Test-Driving The Arturia DrumBrute

The Arturia DrumBrute isn’t just a rhythm device with infinite musical potential. It’s also an incredibly fun party machine.

You could spend weeks learning and tinkering with the DrumBrute. Its patterns and sounds are designed to be tweaked, chopped up and reordered to match the personality of whoever controls it. But while it invites that level of obsessive immersion, the DrumBrute doesn’t require it. Anyone can turn it on and play.

After I featured the DrumBrute in my round-up of drum machines, Arturia sent over a model to road test.

I knew before it arrived that I would love the DrumBrute. I adore analog sounds and vintage electronic instruments. From owning an Arturia MiniBrute keyboard, I know the French instrument makers seek to replicate not just the sounds of classic electronic music devices, but the feel and functionality as well. In an era when electronic music making usually means scrolling through sound bank options and digital displays, Arturia offers a playground of dials and touch-sensitive pads.

The real question was whether my writing staff would take to it. Unlike me, they’re free of bothersome opinions about analog vs. digital sounds. You know: they’re cool.

I rounded up my staff writers and let them loose on the DrumBrute. None of them had played a drum machine before. Arturia included only a slim and minimally informative pamphlet with the DrumBrute (the far more robust and detailed instructions are on their website).

Getting started with the DrumBrute was easy. The drum pads are at the bottom of the machine and their sounds are clearly marked (snare, open high hat, etc). To make a beat, all you’ve got to do is tap them. Press the play and record buttons and voila, you’ve got a loop going.

Armed with the little information they could glean from the skeletal instructions, I recorded them as they took their first steps into the world of analog beat-making.

My writers made beats with the ease of tapping on a table. In the unedited video footage, there’s a palpable sense of joy, discovery and possibility as they patched together percussive sounds. They seemed surprised at how easy it was to create expressive sounds with the DrumBrute.

Note to fellow drum machine nerds: you can program beats through a step sequencer too, but playing the drum pads like congas is more intuitive and fun.

While we could make beats moments after taking The DrumBrute out the box, precise control was elusive. Without reading the exclusively online user’s manual, our ability to edit our work was limited. The “erase” button was helpful but we couldn’t figure out how to erase sequences, just individual tracks.

We used probably about a tenth of the machine’s buttons and smaller percentage of its potential. I regretted not explaining how much you could sculpt each individual drum sound or use features like randomize and swing to spice up drum patterns.

Since then, I’ve skimmed about a quarter of the 30-page instructions. But I’ve spent much more time playing with the DrumBrute than reading about how to use it. There’s a lot I’d like to learn how to do (record complex sequences, create drum fills, program odd time signature beats) but fooling around with the DrumBrute’s array of knobs and buttons is too fun to stop.

You can get amazing results sounds out of the DrumBrute before you know what you’re doing. Below is the video of the first time I synced the DrumBrute to the MiniBrute. It’s not exactly Daft Punk—I’m a rudimentary keyboard player holding an iPhone while playing—but it’s still exciting.

I’ll read the instructions all the way through soon. Then I want to invite some people over and see what the DrumBrute can really do.

The DrumBrute is available for purchase from Arturia’s website and through music retailers.