It seems Akai is staying in the analog synth business. Following the Rhythm Wolf – introduced quietly at Messe (literally, it couldn’t make sound), and then getting a mixed review here on CDM – they have both a second drum machine and a four-voice synth.
Availability has leaked as July – which means again, we may not know how these actually sound until they ship.
Let’s look at what we know. (Bookmark this page, as I will simply update information here as it comes in.)
First up, the Tom Cat. It’s definitely a second take on the Rhythm Wolf – we just don’t know if that’s because so many people bought the Rhythm Wolf and they’re minting money, or whether they might address some of the sound/parameter complaints about the original. We can see in the picture what controls changed:
Kick Drum has “Pitch” in addition to the original “Tune” knob – so, presumably, a much needed pitch envelope.
There’s a Clap in place of Percussion.
That Clap appears to have a Spread control in place of the horrible Noise Mix on the original Percussion, as well.
The somewhat thin single-voice bass synth on the original has been replaced with Toms – sorry, make that Disco Toms. (Disco Tom, not to be confused with Disco Stew.)
And everything else is the same, but with different colors. Wait a minute – I’m going to bet my money that the label beginning with the letter ‘m’ is Meow, in place of Howl. But I can’t quite see it. Maybe it says “Maul.”
Anyway, all of this is at least promising, because some of the Rhythm Wolf’s reviews went something like this. (There’s a part two for that video. I know some day I’m going to be subject of a video like this, so I’m keeping my mouth shut.)
Updated: here’s the film from Future Music with the Tom Cat:
Here, at least, there’s some good news to report – Tom Cat does appear to take some steps forward from the Rhythm Wolf. Claps, good idea, more useful sound controls, yes. And replacing the synth with toms is a smart idea. I’m just unsure from this video whether it’s enough to recommend an Akai drum machine with other good-sounding alternatives (like KORG and Teenage Engineering). The onus is on Akai to tell us we won’t get hurt again, so I’d rather hear a final, non-prototype unit properly (it’s just too hard to tell in this video).
Fingers crossed they’ve improved things. Certainly, if the Tom Cat is an “archenemy of the Rhythm Wolf,” it’s a friend of mine.
As for the Timbre Wolf, that’s another story.
Next up, the Timbre Wolf, which looks like it takes the synth voice from the Rhythm Wolf, copies it four times, adds a keyboard and a pitch wheel, and adds a switch for MONO/POLY/UNISON. Seriously, it looks like they copied the voices four times. Update: and I didn’t edit the previous two sentences. That’s exactly what they did.
I can even make out the same rocker for triangle / square wave as on the Rhythm Wolf (which happens to be here on my desk). The switched under each voice are solo, so all I don’t know is whether the other controls per-voice are the same (or, indeed, whether they really are that same voice or modified in some way). Those controls are Volume, Tune, Filter Cutoff, Filter Res, Env Amt, and Decay. Now, perhaps the change here is giving each voice proper envelope controls, as copying Volume and Filter knobs for each voice would be a little strange.
Apart from that, you get the same step sequencing functions from the Rhythm Wolf (the one part of the Akai drum machine that actually was pretty good). Oh, and you get … unfortunately, that horrible Howl knob, though maybe Akai has reworked what it actually controls. Update: Nope.
Small keyboards are a good idea. It depends on what they sound like. (Yes, I’m very, very sorry for having been bitten on this before. Let’s not talk about the CDM Musikmesse preview of the Rhythm Wolf that didn’t actually make sound ever again.)
So, my guess is, if they take the time to get the envelope controls right and tame the circuitry from the Rhythm Wolf, this could be worth a look. On the other hand, if it really is a Rhythm Wolf with a keyboard, maybe … don’t look it in the eyes. Update: It’s the latter. Oops.
I guess we’ll find out in the summer. Actually, right now. See below.
Anyway, glad we could bring you the news you were waiting for about Akai hardware.
What? M – P – … E? What? MPC? No, sorry, didn’t get that. Did I mention Korg has an app that teaches you how to dance and there’s probably a dozen more Roland press releases to get through? I’ll work on that.
I’m sure none of this makes any MPC owners angry, so I invite you to please share your general absence of any hostility toward me, CDM, and Akai here, in the convenient comment form below. Thanks!
Updated: we’ll find out right now.
Update – uh, okay, watch.
“Forgive my horrible playing” – uh, yes, the playing is what we have to forgive.
Anyway, this costs US$500, we hear.