I have a soft spot in my heart for analog drum machines, but I really never fell in love with one. In many ways this is really kind of understandable, the classic ones, the 808 and 909, are exceedingly expensive and sought after. There are others out there which while beautiful, are often deeply complex and often have a steep learning curve, or lack immediacy.
Connecting with one, has been a bit of a trial, as such I either used my weird modular equipment or my computer for rhythmic happenings. The Arturia Drumbrute however offered me an opportunity, a drum machine that the more I play, the more I love. The one thing I would have liked is some delay, but we cannot have it all. Love after all often does involve compromise.
There has been some debate on the sounds of the drum machine, but let me state this is a subjective judgement. It does sound like an analog drum machine, and I really like the sounds. The sound though is not the reason I love this drum machine, it is the high degree of weirdness that it inspires. It is the sheer fun of playing it and performing with it.
I believe a drum machine should being fun and interesting to play. There is also a great deal to be said with an instrument like this having immediacy. With synthesizers in general I take a great deal of pleasure diving deep into synthesis, the more complexity the better. Drum machines I am almost the exact opposite, I want ease of use. I want to dive right in and have fun. This is something the DrumBrute delivers
This is where the beauty of the DrumBrute lies really is in its ease of use. It is have the right set of features right at ones finger tips to dive right in. I think what many people forget is what made the Roland 808 and 909 popular was not just the sounds, but the very fact the instruments were fun and easy to program. The Drumbrute goes off of this strength more so than anything else, and builds on it, offering both interesting and useful features. Yes other drum machines have more powerful feature set, more effects, and possibly better sounds (debateable, but whatever). But they are often not as immediate and fun to play. Almost every feature of the drum brute is basically right there. Those features are almost all designed for expressiveness and the ability to give the machine a soul. The random and swing are about as good as they can get. The beat repeat strip can be used to really make things crazy or for more subtle rolls on each drum track. The per-drum part lengths open the door to polyrhythmic experimentation. This is all beautiful, immediate, and lovely, as one can quickly go between these elements with ease.
In terms of the drums there is lots of individual outs. My biggest gripe is lack of stereo with the main out, and the aforementioned lack of delay. The curious omission was the fact “brute factor” distortion that was found on previous “Brute” products was missing. This would have likely be beneficial to the drum machine, adding a bit of grit.
The one core word of advice with this drum machine is to get a decent delay pedal. It adds quite a bit in terms of the performance aspect of this machine. I have performed live with a boutique delay, and it enhanced the DrumBrute to my expectation.
With that being said there is no Analog Drum machine that is this feature rich for $449. It basically does not exist. I personally really like the drum sounds, but this is ultimately a subjective judgement. While there are other budget drum machines, such as the Akai TomCat, they often lack some critical features. The closest competitor is the MFB Tanzbar, which is wonderful in its own right, but also twice the cost and is hard to find. The Arturia DrumBrute is a beautiful drum machine for rhythmic experimentation, and there are not many drum machines that match its feature set and possibilities whether you are making electronic dance music, or in my case, beautiful weirdness.