selects a new groove randomly from the 108 preset grooves. The sound slices also change to fit that groove.
There are two more circular sort of XY pads that are groove and pattern variation. As you move them around, either the groove stays the same, and the sounds are tweaked, or vice versa. Note that with the sound variation, the slices remain the same, but the audio engine tweaks with pitch, level, envelopes and fx. But more on that in a bit.
There are also Density, syncopation, and symmetry dials, that respond as the titles suggest by altering the amount of hits in the sequence, and how off-beat they are.
Once you’ve found something you like, you can save it as a preset groove that links with that particular source audio, so it will always load up when you load that audio. Very cool to link the groove preset with the audio. You can save up to 6 totally different grooves and sounds for each source audio file.
There’s another page on the GUI, that will be familiar to those who already have XLN XO – the Edit page opens up a more detailed sequencer, where you can tweak with a lot more depth. You can manually change the selected slices by dragging them from the source audio waveform at the top of the GUI, into one of the 4 lanes. (you can use 8 slices total, spread across the lanes)
You can then add the slices in the XOX style sequencer, with velocity control for each step. You can nudge the whole lane, to get some serious groove.
There are also envelope controls for each lane, pitch, pan, tone, volume, basic EQ cutoffs, mute and solo. The entire kit has another level and pitch control. There are some basic FX – a reverb and delay bus that you can send to from each lane, or from the kit entire. There’s also a master saturation/crunch fx.
On top of the 4 sequenced slice lanes, XLN have added a simple ‘kicktronome’ bass drum lane, with a very simple sequencer, and several kick drum samples to choose from. There are no shaping processes available for this channel. I think the title of the channel suggests that it’s more of a grounding channel, than something that is essential to the creation of the groove.
Once you have the grooves and sounds you want, the export functionality on LIFE is excellent. You can choose to export the processed slices, the stems of each lane, the entire track, or the raw files and slices. You can normalise everything separately, or relatively to each other, in case you’ve spent a long time on the levels to get the groove. I was very impressed with this.
Is XLN Audio LIFE Worth Its Price?
LIFE costs €149 (or approx. the equivalent in $/£) from the developer’s website and other websites like PluginBoutique. The mobile app is free. The Life Field Recorder will work on any device that supports iOS 15.4 or later or Android 7.0 or later.
It’s worth mentioning that all Life recordings and beats are stored in your xlnaudio.com account using cloud storage. Cloud storage for user audio and preset files is included with the product purchase at no additional cost.
While the €149 price tag may seem high at first glance, LIFE is more than just a plug-in – it also includes a desktop app, mobile apps for iOS and Android, cloud storage, and ongoing development and support from XLN Audio. Given the robust feature set across multiple platforms, I think the pricing is quite reasonable. There is a trial version available on the XLN Audio website.
XLN Audio Life Review – Final Thoughts
XLN Audio Life is an innovative beat generator that truly transforms any sound into unique rhythmic ideas with ease. Its seamless workflow from mobile recording to desktop plug-in streamlines inspiration capture. The software instantly analyzes recordings and generates compelling beats to jumpstart your creativity.
While the grooves and variations it produces out-of-the-box are excellent, I found myself wishing for more flexibility at times. The set patterns and tempos, while high quality, can feel limiting if you want to get more experimental. Adding user customization of pattern lengths or the ability to modulate tempo could allow for more organic, less quantized beats.
That said, within its genre of percussion and rhythmic texture generation, LIFE excels. It’s unparalleled in quickly whipping up fresh, inspiring beats that no sample pack can replicate. The “happy accidents” it generates from field recordings turn the world into your percussion palette.
If you’re seeking instant beat ideas from found sounds, I highly recommend LIFE. It may not replace your core drum production tools, but as a spark for new rhythmic flavors it’s a game-changer. Just be prepared that its procedural nature trades some user control for ease-of-use. Within those constraints LIFE shines, saving producers time while opening new creative possibilities.
You can learn more about LIFE here.
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