Swedish manufacturer Elektron have attracted a cult like following in recent years thanks to their always groundbreaking – and sometimes head scratching – drum machines, synths and samplers. NAMM 2017 saw the reveal of the Digitakt, an “affordable” drum machine sampler that eschewed analog sound generators in favor of an all digital, sample based approach.
In this era of affordable analog drum machines and even cheaper drum machine plugins, an all-digital drum machine really needed to bring something special to the table so let’s explore why the Elektron Digitakt has become my pick for the best digital drum machine on the market today.
What is the Digitakt?
The Elektron Digitakt is a digital drum computer & sampler. The Digitakt features eight digital sound generators any of which can play back samples, step sequencer, effects and 64 MB sample memory.
I like to think of my Digitakt as the mutant offspring of an Elektron Octatrack and Analog Rytm. It takes some features from both and puts them into a smaller, more affordable box.
Is the Digitakt a synthesizer?
Given the range of products Elektron have launched in recent years it’s easy to get confused about which machine does what. It’s important to understand that the Digitakt has no built in synth engine or analog sound generators – the Digitakt is all about creating sounds from samples.
What is the Digitakt for?
Get hold of a Digitakt and you can use its eight tracks for making electronic beats of all flavors. However the Digitakt goes beyond typical 4/4 drum beat making and really opens up a world of sonic possibilities thanks to its sampling capabilities, powerful modulators, effects, sequencer, parameter locks and polyrhythmic capabilities.
The Digitakt excels at sound and sample manipulation allowing users to explore a world of sound design posssibilities and take their music in new directions.
Does the Digitakt require a computer?
The Elektron Digitakt drum computer works as a stand alone drum machine however you’ll want to hook it up to a computer on occasions for software updates and/or transferring samples to the Digitakt.
Digitakt comes with Elektron’s Overbridge app which allows you to manipulate your Digitakt on the computer screen, and organize your samples and sounds using a dedicated VST/AU powered plugin.
Send Digitakt tracks into your DAW
One of the best features of the Digitakt is its ability to output all eight tracks directly into your DAW of choice. You can stream all eight of the Digitakt’s internal tracks plus external inputs, and the main bus to separate mixer tracks at 24 bit/48 kHz.
You’ll need a fairly modern/powerful computer to really take advantage of this feature but assuming your computer is up to the task it opens up a world of possibilities as your Digitakt sounds can be further manipulated with your favorite plugins.
Is the Digitakt good for making techno?
If you’re looking for an all in one drum machine and sampler for making techno music then the Digitakt should be high on your list of potential purchases. Elektron’s digital drum computer is a fantastic way to mangle, manipulate and create the kind of synthetic and dissonant sounds that are associated with techno music in particular and electronica in general.
You’ll also want to consider the Octatrack sampler and Analog Rytm drum machine, both of which are more expensive than the Digitakt.
Is the Digitakt good for making hip hop beats?
Akai’s MPC range might still dominate hip hop production scene (with stiff competition from Native Instrument’s Maschine) but with its onboard sampling capabilities and powerful sequencer there’s no reason why hip hop heads couldn’t get a lot of use from the Digitakt.
If your hip hop work involves any kind of deep sample manipulation and mangling to the point where you’re moving into lofi and glitch-hop or broken beats and even cinematic and abstract soundscape territory then the Digitakt has a lot to offer, especially when teamed with a DAW.
Like most Elektron gear the Digitakt sound suits a certain “mood” of music which leans towards the more downbeat, dark and dystopian but this is a sampler first and foremost so if your tastes should happen to lean more towards the mellow, chilled or cheerful then the Digitakt is perfectly capable of catering to your needs.
Is the Digitakt battery powered?
Digitakt is powered by a PSU-3b power supply unit, supplied.
Does the Digitakt have MIDI?
The Digitakt has 8 dedicated MIDI tracks.
Sampling with the Digitakt
The Digitakt gives you 64 MB sample memory and a 1GB internal hard drive. You can store up to 128 samples in a project and eight of the Digitakt’s 16 tracks can play back any of your samples. (The other eight tracks are MIDI tracks.)
To get your sound files into the Digitakt you’ll need to drag and drop them onto Elektron’s Transfer app via your PC or MAC desktop. Transfer converts your samples into mono format and sends them off to the Digitakt’s 1GB +Drive via the magic of USB cable. Somewhat annoyingly – and unlike the AKAI MPC range – there’s no SD card sample transfer capabilities here.
At the back of the Digitakt are two stereo input jacks for sampling directly into the unit. Sampling is a quick and painless affair and you can sample as the machine is playing with no need to pause. Samples are automatically converted into mono.
When you have your samples in the Digitakt you can play them back as one shots or loops. You can cut and loop very short sections of your samples to create an infinite varieties of new tones – turning a pad sound into a synth stab, for example (or vice versa!). As with the more expensive Analog Rytm, the position of sample play back can be shifted and automated on a per step basis allowing for the easy creation of glitchy sequences and wavetable type sound generation.
Enter Chromatic mode and your sample can be played back chromatically – great for creating riffs, techno stabs, chord sequences and melodies.
What effects does the Digitakt have?
The Digitakt features a number of high quality effects including filters, 2 send effects (reverb and delay) and a master compressor.
- 1 × Band-width filter per audio track
- 1 × Multimode filter per audio track
- 2 × Assignable LFOs per track
- 1 × Overdrive effect per audio track
- Saturator Delay send effect
- Supervoid Reverb send effect
- Stereo compressor master effect
Each of the Digitakt’s eight tracks has two single variable-shape LFOs which you can use to manipulate parameters of your choice (filter cut off, for example). Taking advantage of these LFOs is the trick to creating evolving beats, glitchy sequences and morphing soundscapes.
How big is the Digitakt drum computer?
The Digitakt is a portable drum machine that measures a compact W215 × D176 × H63 mm (8.5” × 6.9” × 2.5″) and weighs approximately 1.45 kg (3.2 lbs).
Does the Digitakt have speakers?
The Digitakt does not have a built-in speaker. The Digitakt has 1× Headphone jack and 2 × ¼” balanced main right/left outs.
Reasons to avoid the Digitakt:
I can think of a few reasons why I wouldn’t recommend the Digitakt to everyone. First up is the price. There’s no doubt that you can buy cheaper drum machines and samplers and also software solutions are much cheaper (see: “why not just use a drum plugin?” below).
The second reason you might want to walk away from the Digitakt is the complexity on offer. There’s no doubt that the Digitakt is a deep and powerful machine but that power comes at a price.
While the Digitakt isn’t as complicated as some other Elektron gear I could name – looking at you, Octatrack! – it still has the signature Elektron workflow and U.I. design quirks that some users may find off-putting.
In particular you might find it difficult to get to grips with how Elektron deals with file management. The ways sounds are spread across the sample pool, projects and kits can be a pain to get your head around although this has been made somewhat more intuitive thanks to the Overbridge software.
I also find with my Elektron gear that if I have not powered it up and jammed with it for a few weeks or months I struggle to recall how it all works! Muscle memory has to be rebuilt from scratch, almost. This is not a problem I suffer with less complicated gear or software plugins. Hopefully if you’ve got the time to use your Digitakt on a daily basis then this isn’t going to be a problem.
Ultimately, this is a powerful device that rewards your effort and your time spent with it – if you’re the kind of impatient or time poor music producer who needs super fast workflows and instant gratification and you hate spending time reading manuals and watching tutorials then the Digitakt might not be for you.
What the press say:
…it encourages you to start from scratch, capture sounds, mess them up, jam a performance, record it and move on. The sampler engine is amazing: you can push it to extremes and smoothly loop down to tiny slices, blurring the line between sampling and wavetable synthesis.Sound on Sound magazine, September 2017
It might look like a humble sampler, but with great sequencing and a decent crop of connectivity, we can see this becoming the centrepiece of plenty of studio and live rigs. Not a box to underestimate!Music Radar, August 2017
Digital drum machines? Why not just use a drum plugin?
Before shelling out big bucks for a hardware, sample based digital drum machine such as the Digitakt perhaps we should pause and think about if a drum machine and sampling VST plugins are the more practical option.
Part of the supposed appeal of real hardware drum machines and grooveboxes over their drum machine plugins cousins is the sound quality.
Many producers say – quite rightly – that a real analog drum machine, such as a vintage TR-909, has a certain vibe or mojo that plugins are yet to fully replicate. Typically this “vibe” is partly down to ageing circuits and transformers adding a certain “crust” to the drum sounds. This age and dust related sound distortion means no two analog drum machines sound exactly the same, although I’d argue that such differences are minimal and mostly lost when a drum sequence is playing in the full context of a mix.
When a drum machine is all digital, however, you are, in effect, playing with software code albeit ones and zeroes that come wrapped up in sexy hardware so the “magic” of ageing analog sound no longer applies but digital brings its own tones and sound palettes to the table. Digital, analog? It’s a mater of taste which you prefer and of course there’s no reason why you can’t embrace both in your workflow (assuming you have the money!)
Any dedicated drum machine plugin, or half decent software synthesizer, can be used to create countless drum sounds from booming kicks to sizzling hi hats so does an all digital hardware machine bring anything extra to the table?
The main advantage of a digital drum machine, such as the Digitakt, has over plugins is the “hands on” appeal. With a machine like the Digitakt you can sit on a sofa, boot it up and start making beats in seconds. When you’ve got a powerful and inspiring machine in your hands with all the knobs and buttons you need within hand’s reach – and with no PC screen to distract you – then it’s easy to focus on creating your sounds.
Another advantage you get with the Digitakt in particular is the power of the sequencer. Thanks to Elektron’s parameter locks I find I can create complicated sequences in the Digitakt that would simply be too time consuming to do in my DAW using a mouse and automation lanes.
There are several disadvantages though to these hardware boxes which are well worth considering before taking the plunge. The first disadvantage is the cost – there’s no denying that while the Digitakt comes in at the more “affordable” end of the Elektron product range but it’s still significantly more expensive than even the priciest software drum machines.
Secondly, any hardware unit such as the Digitakt has limitations which are easier to overcome – or even nonexistent – in the software realm. With the Digitakt you are limited to eight voices, for example, whereas software drum machines are limited only by how many instances you can fire up before your computer runs out of memory and/or processing power.
Last but not least, I find software based instruments and DAWs really have the edge when it comes to storing your kits and sounds and instantly recalling settings in your projects although in recent years we have seen manufacturers such as Elektron, Akai and Roland offering software intergration with their hardware products but you will need a computer and DAW setup to take full advantage.
More information about the Elektron Digitakt: