SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.17 No.3. Jan 2002
Review by Chris Carter
THE ELEKTRON MACHINEDRUM SPS-1 SYNTHETIC PERCUSSION SEQUENCER
Elektron are the Swedish manufacturer of the excellent but under-rated SidStation synth based on the sound chip formerly used in the Commodore 64 home computer (see SOS November 1999 or www.sound-on-sound.com/sos/nov99/articles/sidstation.htm). If you thought that bringing out a synth like the SidStation seemed an odd, even anachronistic move, you'll probably find the company’s new product, the Machinedrum SPS1 drum machine/percussion synth even more out of step with the times. A drum machine, in the 21st century? But Elektron aren’t an ordinary company, and the SPS1 is no ordinary drum machine...
Out Of Time
According to Elektron’s Daniel Hansson, the idea behind the Machinedrum was to incorporate the sounds and features of the most highly regarded drum machines and electronic percussion of the past, such as the Roland TR-series, Simmons kits, the LinnDrum and Emu SP1200, and to include the popular rhythm grid/Pattern and Song programming arrangement so beloved of ‘80s drum and sequence programmers, whilst bringing the overall feature-set up to 2001 standard ÷ so there’s a comprehensive MIDI spec and plenty of modulation potential and real-time control (and controllers).
Of course, Elektron aren’t the first company to produce a Îsound-alike’ drum machine and samples of classics are available everywhere. But a sample, no matter how good, is a poor substitute for many rhythm aficionados. As a result, although the Machinedrum does feature sampled drums, it also has three other main means of sound generation: FM synthesis, modelled analogue percussion synthesis on classic TR-series Roland lines, and physical models of real drums and percussion. Now that’s what I call a percussion synth.
Before you head for your local music shop, credit card at the ready, I should point out two things: the Elektron Machinedrum is a professional piece of kit from a small manufacturer, and consequently has a decidedly pro price tag (about 850 pounds at the current exchange rate); and it’s currently only available directly from Elektron themselves via their excellent web site. If you’re still interested, read on.
Unless you’ve already jumped to the end of this review and before we get into details and specifications, I should tell you the Elektron Machinedrum is a professional piece of kit, with a decidedly pro price tag and is currently only available directly from the manufacturer via their web site. If you are cool with these facts then read for the full story.
THIS MACHINE KILLS
Elektron are boldly touting the Machinedrum as ‘the most sophisticated drum machine EVER’. Well, running down the SPS-1 specification list I have a feeling they may be right. This machine has an outstanding feature set and for the full specification see the box elsewhere in this review but in the meantime here is a relatively brief outline of what it has to offer:
16 Track Percussion Sequencer.
128 User patterns
64 User Programmable Kits.
32 User Songs.
4 x MD Synthesisers.
39 Individual MD Machines.
5 Effects per track (x16)
4 Stereo Master Effects
Full Realtime control and MIDI support.
Multiple audio outputs.
Simply put the SPS-1 drum machine consists of three main programmable elements - a percussion synthesiser, a percussion sequencer and an effects system.
The SPS-1 is superbly constructed using a Swedish steel casing (naturally) and a heavy duty brushed aluminium front panel. Looking at photos of it and considering its feature rich spec it is a surprisingly compact unit in the flesh. But even at only 340 x 176 x 68 mm (including knob depth) it still manages to weigh in at a fairly hefty 3 kg, not including its power supply.
On power-up its most striking feature is the large bright red LCD display (128 x 64 pixels). The display is essential for carrying out almost all operational functions from selecting songs, patterns and tempo adjustments to full blown sound editing, pattern programming and MIDI settings.
As tradition dictates the control panel layout closely follows standard 16 step drum machine conventions. The large continuous data wheel, knobs, buttons and LED indicators are all logically laid out and it is relatively easy to understand what is going on once you’ve accustomed yourself with the Machinedrum's operational workings and foibles.
Good use is made of LEDs including one above each of the 16 pads to show rhythm pattern activity, and also mirrored in another group of 16 (also the Sound Selection indicators) directly above the large data wheel. This second bank of LEDs also indicate, by changing to an on (non-flashing) state which of the current percussion voices is being edited in the main LCD window. Apart from selecting which of the current percussion 16 sounds is being edited the large data wheel is only used for occasionally adjusting global parameters such as Tempo (30-300 bpm), Accent, Swing and Machine selection in kit edit mode.
A Master Volume control and Track Level control do exactly what they say and other parameter adjustments and tweaks are carried out using a bank of 8 Data Entry knobs. These controllers are used exclusively when editing via the LCD screen and take on different functions depending on the mode and screen displayed. Most of the front panel knobs and buttons can also be used to control other external MIDI equipment and conversely the majority of internal parameters (currently 384) are adjustable via MIDI.
Not only are the Data Entry knobs used on the Machinedrum continuously adjustable types they also incorporate a useful, and I think a fairly unique, temporary push switch function. If you push down on a knob while rotating it the data values are accelerated and change at a much faster rate.
Navigation when editing via the LCD is by four dedicated arrowed buttons (an inverted ‘T’ arrangement) directly under the display. There are also a pair of Enter/Yes and Exit/No keys to round this much used section off. Transport controls consist of RECORD, PLAY and STOP (they also double as Copy, Clear and Paste functions when used with patterns and songs etc.). Pattern and Song playback is paused using the Play key or reset to the beginning when Stop is hit. There are no dedicated fast forward or backward transport controls and if you wish to start a song from a position other than the beginning or you want to jump to a new song position you need to enter Edit mode while the song is playing. You can then use the navigation arrow keys to move up and down the song pattern list. Unfortunately it’s a slightly messy solution to what should be a relatively straightforward procedure.
The 5 button section marked Pattern Selection is used for selecting the 8 pattern banks (128 patterns) and also for activating track MUTE, ACCENT, SWING and SLIDE functions, more on these features later. The majority of the panel keys operate as dual function buttons.
The rear of the Machinedrum is as well kitted out with audio jack sockets for Headphones, Main Right-A, Main Left-B, Out-C, Out-D, Out-E, Out-F, Input-A, Input-B and MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets. Also here are the ON/OFF switch and a 6v-AC PSU input socket. But why oh why couldn't it be a regular 9v DC socket ?
My feelings on AC to AC power supplies are pretty well documented, I HATE THEM ! I don’t want to go over old ground but believe me if you are in the middle of a tour and you break or loose an AC to AC wall wart apart from begging, borrowing, or stealing one you have about as much chance of finding a suitable replacement at the local electrical store as a finding a nun at a Marilyn Manson gig.
THE MACHINES ARE COMING
The basic percussion building blocks used in the SPS-1 are called MD-Synths, of which there are four types: the TRX, EFM, E12 and PI . The MD-Synths are available to the user as various percussion Kits each containing 16 sounds called Machines. Depending on the Kit selected the range of Machines available covers numerous variations of all the usual drum machine sounds and percussion instruments including BD, SD, Toms, Claps, Cymbals and so on. In addition to the standard run of the mill sounds many metallic and synth like sounds have also been included.
The TRX kit is ‘inspired by classic analogue Roland TR-series drum machine synthesis’. However, these recreations have extended controls not found on the original machines.
The BD, for instance, has parameters for PITCH, DECAY, RAMP (ramps the pitch), RDEC (speed of pitch ramp), START (harder-softer), NOISE, HARMONICS and CLIP (distortion). Whereas the SD has parameters for PITCH, DECAY, BUMP (pitch shift at start), BENV (bump envelope), SNAP, TONE, TUNE (de-tunes the oscillators) and CLIP (distortion). Of the 12 TRX Machines available (BD, SD, Tom, Clap, Rim shot , Cowbell, C-hihat, O-hihat, Cymbal, Maracas, Claves, Congas) all have various extended parameters. Up to 8 variables are available in some cases and all the Machines are quite capable of sounding just like an original TR drum machine with booming smooth bass drums, tight snappy snares and authentic sounding (and totally unrealistic) Roland cowbells. Or if it takes your fancy like nothing on earth.
Next up is the EFM kit. These are based around FM algorithms or ‘Enhanced Feedback Modulation’ according to the Elektron manual. Once again these percussion voices cover the usual fare of BD, SD, Tom, HH etc. although in this case only 8 different Machines are available. The (numerous) adjustable parameters for the EFM Machines are subtly different too, with more emphasis on filtering and pitch modulation for many of them, including: MFRQ (LFO speed), MOD (modulation depth), MDEC (modulation decay) and HPF (high pass filtering).
The preset kits are relatively laid back considering what these Machines are capable of with a little tweaking. In fact the instruction manual states: ‘The generated (EFM) sound ranges from realistic acoustic drums to wild, chaotic effects’. All true and great fun too, as you can treat each individual EFM Machine as a mini programmable FM synth and conjure up the most outrageous sounding rhythm patterns. Think Kraftwerk on LSD.
The E12 kit is all sample based and the sixteen Machines available encompass everything from BD, SD and Tambourine to Shaker, Triangle and something called BongoCongo. Unlike the other kits most of the E12 adjustable parameters are much the same from Machine to Machine, but with each containing a different sample. All have PITCH, DECAY, STRT, RETRG, RTIM and BEND variables and most have a high pass filter (with resonance).
Retrigger is an interesting function that doesn’t appear in the other MD-Synths. It retriggers the sample at an adjustable rate, from just one trigger for each step event to continuously retriggering. But usefully it also allows you to vary the time between each trigger using the RTIM parameter. At the maximum RTIM setting the Retrigger feature functions normally with all retriggering locked to the SPS-1 BPM, however, decreasing the RTIM setting closes up the gaps between triggers until at the minimum settings the effect becomes so fast that it is now acting as a kind of modulation LFO. This allows for some unusual discordant cross-modulation and ring modulator like percussion sounds and if used with the high pass filter and bend options the samples take on a completely new life.
The P-I kit is described as ‘Physically informed MD-Synths which simulate the behaviour of acoustic drums’... or physical modelling to you and me. There are six P-I Machines: PI-BD, PI-SD, PI-XT (Tom), PI-RS, PI-ML (also called Metallica) and PI-MA (Maracas) and each has between 4 and 7 parameters depending on the Machine. All the machines have a DEC (decay) and HARD setting and all except P-I MA have PITCH. Most of the remaining Machines also include various adjustments such as: tension, dampening, ringing, grain, rattle, tune and size.
Playing the Machinedrum with a Roland Octapad (and even with my limited rhythmic skills) I was able to get a custom P-I kit I’d put together pretty quickly sounding highly expressive. I imagine a ‘real’ percussionist would get even more impressive results.
Although the P-I kit may not include the same wide range of Machines as the other kits, or as many variable parameters per Machine, it is nevertheless a very versatile ‘building block’ and is capable of some outstanding percussion sounds, real and invented. It includes some first class, authentic sounding percussion voices which in many ways come across as more realistic than the sample based E12 Machines.
Last amongst the kits is GND, which isn’t really a MD-Synth as all it contains are a few miscellaneous Machines that don’t come under any of the above types.
SINUS is a basic sine oscillator with Pitch, Decay, Ramp and Ramp Decay parameters. NOISE is a simple white noise generator with only a Decay control.
IMPULSE is a kind of click/pulse generator, with more parameters than it probably needs for making various hard/harder, short/shorter pulses and clicks. Minimalist in the extreme.
INPUT A/B is a lot more interesting as it allows external audio connected to the rear A and B inputs to be inserted into patterns and/or passed through the SPS-1’s many effects options as if they were a regular MD-Synth Machine on their own individual pattern tracks. This includes applying things like pan, level, highpass and lowpass filtering (with resonance), variable bit-reduction, gating, envelope follower, amplitude modulation, reverb and delay etc. The inputs can also be set for triggering using standard piezo drum pad transducers.
The Machinedrum includes 30 factory default kits which can be overwritten or recalled at any time and space for 64 user kits. Also included is a strangely uneven demo song with far too many weak spots amongst some real ‘show off’ sections. The supplied kits are fine, if a bit unadventurous but there is plenty enough to get you up and running and you’ll be building your own kits in no time. The user kits are not restricted to just one type of MD-Synth, as many of the presets are, you can mix and match different Machines within kits as you wish. Putting a TRX BD and SD in the same kit as a few E12 Toms and some EFM claps and hihats is no problem.
TRACK EFFECTS and ROUTING
All 16 Machines contained within a kit have their own dedicated Track Effects options, included are the following:
AMPLITUDE MODULATOR: this has LFO depth and speed parameters. The LFO is adjustable from a slowish BPM locked tremolo into full blown AM modulation in the upper ranges.
TRACK EQ: a 1-band parametric EQ with fully variable boost, cut and frequency.
FILTER: a resonant 24dB lo/hi/bandpass filter using an unconventional arrangement of two parameters
to control the frequency. FLTF controls the base cut-off frequency and FLTW controls the filter gap width, the distance between highpass and lowpass.
SAMPLE RATE REDUCER: this variable effect does exactly what it says using a single parameter. Although no sample rate figures are given the minimum setting is extremely ‘lo-fi’, complete with exaggerated aliasing artefacts.
Also available for each Machine (on a separate screen) within a kit are the following Track effect and routing parameters: Distortion, Volume, Pan, LFO Speed, Delay Send, Reverb Send, LFO Depth and LFO Mix.
Which brings us nicely to the LFO sub-section, which has a dedicated page for each of the 16 Machines in a kit.
There are 8 parameters per LFO: Track, Parameter, Shape 1, Shape 2, Update Speed, Depth and Shape Mix.
By default each LFO is mapped to its own Machine/Track ie: BD to BD, SD to SD, however, the Track parameter will let you re-route the LFO output to another track for multiple LFO modulation of a single Machine.
The Parameter control selects the Machine parameter you wish to modulate with an extensive list of Parameter destinations covering every editable Machine variable, which is a lot. You can also modulate other LFOs. The Update function synchronises the LFO to the main BPM, lets it run free or resets the waveform on a pattern trigger. Which, if used with the right waveform, allows it to be used as a basic envelope generator. These LFOs are unusual, especially in a drum machine, in having two independently adjustable waveform outputs, Shape 1 and 2. Either output can be set to one of 6 waveforms, Sine, Saw, Square, Ramp 1, Ramp 2 and S&H. The waveforms available for Shape 2 are the same but inverted. The LFO rate is adjustable from a very slow sweep into the low Khz range. The SHMIX parameter lets you balance the output between the two waveforms for some eccentric modulation shapes.
If there is one feature the SPS-1 isn’t short of it is LFOs, approximately 44 by my count. That includes 11 in the EFM kit, 16 Retrigger LFOs in the E12 kit, 16 in the LFO section and 1 for the digital delay, and I probably missed a couple somewhere. I cant think of many synths with that many LFOs. let alone a drum machine. But I’m not complaining, far from it. This sort of attention to detail cries out for user experimentation and bizarre sound modifications and manipulations.
The Stereo Master Effect System offers just four effects: the Rhythm Echo delay, the Gate Box reverb, the Dynamix dynamic processor and a Parametric & Hi/Lo-Shelf EQ section. The Rhythm Echo and Gate Box reverb are accessed via dedicated sends in the 16 Machines/Tracks and the Dynamix processor and the EQ sections process the final stereo output signal.
The Rhythm Echo is a BPM synchronised (but variable) mono-in/stereo-out affair with the added bonus of integrated highpass and lowpass filters and an LFO for modulation effects. Although the Rhythm Echo can also produce chorus and flanging effects a separate dedicated section would be preferable. At extreme modulation settings some wild speeding up/slowing down time delay effects are possible.
The Gate Box reverb covers workaday reverb, gated reverb and ambience effects and although it has a decidedly ‘budget’ sound it isn’t without some low tech charm.
The Dynamix processor is optimised for compressing percussive sounds and includes all the standard parameters you’d expect to find: Attack, Release, Thresh, Ratio, Knee (hard-soft), HP (side chain filter) Gain, Mix.
The compressor is used to good effect on some of the factory presets and can have a dramatic affect on a rhythm, particularly when used in conjunction with the EQ section, but handle with care. All settings for the Stereo Master Effects section are saved as part of a Kit.
CLASSIC vs EXTENDED
Pattern sequencing comes in two flavours: Classic and Extended. In Classic mode the patterns (also called Tracks by Elektron) operate as a regular drum machine, with the patterns and kits as separate entities. In Extended mode a kit (including its Machines, Effects and Routing parameters) and a pattern are bonded together and treated as one. Extended is probably the most useful mode as you can guarantee your rhythms will always sound as you intended, whereas Classic is useful for trying out different kits and rhythm combinations.
THE PATTERN SEQUENCER
Patterns are put together in the time honoured fashion established by Roland with the TR808 drum machine and here is called Grid Composing.
With a new pattern you first need to decide the maximum number of steps (2-16 or 17-32) and the scale, the default setting is 16 steps and a 4/4 scale, various other scales are also available. In the extended 32 step mode (2 x16) there are two LEDs to indicate which of the two 16 step patterns you are editing. My old TR808 had a similar feature and when playing it alternately displayed the two patterns on the Drum Keys, with 2 flip-flopping LEDs to show which pattern was active. On the Machinedrum you instead have to select the patterns manually using the Scale button, which is OK (ish) but it would be nicer if there was an option to see either of the patterns manually or automatically alternating.
The 16 numbered Drum Keys along the front of the unit are labelled with the same percussion names as the Sound Selection LEDs above the data wheel. In normal play mode the LEDs above the Drum Keys flash to indicate which Machines are playing on any given pattern step (also mirrored in the Sound Selection LEDs). Pressing Record however, changes the LED arrangement to show a single running LED (in play mode) and lit LEDs (non-flashing) at points where trigger steps have been programmed for the currently selected sound. Although the SPS-1 allows you to enter pattern step triggers in either play or stop modes you cannot hear any real-time Machine editing or tweaking unless the pattern is playing.
Other pattern/track options include Swing (50% - 80%), Accent (works across the whole pattern, not individual drums), Mute (to silence individual drums) and Slide. Slide is interesting as it works in conjunction with the Parameter Lock feature, what’s that I hear you say ?
Parameter Lock is only available in Extended mode and is in my opinion one of the Machinedrum’s most indispensable features and one I used extensively in this review. It allows any Machine, Effect and Routing parameters within a kit to be locked to a fixed value at any step in a pattern. For example: using it on the pitch control of a suitable Machine you can compose basic monophonic melodies alongside the rhythm patterns. So obvious uses would be bass lines, analogue sequencer style synth patterns and arpeggios. It also works well for such tricks as changing the effect send parameters to add Delay and/or Reverb at specific points in a pattern, or used on Level parameters as an accent for individual percussion sounds.
The default state for Parameter Lock is to move from one step to the next exactly as programmed however, the Slide feature I mentioned above lets you apply an element of slide between steps for a smoother transition. Parameter Lock can be disabled on any pattern step by deselecting the step then reselecting. There is an upper limit of 24 Parameter Lock adjustments for each pattern step on each track. Which equals 384 parameters for each kit, per pattern... yikes! Would anyone use that many adjustments for one rhythm pattern ?
The Live Recording option lets you record drum triggers and Parameter Lock adjustments in realtime. You simply hold down the Record button and press Play. You can now enter rhythms by hand using the Drum Keys or via MIDI, although MIDI velocity information isn’t recorded. In Live Recording mode the Parameter Lock functions in a similar way to the Motion Control feature found on some Korg, Roland and Yamaha gear and records (while looping) any tweaks or adjustments you make to the data knobs. This is another very useful option and can often act like a second pair of hands and is an ideal feature for giving patterns movement and expression as you can change parameters such as level, decay, filter frequency, modulation etc. over time.
Patterns are selected in Play mode by using a shift-click combination of the Pattern Selection buttons (A-B-C-D/E-F-G-H) and Drum Keys (1-16), plus the bank Group button to select banks A to D or E to H. Not one of the most intuitive I know but it works well enough. Patterns can also be erased, copied and pasted to other locations, as can individual note triggers and their parameter locks.
Song construction is basically arranging a list of patterns to be played in sequence. The display shows the user 5 columns: ROW | PAT | REP | OFS-LEN | BMP
At each step in a song you can set the pattern to be played, the number of times it repeats before moving to the next, whether a pattern starts from its beginning and/or if the pattern is shorter and override the pattern BPM with an alternative BPM. A song can contain up to 256 steps and 32 songs can be stored in memory.
Songs can be constructed to play to the end and stop or play to a predetermined point and stop. Using a LOOP & JUMP feature song patterns can loop indefinitely, loop at a predetermined point or play to a predetermined point then jump to a different point in the song. Thankfully songs (and their associated kits) can be saved with meaningful names, unlike a lot of drum machines. There is also a realtime Song recording mode, though there is little mention of it in the instruction manual. I actually found this mode more intuitive and a lot easier to record song patterns into. Song playback is not as straightforward as it should be but as this is one of the features to be updated in the next software revision I won’t go into details.
The Machinedrum is well specified in the MIDI department and I encountered no problems syncing it to, and controlling it from, other drum machines, keyboards and MIDI interfaces. At the moment it doesn’t respond to song position pointers but that will be implemented in the next software update. The default MIDI set-up is arranged to let you to trigger pattern loops mapped across an external MIDI keyboard. This is a useful way of trying out combinations of rhythms and for jamming, though unfortunately this feature didn’t seem to work in realtime Song recording mode.
Full support is given to external control of the SPS-1 over MIDI, in fact there are 384 MIDI controllable parameters. You can also use the Machinedrum’s buttons and data knobs as a MIDI controller for external gear and all can be mapped to different parameters using using a Map Editor screen. MIDI SysEx deals with saving and loading patterns, songs and kits or the entire Machinedrum contents and settings at once.
It would be easy to dismiss the Machinedrum as a repackaged bunch of Îhas-been’ drum machines, but I think this would be most unfair. Although my first few hours with it were indeed spent faithfully recreating and reminiscing over those golden oldies, I soon moved into the realms of modulation, manipulation, extreme percussion-warping and fancy rhythm-pattern programming. And from then on I never looked back. Having been using it for a while, it seems to me that the appeal of the Machinedrum is two-fold. Firstly, by incorporating high-quality software-based sound generation, and incorporating it with real-time controllers in a hardware box, Elektron are hoping to attract the not insubstantial following of dance musicians, DJs and producers who prefer to do their rhythm programming and playing with a Îhands on’ instrument, as opposed to via a computer. Secondly, this machine will also appeal to budding electronic percussionists who aspire to rhythm making the classic Îold-school’ way but whose budget won’t stretch to an arsenal of 808s, 909s, Linns and Emus.
Having said that, at around £850, the SPS1 is hardly a snap purchase either ÷ it may be a top-quality instrument, but it has a price to
match, and despite the wealth of features it offers, a price this high will inevitably limit its appeal. Furthermore, although I can’t fault
the Machinedrum’s construction, logical layout, external interfacing and its awesome sonic capabilities, it is let down a little by a few
operational quirks, plus a couple of none-too-clear editing screens. Song construction and playback could be easier. I would also have liked a dedicated pattern fill-in feature and a few more master effects. I also found the red LCD a little hard on my eyes after prolonged use, but that was after an exceptionally long session. The next major software revision (version 1.1) should be available from the Elektron web site by the time you read this. The new OS will rectify some of these shortcomings while also adding some useful extras such as MIDI sequencing Machines for control of external MIDI gear, some new sound generating Machines, a redesigned song interface, song position pointer recognition plus many other general improvements. I feel confident in guaranteeing that you’d be hard-pressed to find another drum machine, or even many synths, that can generate quite the extreme range of sounds this one is capable of; the nearest hardware equivalent would probably be a combination of a Korg ER1, a Yamaha AN200 and Jomox AiRBase99. Of course, you could get sounds similar to those in the Machinedrum using a couple of grand’s worth of Mac or PC and some software, but I doubt it would sound quite as good, and it definitely wouldn’t be as portable or half as much fun. In short, despite my (few) reservations, I think it’s a truly awesome piece of kit.
The Machinedrum is an outstanding drum machine. Its percussion sounds outshine anything currently available and range from spookily authentic sounding classics to off the wall, hard core, beat box and synth mayhem. Some operational quirkiness still needs ironing out but if you can live with a few of its idiosyncrasies you won’t be disappointed. Professional and pricey but very very tasty.
Outstanding percussion (and synth) sounds.
Vast array of programmable features.
Real time editing controls.
Good MIDI spec.
Nothing quite like it.
A few inscrutable operating procedures.
Song composing mode needs tidying up.
Some more Master Effects wouldn’t go amiss.
No Master Effects bypass.
Pads not velocity sensitive.
The red LCD may not suit everyone.
Fax: + 46-31-772 81 11
Phone: + 46-31-772 81 10
Elektron ESI AB
Stena Center 1C
412 92 Gothenburg
SPS-1: 1,350.00 Euros / 1,100.00 US Dollars
Rack mount kit: 40.00 Euros
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND BOXES
PERCUSSION CONTROL SEQUENCER
128 User patterns
32 user songs
Swing, Slide, Accent options
16 x 24 Parameter Locks for each pattern step
Full realtime control
Fully implemented MIDI support
384 MIDI controllable parameters
SOUND GENERATION SYSTEM
4 MD Synths (TRX, EFM, E12, PI)
39 Individual SPS-1 Machines
16 part synthesis
64 User programmable kits
5 Effects per track
4 Stereo Master Effects
Resonant 24db lowpass/bandpass/highpass filter
Sample Rate Reduction
Rhythm Echo Delay
Hi/Lo-shelf + Parametric EQ
SOUND GENERATION SYSTEMS
Individual MD Machines
Stereo Master Effects
Part MD Synthesis
Part Track Effect System
User Programmable Kits
Advanced Dual DSP System
24-bit D/A converters
Output S/N ratio 91dB
L/R stereo output
6 individual audio outputs
2 individual audio inputs
Stereo headphone output
128x64 Pixel Backlit LCD
Flash-memory upgradable OS
STORY OF THE DRUM MACHINEDRUM
Elekron’s intention when designing the Machinedrum was to incorporate the sounds and features of the most highly regarded classic drum machines of the past such as the Roland TR series, Simmons, Linn drum and Emu 1200. Considering the different types of drum machines produced over the years some distinct drum machine ‘traditions’ were established relatively early on. The most widely used being the grid style step-time programming technique using 16 buttons (and LEDs) to enter trigger positions while a pattern loops. Individual audio outputs, sophisticated sync options and realtime controls are also features often found even on ancient but well specified drum machines from the 1980’s.
Although many of these early drum machines were originally produced to emulate real drum and percussion sounds none ever really achieved this in a truly convincing manner and instead possessed their own unique character and sounds. Over the years many of these drum machines have been adopted by different music styles as their own, although it must be said most of those are primarily electronica based and include a multitude of dance genres.
Original working drum machines such those mentioned above are getting extremely thin on the ground nowadays and second-hand prices for working models are always going to be at a premium. Another obstacle for existing owners of ageing beat boxes is obtaining rare and expensive spare parts, a worsening problem as many of the components are no longer manufactured. Many dedicated owners have to resort to cannibalising other machines to keep their own in working order.
Elektron aren’t the first to produce a ‘sound alike’ drum machine and samples of classics are ten a penny But a sample, no matter how good, is a poor substitute for many rhythm aficionados. Elektron are a little vague as to what techniques are used to generate their MD-Synth Machine sounds. But according to Daniel Hansson at Elektron: ‘The sound generation is all done by custom algorithms for two high performance DSPs. One does all the percussion synthesis and the other does the effecting’. And their press release states: ‘Our custom audio realtime operating system features an interrupt driven no latency percussion sequencer which guarantees super timing and performance. The analogue subsystem uses 24 bit Crystal DA-converters and low crosstalk Burr & Brown operational amplifiers’. Sounds impressive eh ? Well, to be honest it could all be done with mirrors as far as I care because the range and quality of sounds it produces are outstanding.
Copyright © 2002 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.