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A Fantastic 21st Century Analog Drum Machine.
By K. McQueen
If you like classic drum machine sounds, then the DrumBrute is a choice purchase. If you are looking for a more "realistic" drum kit, then consider a digital drum machine or sampler.
The DrumBrute boasts 17 different tweak-able drum voices, 11 individual outputs, a global analog filter, drum rolls, a polyrhythm mode, song and pattern creation, swing time and randomness effects that may be applied to the individual instruments, and modern connectivity. I highly recommend downloading the MIDI Control Center (and registering the DrumBrute) from the Arturia website. The DrumBrute's USB connectivity (a USB to USB B cable must be purchased separately) and the a computer running the MIDI Control Center software offers rapid firmware updating (there is already an update available) and librarian / editor capabilities. A full user's manual is available for download on the Arturia website (only a very brief starter's guide is available in the box).
The voices have a vintage analog sound, but they are not Roland TR-808 and TR-909 emulations. Kick 1 has thump and its pitch can be swept into something more synth-y sounding. Kick 2 is deep and can most certainly guarantee hearing damage. I have preferred to use its individual output and route it to its own channel on the mixer. The snare can deliver a fairly realistic sound or something mutated by tweaking snap decay, tone, and level. The clap is classic and can be tweaked into a rival snare. The rim shot and claves are classic drum machine sounds. The hats are bright and metallic and the respective delay settings can yield frightening results. The cymbal can provide a ride or a very bright, extended crash. The reversed cymbal is a neat option that I use for a sound akin to the back-masked cymbal on the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere". The toms are like classic disco synth toms. The congas hearken back to a CompuRhythm style vintage drum machine, much like the rim shot and claves, as do the maracas and tambourine. The zap is a fun sound effect reminiscent of something from the early 1980s (like the Buck Rodgers soundtrack).
The main audio output is monophonic. Adjusting individual drum voice pitches or using the individual outputs and levels will help clear up muddy sounding playback.
The output filter is switchable between high pass and low pass modes with adjustable cutoff and resonance and affects the overall sound of the DrumBrute. It is capable of completely silencing the output, thinning it out or making the DrumBrute sound like its playing in a club next door.
There is a ribbon controller for executing rolls and looping segments between quarter note and thirty-second note lengths during playback with a finger tip.
The polyrhythm feature is for some cool experimentation by setting instrument voice in sequences of varying lengths.
The primary sequences programmed are patterns of up to 64 steps. A total of 64 patterns divided over four banks may be programmed. Up to 16 patterns may be arranged into one of 16 songs.
Swing time can be adjusted globally for a pattern or for individual instruments (also with the aid of the MIDI Control Center software) for a greater sense of groove.
The randomness effect is applied in the same way as the swing effect, but it randomly alters the note data in the pattern. Thus, pattern variations are immediately created (but not saved) during playback.
The DrumBrute may be synchronized with a computer, sequencer, or other instrument via MIDI, analog clock (adjustable with the MIDI Control Center for connection with variety of vintage and modern analog instruments), or MIDI over USB. When the clock is set to "2ppq (Korg)" with the MIDI Control Center and the appropriate TRS (tip-ring-sleeve, stereo) cables, I have synchronized Korg Volcas (1/8" TRS), Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators (1/8" TRS), and an Electro-Harmonix Clockworks (1/8" TRS to 1/4" TRS). Setting the clock to 24ppq and using the 1/8" TRS to 5-pin DIN from an Arturia BeatStep Pro, I was able to synchronize a vintage Roland MC-202, a TB-303, and a TR-606. Changing the clock to 48ppq allowed me to synchronize a vintage Korg KPR-77. The DrumBrute is incredibly versatile.
Typically, the DrumBrute is retailing for $349.00. This about $200, give or take, more than a Korg Volca Beats, an Akai Tom Cat, or an Akai Rhythm Wolf. Those three drum machine lack a song mode and have fewer instrument voices than the DrumBrute. The Dave Smith / Roger Linn Tempest drum machine is about $2000.00 brand new, but its capabilities are greater than the DrumBrute and the Tempest is not beginner friendly. The DrumBrute is cheaper than Roland's TR-8 ($499.00) and TR-09 ($399.00) drum machines. While the Roland offerings are not analog, they emulate classic Roland drum machines. So, if you are looking for 808, 909, 707*, 727*, and 606* (* indicating voices available with 7x7 expansion firmware ($99) for the TR-8), then the Roland options are for you. Otherwise, the DrumBrute is capable much more with a certain je ne sais quoi that Arturia offers.