Sonic LAB: Review Tempest Analog Drum Machine

Can Dave Smith and Roger Linn cook up a storm      23/12/11

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12:30 mins    

Tempest is a 6-voice, totally analog drum machine designed by two of the giants of electronic instruments Dave Smith - y’know the guy who invented MIDI and the Prophet 5, and Roger Linn - the bloke who made the first programmable drum-machine (Linn Drum) and the MPC 60.

 

Form
Tempest is a desktop unit, with a good sized control surface, 16 pressure and velocity sensitive pads, two ribbon controllers (also pressure sensitive) and a bright, OLED display.

Its is designed to be used in real-time as a performance instrument, allowing the creation of beats and arrangements on the fly, without interruption of playback. This was very much the design blueprint.

Connections: stereo output,headphones,  6 mono voice outputs.
There are also MIDI In and Out, USB and two expression / footswitch inputs.

Synthesizer
Each of the six analog voices has full synthesis control - with a familiar layout - those used to Dave Smith's recent synths such as Mopho and Tetra will be on familiar ground. But actually there are 4 Oscillators - 2 analog (saw, tri, pulse waves) and 2 digital - with sampled waves. These last two give you access to hundreds of classic electronic (many Linn sounds) and acoustic samples - as well as various types of noise and other VS waves from Dave Smiths collection. You also have five AD/ADSR switchable envelopes: Pitch, Low-Pass, Amp, Aux1 and Aux 2 and two LFOs.

A 2 or 4-pole resonant filter with Audio Mod - Dave Smith uses the Curtis chip, high pass filter, and the Amplitude feedback circuit from Mr Smiths other synths. 2x LFO and 8 modulation matrix slots.
There’s also a delay, but this is actually created via MIDI and not using analog circuitry.

In the master section, there’s  analog distortion and compression - which you can dial in by varying amounts These settings are stored with each beat. This is a fully analog machine, no digital effects or other nonsense!

Structure
Although there are only six voices, there actually 16 sounds available, one for each of the pads. each sound contains a single synth patch. There is a bank B button which will give you access to a further 16 sounds for a total of 32. These are all stored in a beat - of up to 4 bars in length.
16 beats go to make up a project. You can load and save, sounds, beats and projects and copy sounds and beats extremely easily using the dedicated copy button this copy feature can be applied in realtime and is very simple to use.

Modes
Tempest has 6 modes in which to operate the pads. Hit 16 Sounds - each pad triggers a dediacted drum or synth sound (you can also program full synth voices), 16 Beats makes the pads trigger or cue any of the beats from a project, so you can easily create an arrangement of beats on the fly. 16 Time Steps  turns the two rows of 8 pads into a step style programming interface - like the 909 or 808 way of programming beats. 16 Mutes turns parts on an off when a beat is playing. 16 Tunings -  takes the currently selected sound and maps a definable selection of notes across the pads for playing pitched lines. 16 Levels of velocity for tighter control of dynamics when step programming.


Synthesis
I cant really go into all the the modes and functions here, you can read the manual for that, but its fair to say that Tempest is a well featured drum synthesizer, the sounds you can get from it are something that cannot easily be found elsewhere. It has enough analog-ness to take you to a lot of places creatively. It must be said the the synthesis of drums is a more tweaky process with details and nuance  making more of a contribution than to the broader strokes of regular pitched synthesis - it takes  little while to tune your mind to it, but Tempest has all the features there to allow you to do that.

You can also operate Tempest as a 6-voice anlaog poly synth (no unison mode) - in  OS 1.1 a separate MIDI channel setting allows you to control a single pad voice (assignable) on a separate MIDI channel and assuming you aren’t already using voices for dums, play up to 6 voices there.
Setting up a split on a MIDI controller as I did, you could have beats on the lower two octaves, and synth or bass on the upper two - great for playing real-time beat and bassline patterns.


Machine
Recording of beats is nice and quick and easy with dedicated play, stop and record buttons, the global quantize applies to all notes played (8th through 32nd T values) , there’s also a swing parameter, which can add a hint of groove (52.1%, 54.2%) or take it to a hard 75% swing and it does feel very groovy. Patterns can be created and copied on the fly and its very intuitive and fast to get something going. You also have the roll button for velocity/pressure roll programming to the dedicated beat roll value - very nice for groovy hats, shakers or tabourines.

Finally
There’s no doubt this is a good Drum Synthesizer, lots of sonic scope, though perhaps the inclusion of your own samples would have been useful. Drum sounds are a very personal thing so I can’t say that this would be right for you, but there’s punch and sizzle which does inspire you to create when fooling around.

There aren’t many other options for a synthesizing drum machine out there, maybe the Elektron MachineDrum, but that is most definitely not analog.

For some though the ongoing OS development my be an issue, there are certainly some areas where it could be improved - adding odd time signatures is definitely on the top of my list - and triggering clips via MIDI for live playback would be nice. Fortunately, these are both planned to be addressed soon. Loading of external samples would also be a very welcome addition, though as this is an analog machine it could be argued that you should go elsewhere for that..
Its not cheap, but it does do stuff that you can't get anywhere else and the real-time aspect of it as an instrument makes it an attractive package.

Price: £1458 / $1999 MAP

 

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