Electronic music artists are always on the lookout for new outboard gear. Buying hardware sequencers, synthesizers, drum machines and effects units used to be costly and hard. Nowadays there are a lot of companies selling this equipment at cost. Electronic music artists who want a more hands-on experience are keener on using a hardware sequencer to get their rhythms and melodies to the studio. Discogs even launched Gearogs last week, a market place where buyers can shop for synthesizers, DJ mixers, drum machines, tape machines and more.
There is no denying that today hardware sequencers are easier to find. According to Factmag “Big companies such as Korg and Novation have reinvigorated the hardware market with reissued classics and new concepts, while boutique operations such as Bastl Instruments have proved you don’t need a huge development team to make great, affordable instruments.” So while the price point may be an easy fix, choosing the correct hardware sequencer may be a bit trickier. Using a sequencer is more like programming a basic computer says Factmag. The user has to figure out what they want to sequence first. They can make the sequencer the studio hub, or to send more outputs or to send patterns to numerous equipment all at once, so it’s important to know what the plan is for it before getting one.
Hardware sequencers can be set for MIDI or CV/Gate or both. Factmag reminds that “Control voltage (CV) and gate functions have been around for as long as synthesizers have existed, and control pitch and note on/off. MIDI does much the same thing, but sends the commands via digital messages.” Lately, there has been a comeback of analog synthesizers and Eurorack modular equipment. This has led to an increased need for CV/gate outputs over MIDI outputs. A modular electronic music artist who doesn’t want a particular hardware sequencer should pick one that has CV/gate outputs. Otherwise, if the EMA mostly uses modern synthesizers then an MIDI-only synthesizer would suffice. It is advisable to get both if the user has a large range of equipment or has a collection.
Electronic music artists should decide if they will be using the hardware sequencer for studio or live. For studio use, it’s better to get a big one with plenty of effects. For live use, it’s better to get a small but dependable one. As will all gadgets, take the time to read the manual included with the hardware sequencer to avoid messing it up. Factmag cautions that the learning curve is steep: “Even though it’s basic, it’s still a programming language; make sure you have the manuals for all your synths so you have MIDI implementation charts to reference as you set up your gear.”
Getting a hardware sequencer is a big step for any electronic music artist. Getting one should be based on whether it is truly needed or if DAWs like Ableton Live or Bitwig Studio can suffice. One of the positives of getting a hardware sequencer is that it’s more stable than a DAW. Once the decision to buy one is final, you’ll need to figure out which one to get. Here is a list of the top 7 hardware sequencers to get:
Korg SQ-1 – the simplest sequencer in the market and limited to two channels. Primarily a CV/gate sequencer but also has a MIDI output.
Best price in the US: Control ($99)
Best price in the UK: Gear4Music (£99)
M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro – best value for money as this can run without a computer. Primarily used as a controller for using software so it’s not as powerful as other models.
Best price in the US: eBay ($80 approx)
Best price in the UK: eBay (£80 approx)
Arturia BeatStep Pro – ideal for studio and live usage due to size and specifications. Has standard MIDI output but only a monophonic sequencer.
Best price in the US: Sweetwater ($249)
Best price in the UK: DV247 (£209)
Squarp Pyramid – has both MIDI and CV/gate output. Small but has advanced specifications. Quite complicated to use but a powerful tool once mastered.
Best price in the US: Squarp (€590/$629)
Best price in the UK: Squarp (€590/£502)
Elektron Octatrack – this one is categorized as a sampler instead of a sequencer. No need for a laptop but it only has monophonic output. Known as one of the most dependable hardware in the market.
Best price in the US: B&H ($1,249)
Best price in the UK: Andertons (£999)
Social Entropy Engine – a powerful sequencer that looks like an upgraded Roland. Will keep users focused on the board as it has no screen like the others. Has a “snapshot” function for settings.
Best price in the US: Social Entropy ($665)
Best price in the UK: Social Entropy ($665/£530)
Kilpatrick Carbon – another powerful sequencer with an advanced arpeggiator, two MIDI outputs and plenty of CV/gate ins and outs. Has a colorful screen and perfect for studio use.
Best price in the US: Kilpatrick Audio ($749)
Best price in the UK: Juno (£685)
At the end of the day, the tool used is only as good as the user. Meaning no matter what hardware sequencer is chosen, the quality of music will still depend on the skill of the electronic music artist who uses it. To learn more about equipment like hardware sequencers you can check our past posts here and here.
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