Elektron Octatrack DPS1 by bloodsample
I'm by no means an audiophile. This is my first hardware sampler. This is my first elektron machine. I'm not a glitch/sample crazy person (at least I wasn't until I met the octatrack heh).
I'm no expert Octatrack user so I won't pretend to be. The octatrack does a lot of different things for different people so this will only cover my personal experience with it.
Firmware version at the time of writing: 1.03B
I'm not going to outline the features as these can be found on the Elektron website.
After a few months of using the Octatrack these are my overall impressions:
There is a bit of a learning curve initially but once you understand how things are laid out and you memorize a few button shortcuts it's all smooth sailing from there. I admit I was a little worried that I would constantly need to have the manual open next to me, but after a few days the training wheels came right off and I was riding like a big boy. I'm now completely sold on the Elektron interface and I finally get the hype.
The best way to put it is like when you first learned to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Initially you were slow and not so productive, and you were constantly looking at your fingers. After a bit of practice you got better, and faster. And now I can say with confidence that the Octatrack is like a second keyboard. I don't think about how I need to do something, I just think about doing it and my hands automatically push the right buttons. It's really amazing how they managed to pack this many knobs and buttons and still make it easy to use. Hats off to them.
No complaints here. I use the Octatrack as my main hardware sequencer now. I just find it very quick to setup and use. I can record notes in real time using a MIDI keyboard, or punch them in manually in the sequencer. In a matter of minutes I can program a sequence for all 5 of my hardware synths. Heck I even use the Octatrack to sequence soft synths. Each step for each track can have up to 4 notes at once (for chords). In addition, you have 4 CC messages per track per step. All of these parameters (including note length, velocity, etc) can be changed per step using parameter locks. You can either set these properties manually per step, record them in real time (read: automation) or assign one of the 3 LFOs (per track) to modulate them. There is also a very nice arpeggiator which can be quantized to a specific key (which can be very useful for generating melodies if you're not feeling particularly creative that day).
The sampling actually got me scratching my head at first. I have to admit it doesn't have the most intuitive sampling workflow. Now mind you I'm not a sampling guy traditionally so maybe this was just an extra learning curve for me. You would think that a big red button labeled "Record" would allow you to start sampling right away, right? Wrong. You have to push quite a few buttons before you can actually start sampling. I generally understand the need for this, as you have to first set some parameters up, like how long you want to sample for, which of the 4 inputs you want to sample from, which track you want to sample onto, how you want to playback this sample, etc. It would be useful to have a quick simple sampling mode for when an idea just pops in your head. It seems like the Octatrack's sampling is geared towards electronic music where you already have loops running and want to sample them in real time. But if you're a musician and want to record some guitar parts for example then it's a little less intuitive. I can't really blame them for this, but it's something worth noting.
Once you've finally captured your sample that's where the real fun begins. You now have a sample playground. Editing the sample is straightforward but takes some getting used to. You have your usual trimming and slicing features, with the ability to automatically create slices and assign them to trigs on the sequencer. To slice and trim you use the 6 knobs (you can zoom, pan, move the start marker, end marker, loop marker, etc). I find this a little slower than using the mouse, but with some practice it's not that bad. The real power comes in using the sequencer with parameter locks. This is where the real glitchy madness begins. In a few seconds you can turn your standard sample into something completely different. Some of the parameters include note repeats, pitch, rate, amplitude envelope plus the 2 optional effects. Each of these parameters can be set individually per step. You can quickly see how crazy this can get. All of this can be done in real time seamlessly. You can even keep sampling as you make the changes so everything is affected live. Unlike on the MD-UW the ocatrack has dedicated recorders always available on each track, you don't need 2 separate tracks for recording and playback.
Each track can have up to 2 effects. But you can also chain neighbouring tracks together if you want to add more effects (but you're then losing audio tracks). In theory you can have up to 8 effects chained together (you can only neighbour up to 4 tracks, eg tracks 1-4 and 5-8 can be linked).
You get all the standard effects you'd expect. Filter, EQ, chorus, phaser, delay, reverb, etc. To my ears they sound pretty good. But I haven't been spoiled with 1000$+ effects units, so keep that in mind. I probably wouldn't use the Octatrack as my only effects box (although it's certainly capable of taking on that task). I think of the effects more as sound shaping tools for the samples rather than just standard effects. For example I find the Lo-Fi effect (which features your standard, bit rate and sample rate reduction, distortion, etc) very useful, especially on drums.
My only gripe about the effects is the reverb, which is only a plate reverb. I would have preferred to see a more generic Hall reverb just to give room to certain sounds without changing their tonal characteristics (the plate reverb has a "sound" which you can't really ignore and doesn't work on everything). I've heard however that Elektron is working on new effects for future firmware updates so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Jack of all Trades
The Octatrack can do a lot of different things. I think this is where the true power of the Octatrack lies. Sure on paper the Ocatrack is just another glitch box, but what I love the most about it is the vast potential it has. I'm still learning something new about it every day. For example I've loaded some single cycle waves into it the other day and was amazed by how good a synth the Octatrack can be. It has your basic amp envelope and 12/24b multimode filter. Combine that with the Lo-Fi effect and you suddenly have 8 mean sounding monosynths.
For a few weeks I've also used it solely as a drum machine. I filled up the CF card with nothing but single shot drum samples and the Octatrack suddenly became my go to drum machine and MIDI sequencer.
The parameter locks also exponentially enhance the Octatrack's potential. You can go from a generic sample to something completely new and original in a few seconds. Best of all the results are musical most of the time.
Sure the Ocatrack isn't perfect. There are some things I would have done differently (like initiating sampling). But Elektron are constantly improving the firmware and they seem to be listening to people's demands, so this is a huge plus.
I have to admit when I first heard of the Octatrack I couldn't see any use in it for me. I kept hearing demos of weird glitchy insane manipulations which weren't my cup of tea. Now that I've had it for a few months I'm starting to see tons of potential in this machine. If anything it's an inspiration factory. Being able to start with something simple and turn it into something interesting in a few seconds gives me a great feeling. The workflow and interface are so good that it has even made me explore other genres of music. I loved working with it so much that I recently bought a machinedrum to go along with it. I'm not an Elektron fanboy by any means but I'm now strongly starting to reconsider my equipment and workflow philosophy.
Elektron reminds me of Apple in a way. Sure they have fancy marketing and seemingly expensive hardware, but none of that matters in the end if the user interface doesn't feel right. I don't care how much they spend on marketing, and I don't care how much their products cost if in the end it's extremely enjoyable to use and makes me happy. Similarly both companies have haters and fanboys. I used to be an Apple hater, and I never understood elektron's appeal. But now having tried both I haven't looked back. I'm not a fanboy, just a consumer that enjoys using products that just seem to work and make you happy and more productive. Of course, just like Apple products aren't for everyone, Elektron products aren't for everyone either. I have a feeling if you like using Apple products you will greatly enjoy using Elektron products. And if you're a PC person, switch to a Mac already (kidding ... )
Ok I have no idea where this Apple analogy came from, sorry for the tangent...
I think the monomachine is definitely next on my list