MOTU’s new drum machine is a new software sampler/synth workstation for drums, clearly influenced by beat production workstations like the legendary Akai MPC and EMU SP1200. With all today’s hardware/software talk, I initially thought this was hardware, too, but it’s not – meaning it’s got an uphill battle against integrated features in hosts like Live and new tools that integrate more closely with hardware, not to mention existing entries like FXpansion’s GURU. But don’t write it off just yet: an internal synth, a unique sampling plug-in, import workflows, and retro groove emulations could keep this in the game.

Oh, yeah – and, typical of MOTU, there’s always one feature that can make you forget every other complaint. For me, that’s the “Line templates” in the step sequencer that let you add your own Euclidian polyrhythms. Nice.

MOTU’s ad copy waxes poetic about the deeper meaning of all of this, as though pondering aloud:

“Sound libraries these days are awash with loops. And what is a loop, exactly? Someone else’s beat. Isn’t it time to take back creative ownership over your grooves?”

Yes, indeed, what is a loop? If you’re curious, you could check out the, um, loop content that ships with BPM in its 15 GB sound library.

The slightly self-contradictory philosophizing ad copy aside, though, I’m all about the creative possibilities of drum workstations, and there’s no question BPM has some potential. Look for a smackdown with NI’s own entry, which we get to talk about later today. Here’s a basic look at the BPM, which I’ll update once I can talk about Maschine oh, any software drum machine that might theoretically come out in the next two hours:

  • A sampler – a real sampler, with import, slicing, and even live recording. There’s a convenient plug-in that you can use as an insert in any host to tap into recording sources – very nice – and you can sample directly into a pad
  • A drum synthesizer (now this part I find especially cool) – looks basic but very accessible and friendly to the task at hand
  • 15 GB sound library, including (fair enough) not just loops but patterns, slices, and instrument sounds
  • Sample import capability with compatibility with MOTU’s libraries and UVI engine as well as REX, Apple Loops, etc., with drag-and-drop import (inherited from MOTU’s MachFive sampler)
  • Record your own samples
  • Step sequencer, graph editor, piano roll sequencer
  • Grooves, including classic MPC, LinnDrum grooves, and edit and save your own. There’s even an SP1200 emulation.
  • Live scene performance and playback, which you can also export to software for later use

Killer feature for geeks: A Euclidian line template. They didn’t have to, but they did. You get the rhythmic benefits. Awesome.

Today there’s new hardware from NI and Akai, but this is software-only: good, old-fashioned MIDI learn is how you get to control any of this live. It’s a mouse-based workflow, which to me undercuts some of the “program beats as fast as your mind can "hear" them” talk in the marketingspeak. The appeal of MPCs and the like is that hardware control, which is all about speed. In fact, when I first saw the image, I thought they actually were unveiling hardware, and wondered why there was a disc drive on the thing, but they’re not.

And there’s another problem: you’d need an extremely short memory not to recognize this has been done before. fxpansion’s GURU does this, and in a much cleaner interface that clearly integrates sampling and sequencing (which is what I suspect a lot of people would want). It doesn’t have synth capability, but it has the same basic pattern sequencing, direct sampling and real-time recording, slicing, and graphical automation options. (Heck, some of the views even look the same, although there are some established ways of doing some of these things.)

That said, MOTU has a very powerful sampling engine underneath, the import workflows are pretty powerful, I love the synth capabilities in particular (and MOTU has made some great soft synths), and I think the plug-in that you just use to sample is very clever. And if the groove options are better than other offerings out there, of course, it’ll win some converts. Vintage groove emulation + line templates on the step sequencer = happy rhythm geeks.

So BPM remains a contender for a software workflow. Now, can it stand up to integrated features in a host (Live), conventional hardware (MPC, etc.), or software-integrated hardware (Maschine)? This is going to be an interesting season for fans of this kind of tech.

Updated: As you’ll read in comments, it seems that bpm can’t slice audio itself – audio has to be sliced elsewhere. That’s an important part of the workflow for at least some of the potential users of this tool, and something some rival software (and even similar hardware) does. It’s odd, because MOTU’s own MachFive sampler has an extensive beat sampling tool; apparently the choice was to leave it out here, at least in this version.

  • http://hypnosapien.com hypnosapien

    I hope this has a deeply velocity-layered sample library for great real drum sounds (i.e. battery). This could make my live midi loop sequencing in ableton a whole lot easier…

  • http://mateomurphy.com Mateo

    As an aside, I find it interesting that MOTU's plugins support all platforms and formats (ignoring linux). I wish that other manufacturers (i.e. ableton) would do the same. I'd especially like it if I could use each sequencer's built in plugins elsewhere….

  • Mattbot

    Euclidian polyrhythms? I think someone at MOTU reads Wesen's blog!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Mattbot: yeah, that was my take. :)

    Euclidian polyrhythms: it's the new "quantize."

    @Mateo: I agree, mostly. Cakewalk does the same thing with most of their stuff in SONAR. And MOTU, NI, IK, and others all do a good job of being platform-agnostic with their plugs.

    This isn't just philosophical, though. I would love to use the Ableton stuff elsewhere, but they they rely on some UI design, stability, and tempo sync features that might not work. And it's a huge quality headache getting things to reliably run elsewhere. So you have different business decisions here. That said, it's your dollar as a consumer.

  • http://xfader.com regend

    Sp1200 emulation? The filters used on the main out 1 and main out 2 will never be software emulated. Never. And these groove templates are myths. There's an interview with Roger Linn that debunks this.

    The new hard ware controllers for Ableton will allow ys to take advantage of these:

    In Ableton:

    Alt. 1: Adjust the global groove amount (it's to the right of the tempo meter)

    Alt. 2: While in piano roll, ctrl+3 will change it to triplet grid, which quickly enables you to enter notes with swing.

  • http://www.twofloorsrecords.com zibba

    If you want to go further with polyrhythms in a step sequencer check out This lets you split up each individual grid element into different beat sub-divisions.

  • alex

    GURU is great. The feel's there. but the interface is terrible. looks like MOTU redesigned GURU to make it user-friendly in BPM.

  • redcopter

    I second alex

  • Orge

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't think that Guru did real-time rec/slice from the host? I've been looking for something that can real-time slice from audio for a while and there's not a lot out there… My interest is performance rather than studio work.

    J

  • http://myspace.com/phonofield Warren

    when does this thing get released? the learning curve has been too high for me until now (drum machine wise).

  • Stan the man

    I disagree with the mouse driven this… and fxpansion all ready done that…A lot of us have been wating for a REASONABLY PRICED vst version of an mpc. Heck, all of the mpd's and korg padk style controllers have been begging for the development of a piece of software like bpm, which seems to more accurately translate the workflow / feel of mpc than ANY plugin before it bar none including fxpansion. Could you record samples directly from the interface of fxpansions sampler – nope not to my knowledge – I'd have to see that before I believe it. That in fact was one main feature of the mpc for many – the freakin ability to record samples from the world around you – rather than just downloading and using sounds everyone else already beats to death. That feature alone sets BPM apart – who wants to have to waist a daw arrange track for one shots and phrases and click and drag in to a sampler plugin – not me – I like the idea of sampling to pads. And speaking of all the boohoo about it being to mouse involved, that's what all the pad controllers are for. Pretty petty complaints.

  • John

    You can not slice your samples in this program… The slice function is limited to what they consider loops which is "Loops = sliced loops (Rex, Apple Loops, UFS Loops…)" So you would need another program to slice your loops before using this program to make a kit or rearrange as you can in an MPC or in other software programs such as GURU?

  • John

    You can't slice your own sampled loops… Sent from MOTU – If you load a sliced loop or REX file, BPM will map out the slices to different keys. If there are no internal slices in the loop, BPM loads the loop as a single sample. If you need software to slice up audio loops, that is a feature found in MachFive 2.

  • Eric

    MOTU needs to add a slicer fast as in version 1.01 or I am going GURU and hope GURU 2 kills everything.

  • http://www.fxpansion.com angus_fx

    There is a companion plugin for GURU made by Devine Machine, called One Shot Recorder, that lets you sample to GURU's pads. The prob. with sample record is that it more or less mandates that the plug have destructive editing (if you record, you need to be able to top-and-tail otherwise it's basically a gimmick), which in turn makes the file management side of things somewhat more complicated (as you end up with different versions of the same wave file) which in turn means you're likely to need a project/file management interface to keep the whole thing usable.

  • pcceeeee

    which is the best? facts please

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  • Squibblediebopblipal

    I haven't used the others but guru is fantastic. I use it with a korg padkontrol and have been in beat heaven ever since I installed it. Good software from nice people. I think v2 will be out soon too so we can expect great things if their new soft synth, DCAM, is anything to go by.