rhythmwolfside

As I suspected, Akai did not have a working, sounding model of the upcoming Rhythm Wolf drum machine. But I did get my hands on a prototype with sequencing firmware, got a sense of what the build will be like, and got to talk with Akai more about the design ideas behind this groove machine.

Here’s what it feels like to pick it up:

This thing feels great – not toy-like. This was the big (and pleasant) surprise for me. Whatever the Rhythm Wolf may sound like, at least it feels serious. In fact, it’s:

Real metal. Fake wood. The chassis is all metal, which gives it a more rugged feel, keeps the panel from flexing, and by making the unit a little weightier, keeps it firmly in place as you bang on those pads. The only plastic in the enclosure, ironically, is those faux-wood end panels. (That’s right – they’re plastic, not wood.) The prototype knob caps felt nice enough, too, and Akai says they’re continuing to improve the pots.

What will it sound like? Both the drum set and sounds are said to be something new. The drum engine – with kick, snare, hats, and “percussion” – is a new analog engine that draws inspiration from the 808 and CR-78, we hear from the engineers. The bass synth is a single-oscillator synth that’s “something new,” not just a 303 knock-off (though still probably somehow related to a 303, if distantly). Of course, right now, the Messe Rhythm Wolf isn’t analog but acoustic, making the pristine sound of silence. (John Cage rave!) But these seem like no-brainers to me as far as direction; we’ll see how good Akai’s engineers are at analog synth circuitry shortly.

I’m less optimistic about the bass synth – a single-oscillator synth with no LFO is a bit limiting – but even if you mostly use the drums, this could be a winner.

Oh, and I can confirm, the percussion is some kind of “metallic,” pitch-able percussion – and Akai is promising wide tuning ranges for all the parts with those tuning knobs. (A lack of tuning range was for me a disappointment on the Roland AIRA hats.)

Those are truly velocity-sensitive pads. You get a full 0-127 range on the pads. You just can’t record the full range into the sequencer; it uses instead quantizes to three velocity levels. The pads aren’t huge, and without sound or a velocity read-out it was impossible to tell how well they were working, but it’s still nice to have them rather than just triggers.

rhythmwolf

rhythmwolf_upclose

There is a real sequencer there. Okay, it was the only part that was working, but it’s still good news. There’s storage for 16 patterns, each with 32 steps. There’s a fill button. There’s a full range of time divisions. There are copy, clear, and last step functions. It’s not a complex sequencer, but the bases are covered.

There’s a “tune” knob for the synth. It’s only a single oscillator, so this really is tune, not detune (shame). But there’s a center detent, and some range for pitching up and down. One of the Akai gentlemen pointed out that this is useful if you’re sequencing directly on the unit, since there’s no pitch bend unless you connect a keyboard, etc.

There’s room on the back panel for extra audio outs – hello, hackers. Without being able to open up the Rhythm Wolf, I have no idea how practical this hack would be. But is there room on the back panel to add jacks for separate outputs from the drum synth? Yes. There is.

Thank KORG. Or EDM. Or both. Off the record, I’m hearing that Akai has been pitching this kind of drum machine for half a decade – this wasn’t an idea that just came to them after seeing the KORG volca beats. But it seems the upswing in interest in drum machines, and KORG’s effective demonstration that the entry level price is a good place to be, finally got them to pull the trigger. Whatever the reason, I think we’re glad it’s happening.

Roland AIRA comparisons don’t make much sense. The reality of the marketplace is that consumers will choose between a $200 drum machine and a $500 one. And why not? Keeping $300 in your pocket is a good thing.

But I don’t think AIRA TR-8 comparisons make so much sense. We’ve heard the TR-8, and it sounds really good. (I know quite a few long-time 808 and 909 owners who were impressed, certainly at the price.) Now, the TR-8 may not be a perfect 808 emulation, but the Rhythm Wolf isn’t even attempting an 808 emulation. The AIRA has a range of 808/909 sounds, whereas the Rhythm Wolf looks very limited. (Clap your hands, say – oh, there’s no clap.) I think the Rhythm Wolf will be a lot of fun, but it’s not broad enough to be your go-to drum machine on every track or performance. And the TR-8 has far more extensive hands-on controls. If anything, a long look at the Rhythm Wolf might make you opt for the TR-8 (or, if you want to spend more money, a boutique drum machine like the brilliant MFB Tänzbar).

Anyway, no matter. Whatever people say in comments, I think the TR-8 and Rhythm Wolf and volca beats will all be hot sellers – and this category can probably support still more affordable machines of this type.

That’s enough to say about a synth that makes no sound. Stay tuned; I’ll make sure Akai gets us one of these when it does start producing noises.

  • http://fkillmary.com/ Jason Duerr

    I love how it is styled after the Jomox Xbase. Looks fantastic.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    I find it interesting to see that Akai are really leaning very far out of the window with this thing. A(n almost) non-working protoype? No sounds? “We’re still working on those knobs to improve them”? Seriously? That sounds like a massive risk they’re taking.

    I wrote it already elsewhere – I do like the basic idea behind this machine. A hands-on device that you can use to quickly lay out some beats, without getting distracted by two gazillion options and features, is a great idea. It looks nice on the photos, too. And no, I don’t mind if it is real or fake wood.

    But it has to compete with Volca Beats et al. – and not at all with Tempest, TR-8 or Tanzbär. Those are completely different beasts, in price and feature set. The small footprint of the Volcas is appealing, but those tiny knobs and the absence of pads is really a bummer. So, bottom line, I hold my horses of excitement for just a moment, until we can actually *hear* something coming out of this machine.

    • Jeff

      Don’t forget Elektron’s Rytm. I like the “leaning very far out the window” metaphor but I don’t think its as risky as you do. Its very common for these product design cycles to have very tight beta-to-GM gaps. I have this itchy feeling that knob caps are a feature that can be reworked up until the very last minute. I’d be more concerned if they said “we’re still trying to decide if we’ll add a pan knob.” I think they are going to come in at yet another sweet price point that will make it very difficult for the competition to maintain their value. If I had a tight budget but wanted something really good, I’d go for a Volca or Wolf before I’d reach for TR-8. That said, I’m most excited to get my hands on the Elektron Rytm. I have a feeling that it will be the machine to beat (pun intended) primarily because it sounds amazing and has the famous Elektron sequencing workflow, which will make it amazing on stage or in the studio.

  • lazenbleep

    Why no note repeat? :( (ps will buy anyway)

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Because it is not an MPC? I could imagine they would want to separate their products. Sometimes, that ends up with seemingly arbitrary feature limitations.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      There is note repeat; it’s just labeled “fill”

    • lazenbleep

      fantastic!

  • EricM

    Doesn’t seem like there’s panning or stereo out for the drums…definitely more of a performance-only instrument.

    • just passing

      Because nobody has multi-track, MIDI-syncable recording facilities…?

  • AlainCl

    That article made me feel like I was there… staring at an unhooked box and listening to the recitation of a product rep….

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, come on. I had a long conversation with Akai here. There *wasn’t* a recited pitch – we actually had a chat about this, a lot of this wasn’t on the script. And some of this is my own analysis (particularly in regards to Roland). It was disappointing that we didn’t get to hear what it sounds like, but I can tell you from developing hardware, a lot of the time it really isn’t until the end of the design process that it sounds like anything you’d want to hear.

    • AlainCl

      It’s clear that he recited the very same points, using the same language, as seen in other videos shot at Musikmesse, Peter.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Okay, let’s be clear:

      The points are the specs on the hardware. So unless I get them *wrong*, yes, it’s going to be the same.

      CDM had some of this information first – and, in fact, I know one of the Akai representatives was reading our story. So part of the effect of talking to him first may have been to get him to be more precise on some of those specs. ;)

      I don’t believe that anything I wrote above was jargon-y (apart from using technically accurate language) or marketing speak. It is, literally, what Akai currently knows about a product that is in design stage.

      And I wrote this story off the top of my head after our meeting.

    • AlainCl

      Now, a month later we have little else but those same identical talking points. They also lied (yes, lied) to Nick Batt and others when they claimed (as Nick related on one of his podcasts) that the reason the Wolf wasn’t being demoed was because the one test unit they had blew up the night before the show — but a month later they STILL haven’t released any sounds.

      Face it, you got played by a pleasant and eperience rep with a well-memorized and pre-planned pitch, and little else but that and an unplugged box.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’m not sure why there’s such hostility over this thing.

      I don’t know what happened in the other videos. Akai/InMusic, on the record, was very clear with us that it was a non-working prototype. All I can think is that some rumor got going on the trade show floor… maybe they were over at our booth drinking too many Kreuzberg Specials/absinthe and the green fairy told them…

      A non-working prototype is not at all unusual at this stage in the design game.

      I can’t be responsible for what Nick reported; this was the story I had from Akai and I personally inspected the unit. ;) I thought the design looked promising. When they have audio, we’ll run them.

    • AlainCl

      “All I can think is that some rumor got going on the trade show floor”

      Please stop being a defender of the indefensible. Watch SonicTalk 351 and you’ll see Nick say, “Off camera, basically what they told me had happened was the engineers were working so hard to get it ready that they were up half the night and they just plugged it in wrong and it blew it up before the show. So it wouldn’t make any noise. Whether that’s the case or not, or whether they just hadn’t voiced it and didn’t want to present it when it hadn’t been voiced properly was another matter….”

      It’s not “hostility” to note that your preview was merely a bunch of PR flack nonsense (that was identical to what they told everyone else).

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, come on.

      I was showing a product at two trade shows, and had people running around saying the synth was “broken” when it turned out to be a bad cable. Twice.

      Once in California, once at Messe.

      Maybe they were lying. Maybe they were misinformed. On a trade show floor, who knows. This is why I tried to take the time to understand this, write it down, and check the information with the Akai rep – because I wanted to get it right.

      I wrote up my best understanding of the product at the time. If you want to say that’s PR flack, I’m sorry, but I think that’s bulls***.

      If it resembles the specs of the product, or the information from the product rep on the floor — well, what the Hell AM I supposed to report?

    • AlainCl

      The fact is that they claimed they had a working unit, they claimed a reason that was not true, they then claimed they were going to then imminently release audio (in writing, in the multi-page Gearslutz discussion, last month), and what you reported was simply the same talking points used with everyone else. Finally, reporting isn’t the same as defending, Peter.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’m only aware of what they told me. InMusic made no mention of a working unit in their press release. They told me specifically this was a unit for which only the sequencer was functioning, not sound. I heard no other claim, on or off the record.

      I can’t be responsible for what they’ve said on message forums or to other sites, only what they told CDM.

      The first line of this article is: “As I suspected, Akai did not have a working, sounding model of the upcoming Rhythm Wolf drum machine.”

      Note the use of the words “did not.”

      I’m sorry, I’m too busy to read Gearslutz forums. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning the Rhythm Wolf again until they delivered audio, or better, a unit I can actually test. You’re the one harping on this, not me.

    • AlainCl

      (Please don’t delete my on-topic posts again, Peter). So according to you my noting Akai’s flacking to you being the same as what they said to others is ‘bulls***”‘ and my disagreeing with you is (a) “harping”, (b) “hostility” and (c) worthy of deletion in this comments section.

      “I’m only aware of what they told me.” While defending what they said, and shrugging at the lies they told others. Makes you seem more like a flack too, unfortunately….

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No, I didn’t delete any comments. If a comment you made didn’t appear, it may have been caught in the automated filter Disqus runs. I apologize if that happened.

      As I said, they never claimed to me they had a working unit. The descriptions above were in response to my questions and seemed to me to be little more than a description of a product as planned. I understand you see it differently.

    • SkySplitter

      You guys have got to be kidding. Go make some music maybe?

    • AlainCl

      (You’ll remember, Nick Batt at Sonicstate was told that their demo ‘blew up’ before the show, then immediately promised [on a Gearslutz thread, among other places] to quickly upload samples – then didn’t).

      Around the 36-min mark in Sonicstate’s podcast from last Wednesday, someone brought up the Rhythm Wolf. Nick’s response:

      “… that mysterious Rhythm Wolf, that doesn’t seem to have got past its ‘We just need to give it some voicing and then it will be out with some demos.’ And I wonder what’s going on with that.”

      Robbie Bronnimann (Howard Jones’s music guy): August, isn’t that when it’s coming out?”

      Nick, “I don’t know, I don’t believe anything they say, frankly. ‘Cause they all just lied at Musikmesse….”

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Jesus, why is this conversation still going on / even remotely interesting to anyone?

      I still haven’t gotten a solid answer on what happened at Messe. I was told it was a non-working unit. It was a non-working unit. I happened to play a gig with the guy from Akai I interviewed. There is some possibility that someone actually did fry the machine by plugging in a US power supply in Germany. Maybe. In the end, for whatever reason, that unit wasn’t making proper sound.

      This is … embarrassing. But I’ve fried hardware. I’ve also worked with prototype hardware that makes fart noises. It’s part of hardware development.

      Why any of this would make me a shill for Akai, I have no idea, other than there are angry MPC fans with too much time on their hands blowing a rather uninteresting and very much *typical* Messe event into some kind of story, where it isn’t.

      And give me a &(#$ing break on the shipping deadlines.

      Half my friends are in the business of developing hardware and software. And I’m personally in the business of … missing deadlines.

      There are two kinds of date promises on shipping.

      The ones you don’t tell people about, and the ones you miss.

      Then, yes, there’s occasionally in a blue moon a shipping date where you’re early… just like every now and then you find the love of your life on first sight or *someone, somewhere* wins the lottery.

      I’m out.

    • AlainCl

      Claiming I’m calling you a shill? No, don’t be so think-skinned. A dupe perhaps, but not a shill. But when you continue to carry Akai’s water for them (acceding to the transparently-false claim of fried hardware … with no demos *months* later [even after promising them]) it makes it look even *worse*.

      And it really isn’t up to you to decide what is interesting to people months after Akai promised something then lied about it. They screwed up, did not tell the truth to reporters, they did not tell the truth in the Gearslutz forums (promising months ago to have sound demos immediately forthcoming), and something obviously went wrong in the development program. That’s *interesting* to me and probably others.

    • AlainCl

      And this Muskimesse vid has them promising sound demos a week hence:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOfONq2enR0

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’m likewise investigating the source of the sound sample someone posted below… interesting. ;)

  • Erin Tarn

    Such harsh criticism from people who were praising Roland’s green-box crap. This is a CHEAP, analog drum synth. It has limitations. But you’re not over-paying for what it CAN do. Looks entertaining. Would be a fun tool to keep hooked up at work for impomptu office beats.

    • Markus Arike

      Roland’s green-box drum machine is a hit that has gotten great reviews in all of the trade magazines. The TR8 is a great piece of kit that sounds virtually indistinguishable from the TR808/909. This website has every reason to praise the TR8, everyone else is praising it as well – it’s that good.

  • boring

    i hear a near future where everyone sounds the same

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You don’t actually know what this sounds like yet, so that’s an odd comment.

  • pinuccipino

    why ? you can pan!… tune! and tweak the decay for out of this world sound design !you can even distort the sounds ! whoa !

  • ceasless

    For just a small chunk of money more, you can build yourself an LXR. This thing is so badass. Don’t fear the solder, folks. You end up with something that functions at a level that draws comparison to Elektron products.

    • EricM

      I had never heard of the LXR…really does look like something from Elektron.

    • just passing

      Doesn’t “for just a small chunk of money more” rather assume that your time is worth nothing? And some people might also consider that EUR280 ($389 at current exchange rates, and that doesn’t include the cost of currency conversion – so twice the price of the Rhythm Wolf) is rather a lot of money to spend on their first (or even fifth) soldering project; if I were contemplating spending triple figures, I wouldn’t be willing to risk losing it all through clumsiness before I’d even got the chance to play a note.

      By all means continue to advocate the LXR; it looks like a really nifty bit of kit for those who are absolutely confident of their soldering skills and have nothing else to do. But don’t do so dishonestly, which is what you’re verging on here; once the labour cost of assembly is taken into consideration, most people who might consider the LXR will find that it costs three times the price of the Rhythm Wolf, and people like me, who just about know which end of the soldering iron to avoid grabbing hold of if we’re concentrating (and are sufficiently dyspraxic that this situation is unlikely to improve), will not be able to consider the LXR at all.

    • just passing

      (Not to mention, of course, that the LXR is a box around a Cortex-M4F, with all that implies about analogue emulation; whereas the Rhythm Wolf is a bunch of analogue circuits, and probably pretty hacky ones at that price. That makes them even less directly comparable; the idea that there’s an either/or choice between the two units is frankly silly.)

  • Tony Scharf

    16 patterns of 32 steps…

    What is it with companies emulating the absolute WORST feature of old vintage gear: Limited storage. This just went from being must buy to must skip. I am not backing up my patterns and reloading them for ever project. Next.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      These are pretty simple devices. You have a computer for that storage, you know, right?

    • Zachary Chiedu Godisang Nwabud

      I really hope there will be a way to use the step sequencer as a controller, even if the sounds don’t come from the board, it would be a great controller.

  • Johan
  • DBM

    Time to put some pressure on Akai’s story ….. In a few vids were they talked about the ” power rail ” incident , they mentioned releasing some videos in a week or two . Well …..?
    Perhaps a savvy investigative journalist could apply some pressure ?

  • Jostiband

    This actually does look promising. I tried both korgs volca and rolands aira claims to vintage new skool gadgets synths and i absolutely hated both. Korg is just not serious about cheap synths anymore (the volcas lag a lot of basic stuff even for that money) buy them all and you’re better off buying an elektron a4 buy one and be as bored as you were after a month with the kaossilator. and roland doesnt even believe in analog, their new t8 sounds awful. But the wolf seems like a good compromise for 200 bucks it cant be that bad its a drumsynth and basssynth in one casing something korg and roland shouldve done. I think akai hasnt had a working one ever though and are now working hard to make up for korg and rolands fail to take over the toy synth industry…we’ll see what happens.

    • REENO

      THE TR-8 sounds awful? I own one and a real 808. It is VERY close.

  • Tom Erbe

    so – has anyone actually heard this thing yet? i see it’s on sale at sweet water….

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No. I just talked again to AKAI. The product reps still haven’t heard it. ;)

      The SoundCloud clip is bogus.

      Confirms what I had claimed earlier – don’t know how the story got started that they fried the prototype, but it doesn’t seem that’s what happened. It just isn’t done yet.

      They’ve assured me we’ll get one when it’s available… eager for those sounds, yes, that is rather important…