Twisted Electrons BlastBeats

5

FM Desktop Drum Computer

  • With OPL3 (YMF262) FM chip used in old Soundblaster cards of the MS-DOS era
  • 6 Drum tracks (bass drum, snare drum, tom, closed & open hat, cymbal) - can also be used for melodic parts
  • 4 Synth tracks: two monophonic (2x2op or 1x4op) and two duophonic (4x2op or 2x4op)
  • All instruments can be sequenced internally or played via MIDI - can be used as a polytimbral MIDI synthesiser with 4 operators and 8 waveforms
  • Swing kit and random pattern generator
  • Synth pitch vibrato and tremolo with adjustable speed and depth
  • 56 Faders with per-step automation and modulation
  • 32 Illuminated switches
  • MIDI input and output on DIN5 connectors
  • Analogue sync input and output on 3.5 mm jacks
  • Patterns with any step length
  • 100 kits
  • 160 songs x 16 patterns x 64 steps
  • Kits and patterns are stored and managed on the included SD card
  • 4x Audio outputs with user-defined instrument routing
  • Mix and Phones Out each with volume control
  • Dimensions: 29.5 x 16.5 x 4.5 cm
  • Weight : 0.944 kg
Available since May 2022
Item number 533929
Sales Unit 1 piece(s)
Sound Synthesis FM Synthesis
Pads 0
Effects No
Bass Yes
Display No
MIDI interface 1x In, 1x Out,
Number of analog outputs 4
Headphone Connector Yes
Mains Operation Yes
Battery Operation No
Footswitch connection 0
Shape Desktop
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$545
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In stock within 1-2 weeks
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5 Customer ratings

4.6 / 5

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5 Reviews

s
Absolutely insane instrument
sent 08.09.2022
This the best implementation of FM synthesis I have seen in a "drum machine". Although, calling it a drum machine does not do it justice, it is a full blown versatile synth with lots to offer. Since it is FM, it can be hard to get clean mixes, so I highly recommend pairing it to a mixer with compression. I have yet to try pairing it to effect units, but by itself it is already a monster. The 4 synth tracks are so OP with a MiDi, each track can have it's own set of operator settings. Basically, besides drums, you have 4 different synths <3.
What is more, the hi hats sound AWESOME. I expected them to sound a lot more metalic like Elektron's model Cycles (also FM drum synth), but I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they are much softer and juicier.
The design is very neat and the machine feels very solid. The exterior is made of metal, feels very light and empty inside. Faders are smooth, buttons are very solid and I love the click,
I totally recommend this instrument for any kind of music one wishes to make.
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s
Glitchy digital heaven with an analog edge.
somesounds 12.01.2023
I ordered this expecting an unconventional and novel groovebox and was not disappointed in the slightest. The sound of the Yamaha YMF-262 is incredible! I have owned a secondhand Yamaha PSS-480 FM keyboard in the past and absolutely cherished it, and this is like having four of them (8, considering the design of the synth operators), a powerful sequencer, fully programmable drums, and extensive io for the studio.

It’s not a typical groovebox with homogeneous sounds that you could get elsewhere. The BlastBeats is wholly its own beast with a sonic character that runs from dungeon synth video game exploitation to soulful IDM with ease.

Sitting down with BlastBeats in your lap and tapping out grooves with the chunky, LED lit switches is loads of fun. Programming kits with the sea of sliders available is incredibly rewarding and after getting past some limitations and figuring out the signal flow some great tones can be coaxed out of the vintage sound chip.

I highly recommend it if you are looking for an experimental sketchpad that doesn’t really sound like anything else, but can easily find its niche in a myriad genres of electronic music.

Pros:
-Four (assignable and automatable) 1/4” outputs for studio mixing.
-Tight midi integration with an analog clock io
-Every sound parameter accessible via slider.
-Neat sequencer tricks with plenty of ways to shuffle up the beat.
-Novel tone with a vintage digital feel.
-Solid metal casing and pleasantly tactile sliders/ buttons.

Cons:
-Sequencer, and load/save learning curve isn’t immediate and the manual will need to be repeatedly consulted.
-My unit came with buggy sliders, I fixed them with deoxit and by opening up the unit and wiggling some of the slider casings so they weren’t touching each other on the PCB, I emailed Twisted Electrons about this issue, but haven’t heard back.
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q
An awesome but bumpy ride
qwx9 01.08.2023
This boombox is quite unique. It is based around the ymf262 soundchip (opl3), an absolute classic from the DOS era of gaming, with a very distinct sound. If you're already familiar with Twisted Electrons, you know about the MEGAfm, based around the chip used in the SEGA Megadrive, and the TherapSID, I believe from the Commodore 64. There is nothing like this out there; the chip still isn't perfectly emulated in software, and at this time there is no other existing project, indie or otherwise, which surpasses the Blast Beats in terms of music making.
Out of the channels supported by opl3, the Blast Beats uses 4 melodic and 6 percussions; instead of merging all drum sounds in one, it splits bass drum, snares, tom, open high hat, closed high hat, crash cymbal, although the last three share configuration. Each is controlled by 7 faders (x2 for bass drum) for a bunch of parameters. Instruments can be selected individually with one dedicated button for each. The sequencer is used via 16 buttons, for a maximum of 64 steps divided in 4 pages. Quantization can be turned off and microdelays set per step. There are a few effects like wiggle, swing; probality of triggers, mute; there is also freeze, stutter and bend down (for all channels simultaneously). There is a 1 step undo, a song mode; kits, patterns and songs are saved separately on an sd card in some undocumented format, but it would be easy to figure it out. There can be up to 16 sets of 16 patterns each in each of the 10 banks. Kits are drum and melodic instruments fader settings. There is also fader and effect automation, copy, paste, cut, etc. There can be 10 sets of kits with 10 selectable variants each. There is MIDI controls for all faders, MIDI channels can be split between 4 outputs, there is MIDI or CV sync. There now is a webtool to configure MIDI routing and a bunch of options. The usb is only for firmware updates. No issues with polyphony; most melodic instruments are mono, but some algorithms (out of 8 possible) make them 2-voice. There is step editing and a bunch of other stuff. I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple of other features, but all in all everything you need to make cool tunes is there, unlike say the MEGAfm which has a very limited sequencer. The box itself is rock solid (minus issues below). There are firmware updates fairly often and they frequently add new features: the latest one adds a VGM file jukebox so you can play all the tunes you know and love on it by just placing them on the sd card! The sd card makes backups and recall very convenient.
It is indeed unfair to call this just a drum machine. The box is just amazing. In a way, the high price is almost completely justified.

However, there are a few serious issues that can completely ruin the experience:
- The learning curve is steep; everything besides instrument configuration with the faders is done through button combinations, and you absolutely need to download the manual, and read the firmware update release notes, and even then some stuff is undocumented. On the plus side the manual also receives updates, but I still need to have it open even after several months, because I just keep mixing commands up.
- Bugs in the firmware and regressions are present after almost every single update; sometimes you can reach out to its maker and they might respond, but generally you have no choice but to wait for the next update. I've had bugs with pattern length, freezing requiring restarts, kits randomly corrupting themselves (backups are mandatory), patterns getting fader settings out of nowhere, etc etc. It is infuriating when your pattern or kit suddenly changes up under you and sounds different, or gets random kit changes in the middle of a pattern. Sometimes I've managed to reset them, sometimes not. The firmware blob in the box which one overwrites to update it got corrupted, the file appeared garbled, and I had to format the partition from Windows every time. There's no way to fix it from the user's side.
- Potential hardware problems: another reviewer here noted an issue with a fader which they fixed with deoxite, but that magical substance is mostly unavailable in Europe and expensive on eg. ebay. I also had a problem, but essentially one fader completely failed and should've been replaced, there was no other way. I sent it back for repair and was told a month later that it couldn't be repaired and there were no available units for replacement, so I got refunded and my box just taken away. It is assembled manually by a small team so of course there are very frequent shortages.
- Incomplete MIDI implementation. No MIDI thru, no configuration of output channels (output channels mirrored from input!). The only things driven by MIDI are the fader settings and instrument triggers. No mod wheel, no pitch bend, no bank management, pattern selection, etc
- Missing opl3 features. Perhaps more minor, but the chip is capable of more and it's disappointing not to have them. The biggest are a limited range of octaves in the lows when the chip clearly supports more (as other projects evidence) and no bend up, only down, though with selectable speed and quite some range, and no panning. Why? It artificially limits sonic possibilities, when you could easily come up with ways to control this with the interface.
Over all, it is an utterly insane instrument and I love it; all the same, expect problems, some of which can be extremely annoying. Protect the hardware to avoid issues with all the moving parts. We'll see what the longetivity is like, but I'm quite scared of random failures.
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R
Gnarzende Groovebox
RalphF 04.08.2022
Man dreht sich schon ein bisschen raus aus der Menge mit den Blast Beats.

Die Sounds sind gnarzig, chiptunig, ungehobelt low fi. Experimentell. Manchmal, aber nur ganz manchmal auch schön.

Es gibt 6 Drum- und 4 Synthvoices die über acht Reglergruppen geshaped werden. Für die Bassdrum sind 2 Reglerguppen vorgesehen.
Die Synthstimmen werden über vier Reglerguppen, jede einen Operator darstellend, entwickelt.

Es gibt natürlich Kit-Presets, aber der Spaß beginnt, wenn man sich selbst einen Kit erstellt (was man Anfangs sowieso immer macht, bis die Kits der Maschine endlich den Klang ihres "Meisters" repräsentieren), also eine fette Bassdrum baut oder eine zarte Cymbal. Oder einen glasklaren FM-Synthsound und dann wieder einen verkratzen Bass.

Nebenbei lernt man die Yamaha FM-Synthese kennen, also das Zusammenspiel der Operatoren in einem Algorithmus, denn in den Blast Beats arbeitet ein Yamaha-Chip.

Der Sequenzer kann 4 Takte, lässt sich aber über Patternchaining leicht verlängern; der Sequenzer loopt.
Reglerbewegungen lassen sich aufzeichnen; auch die "Tricks", also Ratcheting und Bend. Probability bringt noch mehr Bewegung.
Gewünscht hätte ich mir, dass die einzelnen Instrumentspuren unterschiedlich lange sein können. Das gäbe gute Polymetrie.

Ich bin noch am Tieftauchen. Sitze mit der Kiste auf der Couch zum trainieren, um mich für den Live-Einsatz mit den Blast Beats geschmeidig zu machen. Mit Chaining und Songmode kann man eine gute Zeit auf der Bühne haben.
Über die 4 zuweisbaren Ausgänge werde ich die Instrumente der Blast Beats über Effekte laufen lassen (solche haben sie nicht), also z.B. Delay, Phaser, Pitchshifter; keine Bitcrusher oder Granulatoren, denn das können die Blast Beast selbst.

Wo ich noch schwimme, das sind die einfachsten Sachen, das ist das Speichern der Pattern und der Kits (die Speicherlogik hab ich noch nicht verstanden), oder das Löschen von Ungewolltem. Dabei gibt es ja einen Preview-Mode. Hab schon wieder vergessen, wie der geht.
Aber ich bin ja noch am Anfang, die Blast Beats sind gerade drei Wochen hier. Es gilt: auf jeden Fall - Handbuch immer dabei haben!
Und hier ein Wermutstropfen: am Handbuch könnte, nein, muß noch gearbeitet werden. Beispiel: die aktuelle Version hat vergessen, wie man Taktlängen einstellt. In der Vorversion war das noch beschrieben.

Ansonsten freue ich mich schon, wenn die Blast Beats endlich "under my thumb" sind. Und auf die Updates, denn Twisted Electrons sind immer in Bewegung.
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