“Aesthetically it has to be said that the Beat Thang is beautiful. It has a BLANG button which controls the LED lighting display which kept me amused for a few minutes.”
ANATOMY OF THE BEAT THANG
My first impression as I open the box and remove the Beat Thang from its packaging is that this machine is heavy. It’s small, compact and yet weighs a good few kilos more than expected. It looks impressive as I turn the power on, blue lights flashing everywhere; it’s very reminiscent of Tron. So far, so good. But let’s see what’s under the hood.
Aesthetically it has to be said that the Beat Thang is beautiful. It has a BLANG button which controls the LED lighting display which kept me amused for a few minutes. It also boasts extremely rugged build quality, so you could take it hiking with you thanks to the long battery life and portability, but you would have to forfeit at least a few kilos of trail mix.
The manual tells me how to make a basic PATTERN, which is the building block of a SONG. Think Fruity Loops and Roland MC-series Groovebox pattern sequencing. I select a kit and set up the tempo, set the bar length, and change the record mode from replace to overdub. Right let’s jam!
The pads are great quality, really nice velocity sensitivity and playability. They’re laid out like a piano keyboard although I wonder why they didn’t go for the standard 4×4 pad layout which is so common in hip hop drum machines?
The preset drum kits sound supa dope, and are really phat for hip hop and urban music production. But the basses, instruments and sound effects are all a little cheesy; they reminded me of a Roland 505 from the 90’s. But you can load your own samples using the software provided to create your own sound banks which is an important feature. No doubt an online community will develop creating sounds tailor-made for the Beat Thang too.
As you record, the Beat Thang automatically quantizes your notes and swings them according to the SWING setting. This is where the machine excels; its ability to quickly whip up a 16 bar drum loop using the preset kits. There’s an awesome PITCH bender on the left and a MOD wheel on the right that globally pitches and modulates the whole kit, which is very intuitive to jam. It’s from that point on that things become a little less practical.
In order to SAVE a pattern just created, one has to manually scroll through each letter of the alphabet, first capitals then lowercase. This is a bit like an old arcade game (if anybody remembers those). It can take minutes just to name a pattern. There is also a rather long LOAD and SAVE time for every pattern and song.
Navigating around the Beat Thang is also rather fiddly when compared to the luxury of full screen displays in the modern era of electronica. Everything is hidden inside menus and then submenus, with a knob to scroll and a knob to change values. Once you know the architecture I’m sure it’s understandable, but it does feel a bit counter-intuitive to begin with. Mixing volumes, panning and effect sends all found inside submenus does not make for quick action results on the fly. If this device was a touch screen, it would probably make more sense.
The sequencing happens in blocks of times so it’s very difficult to interject some new patterns into your song without going back and making a new pattern, saving a copy, making whatever changes you want. If your pattern is 16 bars long, it always has to play 16 bars in song mode.
The Beat Thang has some cool features [once you get away from the DOS-like filing system] such as the two headphone outputs that allow you to jam with a friend. It was a bit time-consuming to record, rename and edit a sample but there is a visual waveform display which makes life easier. Auto-chopping, time-stretch and reverse are also just a button away. MUTE and SOLO are both fun to play with, it’s the only real way of switching between different parts inside your pattern on the fly, as a performance tool.
Entering into a market dominated by the likes of Roland’s SP-range, Akai’s MPC range, and KORG’s Electribe range means you need to offer something new and innovative if not at least at a much better price. The Beat Thang is well built and a little heavy but looks pretty nifty in use. It is, however, not quite as easy to use as they would lead you to believe. My suggestion; if you’re looking for a portable beat making device pop into an outlet and try one out first to see if it’s to your liking.
Supplier: Midi Music
Suggested retail price: