We experimented with a lot of different designs for the Digitone Keys, including variants oriented towards more traditional layouts. They didn’t feel quite right though. One reason was that, as we wanted to keep pretty much all the aspects and features of the Digitone module intact, the traditional layouts came off as a bit fragmented. The current Takt/Ton layout works well in terms of focused workflow, and they’re familiar to a big portion of our userbase. Especially this first point came to serve as an influential guideline when designing the Digitone Keys.
Another reason was the legacy of the venerable Monomachine SFX6. That design might at first glance appear strange, but actually works pretty well from an Elektron workflow perspective. For example: this sort of layout makes it really easy to add notes/chords to the Digitone Keys sequencer, all while retaining the focused workflow of the modules. When in grid rec mode, hold a trig key + press a KB key = done. A side bonus of the SFX6 throwback: it makes the Digitone Keys appear and look quite alien. The weird retro-futuristic, Gibson-Ballardian, look suits the character of the sound engine quite well methinks.
Then you have all the other little tricks made possible by the monolithic form factor, such as being able to place other gear behind the Digitone Keys and still having those units within arm’s reach. Setups where such external units are being MIDI controlled by the Digitone Keys, and/or processing audio coming from its dedicated track outputs, can be rather compact and powerful.
Continuing the Elektron workflow excursion, this matter was of course a major consideration for the Digitone Keys. How to keep it, and how to expand it? Our take was to design the Digitone Keys so that it consisted of 2 main parts, the KB section and the module section.
The KB section is pretty much dedicated to playability/quick tweaking aspects. Use this section to experiment with melodic ideas or to quickly create the rough outline of a sound. For example, the group of 5 buttons are all controlling playability aspects in one way or another. Hold, portamento, arp, multimap, chord on/off toggle etc. The User button, located to the right of the aforementioned button group, offers quick sound design possibilities. Use it to toggle between the 2 parameter sets (where 1 is predefined, and 1 is user assignable) of the 8 encoders located above the keyboard to be able to quickly create a sound sketch you think sounds nice. These controls, in conjunction with the new OS 1.20 randomizer feature, form a great sound design starting point.
Once you’ve created something you like, move on to the module part and edit this raw sound in detail with the parameters found on the track pages. Then sequence it, warp it, transform it. I.e. the regular Elektron approach.
This KB section - module interaction flow is one of the strong points of the Digitone Keys. Starting out in the KB section, then moving on to the module section is a very rewarding little journey. It opens up new vistas so to speak.