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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23 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
NOPE    Said...

Thanks a lot for that great review !

24-Dec-11 06:19 AM


Chris Rowand    Said...

Nice review Nick!

24-Dec-11 06:38 AM


Khoral    Said...

Interesting review as always! Loved that 80's beat you programmed.

(Now, just to nitpick, you always give prices in pounds and dollars, but, well, there's also another big currency just beyond the Channel;)

24-Dec-11 07:05 AM


AndyKeys    Said...

but for how much longer Khoral ???

24-Dec-11 11:33 AM


Nick B    Said...

I dont know the Euro prices thats why.Glad you enjoyed it. Happy Christmas

24-Dec-11 12:33 PM


Mattsynth    Said...

Got to have instrument. Great review, thanks.

24-Dec-11 02:21 PM


Richard    Said...

Nothing to do with the great review and sorry to nitpick on this, but just on the little fact you mentioned there, I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that MIDI was actually invented by Roland to be released in their first product with the protocol the Jupiter-6 in '83, only when Roland had relations with Dave Smith to get its support as an industry standard, did he beat them to the gun and release it at a trade show before Roland in the SCI Prophet 600 in '82. So you could say that SCI released the first commercially available synth with MIDI or that Dave Smith pioneered the MIDI protocol, but not invented.

25-Dec-11 08:01 AM


Richard    Said...

Nothing to do with the great review and sorry to nitpick on this, but just on the little fact you mentioned there, I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that MIDI was actually invented by Roland to be released in their first product with the protocol the Jupiter-6 in '83, only when Roland had relations with Dave Smith to get its support as an industry standard, did he beat them to the gun and release it at a trade show before Roland in the SCI Prophet 600 in '82. So you could say that SCI released the first commercially available synth with MIDI or that Dave Smith pioneered the MIDI protocol, but not invented.

25-Dec-11 08:01 AM


Nick B    Said...

Roland used DCB first, then:

Here's what I found: In 1981 three engineers, each from a different synthesiser company, were chatting at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show and hit upon the idea of solving this problem and allowing musicians more control. These engineers were: Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits, I Kakehashi of Roland and Tom Oberheim of Oberheim Electronics.

26-Dec-11 06:33 AM


Richard    Said...

Thanks Nick (great review BTW), I found the article I was thinking about, I stand corrected, it seems we were both right in part, and it was Ikutaro Kakehashi who first suggested the concept to Dave Smith and they subsequently both worked on the protocol at both ends. So technically I guess you could say Dave co-invented MIDI :)

Here's the article -

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec04/articles/roland.htm

...starts under the heading "1983 — The Birth Of MIDI"

26-Dec-11 08:19 AM


al    Said...

Thanks for the great review Nick!

26-Dec-11 10:32 PM


Bustin Jeeber    Said...

head nodding over that beat!! lemme play it again!

30-Dec-11 10:12 AM


s r dhain    Said...

it sounds delicious and dare i say it...sexy. which is something that can only come from a more bona fide analog piece of kit, methinks. so warm and inviting. The price is a bit of a moot point, obviously, as is the slightly "work in progress" o/s update scenario, but i reckon over time this is gonna become a classic in its own right.

30-Dec-11 05:32 PM


Peter K.    Said...

There were more folks involved in the MIDI spec too. Yamaha, Korg, and strangely, Kawai. I think Oberheim were initially against it because their own protocol was so much better and faster.

I read that it was a prophet 600 and a jx-3p that were first midi'ed together at the namm show. Other sources claim it was a Jupiter 6.

31-Dec-11 06:52 AM


Blue Monster 65    Said...

Terrific review as always, Nick!

Any chance we could see a separate video of patterns and sounds - both factory and yours - as we have with other instruments? I know it's all over You Tube, but I'd like to hear it here, unadulterated. Thanks!

31-Dec-11 10:56 AM


EkoHead    Said...

Nick, the first programmable drum-machine was EKO ComputeRhythm from 1972. It was used by TD, Ashra JM.Jarre and some other artists.

01-Jan-12 08:50 AM


Mandroid    Said...

Great review & a very desirable piece of kit but the inability to load in your own samples via USB or SD card etc is a deal killer for me. Why on earth would they not include that as an option?

04-Jan-12 11:27 AM


Blue Monster 65    Said...

Mine came today! Big fun already - a short break and I'll be back at it. :)

07-Jan-12 04:34 PM


Robin    Said...

I hope Sonicstate could check out keyparts.co.uk. they make midi/cv keybed matrixes and controllers for old synths and DIY projects. would be interesting to know how long they have come into their current controller project. And give them an interview and talk about what they plan for the future. :)

12-Jan-12 06:12 PM


EMwhite    Said...

What Mandroid said (no ability or plans to address loading own samples is ridiculous).

At a minimum, they ought to allow the user to push in (via SysEx) a Sample which must be appropriately clocked for it to sound proper. They have 0 desire to create any software for it from the sound of it.

Problem with this product is that it's considered "done" because it was so long and so much work in the making and we are basically waiting on one man to rewrite code.

Nothing but 4/4 is deal breaker for me also.

Towering achievement, beautiful piece of history and technology to be cherished for sure; but for $2,000 USD, it's missing some key bits. At least for me.

14-Jan-12 08:19 PM


djyucatec    Said...

WAY TOO XPENSIVE!!!!!!

10-Apr-12 01:22 AM


JAFO    Said...

Way too expensive????I got mine new for $1699 at Musicans friend.

17-Apr-13 11:29 AM


Serge GORA    Said...

Correction: you must write "6 Stereo outputs Voices" !

08-Dec-13 04:18 AM


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