Elektron, those Swedish makers of the fabulously-beloved Machinedrum drum machine, have a range of new announcements this morning. They herald the power and appeal of digital hardware, gear made for people who have grown up with computer.

The biggest news, of course, is the announcement of the Octatrack. Coming later this year, but shown in prototype form this week at the Frankfurt Messe show, the Octatrack is a multitrack digital sampler with onboard sequencer, real-time pitch shift and time stretch, and effects. That has caused some to get excited enough to dub it “Ableton in a box,” and it’s hard not to see a certain Ableton-esque quality to the design. Whereas Live seems to grow more complex, however, this reduces what you need to an efficient set of hardware controls and the most essential features.

The specs:

  • 8 audio tracks
  • 4 audio ins, 4 audio outs plus headphone out
  • USB 2.0, CF reader
  • Optical fader
  • 2 effect blocks per track

You can bring in samples via the USB connection, the CF slot, or live recording. And Elektron has some intriguing words about what this is for:

The Octatrack is an elegant sampler. Recording of sounds is a breeze thanks to the intuitive user interface, but the fun really starts once the samples are inside the machine. Loops are now completely elastic. They will always stay in sync no matter if they are pitch shifted or if the tempo of the sequencer is changed. Single sounds can be molded into any shape or form. The static nature of samples are finally a thing of the past.

Gear4music.com has the best video so far:

It’s not hard to imagine a few of these sitting alongside Machinedrums, especially for Elektron’s devoted fans. It also strikes me that, in some ways, this is the antithesis of Teenage Engineering’s OP-1. Sure, both are made by Swedes, and indeed, the OP-1 team shares some Elektron lineage. But the Octatrack is the workstation to the OP-1’s minimalist instrument. I also have a strong suspicion the OP-1 will be significantly cheaper. I can’t wait to see both, and, while the Teenage Engineers aren’t saying, I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP-1 ships around the same late 2010 timeframe. I’d better book a trip to Sweden now.

Personally, I have to admit a certain affinity for letting my computer be my computer and not having the hardware try to do everything. I wonder if the battle with feature creep will be an issue – hardware very easily does too much to be simple to use, but too little to be a computer replacement – part of what I suspect killed the original form of the currently-vaporware LinnDrum II. It’ll be fascinating to watch all of this pan out.

What about Machinedrum owners who aren’t necessarily ready to take the Octatrack leap? There’s news for you, too.

First, if you’re looking to invest in the Machinedrum, there’s an SPS-1 price cut. I wouldn’t quite describe it as a Recession Special, but you do get the latest SPS-1 MKII for EUR 990 / USD 1290.

There’s also a new upgrade for the Machinedrum called +Drive, available for all Machinedrum and Monomachine models and pre-installed on new SPS-1UW+ MKIIs and SFX-60+MKIIs.

I’ll copy and paste text here, especially since you may have difficulty reaching Elektron’s site.

The +Drive divides a machine in 128 Snapshots, which allows for thousands of patterns, sounds and songs to be stored internally and more or less instantly recalled. The +Drive also makes it possible for the Machinedrum SPS-1UW+ MKII to host over 6000 ROM samples. The Monomachine SFX-60+ MKII can be loaded with more than 8000 DigiPro user waveforms.

A Machinedrum Snapshot can contain up to 128 patterns, 64 kits, 32 songs and 8 globals. If the Machinedrum is a UW model, each Snapshot also contains a sample bank. A UW MKII sample bank consists of 48 ROM sample slots. A UW MKI sample bank consists of 32 ROM sample slots.

A Monomachine Snapshot can contain up to 128 patterns, 128 kits, 24 songs and 8 globals. In the case of the Monomachine MKII, a Snapshot also contains a Digibank consisting of 64 DigiPro user waveforms.

Either load a completely new Snapshot or a single Machinedrum sample bank/Monomachine Digibank. When loading a new Snapshot, all data will replaced by new content. Loading a new sample bank/Digibank means all other content of the current Snapshot stays intact. Load times for both options are just a few seconds.

The +Drive gives the enormous advantage of having thousands of patterns and kits available. Change Snapshots during a live performance for a completely new session. Load a fresh Machinedrum sample bank or Monomachine Digibank and experiment with new sounds in your currently active patterns and kits. A +Drive opens up a world of new possibilities.

All Machinedrum and Monomachine models are possible to upgrade with a +Drive. When you buy a +Drive, you will receive detailed instructions how to send in the unit for the upgrade. Shipping back to you after the upgrade has been carried out is included in the price.

If you have bought a new Machinedrum UW/Monomachine after Feb 1st, you are eligible for a 30% discount on the +Drive upgrade price. This offer is valid until August 1. Mail us for more info about how to obtain the discount.

Thanks to Malte Steiner and his blog4 for the tip; Malte sounds enthusiastic about the upgrade. Check out his lovely blog:

The site is up and down as I write this, but if you want to try your luck:

Elektron describes the set of upgrades as a “new chapter in the history of our company,” a “reborn Elektron,” and “The New Dawn,” but music tech companies seem to say those sorts of things regularly. I’ll let you judge whether the Octatrack is a new dawn for you.

For another video of the Octatrack, here’s MusicRadar: