What level of gear would you start with on this budget?

Hi Elektronauts. I’m looking for advice on hardware to help me get back into the world of music making. I know this is a common question, so I’ve tried to customise it to my specific situation. I’m not a total beginner, having been around music but primarily in rock bands back in the day & also playing around with electronic stuff recently. I’m looking to better understand solid approaches to hardware workflow.

The type of music I want to make is based on UK future garage / post dubstep (think Burial) and more melodic electronica (think Tourist & Jamie XX.) So there’s an equal emphasis on lot of atmosphere, through both pads, leads and deep basses, but added to that are swinging/pulsating rhythms with skeletal drums. To top that up there’s usually chopped samples whether that be drums, melodies or texture. What I’m trying to work out is a) the right level of budget per device and b) finding the best device to get first. If you had to choose a starting point with just one item, would you rather build a setup around a synth to build the soundscape? Or would you rather start from the rhythm up (like old school jungle/dnb) and build the rest in the DAW?

So it’s the ability to create an initial idea with a limited pool of options, with the DAW in the background for the big world of production later. Song mode a bonus, but equally happy to “perform” live into a DAW for finessing later.

Here’s my watchlist of potential setups:

Polyend Play 689GBP (probs no cash left for anything else after this!)
Elektron Digitakt 639GBP (+ midi keys fed back into the Digitakt)
Elektron Digitone 622GBP (+ DAW for layering samples etc)
MPC One 574GBP
Elektron Model Cycles & Samples 550GBP (I’ve seen people do really nice ambient/house on these)
Polyend Tracker 479GBP (+ export track & use midi keys to build track in the DAW)

Grateful for any input. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Very into the type of music you’re describing. Personally I’d just invest in a DAW and learn that front to back. People like burial and Jamie XX aren’t known for using a ton of gear outside the box, especially Burial. A lot of UK garage is very intricately programmed in a DAW.

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If I was in that situation, I would probably go with the Digitakt or Digitone… really any of them could work but for the ease of recording jams into the DAW further down the line Overbridge is pretty great as you’ve got each track recorded individually and it’s so much easier to then cut up and process further. I’ve got a Polyend Tracker and recording various parts in individually to be a little cumbersome compared with my Elektrons…

Between the Takt and Tone… I’d probably prefer the the DT as what you can do so much more with samples and you synthesise plenty with single cycle waveforms. The DN is beautiful but much more work afterwards in the DAW to get to the Burial zone…

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@maymind_trax thanks for that. Do you have any thoughts on making that experience more tactile? I’m not against the DAW led approach, but I like the idea of “playing” an instrument. I think this is maybe due to my background as a guitar player. I’ve looked into a basic midi keys / drum & did consider the Arturia Keystep series because comes with pads/buttons and sequencing capability.

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Thanks @jeye_musik it’s really useful to have folks who know type of tunes I’m talking about! With the Tracker it sounded like you export your stems to SD and drag those tracks into the DAW or have I misunderstood that? I’ve seen a lot of demos and the Tracker doing that kind of future garage dub/chill type stuff (presumably the lineage of Burial back to old school jungle DnB is strong there.) File transfer aside, do you think the Tracker is as good as the DT getting into the Burial zone, or are there any differences?

Good point, I’m unsure about how you can render stems out… I didn’t even think to try that - perhaps I should RTFM!!!

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For the burial experience use audacity or an equivalent…. Really though just get Ableton live and become a sampling expert

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For this type of music…

Bitwig (summer sale right now $299) + Pigments ($199) and some D&B drum loops could fit that budget but if you don’t already have a MIDI controller of some kind maybe drop Pigments. Bitwig GRID can go really far for this type of music (glitches galore etc…)


Negative of the DAW is learning curve…

For your budget, I would go for “something which samples and has some FX” first and foremost. You can make drums out of synths, but the musical references you’ve made lean on samples a lot. I’ve heard some great drums from Digitone via this forum, so I know that’ll be worthy, but you’ll miss those vocal edits if you don’t have a sampler. You can make synths out of samples. Snippets of strings or brass from old records or films (especially films) will come with built-in atmosphere and weird harmonics that’ll suit a Burial-like sound. Get the sampler first, make some beats or try to finish some whole tracks with it. Then get a synth later when you know more about what sound you’re after.

If you’re set on Elektron’s, Digitakt seems like a great choice. I went with an OT and it’s probably too much for me - it’s certainly taking me longer to get into the workflow than I hoped.

I’ve not used any of the boxes in your list. The MPC’s a different workflow: it may suit you better. Try them out? Or try out the MPC desktop app (I can’t remember what it’s called) to see if you like the interface before you buy it.

The suggestions for using a DAW seem reasonable for saving money. They 're more flexible for less initial cost. They’re more complex and that might be a burden. I’ve gone off them after years of mid-level use. There’s plenty of tales of Burial just using raw audio editors, not even a “musical” DAW. He’s a beast, and Jamie XX is an absolute wizard, too.

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Jamie definitely uses outboard gear, synths and fx as well as having he’s band mates play guitar and bass on a few tracks on he’s album, he played the steel drums live… but it seems more of starting or finishing a song with a few key parts and than building a lot of the track with a daw rather than being a “hardware guy” …
He seems to to have found a really good balance of using digital tools and a DAW with hardware for he’s workflow and sound , which is really most important for OP,

what ever helps you get work finished and allows you to find your sound… should prolly focus on a DAW and than add hardware where you feel it can enhance your sound/ workflow

Have a good look at Novation Circuit Rhythm too, it does not have DAW integration like some of the gear on your list. But it does have a really great workflow, is easy to learn, and fun to use. It has a clip based workflow, and you can have patterns of differing lengths. I don’t often recommend gear, but I have no hesitation recommending the CR for your use case.

Edit: I currently have or have had everything in your list except Polyend Play and Model Samples, I no longer have Digitakt, but still have the others.

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just one device to do garage (but also with the flexibility to run external gear you might acquire down the road) MPC One out of that list. especially now that you can add OP-4 plugin for FM sounds, likely no real need to also have a Digitone if you don’t absolutely want one. sampling wise, it’s not even particularly close. MPC One is a beast and Digitakt is the only other one that I might even consider

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Have heard a lot about Bitwig. I don’t currently have any tie in to any DAW, so I’ll definitely give this a look. Thanks.

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Either way this is going to be a tough decision haha. Hardware or not hardware :upside_down_face:

“Get the sampler first, make some beats or try to finish some whole tracks with it. Then get a synth later when you know more about what sound you’re after.” This sounds very close to where I’m at. I did start out toying in GarageBand (pre kids though mindyou!) The only thing with that was coming from a background of playing I felt that I could do with something tactile, so I hear where you’re coming from with the DAW complexity. One of the attractive parts to me at the mo is limitations via a solid piece of gear mean I can make the most of my time in sketching out an idea. Agree on Jamie XX. I love how he somehow makes his drums melodic sounding somehow.

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I have used a lot of midi controllers but I have found nothing beats a good old keyboard for DAW input. There are expert pad-drummers who should use those and there are guitarists who use electronic guitars but I find DAW is unlocked by keyboard. I’m not even a great keyboardist, but I just gets you “playing” instead of programming to get a groove going

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Agreed on a decent keyboard. My whole experience changed when I went with a 49 key semi-weighted. They keystep is fun but once you have 4 octaves and deep articulation it’s kind of life changing

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This one is where I started before I saw some other options. I dismissed it initially as I couldn’t work out if it was trying to be a sampler (with the Circuit Rhythm on the market…) or a synth, or a drum machine. But given the relatively low cost, I considered starting with one of the Circuits. The only concern I had (and I know it’s a common one) was whether it is able to make the sort of sounds I’m looking at. I know there is some criticism of the sound editor but it does look like the sort of thing I could wrap my head around with a bit of time. I do also like the idea of “punching in” a track too

Burial is famous for his “swing”. His very particular take on garage shuffle. Some, maybe all, the Elektron’s have a swing control and selectable swing points. They also have micro-timing.

Historically MPCs had groove templates or a particular quantisation mode that was very appealing (this is me remembering when Ableton added the groove template library and people being excited for the MPC grooves). I don’t know if MPCs have kept that lineage, but it might be worth exploring before you purchase. Can you get the kind of shuffle you want better through one or the other family of sequencers.

(My ear + playing aren’t tight enough to have strong feelings about this, and I already own two Elektron’s, with no plans to change platform. I’d currently have to go the manual route of learning where in a bar to micro-time things around to get specific feelings… and I’ve not done that work because I’m not sure what I want yet. If the MPCs come with nice pre-set groove templetes, you might save yourself a bunch of pain. It’s a small detail in the spec list but it might be an important part of the sound you’re after).

i’m not up on my UK 2-step these days but it sounds from this chappy’s tutorial that MPC should be able to swing that way (though not sure how extreme the off-tempo beats are getting pushed now)

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