Ar­turia DrumBrute

The French brand add an all-ana­logue drum ma­chine to their well-re­garded Brute range. Si Truss takes it for a spin…

Future Music - - CON­TENTS -

Ar­turia are, it seems, a com­pany who like to keep us on our toes. While we’re still wait­ing ex­pec­tantly for the ar­rival of their mam­moth Ma­trixBrute synth, which was an­nounced back at NAMM but is yet to hit shelves, the French brand have served up some­thing of a curve­ball with the ar­rival of the DrumBrute, an all-ana­logue drum ma­chine an­nounced out of the blue in early Oc­to­ber and due to ar­rive in shops barely a month later.

Housed in a chas­sis that mim­ics the size and de­sign of the com­pany’s MiniBrute synth, the DrumBrute fea­tures 12 synth tracks of­fer­ing a to­tal of 17 drum and per­cus­sion sounds. Each of these 12 tracks is ac­com­pa­nied by a ve­loc­ity-sen­si­tive rub­ber pad for play­ing the as­so­ci­ated sound, along with a range of ro­tary knobs for shap­ing the sonic char­ac­ter. Along the cen­tre of the ma­chine, a row of 16 rub­ber but­tons al­lows patterns to be step-se­quenced and edited ei­ther ‘of­fline’ or on the fly while the se­quencer is run­ning.

As with their other re­cent hard­ware of­fer­ings, Ar­turia have struck a de­cent bal­ance of dig­i­tal and ana­logue I/O on the DrumBrute. In terms of out­puts, we get a ¼-inch main out­put jack along with 12 in­di­vid­ual mini-jack out­puts, one for each of the drum tracks (other than the open and closed hats, which share an out­put) and a metronome out. There is also a head­phone out­put, with both mini and ¼-inch out­put ports and a ded­i­cated level con­trol. On the syn­chro­ni­sa­tion front, the DrumBrute has MIDI in and out ports, along with a USB con­nec­tion which can send and re­ceive MIDI/ sync info and can be used to cus­tomise and edit set­tings and patterns us­ing Ar­turia’s free MIDI Con­trol Cen­ter soft­ware. There are also mini-jack Clock In and Out ports, which can be set up to send/ re­ceive 1PPS, 2PPQ, DIN24, DIN48 sig­nals for syn­chro­ni­sa­tion with a va­ri­ety of hard­ware units. Fi­nally, a power in­put for the ac­com­pa­ny­ing wall wart adap­tor rounds off the back panel connections.

From left to right the DrumBrute fea­tures two kick en­gines, a snare, a clap, rim/clave, closed hat, open hat, high tom/conga, low tom/conga, cym­bal/re­verse cym­bal, mara­cas/ tam­bourine and a synth perc sound, which is la­belled Zap. It’s worth not­ing that, while one might as­sume that sounds that share a sec­tion, such as the rim and clave, can only be used in ei­ther/or man­ner, it’s ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble to se­quence both at once. While both the rim and clave sound share front panel con­trols and the same out­put, it’s pos­si­ble to se­quence both on the same step and have them play si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The ex­cep­tion to this is the closed and open hats, where the for­mer al­ways chokes the lat­ter, de­spite them hav­ing in­di­vid­ual pads and con­trols on the front panel.

Gritty sounds

Broadly speak­ing, the sounds are full-bod­ied and lean to­wards the grit­tier ends of the elec­tronic mu­sic spec­trum. The hats and cym­bals have a not-un­pleas­ant raspy, me­tal­lic qual­ity. The re­verse cym­bal is par­tic­u­larly good; great for adding a

The two kicks are its trump card. Each has a dis­tinct sonic char­ac­ter and they sit very nicely to­gether

bit of groove and build to drum loops, al­though it’s a slight shame it doesn’t have its own de­cay con­trol in­de­pen­dent of the main cym­bal. The rim/clave and toms/con­gas are tight and punchy, with a real ‘clas­sic Roland’ feel to them. Zap, mean­while, pro­vides an at­tack-heavy synth perc sound with a sweep­ing pitch en­ve­lope. With just pitch, level and de­cay con­trols, there’s not masses of sound shap­ing po­ten­tial, but it’s still a nice lit­tle ad­di­tion and great for adding a lit­tle melodic flavour to beat loops.

As is of­ten the case with synth drum ma­chines, the snare and clap are prob­a­bly the weak­est of the sounds here. That’s not to say ei­ther are nec­es­sar­ily lack­ing – the clap can range from tight to fairly drawn-out with a de­cent pitch range, and the snare in par­tic­u­lar has plenty of sculpt­ing op­tions, with level, tone and de­cay con­trols for the ‘snap’ at­tack el­e­ment, along with over­all tone and level ro­taries. By their na­ture though, syn­the­sized claps and snares can sound a touch thin com­pared to the multi-lay­ered, sam­pled drum hits we’re used to hear­ing in mod­ern pro­duc­tions, and you’ll prob­a­bly need to add a bit of drive, re­verb or a tight de­lay to these to get them to cut through a mix, none of which are built into the DrumBrute.

The two kicks are the DrumBrute’s trump card, how­ever. Each has a dis­tinct sonic char­ac­ter and the two sit very nicely to­gether. Kick 1 fea­tures a punchy pitch en­ve­lope and a sharp at­tack, both of which can be con­trolled by the Im­pact and Sweep ro­taries. There are also De­cay, Pitch and Level con­trols, al­low­ing the cre­ation of every­thing from tight, up-front kick sounds to filthy, Grime-like hits with an ex­ag­ger­ated punch. Kick 2, mean­while, is more sub-heavy, with a deep, rounded low-end. There are just De­cay, Pitch and Level con­trols here, but these pro­vide enough tonal shap­ing to run the gamut from

thud­ding Techno kicks to boom­ing, Hip-Hop-style 808 bass.

In use

On the work­flow front, the DrumBrute is very in­tu­itive and keeps the bulk of its pa­ram­e­ters up-front and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. My usual test with gear of this sort is to un­box it and dive right in to see how far I can get with­out the need to con­sult the man­ual. In the case of the DrumBrute it was only some of the deeper ar­range­ment and syn­chro­ni­sa­tion set­tings that even­tu­ally had me reach­ing for the in­struc­tions. Ad­mit­tedly, hav­ing plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence with other drum ma­chines and x0x-style se­quencers does help, but pretty much every­thing here is well po­si­tioned and clearly la­belled, and even the more unique fea­tures are made to feel pretty self-ex­plana­tory.

As men­tioned, drum patterns can ei­ther be in­putted us­ing the 16 step but­tons or recorded live, by hit­ting record and play­ing the pads. Note that by de­fault record mode auto-quan­tises beats to the step se­quencer, rather than cap­tur­ing a truly ‘live’ per­for­mance, al­though it is pos­si­ble to dis­en­gage quan­tise by hit­ting Shift and Record for those look­ing to cre­ate looser se­quences. The step se­quencer is ac­cessed by hit­ting the Step but­ton, next to which is an Ac­cent mode, which al­lows for ac­cented notes to be in­putted on a per-track ba­sis. Se­quences can be du­pli­cated and ex­tended to up to 64 steps, while a Last Step func­tion al­lows se­quence lengths to be eas­ily ab­bre­vi­ated. A Shift press lets user se­lect from a range of five time sig­na­tures, rang­ing be­tween 1/8 and 1/32. By hold­ing down a step and turn­ing the Swing ro­tary, it’s pos­si­ble to nudge in­di­vid­ual beats off the grid a lit­tle, al­low­ing patterns to be fine-tuned. Mean­while, Copy and Erase but­tons help speed up the over­all pat­tern cre­ation and edit­ing process, while Solo and Mute modes let users patch tracks in and out on the fly.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing fea­tures of the DrumBrute is its Polyrhythm mode. With this en­gaged, se­quence lengths can be set in­de­pen­dently for each track, mak­ing it easy to ex­per­i­ment with more un­usual rhyth­mic patterns and time sig­na­tures. The Pat­tern Ef­fects sec­tion al­lows for patterns to be mixed up fur­ther. Here we have a Swing ro­tary, which can ei­ther be ap­plied glob­ally, or set in­di­vid­u­ally for each track by en­gag­ing the Cur­rent Track but­ton. Next to this is a Ran­dom­ness con­trol, which can be used to in­crease the like­li­hood of ran­dom beats be­ing in­tro­duced into a pat­tern. Again, this can ei­ther be ap­plied glob­ally – which is great for cre­at­ing bonkers, glitch-like fills – or added to each track in­di­vid­u­ally to, for ex­am­ple, in­tro­duce more sub­tle vari­a­tion into toplines or snare patterns. Fi­nally, four Step Re­peat but­tons al­low quick ‘rolls’ to be ap­plied while record­ing us­ing the drum pads, re­peat hits on a step up to four times and also add on-the-fly, glitch-like re­peats to the whole beat, at di­vi­sions be­tween 1/4 and 1/32.

The DrumBrute’s sig­nal chain is rounded off by a dual-mode Steiner Parker fil­ter. This fea­tures ro­taries for cut­off and res­o­nance, along with but­tons for switch­ing to HPF mode (from its LPF de­fault) and by­pass­ing the fil­ter. It’s a nice, smooth sound­ing fil­ter; the res­o­nance isn’t par­tic­u­larly wild, al­though this is pos­si­bly a bit of a bless­ing for those plan­ning on us­ing the ma­chine on stage and not wish­ing to blow any PA sys­tems. If I were be­ing fussy, I’d say it would have been nice to see a few more ef­fects at this mas­ter stage – an ana­logue drive cir­cuit, or maybe some re­verb or de­lay would be great – but this is pure wish­list­ing rather than a crit­i­cism. Given its sub-£400 street price, there’s al­ready an im­pres­sive amount of fea­tures on­board here, and it would just be greedy to start de­mand­ing more.

The one no­table weak­ness of the DrumBrute, com­pared to its main ri­vals at this price, is that it doesn’t al­low sound pa­ram­e­ters to ei­ther be recorded into the ma­chine, like the Mo­tion Se­quenc­ing on Korg’s Elec­tribes, or be au­to­mated from an ex­ter­nal source via MIDI CC, as is pos­si­ble with Roland’s TR-8. Should you wish to, say, change the pitch of a drum mid-se­quence, your only op­tion is to go hands-on and tweak the as­so­ci­ated con­trol in real time. This is un­der­stand­able for an ana­logue in­stru­ment at this price, and per­son­ally I en­joy the hands-on ethos of the in­stru­ment so don’t find it much of a prob­lem. No doubt there’ll be some read­ing this for whom this lack of au­to­ma­tion will be a deal-breaker though. Ei­ther way, it’s cer­tainly some­thing worth bear­ing in mind.

This aside, at this price point the DrumBrute is a tri­umph. It packs a solid as­sort­ment of qual­ity sounds, with a sonic char­ac­ter dis­tinct from its main ri­vals. Its deep and cre­ative se­quenc­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties are the real high­light though, and cou­pled with its fluid work­flow, they make it a great source of cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion. Ku­dos to Ar­turia for pulling it off.

CON­TACT KEY FEA­TURES WHO: Source Dis­tri­bu­tion WEB:­ Ana­logue drum ma­chine. 12 drum tracks with a to­tal of 17 drum/per­cus­sion sounds. I/O: 1x main jack out. 2x head­phone out (mini & 1/4-inch jacks), 12x mini-jack track out­puts, MIDI In/Out, USB MIDI, Clock In/Out

FIL­TER The Steiner Parker out­put fil­ter can op­er­ate in ei­ther LPF or HPF mode. A by­pass switch makes it easy to punch sweeps in/out.RAN­DOM­NESS The ran­domi­sa­tion con­trol can be ap­plied per-track or, when ap­plied glob­ally, will add ran­dom hits to any track with at least one step cur­rently en­gaged on the step se­quencer.SE­QUENCER The 16-step se­quencer can be du­pli­cated and ex­tended up to a to­tal length of 64 steps. Up to 16 se­quences can be chained to­gether to cre­ate songs.KICKS The DrumBrute’s two kick en­gines of­fer a broad range of low-end sounds, with punchy elec­tronic kicks pro­vided by Kick 1 and sub-heavy sounds from Kick 2.

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