Remember when a $200 budget used to buy you a metronome and flight case, if you were lucky? Now, you have a range of great synths you can choose from. And now it’s Akai’s turn.

The Rhythm Wolf is an integrated analog groove box – a 32-step sequencer, an analog drum machine, and a bassline synth in one. And it’s just $199 street. We’ve got all the details on the box, and should have more hands-on impressions later this week.

The drum machine

Along the bottom are six “genuine MPC pads” – the important thing being that they are, Akai confirms with CDM, velocity sensitive. (Though sequencing those velocities is greatly simplified. “Genuine” seems to apply to things that are pads, are suare, and are made by AKAI – but this is still way more than most drum machines give you even at higher prices.)

There are tune knobs for each part, too.

Kick, snare, hat (open/closed), and “percussion” parts. Percussion covers the “metallic” range – sadly, no clap here, techno/house fans. (Akai does promise “hip hop”-inspired sounds, so … well, we’ll have to hear that.)

The synth

The synth bass doesn’t give you too many controls, as it’s wedged into the side of the drum machine. But you do get a square or saw wave, plus a “classic filter design,” with cutoff and resonance, plus tuning and envelope controls.

The pattern sequencer
32 steps with swing. Select patterns, adjust tempo. You can also program in steps via an x0x-style layout.

In fact, all in all – and I want to look more into the functionality here – it’s really the sequencing functions that appear to set the Rhythm Wolf apart. Akai has gone with simplified MPC-style programming, with performance and step recording and even a copy function. That’s not in itself unprecedented, but it’s pretty eye-opening on a $200 box that’s both a drum machine and synth. Add in velocity sensitivity, and you can do things with this box that most inexpensive drum machines can’t (or certainly not without an external input device).

The I/O:

MIDI in, MIDI out (nice to see that, absent on the low-end KORG range apart from mods – meaning you can plug in other inexpensive gear, too, like, oh, say a volca or a MeeBlip)
A gate trigger, so you can connect analog gear
Two separate mono outputs – one for the drum machine, and one for the synth

Howl at the moon…

There’s also a knob-controlled analog distortion. Effects and so on you’ll have to provide yourself (though having separate synth and drum outs should help), but distortion could be a nice touch as far as adding character.

I asked Akai Germany to clarify some features – and it turns out that the pads and sequencing really do add a lot.

CDM: Can you sequence external hardware with the 32-step sequencer? (either over MIDI, USB, or both?)
Akai: Yes. USB and MIDI.

Are the pads velocity sensitive?
Yes, the five pads below the instruments are velocity sensitive. The internal sequencer is able to handle three different layers (values).

There’s one mono output from the drums, one mono output from the synth?
Yes. But if you want to lose your warranty you might want to modify it to get more outputs 😉

Ed.: I’m assuming that last bit is unofficial, but… erm… yes, I will make sure we get generous loan terms from AKAI when CDM gets ours to test.

“Howl” knob – this is a sort of overdrive?
Diode based distortion (preliminary – might change). All analogue as well.

Stay tuned…

No word yet on whether I can chain these together into a Three Wolf Moon. In fact, I’m not sure even how much we get to see in person as there were none in the AKAI booth yet as they were setting up (though I will get hands-on with the new APCs, which are stunningly small). But we have a supply of alcohol near the AKAI/InMusic booth and several days, so who knows what I’ll get out of the product reps by the end of the week.


  • http://www.justmuziq.com/ Lion

    Am I the only one that thinks its insane that this is only 200 USD but the APC40 is 400?

    Not that I’m particularly interested in the APC, but still, It’s a mother loving controller designed to be used in only one program.

    • wetterberg

      The new APC40 mini probably has a lot more circuitry wedged in there – all those lit-up buttons really do add a degree of complexity.

    • http://www.justmuziq.com/ Lion

      Forgot to mention the MPX16 is also 200 street. which is also RGB lit (actually that might be tri-color), like the new MPC line. Dedicated sampler as well as a controller.

  • Mutis Mayfield

    This machine is going to be a supersale…

  • Josh

    I’m sure Roland will regret not going the extra mile by making their new drum machine analog. Half the price too!

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      No, I dare to disagree. They are trying to go a very different route with the Aira series, and they don’t seem to want to look back. Which I appreciate a lot, although their new machines do not appeal to me at all…

    • Josh

      I agree that Roland took a different approach with Aira and I applaud them for not wanting to look back. However, whether they like it or not this machine will be in direct competition with the TR-8 and it will be hard to justify the extra $300 for a digital 808 emulation. Even if the rhythm wolf sounds underwhelming, nothing is stopping anybody from taking advantage of the midi out and triggering some 808 samples, or whatever else, for a fraction of the cost.

    • ted_mintes

      Aira isn’t velocity sensitive and the midi is weak. They cut corners. R8 is 25 years old with better specs, no colorful lights though. If they wanted to be forward thinking, maybe OSC.

    • heinrichz

      it’s analog, but probably with rather limited sound design capabilities, so i would prefer a well featured virtual analog drumsynth any day.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    The knobs look plasticky, but it’s got wooden end cheeks and seems to be simple enough to quickly lay out some beats and grooves to get started, which is nice. I love my Tempest very much (and I do like the 2×8 pads layout as opposed to classic MPC style 4×4), but this might promise instant gratification – if the sounds are alright – and nice integration with USB MIDI etc.

    • Jaybeeg

      I suspect the end caps are plastic with fake wood grain.

    • just passing

      The jowly AKAI demo guy confirmed that, suggesting real wood as an example of a mod buyers might want to consider.

  • Electroboy

    Does anyone know if the bass synth has a slide or accent function?

    • Electroboy

      Ive check the jpeg and the press release btw

    • Electroboy

      Video….in german


    • http://www.nicksuda.com/ Nick Suda

      lol @ video demo with no demo

    • just passing

      The sonicstate video (I think) revealed the reason for this. It’s always confidence-inspiring when the prototype doesn’t actually survive the pre-trade-show booth setup. Because obviously dodgy power supplies are something people NEVER come into contact with on the road.

  • malaventura

    With no chance by now to hear it I have to say that the linndrum-esque style of the machine is really nice.


    i didn’t see this coming. this, plus a Volca drum? need asap.

  • heinrichz

    I like the size and the price, but it looks like the sound controls are rather limited and analog or not that is of the essence when doing serious sound design. I’m sure you can make some generic analog drums and acid bass sounds, it would be nice if it had FM or crossmodulation.

    • just passing

      Apparently the percussion bit is based on some kind of cross modulation. Dunno if that makes it any more attractive? (Of course, that’s a question that can’t be answered until there’s some actual audio…)

  • 5ifth

    I wound up selling my volca beats after a week. I thought the kick didn’t pitch down enough or decay long enough. And they other sounds were pretty meh, or just bad (crash) I don’t know what this rhythm wolf sounds like – and that’s the biggest part of any instrament.

    But sound aside is has everything I didn’t like about the volca:
    Non-tiny knobs
    32 steps
    Midi out
    And big pads to tap stuff in

    Does anyone know if you tap in a pattern, if it keeps it exactly as you tapped it in, or does it try to quantize it for you? I like to keep things loose, and don’t like when things like the volca, stlyophone beatbox, or bleep drum try and fix it. Those are admittedly more on the toy side of things, hopefully the rhythm wolf is more on the pro audio side of things despite its budget price.
    I know they’re hinting that you can circuit bend it – hopefully it’s like the monoton with the mains points clearly marked on the board. The main thing I’d want that it doesn’t have is individual outs for each drum. The gate trigger is cool too, but a trigger for each drum part and cv / gate for the synth would be cooler. But for that price you really can’t complain.

    • Jesus of Aretha

      Plus it has an astounding 5 drum sounds so you can make the most boring beats possible.

    • SFM

      Eh I have always enjoyed running basic/simple sounds through effects and what not. Cool things could definitely be done. Especially with midi out to a bleep drum, or similar small synths.

  • Paul Sierowski

    This thing sounds horrible.