Featured Arturia DrumBrute by Funkybot
· Product: Drumbrute
· Developer: Arturia
· Price: $449 (USD - street)
Arturia’s Drumbrute is a 17-voice all analog drum synth that takes its inspiration from the drum synths of yesteryear while adding some particularly interesting bells and whistles in the sequencer department, an output filter, and more. At $449, there’s a lot of instrument for the price on the surface, but how does it actually hold up?
Let’s not bury the lede and start with the sounds. You’ve got 17 drum sounds to choose from spread across 12 pads. This is possible as 5 of the pads have a dual use function. There some nods to the classic x0x style drum machines, with each drum having its own distinct analog voice. You get 2 kicks, 1 snare, clap, clave/rim, closed/open hats, hi/lo toms/congas, forward and reverse cymbals, maracas, and tambourine, along with a “zap.” Conspicuously missing is an 808 style cowbell, which is disappointing. As you'd expect, each pad has a level knob, which is the only common parameter between the different voices.
Kick 1 was clearly meant to be the punchy, techno kick. It’s likely inspired by the 909, without sounding exactly like a clone. You’ve got knobs for Pitch, Decay, Sweep, and Impact. In use, I didn’t love the range of sounds provided by the Sweep or Impact knobs and found they worked best for me in moderation. They add some tonal range to the kick, but the Impact tone isn’t tunable by the Pitch knob (just the main body of the drum) and the Sweep range is quite extreme. However, once you stop thinking of this as a 909 style kick (hey, this one can be tuned), you can start to dig in and find some settings that work well.
Kick 2 is the softer of the two, and again, I can’t help but compare this to another classic Roland kick: the 808. You’ve only got Pitch and Decay knobs to play with here, and this particular voice has a wider sweet spot than Kick 1. This isn’t an exacting 808 clone by any means, but there’s definitely been some inspiration, and this is a cool sounding kick in it’s own right.
Similar to Kick 1, the Snare is broken into two elements: a tunable Drum Tone, which is the fundamental, and a separate Snap section to cover the noise/snares. The snap has controls for the Tone, Decay, and Level. Keeping the tones low, and Decay between 9-12 o’clock got those old school punchy snare sounds I like.
The Clap is very serviceable and easy to dial in. The decay almost gets cymbal like at the longest settings, and Arturia made a strange choice in reversing the behavior of the Tone knob here (higher values mean darker tones and vice versa), which isn’t very intuitive. That said, I like the clap sound and it’s got a very wide sweet spot.
I particularly jived with the old school, noisy cymbals. This is oldschool [I’m assuming crossmodulation of] analog oscillators, so expect something more clanky than silky, though you can definitely get some smooth sounding closed hats with a nice short decay.
The Toms and Congas sound great, and were also well appreciated. Same for the Claves. I can’t say I found the Rim particularly interesting, and this is where a Cowbell would have been more appreciated, but some of the more esoteric slots like the Reverse Cymbal and Zap pad were all nice additions to round out the palette.
The sounds are very old school, and as such, can benefit greatly from some post-processing, particularly if you’re looking for a modern/edgier sound. While some built-in distortion would have been nice, the good news is you’ve got 12 individual outs (they’re 3.5mm jacks so bust out the adapters) to help you connect each element to the stomp box of your choice, or you could always do some post-processing in your DAW. In a perfect world, the Drumbrute would cost a bit more but offer built-in effects (distortion, compression, and reverb in particular).
There’s also a Steiner-Parker resonant HP/LP filter on the main output. This is great for doing some real time tweaking and sweeping, but you can also use it to do the “Voice of God” trick on kicks to beef up the low end. Just engage the HP filter, jack up the resonance at or near maximum, and dial in the frequency until you’re emphasizing the fundamental of the kick. It’s a great way to punch up kick drums before they even hit the outputs.
As much as I dig the sounds, the true magic of the Drumbrute is in the very well designed sequencer. The sequencer is both deep in terms of features, but very intuitive at the same time.
You’ve got 16 patterns per bank (times 4 banks, so 64 total patterns), with each pattern having up to 64 steps. You can store these into 16 songs, with up to 16 patterns each.
You can either record your patterns in (there’s a Metronome to help facilitate this) or program via the common Step mode. Step mode will be familiar to anyone who has ever played around with Roland style drum machines, except perhaps for the steps being above the drum controls. Select the drum (hold Shift + Drum Pad to select the drum without triggering it) and draw your pattern in for that pad. The only strange thing about this mode is having separate modes for Step and Accent hits. You almost expect hitting a Step twice to provide the Accent hit, but that’s not the case. It was a design choice that took some adjusting, but in use, is actually quite helpful when you’re trying to tweak your programs on the fly and know you want an accented hit without having to toggle into it. And that’s just one small example of how well thought out this sequencer is!
So many of the sequencer functions, from the separate Mute and Solo groups, to the Step Repeat strip (which is great for glitches and fills), to the individual drum (or global) Swing and Randomization settings make this a performance monster! Not only is programming easy, the Drumbrute practically demands that it be tweaked on the fly! It’s easy to get lost creating and tweaking beats. I’m particularly enamoured with the Step Repeat strip, which as a pattern plays creates either 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, or glitchy 1/32 note loops.
Another cool feature is the Polyrhythm feature that lets you effectively set a different time signature for each drum. You’ve also got the ability to set a Global Tempo, but you’re also able to set tempos for each individual pad as long as you’re using the internal sync settings.
There’s a ton of great little shortcuts when it comes to the sequencing and performance controls, so it’s well-worth working your way through the manual to get the most of the Drumbrute. And on that subject, the manual is very well written with detailed instructions covering very practical use-cases. It’s not often I’ll go out of my way to praise a manual, but it’s so well written, I’d be remiss not to point it out in this review.
The last subject I want to touch on in the Drumbrute is the connectivity options. I briefly mentioned that you’ve got a mono master output and 12 3.5mm individual output jacks, but you’ve also got both ¼” and ⅛” headphone outs with an individual volume control. The unit can transmit and receive clock if you’re kicking it old school, has MIDI In and Out knobs, and can connect to computers via USB.
Arturia’s website includes the MIDI Controller Center app where you can update your firmware, edit the Drumbrute’s parameters (no menu diving), and even backup and edit your patterns. Tiny nitpick: I wish companies would include their names in apps like these. When your HD is filled with generically named apps like Update Center, and MIDI Controller Center, and Service Center, or Authorization System, it gets hard to remember which is which.
Arturia’s Drumbrute combines a whole lot of analog goodness with an absolutely amazing sequencer, and does so at an incredulously low price. While there’s a clear link to the past, it’s hard imagining this not becoming a modern classic in its own right.
Great sequencer (tons of fun)
Analog output filter
Tons of connectivity options
Kick 1 has a narrow sweet spot
Snares could be punchier (external effects help)
No onboard effects outside of the filter
Slightly hotter output would have been welcome
Needs more cowbell!