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The standalone MIDI hardware sequencer has had formidable competition in the age of the computer. But it seems ready to make a comeback in a big way. With more hardware, more affordable hardware, and more fans, all-in-one tactile control is just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, having used a computer, you’re less likely to be accommodating of inflexibility. That’s why the MTRX-8 from Fyrd Instruments shows real promise. It works as a standalone sequencer, true, with MIDI in and out ports. But it also coincides nicely with a computer – from programmability over USB to doubling as a MIDI interface and clock source.

And most of all, it can adapt to any situation. Out of the box, there are modes tuned for making melodies and basslines or drum parts. And there are presets for the KORG volca series, Dave Smith Tetra and Mopho, the open source Shruthi synths, and our own MeeBlip.

I wrote a full hands-on review for De:Bug magazine in Germany, which you can read either in English or German:

REVIEW: FYRD INSTRUMENTS MTRX-8
IM TEST: FYRD INSTRUMENTS MTRX-8 [Deutsch]

The layout/form factor I think is the one thing that might produce some controversy. You get buttons, not encoders, per-step – adjustments are made via a big jog wheel. And you have eight, not sixteen (you can chain events, but since the point is hands-on control, that won’t please everyone).

I think it is worth looking closer at this unit, though, because everything else is incredibly intelligent, including some very powerful performance setups. And that 8 step x jog wheel configuration is fast at many, many tasks.

I view the MTRX-8 as just the first indication of what’s to come. And open source hardware here makes lots of sense, certainly as regards the firmware, as it means the sequencer can be reconfigured to fit the many possible applications someone might use with this hardware these days.

fyrd-instruments.com

I’m curious: what do you think of the MTRX-8? What would you want it to do; what would be your perfect hardware sequencer?

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  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    Well, apart from not really being into the concept of step sequencers at all (I just find playing grooves and melodies on pads and keys more appealing), I don’t find this offering too attractive in its current form. While it is great that it has such deep integration, with MIDI and USB and all those configuration options, I still don’t get the concept of a hardware sequencer with only 8 steps. Look at MFB’s Urzwerg Pro MkII or Doepfer’s Dark Time or MAQ16/3, which are way more hands-on in my opinion. And have more options too. Yes, I know they do play in a different price tag league as well, but why not pay 500€ or more for something that you would get so much more from?
    What I would want instead, would be something like the Cirklon Sequentix with a more playable interface. Also, more than anything else, a hardware sequencer that could be an alternative to dealing with a laptop would need to have several MIDI outputs…

    • T

      “Cirklon Sequentix with a more playable interface” … Amen. A 16 step sequencer with playable pads and how ever many “enough” rotary encoder turns out to be: 16 or 32. I’m sure it can be DIY’d.

    • disqus_kRU53IjGpT

      very agreed. stuff like MAX or even Ableton is capable of really interesting, non-linear sequencing, it just feels pretentious for hardware sequencers to stick with a 1970s era loop-based mode. And I think there’s kind of this recognition of everybody using computers which is making manufacturers focus on the expensive retro toys end of things. I would be really excited if there was a new cheap (like, SR-16 build quality) knockoff of the Sequentix or the GenoQs Octopus, or something new inspired by the possibilities of software, but it seems like the market is trending in exactly the opposite direction.

    • Julien Fayard

      I find your comment a bit unfair.
      For sure the Dark Time is more hands-on than the MTRX-8 but the MTRX-8 can do a lot of things the Dark Time can’t (create sequences up to 64 steps for instance or more importantly, interface with Max/MSP à la monome). As you say, the Dark Time is twice the price of the MTRX-8. That means something! Maybe you can afford to pay 500€ for a piece of gear but it doesn’t mean everyone can… You want a Cirklon? You can have 7 (!!!) MTRX-8 for that price. For anyone wondering: yes, I would consider a discount if you buy 7 MTRX-8 at once, so let’s say you can have 8 MTRX-8 for that price!
      As the designer of the MTRX-8, my idea was never to provide an alternative to a laptop. To be honest, I sometimes don’t understand why so much music makers litteraly hates computers (or more likely, say they hate computers). The MTRX-8 was designed to create a bridge between hardware gears and software on computers. The idea was more to provide an affordable, fun and versatile MIDI controller to people owning “cheap” mono-synths than to provide a “monster” hands-on sequencer that can do 128 steps, 64 voices, 12 i/o etc.
      What is misunderstanded about the MTRX-8 is that it is not (only) an hardware sequencer: you can program it the way you want with Max/MSP, Max4Live or PureData, more interfaces (firmwares/patches) will be released that will provides the MTRX-8 with LFO capabilities, arpeggiators, Monome Arc emulator, etc. Cirklon, Dark Time and the likes are “just” sequencer and they are great ones. But the MTRX-8 is way more versatile and cheaper! You just can’t compare them forgetting about their prices and ALL their respective features…

      Anyway, it’s just the way I think about the “market”… As nayseven say: the MTRX-8 is not here to suit all your needs and I’m happy with that, really. Just wanted to defend a bit my creation! ;)

      P.S. @READYdot:disqus: The Dave Smith Prophet 12 don’t have CV either. Don’t think it is a fail, though. To take an even fairer analogy: the Novation Launchpad don’t have CV (nor MIDI ports *cough*) and still not a fail. ;)

    • disqus_kRU53IjGpT

      hey, thanks for this reply, I’m more intrigued to see what’s added now. speaking as someone who uses computers a lot, I get frustrated that certain features never appear on hardware, and other ones do all the time – I could set up any midi controller to control a patch on my laptop, but there’s no affordable hardware where I can just absentmindedly jam with some really weird deconstructed method of sequencing, rather than deliberately constructing it. but the actual hate most of the time is just because I end up using a touchpad for 99% of everything, not only music.

    • Julien fayard

      The beta custom interface with emulated monome arcs that neyseven is talking about in its comment should be a fit for you. By pushing button on the MTRX-8 while spinning the jog you accelerate/deccelerate the “wheel” of LED around that button. Each time the LED goes thru the bottom of the wheel, a note is sent. With four wheels, you can create quite strange and unusual rhythms.

      I know the video does not do justice to the interface/patch but you can have a certain idea of what I’m talking about:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkYUDV6qmk4

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Hi Julien,
      my comment is by no means meant to be an offense! I do appreciate the tremendous work you have put into this little machine, and I am sure it fits many people’s needs and purposes. Also, you are of course right that the machines I mentioned cannot really be compared with yours, since they all have focus on different things. But maybe, my comment then is just a sign that either my English skills are not good enough to understand your (and Peter’s) communication about it – or your device has mistakenly been put together with others into the hardware sequencer niche, where it maybe should not belong into?

      I don’t “hate” computers (quite the contrary), and I do not even use any hardware sequencers, mainly because I find it so much more convenient to create beats and melodies either by playing them live or editing them in Logic’s piano roll. I was never into step sequencing either, so as much as I love the sound of the good old 808, it just doesn’t feel natural for me to program beats in steps… On the other hand, I am neither into Max programming or the like (doing software development as a day job is enough for me, so I prefer twisting knobs and playing keys in my spare time), so all the great possibilities wiht the MTRX-8 are of no interest for me, personally. And it wouldn’t make sense to purchase music gear, just because it looks wonderful. I am not that rich… Even though I would love to get my hands on a monome, for example…

    • Taylor

      Julien, just curious: why the buttons instead of encoders? I can’t find an explanation.

    • Julien Fayard

      Hey Taylor! I’m glad you’ve asked me this question ;)
      Initially what I wanted was a kind of new BCR2000. But then I found myself in a dilemma: should I use crappy encoders and keep the price low or use good encoders and assume a prohibitive price? It’s for solving this problem that I first came with the idea of using buttons instead of encoders: I have one really (and I mean REALLY) good encoder that is expensive but that’s a one-time cost and a matrix of buttons that is cheap and reliable.
      I’m completely aware that this layout had a “big” drawback: you need 2 hands to change just one parameter. In fact the real deal is you can’t turn 2 pots in different direction at the same time (I don’t think using 2 hands for one parameter is a real problem… come on! use your 2 hands and get it done already!!!). But contrary to the classic encoder layout, you can turn more than 2 pots at once, if you accept to turn them in the same direction and that could be really helpful in a lot of situation!
      Bottom line: why the buttons instead of encoders? To maintain costs low while providing a high quality level of control. And because this is an innovative layout that allows to be extremely fast for some tasks!

  • Daniel Davis

    Alesis MMT-8 is still among the best.

  • READYdot

    No CV… fail.

  • nayseven

    I own one MTRX-8 and I’m really happy with. It’s a creative tool with new concept about working with presets and banks, and i love the encoder idea to change 3 values at a time, after a short learning period, it’s really intuitive.
    It’s open source and I’ve test the beta custom interface ( will emulate monome arcs), really promising. Of course ( and as always) it don’t suit “all needs” and “not for everyone”, and i really love this idea! ( if we all use the same tools, music will die..? )
    I think we have the chance to live in a time where many new Music tools emerge and this is good for creativity.

  • devilwidget

    I bought a MTRX-8 on a whim, kind of expecting to be disappointed. It’s actually really good – the jog dial `+ buttons thing is pretty good for many things, and surprisingly more useful than just knobs for some too – like group changes (transpose every step of a sequence up a note at the same time? easy). When they release the new firmware, particularly the 4-seq (4 sequencer at once) this will be really great. And if they could make a easy max/msp template so anyone could have a go at adding functions (even if not that good at coding) that would be excellent.
    But yes, I would give my left leg if it had cv in/out.

  • Ben

    as soon as i get the money, i’ll get one MTRX-8.
    it looks right and promising as my first hardware-sequencer.
    thanks for your review.