First Listen: A Review Of The Elektron Digitakt Compact Digital Drum Machine
For months around the halls of Vintage King I've been hearing about the Elektron Digitakt, a new all in one compact drum machine and music production station as powerful as any on the market. I have been a big advocate of music production stations like the Korg Kronos and Native Instruments Maschine for the past couple of years, I use them on just about every project I work on as a producer to add bits of ear candy throughout the arrangement. I also love producing electronic music as a little side hobby of mine, so I was really stoked when the new Elektron Digitakt came across my desk.
Don’t let the size fool you in how powerful this piece of hardware is. There are so many features inside of this little guy that I feel like I barely touched the surface while demoing it. I watched a couple of videos online of live DJs messing around with the Digitakt and was completely blown away by the limitless musical capabilities and live performance functions.
Most smaller drum machines feel cheap in your hands, but the Digitakt weighs a little over 3lbs and has a solid steel build and heavy duty construction that will surely last in live performance and studio use for years. The 16 buttons and 8 data entry knobs have a great feel to them, the keys feel similar to a computer keyboard but much more responsive and are back-lit for use in any lighting. Even with a smaller surface compared to an MPC style pad, I was able to do intricate live drum sequences where 16th note and above musical intervals triggered with ease.
One of the most powerful functions of the Digitakt is its ability to upload your own samples that you can then cut, tune, loop and run them through internal filters and effects. This was a really fun feature to mess around with an electric guitar, bass guitar and the Mellotron Micro I was also demoing.
I was able to run line level into the sequencer through one of the INPUT L/R jacks on the rear panel and play along while live recording. The Digitakt has an input meter so you can keep an eye on the amount of level coming into the device, making it easy to capture a pure performance without any clipping happening. Although, if you do clip the input, it has a pleasing sound to it rather than unbearable digital distortion (which I experimented with a bass guitar and the Mellotron). You can monitor directly through the Digitakt in real time by selecting MON.
You then set a threshold with one of the data entry knobs just above the noise floor of whatever instrument you are playing to engage the recording. This is a handy feature that can allow you to record on the Digitakt, but will refrain from recording until signal crosses that threshold. This prevents having some dead space on the front end of the sample or creating a panic that you must start performing as soon as you hit record. When you are done with the recording, pressing the YES function will stop the audio recording.
Once you have recorded the audio into the Digitakt, you can trim as many samples as you want from the recording. The data entry knobs A and C allow you to set TRIM START and TRIM END points throughout the sample. Most of the time it was easy to find a good start and end point, but for fine tuning you can use the B and D data entry knobs to zoom in and out for precise editing. A great feature to make sure you are starting and ending a sample on the zero voltage line so no pops or clicks happen every time you trigger the sample.
With the start and end points set, you can hit FUNC+YES to preview the sample. When you are happy with what you have, press YES to save the sample. You can then name the sample on the Digitakt screen and assign it on any channel 1-8. The LEFT and RIGHT arrow keys are used to cycle between characters, then pressing either the UP or DOWN key or turning the LEVEL/DATA knob will select the character.
You can create a variety of different loops and save them to the 1GB +drive and pull them up on whatever session you want. Samples can be up to 64MB a piece, allowing you to save full-length song samples or backing tracks that could be very convenient for live performance.
As I mentioned before, I played three separate instruments into the Digitakt. This was the first time I’ve ever used this piece of hardware, and with the combined playing and editing time, it only took a couple hours to create a custom sound library. It is very user-friendly, especially if you have any experience using other digital drum machines.
If you aren’t into creating custom samples right away, Digitakt is loaded with a number of pre-made songs and stock samples. I had a blast messing around with the stock songs, they have multiple styles of music including standard electronic, hard rap and spacey ambient sounds. Each of the songs has a couple different patterns, so once I got used to the user interface, I was able to play a song live on the Digitakt with different sections (verse, chorus, bridge). Each demo song has a variety of drum sounds as well as melodic instruments which made it easy to experiment with the internal effects and filters right out of the box.
Digitakt gives you the ability to assign one multi-mode filter per track, which has a variety of customizable functions that can all be edited in real time, from RES response, ability to select which style of filter you wish to use, cutoff point and more.
One overdrive effect can be assigned per track. The overdrive in this little guy is pretty insane sounding. It can go from a nice bit of saturation to brutal distortion. A convenient feature is the ability to dial in the amount of drive you want, as well as control the output volume of the track at the same time. If you are adding an insane amount of drive in real time, you can prevent a volume spike through the speakers.
You can also assign one LFO per track as well as delay and reverb effects. The internal effects inside of the Digitakt are incredible. Some of the guys at Vintage King started using them like a multi-effects pedal for their guitar and keyboard rigs. Since you have the ability to run line level in and out of Digitakt, you can easily incorporate it into a pedal board setup. This also allows you to edit and manipulate all of the internal sounds on the fly with the data entry knobs, and if the setting gets to whacky you can easily go back to the preset sound.
If you are more comfortable working in the box, Digitakt also comes with Overbridge software and can connect to your computer through a single USB cable (which is included). The Overbridge software enables a tight integration between the Digitakt and your DAW. All of the parameters of the Digitakt will appear as a VST/AU plug-in window inside your DAW.
Overbridge allows you to access, edit or automate parameters on your computer rather than on the hardware itself, but the hardware is still analyzing every move you make. If you were to save those settings and take the Digitakt to a gig or studio session where you don’t want to bring your computer, all of those custom settings will still be saved within the unit. With total recall functionality, you can always find your device preset parameters in the same state as you left them when you return to your DAW project.
You can also effect computer audio with the hardware unit, allowing you to work in the box as much as you wish, but have the ability to put your hands on some knobs or hit the triggers to achieve a live performance feel for real-time parameter adjustments, automation, and more.
With Overbridge Premium, you can use Digitakt as a “2 in / 2 out” sound card for your DAW through CoreAudio, ASIO, or WDM audio drivers. This will also allow you to stream the eight internal audio tracks to separate DAW tracks at 24bit/48kHz per channel through a single USB connection.
Not only does Digitakt have the ability to manipulate live audio, it has a very powerful MIDI engine as well. Digitakt has eight dedicated MIDI tracks which are used to control external MIDI-equipped gear. Each MIDI track can trigger a chord up to four notes with the ability to adjust velocity, pitch bend and aftertouch.
The MIDI tracks function almost the exact same as the audio tracks so there isn’t a new learning curve to overcome. MIDI tracks feature the ability to manipulate LFO modulation, micro timing, triggering conditions, track lengths and time signature settings.
If I were to dive into all the parameters and functionality of the Digitakt, you would be reading this blog all day. As I mentioned before, I messed around with the hardware for days and feel as if I just touched the surface, but was still able to create some really cool custom sequences and samples as if I had been a user for years.
If you are into collecting digital drum machines and samplers, I highly recommend you check out the Digitakt. A great companion to any music producer, live DJ or electronic music enthusiast.
The Digitakt is priced at $649 and includes a quality USB cable. This is the cheapest device available from Elektron, but don’t let the price fool you, it is extremely powerful as a stand-alone music production station. Compared to similar workstations, I don’t think you could find a more versatile sampler and drum machine for the price.
If you have any questions regarding the Elektron Digitakt or would like to add this amazing piece of gear to your collection, be sure to contact your Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 888.653.1184.