As the market starts to fill up with analog reproductions and original synths at dirt cheap prices, Arturia continues to set a high bar in terms of sound and affordability. The company has successfully moved from the world of soft-synths into the hardware realm, releasing a string of synths that people love for their ease-of-use and analog sound that is like nothing else on the market.
Although all of their virtual instruments are recreations of hallowed vintage gear, their analog releases have been original, not following the paths of others through this sonic jungle. Now, Arturia has crossed over into the world of analog percussion with the release of the DrumBrute analog drum machine.
But this isn’t just a rehash of a 40-year-old instrument. Arturia’s designers have taken all the knowledge they’ve gained from their Spark and Analog Factory plug-in/controller combinations and applied that to the workflow of creating beats with an analog machine. The result is a refreshing take on a classic instrument.
Since DrumBrute is an analog drum machine, perhaps the best place to start this review is with an overview of the sounds in the box.
The main question you probably have is: does it sound like a Roland TR-808 or TR-909? Well, not really. But this is a good thing. Does the world really need another 808 or 909 clone? Nope, not these days. It’s time to move beyond 80’s nostalgia, and Arturia are happily leading the charge.
Instead of sounds that you’ve heard a million times before, this machine gives you cool new sounds that will fill up a mix well, and stand out in a world full of samples. Almost every sound has a few control knobs for quickly changing certain parameters (the most common of which is Decay), and a few of the sounds have controls for more than one parameter.
My original intent was to write about some of my favorite sounds within DrumBrute, but as I use it more, I realize that I enjoy almost every sound it has to offer.
Features and Use
After playing with DrumBrute for a few days, what I came to love is just how versatile this machine is. It’s best if you approach the sounds with an open mind, and not worry about following the labeling on the unit so much. Sure, the ”Cymbal” can make a crash cymbal sound, but it can also be adjusted to be so short as to mimic a closed hi hat sound.
Some of my favorite sounds in DrumBrute are the percussion (non-standard drum kit) instruments. The tambourine, shaker, rim shot, congas, and toms are all really well-made percussion sounds that fit seamlessly into any mix, and work within multiple genres of music. Most of them have pitch knobs, and a couple have decay. I do wish the toms would have decay knobs as well, as I enjoy adjusting the decay of my tom drums, but this omission is not a deal breaker.
Although DrumBrute is a bit more difficult to master than most drum machines, the work you put into learning its inner secrets will be well-rewarded in the end. You will need to read the manual!
However, if all you want to do is make beats, then the process is super simple and results are pretty much instant out of the box, but you will be getting only about half of the fun out of this device if that’s all you do.
There are essentially two ways of making beats with DrumBrute (well, three, but I’ll get to the third in a minute), and both will be familiar if you’ve ever used a drum machine.
The first involves programming patterns into a step-sequencer type of layout. There are sixteen buttons across the middle of the instrument, each corresponding to a step of a beat grid (usually this grid will be one bar of sixteenth notes, but you can change each step to represent different subdivisions). Select the drum you want by pushing the correct pad, then push the step buttons to insert that sound into the beat.
The second input method is more akin to playing. Just hit the record button and play the sounds you want to record. DrumBrute will automatically quantize them to the proper place in the beat, and illuminate the lights in the step-sequencing grid.
So far, so good. Nothing out of the norm, but here is where Arturia’s experience begins to come into play.
Normally, recording into a drum machine will automatically result in quantized beats, but DrumBrute has the ability to record unquantized rhythms, which can help give your beats a nice live feel.
Another common aspect of classic drum machines that has been finding its way into their modern counterparts is the Accent feature. Accent will make certain steps of the beat sound louder than the others.
Historically, this Accent is always laid across all the instruments that fall on that step of the grid. For example, if you place an accent on beat 2, then anything that plays on beat 2 will be louder. Not so with DrumBrute. The Accent feature is instrument-dependent, so if you want the accent to be on beat 2 for the snare, but not the hi hat, this is possible to program in. Another cool feature of the Accent capabilities is that when you are playing rhythms in by hand, if you hit a pad harder, DrumBrute will automatically make that an accented step.
Finally, DrumBrute has a couple of cool features which almost no other drum machine has, which are Polyrhythms and Randomness.
Polyrhythms are rhythms that are in a different time signature from the rest of the beat. This is great if you just want the clave to do its own thing around a 4/4 house beat. Randomness will generate random beats, either by instrument or for the kit as a whole. The amount of hits being randomly played can be controlled via the Amount knob. When used sparingly, these two techniques can add real variation and life to your beats. Randomness is especially cool in live applications (but again, please use with caution… unless you’re playing glitchy IDM!).
The patterns you record into DrumBrute can be up to 64 steps long, which is plenty, especially since you can link patterns together to form Songs (see more about Songs below). Saving and copying patterns around is super easy. Just hold the SAVE+PATTERN buttons down at the same time and you’re good to go! As long as the machine is on, and you don’t change Banks, your creation will be stored in the internal memory, but you have to make sure you save before you stray too far from the pattern’s home.
Finally, after you’ve made a nice group of patterns that flow well together, put them into a song! Link up to 16 patterns together to create a Song. Songs can inherit the tempo of the patterns, or they can use the Global BPM.
64 Patterns, and 16 Songs… with this much internal memory, it’s hard to think that you’ll run out of room to keep on creating. Plus, you can back up your Patterns and Songs to the computer, but more on that in a bit…