Teenage Engineering to ship their OP-Z, a handheld game-like synth

In a sea of synths that embrace retro vibes or big form factors, futurists and minimalist design lovers have eagerly awaited the Teenage Engineering OP-Z. And that wait is nearly over.

The new thing from Sweden now at last starts preorders now, with a ship date in mid October. The first batch are already gone, but at least we know these things are making their way into the world.

It’ll even come with a cute case bundle. (Cables and grippy knobs sold separately.)

There’s even an atypical apology from the Teenagers:

– let us start by apologizing for the long delay.* to develop new products can at times be quite hard and when you work on things that have never been done before,

it’s even harder. over the last year we have re-worked and re-thought in absurdum, but now when three long years of development have finally come to an end, we feel quite confident that you will actually thank us for that extra long wait. why? you might ask…– because the result is just pretty, pretty great.

Hands-on sessions at Moscow’s Synthposium – the surprise in-event this year for synth lovers – in fact confirmed the pretty-greatness of the OP-Z.

So instead of Stockholm, we got the really proper view of the OP-Z in the Russian capital, as documented here. The “Z” stands for “depth”:

And that’s also how Cuckoo, YouTube personality, suddenly shows up on Russian Music Mag’s channel and not only his own:

The jumbo candybar form factor of this synth recalls the Teenagers’ other flagship, the OP-1. But it’s safer to say that the OP-Z brings together a lot of what the design shop have been about over the years. There’s the lineage from the machinedrum and the early Elektron days, and its emphasis on design, rectangular corners, minimal controls, and grooves embedded into hardware. There’s the reduced calculator-style layout and key controls as we saw on the Pocket Operators. You have the unmistakable design aesthetics, introduced on the OP-1 but continually improved with collaborations with the likes of IKEA. So the OP-Z looks more stylish and design-conscious than anything else on the market.

But that’s not nearly as important I think as the way Teenage Engineering have increasingly mixed gaming metaphors, particularly from the Nintendo legacy, with music.

The OP-Z looks like a portable gaming console, and one that’s simultaneously both futuristic and kind of 1980s. (It’s a future for people who spent part of their past in the 80s.)

It plugs into a bigger display, in a throwback to old consoles and PCs.

And it suggests that an electronic musical instrument is a game and a tool at the same time.

The best way to follow how it works is to catch up with some of the best hands-on videos coming out of the YouTubers who were seeded beta units. Tutorial:

Jam session:

Do you speak German? Do you speak English but prefer the way synthesizer talk sounds in German? (Really, sounds way more … intelligent, somehow.)

The visual possibilities, meanwhile, are captured more clearly in Japan, and … those features sound better in Japanese, I think.

And here’s Cuckoo playing the thing live:

Check out the preorder:

https://teenage.engineering/products/op-z/pre-order

Or in person, Teenage Engineering is showing this and their other recent stuff in King’s Cross London:

https://teenage.engineering/now

https://teenage.engineering/

* Side note: once upon a time, I projected a graph of awesomeness vs. shippingness, specifically regarding the OP-1. Seems it’s still a curve you have to fight – but it can be defeated even with awesome stuff.

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A favorite sequencer gets more dimension: new Make Noise René

Forget about gear fetish: the delightful surprise behind the modular movement is that a whole bunch of people are interested in exploring weird new musical ideas. And one of the sequencer modules at the heart of it is getting a big refresh.

The René module wouldn’t strike anyone as something that’d turn into a big hit. This is an esoteric little device: a grid of touchplates and a bunch of knobs, which you then spaghetti-wire into other modules to make, uh, odd patterns.

But making weird patterns you can then shift around – well, that’s a lot of fun. And René liberated modular rigs from one of their major weaknesses: too often, people were stuck with rigid step sequencers that produced overly repetitive loops that would drive you insane. Basically, the “Cartesian” bit is, instead of having a line (those marching steps), you get a grid (x + Y).

So, here comes the René refresh. This is three-dimensional chess to the original model’s checkers.

The new model is three channels instead of one, three dimensional sequencing instead of two, and boasts expanded memory so you can save up to 64 states – no more long modular performances that sound great for the first three minutes and then … sort of exactly like that for the next hour, too.

This “three-axis” business is maybe a little exaggerated, but basically what you get is z-axis touch sensitivity, so added expression. Combine that with three channels of output, though, and you can in fact route a lot more control from this one module than before. And no doubt the additional memory will be useful in performance.

Here’s the full feature set:

  • 3 CV outputs for controlling pitch or timbre
  • 3 Gate outputs for generating musical events
  • Snake and Cartesian patterns available simultaneously
  • STORE all Programming in one of 64 STATEs.
  • New Z-Axis allows for modulating through any combination of 64 STOREd STATEs
  • All programming done real-time, programming of René is a key performance element
  • Visualization of pattern activity always displayed on left half with 16 illuminated Knobs
  • Visual indication of Programming always displayed on right half with 16 illuminated touch buttons
  • Communicates w/ TEMPI via Select Bus to Select, Store, Revert, Multi-Paste and MESH STATEs
  • Maximum amount of artist controlled musical variation, derived from minimum amount of analog data input
  • All new touch sensing technology tested successfully on the most commonly used euro rack power solutions

Of course, since the René first came out, it’s gotten a lot more competition. So it could be fun to see how this stacks up against other modular (and desktop, or software, even) sequencers.

René is available to preorder for US$525.

http://makenoisemusic.com/modules/rene

Since that’s my monthly rent, it’s worth saying Eurorack is still pricey relative to some lower-cost desktop hardware, to say nothing of computers. Clever software patching is great if you’re broke, or if you’ve a little scratch, something like Five12 Numerology.

But that said, this no doubt will go high on people’s shopping lists in the modular world – and it’s an impressive piece of work. Look forward to seeing more.

Oh yeah – there’s a GIF, too.

via GIPHY

https://gph.is/2CTzLbq

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UA unveils a maxed-out Thunderbolt 3 Apollo – and it’ll monitor surround sound

Universal Audio’s Apollo flagship audio interface and DSP platform is getting a big generational refresh and Thunderbolt 3. There’s a lot here, but maybe the most significant development is that 5.1 and 7.1 surround monitoring support is coming later this year.

It’s the Apollo X line for Mac and Windows – the x6, x8, x8p, and x16, all with Thunderbolt 3 connections to the computer and loads of I/O.

“UA’s hardware are just dongles for their plug-ins” – yeah, I hear that a lot. But the Apollo line was from the beginning the hardware that changed that. It said to users, hey, what if that add-on was also one of the best audio interfaces you can buy, even before adding in the DSP benefits. And then, over time, we’ve seen UA bake in greater functionality using that DSP horsepower.

The new Apollo really speaks to the high end of the market. These are the people who do depend on the reliability of the DSP hardware – because native processing, while enormously powerful, lacks the same predictability. (That’s a nice way of saying your CPU will suddenly peg and make a horrible glitching noise out of your sound.) That’s good to have anywhere, but especially in production environments in studios, in TV and video and games, in live tracking. A “studio” isn’t what it once was, to be sure, but then that’s also been the advantage of UA’s mobile interfaces. This is still about those situations where time is money and quality is everything, even if that use case may or may not be a studio per se.

Nicely enough, UA has managed to price out these systems for that full range, from the entry-level model at two grand (in reach of at least some serious independent producers) up to a maxed-out $3499 model.

In the process, we also see UA’s move from its more iterative, provisional approach of the past to a top-to-bottom hardware upgrade and greater software integration we get now. Having been on the UA train for a while, their stuff is just way more useful and way more reliable and easier to configure than when it started.

So here’s what you get:

All new A/D and D/A conversion which UA claims now best the industry for dynamic range and low signal-to-noise.
More DSP. 6-core processing boosts DSP by 50% over the past generation.
Mic preamp emulations. So, here’s another reason to run dedicated DSP – you can track through integrated preamp emulations of Neve, API, Manley, Fender, and more, saving money and space and adding flexibility in the studio, and then letting you take that studio rig on the road in a way that was previously impossible.
Surround formats up to 7.1, with speaker calibration and fold-down.

The surround thing is coming quarter 4, and obviously makes this way more appealing to exactly the sort of production environments likely to be attracted to UA in the first place.

There’s also various nice little touches: a built-in talkback mic and cue support, +24/+20 switchable operation, and a nice software bundle which interestingly now includes Marshall and Ampeg models. (I’m guessing that’s part of this focus on producers.)

The various models:

Apollo | x16 — US$3,499
133 dB dynamic range, THD+N -129 dB, 18 x 20 interface.

Apollo | x8p — $2,999
8 Unison-ready mic preamps, 129 dB dynamic range, switchable +24 dBu headroom settings, 18 x 22

Apollo | x8 — $2,499
Like the above but 4 Unison mic pres, 18×24.

Apollo | x6 — $1,999
The “producer one” – 2 Unison mic pres and Hi-Z ins, still surround support up to 5.1 (the others do 7.1), and 16×22 I/O.

The full range looks like a winner to me; I think we will see a lot of these show up in the studios, mix rooms, post facilities, and a lot of producer rigs, as UA promises.

There just isn’t anyone else doing this kind of platform. (The closest, Softube’s Console 1, in fact works perfectly with the UAD so it’s less a rival than a part of the same ecosystem.) It’s not going to be for everyone, but it does continue to look better for the people it’s for.

https://www.uaudio.com/apollo-x

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NI’s moving haptic wheels could change digital DJing: the new S4

DJing techniques are all built around moving turntables – around record players. The biggest news from Native Instruments today is that the company is finally bringing that tactile, kinetic experience to a digital controller you might actually go and buy. Meet the TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 MK3.

In the beginning, of course, there were turntables. And even though a digital file has nothing to do with a turntable, the gestures born out of the older analog, mechanical technology are tough to beat. Look at it this way: if you needed to represent the playback of a sound, and allow physical control with human hands over speed and time, you might actually arrive at the solution of a big spinning wheel with resistance. (Think about clocks, for instance.)

Native Instruments has had a big role in popularizing digital vinyl control, and later has had some of the most sophisticated jog wheel sensing. But a turntable with control vinyl can be unreliable and impractical, and controllers, no matter how good their sensing, don’t give much in the way of haptic, kinetic feedback. You can push them, but they don’t really push back. So those jog wheels have more in common with controls for video decks than they do audio. And in turn, NI has fallen behind in recent controllers, venturing into a side track (excuse the pun) working with touchpads, which proved even less sensitive and tactile than the wheels they replaced.

The solution: make something that moves, that responds the way a real-world object would in terms of resistance and gesture, and map it intelligently to software. It’s a haptic, digital wheel. You get advantages over the mechanical-analog solution, too: greater reliability, flexibility (you can adjust how it behaves interactively), lighter weight, and lower cost. Plugging real turntables into computers is novel and interesting, but it’s still impractical, like plugging old telephone switchboards …. oh, wait. Uh… sorry, forget the metaphor, as everyone is into Eurorack which is exactly using old telephone switchboards.

Let me start over: these wheels feel great, and for digital DJs, finally allow the kind of feedback that make digital fun to play.

No matter how much you love vinyl, being able to DJ with digital files matters. Pressing vinyl carries some cost in time and money, and translates into unsold inventory for lower-demand items. Digital DJing is important because it allows independent underground labels with small budgets to put out music and let DJs play it. And it’s essential for times when you can’t carry record bags. What’s exciting about the new S4 is, it finally makes digital DJing start to feel less like a compromise.

NI aren’t alone in going this direction. DENON have their own standalone player, the Denon DJ SC5000M. Like the S4, it’s motorized and gives tangible feedback. How does it compare? I have no idea, as I haven’t tried one in person, though you should absolutely go check out the extensive story on DJWORX:

EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK: Motorised Denon DJ SC5000M Prime

If anything has a chance of unseating Pioneer’s ubiquity in booths, it’s a rival maker replacing lifeless wheels with moving ones – assuming Pioneer don’t quickly respond with a CDJ-3000NXSmove or whatever they want to call it.

But as for independent DJs, here’s the thing: that Denon deck costs US$1899 per deck. So your rig will cost around 4 grand even before you add a mixer.

The S4 MKIII by comparison will be available in November for USD/EUR 899 for the entire package. So that’s within reach of the an aspiring DJ.

NI let the press get our hands on the new S4. And in just a few minutes of playing with it, I was already hooked.

Here’s what you get with those “high-torque” motorized jog wheels:

Three modes of haptic feedback: jog, turntable-modeling operation (vinyl-style beatmatching), and “beatgrid adjust” (something new and specifically digital – you can actually feel simulated bumps where your grid is located)

Visual feedback. The RGB light rings around the wheels aren’t just for show: they provide additional visual feedback, and it looks like they’ll be adjustable/configurable (or you may even be able to switch them off if you want).

High-res displays: waveform strip, track title, loop length and activation, key, BPM, plus Stem and Remix Decks. You don’t get touchscreens this time round – though you’d be pretty greedy to ask for them with those two wheels, of course. But the displays, like those we’ve seen on Maschine, are really nice and information-rich.

STEMS and Remix Decks: Oh yeah – love them or hate them, the two signature TRAKTOR features are back, and benefit from those great screens. STEMS remains a compelling idea, and it seems while its obvious application for tracks with vocals hasn’t caught on, it has a niche following in some techno circles. Remix Decks remain a clever way of loading up samples and extras.

Built-in audio interface, multiple inputs: Oh yeah, remember how I complained yesterday that the new Pioneer XDJ-RR has only one stereo input? This has inputs on each channel. So you can add vinyl or other machines and add in records or play hybrid sets. There are multiple microphone inputs, too.

Faders that are dirt and particle-resistant. All-new “Carbon Protect” faders are inverted carbon strips that help keep foreign substances from gumming up your faders. Nice.

A new TRAKTOR. The other important story here is that TRAKTOR itself gets a major updated – the long-anticipated TRAKTOR 3. And there’s lots of good stuff there, which I’ll cover separately.

So, for around a grand now, you have two new “intermediate” options for DJs that look really promising. There’s Pioneer, with their Rekordbox-ready standalone all-in-one – upside, no computer and full compatibility with CDJs, downside, not really a mixer. Or there’s NI, with their TRAKTOR S4 MKIII solution, adding a new kinetic experience and mixing capability while actually coming in at a lower cost than previous flagships. Requires a computer, yes but … can also do a bit more. And the wheels move.

The question to me is, is the S4 MKIII good enough that you’ll want to lug it to gigs. Because then Reakordbox compatibility ceases to matter, and you show up with something different. Stay tuned for a hands-on.

Here’s proof meanwhile I did get on the prototype, complete with Chinese factory stickers:

Yesterday’s entry from Pioneer:

Pioneer’s latest DJ all-in-one wants to help you get ready for clubs

Last major TRAKTOR news was way back in fall 2016 – so TRAKTOR 3 is very welcome:

Traktor 2.11 is here, and a bunch of stuff now works together

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Pioneer’s latest DJ all-in-one wants to help you get ready for clubs

The modern CDJ – and resurgent vinyl – have won over the DJ market in many genres and corners of the world. But that leaves a problem: it’s expensive to duplicate this setup and home. Pioneer’s latest all-in-one promises to be more reliable, and closer to the club experience.

It’s bad news for the likes of Serato and Native Instruments, as well as for would-be rival players like Denon, but Pioneer have done a pretty impressive job of entrenching themselves in the club. And once you get to the venue, you see the reason: it’s way easier to show up with a couple of USB sticks than an entire computer and controller rig, and far easier to start playing when those decks are already plugged in. No solution, including the CDJ, is 100% reliable – I know some DJs carrying CDJ firmware on USB as well as previously-tested Rekordbox backups for good measure, which is smart advice. But CDJs have far fewer reliability problems than computer/OS combinations, clearly.

It’s really outside well-equipped clubs where there’s a gap to fill. And Pioneer have been aggressively positioning themselves for everyone in those scenarios, too. That includes their growing range of Rekordbox controllers, which have the advantage of doubling as prep tools – star tracks, make playlists, and you’ll have all that history on your USB sticks when you go to the club. And these controllers are also (finally) following the layout of the CDJ more closely.

But maybe you don’t want to play a controller at home or in the studio. Practicing delicate beat matching or more advanced looping techniques might leave you wanting a couple of CDJs. And even in the used market, these things are damned expensive. The same price point that makes sense for a club with a liquor license is enough to break the hearts of cash-strapped DJs. I’ve seen DJs advise using older CDJs but… these to me are just a waste of money, as they’re generally no fun to use; Pioneer’s later decks are the ones with wheels and functionality that you want (especially if manual beat matching and extra performance technique is the whole point of the investment).

The budget solution is obviously an all-in-one standalone deck. We’ve just been waiting for Pioneer to get it right – and the XDJ-RR might be it.

Just as the company did with its decks, Pioneer keeps iterating in the all-in-one category. So they’ve had portable units like the Aero that were a bit too far from the real decks. Or, they’ve had hardware like the XDJ-RX2 which came closer to a two-CDJ-and-mixer configuration, but were priced out of budget for a lot of people. (The RX2 hit US$1699 street

It’s not quite mobile, but it is reasonably luggable – just over 11 lbs / 5.2 kg, and even with a case available. That could be a solution for DIY events, especially given CDJ rental costs.

So that sounds like a solution to me. You can invest in this, carryit to venues that don’t have new CDJs, and practice and make mixes while still playing CDJs when you DJ out. (That’s actually even more important to those of us who play live sets, because there’s just no way we’re carrying a performance and a DJ rig around.)

Checking the specs, you also get a nice little set of bells and whistles:

Full-featured decks: 7″ screens, all that USB stick support, standalone operation, nice big wheels – curious to see if these feel the same as an NX2 – if so, I’m completely sold.

Effects: Dub echo, pitch, noise, filter “Sound Color FX” plus echo, reverb, flanger “Beat FX.”

NXS2-style performance features: Beat loop, auto beat loop, slip loop, beat sync, quantize

Mic input

Two USB ports for easy DJ changeovers with computers

Two headphone outs (plus the usual XLR and RCA masters)

There are still lots of reasons you might opt for an actual mixer, though. Unlike even some of the computer solutions from Native Instruments and others, this isn’t really a mixer – there’s just 1 aux RCA input. So you can’t add turntables, which is a pretty major downside for a lot of people (and maybe a reason to just opt for a DJ mixer, computer, and controller at home). I’ll be looking at some of those computer configurations for comparison soon, including Pioneer’s.

You also have the issue of repairs: if anything breaks here, you have to repair the whole all-in-one.

It still feels like someone ought to rethink standalone digital DJ hardware and present some other option. But on the other hand, right now, the XDJ-RR is unquestionably the most cost effective, complete standalone solution for making a two-CDJ deck setup without the actual CDJs.

Pioneer doesn’t always move quickly, but they do move effectively. You’ve got an all-in-one solution that refines functionality, is 40% lighter an even cheaper than the previous model RX2, and starts to focus more clearly on what the market wants.

And yeah, my inclination with my own cash would be to opt for this over one of the DJ controller/mixer options around the same $1k price.

I just wish they’d given us two inputs. That’s a bit… painful. I’ll try to get an RR in for review, as I think this is becoming an increasingly invaluable tool for anyone making clubs or dance music part of their musical life.

More:

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en/product/all-in-one-system/xdj-rr/black/overview/

Previously:

Pioneer’s $250 DDJ-400 will appeal to DIYers, iOS users, too

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touchAble Pro for Ableton Live: touch control on iOS, Android, Windows

touchAble was already the benchmark app for controlling Ableton Live from an iPad. Now touchAble Pro has been recoded from the ground up with new features like custom layouts and waveform views – and it supports iOS, Android, and Windows touch, too.

Berlin developers Zerodebug are announcing a beta today for their new app, touchAble Pro. And so we get a first look at what they’ve been up to. The software sports a new, cleaner UI, but also comes a lot closer to being Ableton Live with complete touch support – or at least as close as you can get with the APIs Ableton make available.

You can edit patterns with an overhauled piano roll view, and audio clips using a waveform display.

There are new layouts, letting you view modules side by side or fullscreen.

You can draw in or edit automation inside clips.

It’s really starting to look like the touch app Ableton forgot, complete with full device support (including those pretty new Live 10 graphics), and even little details like being able to access I/O setting on channels right inside the app.

Plus, you can customize exactly the layout you need, which means touchAble shines for live performance. Years ago, I caught the early live show by Glitch Mob, all on original JazzMutant Lemur hardware (that is, before the iPad was released). They were able to make giant buttons so they could trigger stuff in Live without distracting from a live drum routine. You can do that with this if you want – or any number of other layouts. Need specific clip triggers, huge? Want a particular mixer or clip launch layout? Draw it right on the device.

Watch:

The limitations of touchAble really come down to limitations of Ableton Live itself – connectivity with external devices, Live’s archaic scripting installation, and restrictions on the API. touchAble Pro is a good demonstration of why it’d be great to see Ableton add a complete API for their Arrangement View, in particular – even if that doesn’t make sense on their own Push hardware. But that said, this works. (I can’t evaluate final stability, because I’ve only had a pre-beta build, but it’s definitely promising.)

Initial pricing: US$29.99.

http://touch-able.com

That’s actually touchAble Pro running on Windows – giant touchscreen, go!

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Arturia DrumBrute Impact: smaller size, bigger sound, $349

Talk about less is more. The Arturia DrumBrute impact is sure to be a hit at US$349 for a packed analog drum machine – but its newfound focus and re-built sounds also make it more fun to play.

Fitting a drum machine into a smaller size and cutting the price this low does mean taking some things out. But it’s what’s left in that may make people find the DrumBrute Impact appealing.

Arturia has been trying their hand at drum machines for a while. It began on the software side, with the Spark series, but the workflow and functionality of that line never seemed to grab users quite like with Native Instruments’ Maschine or Ableton Live combined with Push, to say nothing of people who want to get away from the computer and use some hardware. The DrumBrute was promising, packing some novel analog sound circuitry together with workflow features from Spark and BeatStep Pro, but its sound felt like a work in progress. (Case in point: my studio neighbor has one and loves it, but he mutes the kick and replaces it with something else. Making drum machines is hard.)

So, that’s the surprise of DrumBrute Impact. The “impact” which I thought was just smart marketing for it being small and cheap actually is a clue to the fact that the Impact has all new circuitry inside. It’s the Arturia brain here, but the soul has been upgraded.

Finally, Arturia have made something that doesn’t just feel like another Roland TR drum machine. And that’s good, because much as I love the TR, having only that color is a bit like having a Wurlitzer but no Rhodes. But simultaneously, it also sounds like a new set of sounds you want to use, without requiring you to invest a huge amount of money in those sounds.

The result: this thing hits really hard. That matters. We’re humans. We like things that go thud. We can feel it. This isn’t theory; it’s visceral.

The sound engine:

You get a full complement of parts, each analog and with controllable parts. “Analog” remains something of a marketing hook, but the important thing about these parts is you get a set of sounds you can manipulate directly. That means:

KICK: pitch and decay
SNARE 1: snap and decay.
SNARE 2: tone and decay.
TOM: pitch, switch between high/low.
CYMBAL: decay.
COWBELL
CLOSED HAT: tone
OPEN HAT: decay (mute linked to the open hat)
FM DRUM: carrier pitch, decay, FM amount, and mod pitch.

I’ll work on some videos and music in the coming days. Drum machines are all about taste, so you may differ, but I liked each one of these sounds – which is really hard to get on a new machine. (The TR has a huge advantage based on familiarity, too. None of us can really say what we’d think of it if someone brainwiped us and we hadn’t heard any the music made with Rolands over the years.)

More importantly, you get a huge range as you twist the encoders on these, with a sense of power across that range rather than that usual feeling of … okay, this is the sweet spot and the rest is shite.

Snare 2, for instance, can sound like a rimshot or a clap, even, depending on where you adjust it, and lots of things in between. Tom Low easily doubles as a kick with a darker color. The cowbell is an exception, but it’s a nice grown-up homage to Roland.

It’s really the FM voice that’s the big winner, though. And it’s clear you could not only cook up some unexpected percussion with it, but also hack it into a usable, potentially weird if you want, FM bass synth.

Features:

If you want lots of I/O, well… come on, this thing is $349. But you still do manage a mono mix out, four separate outs for parts, and dedicated clock in/out, MIDI in/out, and USB.

Arturia could have made this a fairly dumb box that’s just a sound engine, but they crammed a whole lot of powerful features for playing into it, as you might expect from some of their past outings. So you get:

Step sequencing with 64 patterns (64 steps each)
Song mode for chaining patterns
Polyrhythms (set each track to its own length)
Swing, either global or per-instrument
Random pattern variations
Pattern looper, beat repeat
Real-time rolls (with that touch strip again)
Multiple sync options: Internal / MIDI / Clock, including 1PPS, 2PPQ, DIN24, and DIN48
Per-drum accents

There’s even a metronome that automatically overrides itself on the main out when you plug in headphones.

You don’t have easy MPC-style note repeat, which I personally prefer to those touch rolls, and the drum pads are basic (though you get one for each part, unlike the more expensive Roland TR-8S). Other than that, it’s hard to complain.

One surprise is the distortion circuit. It’s nice, and adds some dirt, but I almost expected something raunchier. Anyway, it’s useful to have, and you can always run those outs through some distortion pedals and really go nuts. I did run it through some light effects and delays, and it sounds unreal.

I mean, what’s to say? This thing is going to sell like crazy. $349 / 299 €. Preorder now, full availability in August.

It’s turning out to be quite a summer for hardware drum machines, with the ongoing success of the Elektrons (and some updates), the breakout hit Roland TR-8S, the coming boutique MFB TanzBar II, and now this as your cost-effective choice. If you’re still failing to play drum machines live or writing dull drum parts, you have no excuse.

https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/drumbrute-impact/overview

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Modal goes from craft and boutique to sub-$300 SKULPT power synth

Modal Electronics have done ultra high-end boutique, and they’ve done cute, cheap craft synths. But now they’re gunning for a sub-$300 instrument that looks consumer-friendly – and packs some 32 oscillators and more.

If it’s successful, it looks like the first portable power polysynth that has an entry-level price tag – no exposed circuit boards, no cutesy features, no stripped-down sound sources. And it also has some parallels to IK Multimedia’s UNO, introduced at Superbooth Berlin in May. It even has a membrane keyboard like the IK piece. But whereas IK chose to go analog – and thus have just two VCOs – Modal have beefed up the architecture with by opting instead for virtual analog guts.

What you get, then, is a monosynth, paraphonic, or polyphonic instrument. You can route modulation into elaborate combinations. You get FM, PWM, tuning, and ring mod. And it has a built-in sequencer plus arpeggiator, which seems to be fast becoming a standard feature these days – but a lot of extras for each that definitely are anything but standard.

And with all that complexity, of course you’ll also be glad for the included patch storage and recall.

But it’s the pricing – projected under US$300 – that make this so aggressive. You can buy an iPad and load it with a powerful polysynth for that price, but there’s not anything I can think of that does this.

Full specs:

4 voice – 32 oscillator virtual analogue synthesiser
8 oscillators per voice with 2 selectable morphable waveforms
Mixer stage for osc levels along with FM, PWM, tuning and Ring Modulation options
Monophonic, Duophonic and Polyphonic modes available
Multi option Unison / spread to detune the 32 oscillators for a huge sound
8 slot modulation matrix with 8 sources and 37 destinations
3 x envelope generators for Filter, Amplitude and Modulation
2 x audio rate LFOs, one global and one polyphonic
Realtime sequencer that will record up to 128 notes and up to 4 parameters.
Fully featured arpeggiator with division, direction, octave, swing and sustain controls.
Resonant filter that can be morphed from low pass, through band pass, to high pass
Delay and distortion (wavehsaping overdrive, not bitcrushing) effects
Optional MIDI clock sync for LFOs and Delay
128 patch and 64 sequence storage locations
16 key touch MIDI keyboard
MIDI DIN In and Out – Analogue clock sync In and Out connections
Class compliant MIDI provided over USB connection to host computer or tablet
Headphone and line output
Power by USB or 6 x AA batteries
Optional software editor available for MacOS, Windows, IOS and Android
Portable and compact design

The design looks contemporary and stylish, too, if perhaps recalling 80s Frogdesign for Apple. And you might expect some compromises on I/O or something like that, but … there aren’t.

Sounds:

I’ll be curious to see how it’s received – while slick looking, the membrane keyboard and that diagonally oriented control panel may not be for everyone. But it’s hard to argue with the price and all that power underneath.

It certainly means Modal Electronics are game for any market segment. I can’t think of another maker that’s gone quite this quickly from “sell your compact car to buy our high-end synth” to “actually, maybe just fold it together yourself” to “let’s crowd-fund a slick, inexpensive design object.” (Okay, maybe Moog Music counts – but it took them some years to span from theremin kits to rockstar-priced modular reissues.)

The Kickstarter launches next week.

http://www.modalelectronics.com/skulpt/

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Erica Synths made a modular techno system called Techno System

What if you had all the modules you need to make techno and industrial in one rack? Meet Erica’s line of drum and synth modules. They seem to know their market.

Now, it’s meaningful this is coming from Erica. The Latvian-based company with some ex-Soviet Polivoks lineage has a knack for making simply mental boxes that bring that grimy, dirty industrial sound straight out of the actual post-Communist industrial landscape of Riga. If I had to sum up that user experience, it’d run something like this: turn knob, machine screams.

But that’s saying something. Making wild sounds intuitive is a feat. And Erica have earned their reputation by putting those sounds into boxes that are reliable, easy to understand, and deliver a punch without hitting the high end of the cost spectrum.

Running down these modules, you just have to keep nodding – yes, that’s what I want out of this module, and yes, that’s the sensible way to lay out these controls. I can’t really judge sound quality at a trade show, but the sound was good enough that it actually blew me away over the din of Superbooth, out of some small monitors – and that’s saying a lot. We’ll get to check out Erica’s crew at a club tonight here in Berlin, and this is one I think we’ll need to give a full review.

(Bonus: they’re also coming with the effects collaboration they built with Ninja Tune. I’m keen to see that, as well.)

I also think it’s totally reasonable to build systems around musical applications like techno. Plenty of modular instruments have morphed into particular configurations to make them musically accessible. And then since this is still patchable, you don’t have to make this sound like techno you’ve heard before – you can push that flexible sequencer and patch things together to bend something into your own genre and voice. Or, this being modular, you also have now a big line of components that could fill gaps in whatever setup you choose.

Here’s a look at those modules.

Drum

Sample slicing and triggering, WAV file (even imports CUE points), with assignable CV inputs. Actually, there’s nothing to say this has to be a drum module – it’s also a general-purpose sample slicer/module.

microSD for loading sounds.

Dual drive

Well, here’s your distortion. Three dedicated modes for each side, cascaded in series for extreme distortion. This is really the heart and soul of the Erica Techno System sound, and even if you didn’t get the rest of the line here, this one could be a must.

Dual FX

Built on the Spin FV-1 chip – a custom reverb platform – the dual FX has a set of custom mono and stereo effects from Erica’s in-house musician-madman KODEK.

Bassline

It’s all about the bass – and here, those basslines will be more than a little acidic. Erica’s Acidbox proved how crazy their filters can be. It apparently inspired the filter here – so expect really aggressive, terror-inducing acid.

Specs:

Full analogue circuit
Accent
Suboscillator
BBD-based VCO detune emulation
Built in VCF and VCA decay envelope
LP/BP VCF
External VCO FM and VCF cutoff CV inputs

Of course, what keeps this compact is, the sequencing all falls to the dedicated sequencer unit (or a sequencer module of your choice – Superbooth has had a lot of them).

Toms

Toms can easily be a throwaway, but here there was a lot of attention to detail. Toms has dedicated controls for low, mid, and high, and promises 909-inspired tom sounds. Erica says they built this in collaboration with e-licktronic – that’s the boutique/DIY maker who’s perhaps best known for their Roland clones and custom kits.

Hats

Erica are actually introducing three different hat/cymbal models. There’s an analog module (“A”) with accent and individual CV controls of everything, also made with e-licktronic. There’s a digital sample-based “D.” And there are sample-based cymbals (“Cymbals”).

Mixers

It’s easy to overlook this one. But when you’re actually in the heat of the moment playing live, you need that ability to just reach over, twist a knob, and add in a particular part.

And the Drum Mixer looks just about perfect. It boasts vactrol-based compression to keep everything properly loud and intense without losing clarity, plus a stupidly easy setup for controlling compression and the various parts, with seven inputs and both main and aux outs.

Erica also plan a more compact 6-input “Lite” version of the same, and a 4-channel Stereo Mixer.

Oh yeah, and if you’re not into the black craze, they plan to release everything again in white.

Lastly, the sequencing here comes from the Erica Drum Sequencer. Announced in January, it debuted in March – but now it has some modules to sequence:

Features of that are numerous:
12x Accent outputs

1x CV/GATE track
2xLFO with independent or synced to the BPM frequency
Time signature per track
Pattern length per track
Shuffle per track
Probability per step
Retrigger per step
Instant pattern switching
Solo/Mute tracks
Step/Tap record modes
16 Banks of 16 Patterns
Instant pattern switching
Pattern linking
Midi sync in with start/stop
Track mode
Firmware upgrade via MIDI SySex

More:
http://www.ericasynths.lv/en/home/

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MFB have a killer live drum machine + synth in the hybrid Tanzbär-2

It’s an analog drum machine plus bassline synth. It’s a digital drum machine with sample loading. It’s packed with live features and modulation. The coming MFB box could be … The One.

While big brands have focused on digital machines (or even software/hardware combos), MFB out of Berlin are the little boutique brand who have come out with a steady stream of analog boxes that are nonetheless compact and accessibly priced. And it’s not so much the fact that they have analog circuitry inside them as the fact that they’re different. Those drum timbres will hammer through your music when called upon, just like the Roland classics and whatnot, but they also sound distinctive. And with so much music already made on the well-known machines, different is good.

That said, for all the lovely sounds packed into any of these boxes, they all fell a little short of “must-have” – great-sounding but a bit fiddly and more focused on sound than performance features and sequencing. Then there was the confusing availability of two similar compact boxes, the Tanzmaus and Tanzbär Lite, alongside the Tanzbär flagship which was also … a bit similar to the other two.

Well, forget all that: because even in prototype form, the Tanzbär-2 is a whole new beast. If Roland’s TR-8S and Elektron Digitakt look poised to be the live drum machines for the mainstream, then the MFB might be the best boutique rival.

Or to put it another way – plug this thing in, and you can jam like a crazy person, with bassline and drums all ready to go.

Highlights (there’s no press release so … I’m doing this from memory):

A built-in bass synth that sounds totally brilliant, with internal melodic programming
Analog drum parts, plus digital drum parts (hey, it worked for the 909)
Sample loading, via MIDI dump or over USB, so you can load your own samples
Tons of front panel parameters for hands-on control of both the analog and digital sections’ parts
Dedicated faders for all the parts’ volumes
Two additional parameters for each part (accessed by the screen)
An LFO you can route to absolutely anything
Step sequencer, with per-step parameter automation
Separate outs for each part

And it’s really compact, too – not exactly lightweight (though that’s okay when you’re jamming hard on it), but easily slipped into a bag with a small footprint.

Really the only missing feature is, there aren’t internal effects … but that would complicate the design, and it does have separate outs.

The TB2 is really three instruments in one. There’s a simple analog bassline synth. The analog percussion section houses kicks, toms, congas, and snares. And then a digital section handles hats and additional percussion – or load your own digital samples for more choices. Sounds about perfect.

Faders! Dedicated outs! And it’s all really compact. Those knobs feel great, too, if you had a more fiddly experience with older MFB gear.

There are already a lot of parameters on the front panel, but parts also have additional parameters accessed by the two data knobs, with feedback on this display. (You’ll see some hints as to those features on the silkscreen, too.)

I’m sold. I think the fact that it includes a bassline synth internally is already great. I’ve got lots of questions, but they’re working on finishing this up this summer, so it’ll be better to make a separate trip to MFB after Superbooth. Then we can get some real sound samples without a convention going on behind us, and learn more about the details.

Cost isn’t confirmed, but they’re planning for under a grand (USD/EUR). Given you could pretty much do all your live dance sets on this box alone, that sounds good.

But wait — there’s more! MFB also new modules coming, too. Here’s a sneak peak of that:

More on this soon.

http://mfberlin.de/

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