Review: Elektron Model:Samples
It’s a box that ticks all the physical sequencing and sampling boxes – but how does Elektron’s latest compare to its more well-rounded rivals in this field?
Elektron’s Model:Samples is a sequencer/sampler player that brings the Elektron ethos to a new, more affordable, level. But for anybody who already owns Elektron gear, the Model:Samples is provocative, to say the least. It’s affordable, has limited functionality and looks like no other Elektron, with a plastic body and a colour scheme that harks back to the 1990s.
New model army
The Model:Samples arrives in a brown box with the slogan ‘Rhythm Is A Breeze’ printed on it. Inside, there’s the unit itself, a mains power supply, two MIDI breakout cables, a stylish cloth-covered grey USB cable, and a sizeable sheet of stickers. Buy some stickers, get a free sampler! Coming soon is a battery-pack accessory, which will make this into a super-portable system. The control surface has 16 knobs, 15 buttons, six pads, a display, and 16 sequencing keys. Round the back, there’s a power input, a micro USB port, MIDI Out/Thru/In, and full-size 1/4-inch left/right main outs and headphones jack. Inside, there’s 1GB of storage.
The overall vibe of Model:Samples is fun and portable. It’s different from the next-tier-up Elektron products, like the Digitakt, in price, construction, and approachability. Maybe the company aims to establish a three-tier system with the Models, then the Digis, and then the big boxes such as the Octatrack. We shall see.
Back to Model:Samples – I plug it in, power it up, add headphones and it automatically loads the first pattern, using samples from Splice Sounds, which seems intent on stealing Loopmasters’ crown in the bundled-content department. Tapping the larger pads (they’re velocity and aftertouch enabled) I can hear the samples currently assigned to tracks 1-6. Tapping the bottom row of buttons plays the current track’s sample as a chromatic pitched instrument. Once I press play, it’s then immense fun to tweak the filter cutoff and resonance knobs; the Model:Samples doesn’t quite have one knob per function, but is close enough for some tasty interaction.
Your next move here might be to create a project and browse, audition, then load, some samples. There’s little onboard sample editing, other than setting start/length, reverse and loop functions. There are decent effects, including the filter, one LFO per track, distortion, reverb, and delay.
Holding its own
Elektron products are first and foremost sequencers, and here the Model:Samples holds its own. Patterns can be programmed step by step, over patterns up to 64 steps in length, or recorded in real-time; I liked that bpm is saved per pattern. Each track can be a different length and time signature, as well as independently scaled to play at fractions or multiples of the original tempo.
Elektron uses the principle of ‘trigs’ – sequencer events that can include note on/off, pitch, parameter changes, and re-trigs, which add repeats to an existing trig. A note isn’t required to add parameter changes, and multiple trigs can be applied to each step, with nudge and swing, as well as a chance value which means the trig may or may not occur.
A fill mode can add little rhythmic breaks on the fly and it’s also possible to break out of the six tracks = six samples trap by using sample locks, which allows new samples to be loaded on sequence steps within a single track (up to 26 samples per pattern).
It wouldn’t be wrong to think of the Model:Samples as a superbly cool sequencer that also happened to do some sample playback. Each project can contain up to 96 patterns (that’s sequencing info for all six tracks), and up to 64 patterns can be chained in real time, which is as close as the Model:Samples gets to any kind of song mode – this isn’t an arrangement tool. Up to 96 projects can be contained within the M:S drive at any time, with up to 64MB of samples available for each project.
While sequencing, the only rain on your 16-step parade is possibly the pads and the buttons. The pads aren’t ideal for finger-drumming and the sequencer buttons have way too much lateral movement. That’s no reflection on their durability, but they are not massively pleasurable to use.
Leaving behind demo sounds, the Model:Samples connects to a computer via USB. Elektron has steered clear of the Overbridge system and opted for simple USB class compliance. You can use this as a straightforward stereo audio interface, but it also sends and receives samples, using the free Elektron Transfer software (if necessary, samples can be loaded via MIDI). USB MIDI is supported, so you can sync with music software, or use the M:S to sequence software instruments, or send MIDI from the knobs and pads.
Adding Model:Samples to Elektron’s Digitone results in a fantastic update on the classic Monomachine, with the Digitone handling the synthesis and the Model:Samples bringing in sampled beats for extra groove and texture. I can also imagine running it into an Analog Heat for a drone-based live set, with minimal beats and long synth tones created by looping short-waveform samples.
Another thing I particularly like as far as performance goes is the Control All function. Press the CTRL ALL button and tweak anything – say filter cutoff – and it’ll be applied across all tracks at once. This concept goes back as far as Elektron’s Machinedrum, and I’ve enjoyed using it during live gigs.
My wishlist for a Model:Samples MK II would include an additional SD card reader, and some level of effects processing for the stereo output, such as a bit of compression and EQ. Other than that, I‘ll take it as-is. It’s the classic Elektron hypnotic-sequence effect in a user-friendly package, and that’s what’ll clinch it for newcomers to the Elektron way.
Model:Samples represents a major departure from the original Elektron ethos, but the company seemingly wanted to offer a less exclusive option. Despite being noticeably simpler in build quality and sampling functionality, this is actually an incredibly fun machine and a brilliant sequencer – in fact, if all it did was sequence, it’d still be a worthy purchase. This’ll work for beginners, but also for open-minded pros who’ll appreciate the immediacy.
Do I really need this?
This is about the tactile and emotional feedback that only comes from using a hardware instrument. If you’re already running software with an audio interface and a MIDI controller, you might wonder what the fuss is about, but the Model:Samples is the perfect gateway drug to get you hooked on the delights of hardware, while possibly being of less interest to owners of previous Elektron gear.
The stripped-down nature of it will be a dealbreaker for some, but it’ll be a mind-blowing revelation for others. Not only is it a fine percussion/short-sample machine, it works well for sequencing your other outboard gear, or even your software. No, you don’t need it… but you might well want it.
- 16 sequencer buttons, also used for transposed sample triggering
- 6 track select/play buttons, velocity sensitive
- 128×64 LCD display
- 1GB internal storage
- Dimensions: (W x D x H) 270 × 180 × 39mm (including knobs and feet)
- Weight: approximately 0.8 kg (1.8 lbs)
- Mains power input
- Micro USB 2.0
- MIDI Out/Thru/In on 3.5mm jacks
- 2x 1/4” balanced audio-out jacks
- 48 kHz, 24-bit D/A converters
- 1/4” headphone jack
If you really just want some cool sequencing functions, the Arturia BeatStep Pro should be on your list, with two independent melodic sequencers, a drum sequencer, a touch-strip looper (like on its DrumBrute), and sync to the outside world via MIDI, CV, or to iOS devices via USB.
Coasting up the price range somewhat, you’ll encounter the Akai MPC Live. This is a robust and mobile sequencing/sampling machine, with a touch display, an arrangement mode, lovely pads, computer integration and a rechargeable battery for those al fresco beat-making sessions. Just don’t drop it in the pool.
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