Sometimes, taking a break from your DAW can be the creative breath of fresh air you need. We’ve selected some of the best grooveboxes for beat creation and live performance to keep the ideas flowing.
What is a Groovebox?
Before it was first used by Roland in 1996 to market the MC-303, the term “Groovebox” simply referred to a standalone drum machine, sampler, synthesizer – or a combination of the three – with its own sequencer onboard. This instrument design concept initially emerged through instruments like the EMS Synthi in the early 1970s.
However, it wasn’t until mainstream music became more loop orientated, that more grooveboxes began to populate the market. Notable instruments like the Roland MC-202, the Linn 9000, the SC Studio 440, the E-mu SP-1200, and the AKAI MPC had a profound effect on modern music.
Their intuitive interface design placed music production tools at the fingertips of many artists who no longer had to rely on expensive studios for that first creative spark. Grooveboxes have certainly evolved over the years, becoming both more affordable and versatile with audio interfaces and extensive connectivity options.
Novation Circuit Tracks
The Novation Circuit Tracks is a battery-powered standalone groove station with far more power than you’d expect in its price range. At the core, it’s an eight-track sequencer with an eight-track internal mixer equipped with two inputs.
You have four drum channels, two synth channels, and two additional MIDI channels for sequencing external instruments. It may look simple, but the Circuit Tracks has parameter automation, trigger probability, and pattern mutate, which are features you’ll find in units almost twice the price.
It may not have an audio interface or DAW integration, but it’s compatible with the Novation Components cloud platform, which adds some useful management features. For a more sampler-orientated option, check out the Circuit Rhythm.
- More from Novation
Novation Circuit Tracks
If you’re looking for a different approach to pattern and song sequencing, the Polyend Tracker is certainly worth checking out. Each project gives you a maximum of 256 patterns with 128 steps per pattern and 48 instruments total. The vertical workflow of the sequencer is based on tracker software and compatible with MOD files.
It gives you intricate control with features like effects per step, micro timing, randomization, and probability. Still, you also have the ability to batch edit parameters which can speed up your workflow.
The Tracker a powerful production tool with intuitive slicing, sampling, granular, and wavetable synthesis features, but it also shines as a performance-based instrument. For a more portable option, check out the Tracker Mini.
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The Digitakt remains one of the finest groove-based instruments ever designed, with a multitude of ways to approach music creation. So, if you use a sample-based production workflow, this is certainly a great option.
As a standalone one-shot sampler, it has one of the best-sounding engines on the market, and the versatile sequencer makes it easy to create unique patterns.
The Digitakt is also an audio interface and is compatible with Elektron’s powerful Overbridge software. This makes it easy to get sounds in or out at the start or end of your session. For a more performance-orientated option, check out the Elektron Octatrack.
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AKAI Professional MPC One Plus
With a legacy reaching back to the mid-80s, the MPC One+ brings together features from the X and Live versions in a more compact and affordable package. If your goal is to create music outside of a DAW, the MPC One+ does this almost too well.
So well in fact, that it ends up feeling rather DAW-like in its approach. There’s no denying the power of the MPC One as a standalone music creation station, but features like paid plug-ins are bound to raise a few eyebrows.
The result is that the modern MPC range will always polarize opinions. For a more performance-orientated option, check out the MPC Live II.
- More from AKAI Professional
AKAI Professional MPC One+
The MC-707 Groovebox is Roland’s modern flagship in the longstanding MC series. Rather than attempting to cram every DAW feature available into a single standalone unit, you get an intuitive enough workflow to easily turn pattern jamming into songs.
Besides the sequencing and arrangement tools, the main drawcard is the Roland sound. With the ZEN CORE sound engine, you have access to a ton of Roland synths and drum machines to bring into your tracks.
The screen interface is a little small and clunky, but this comes with the territory for a lot of Roland gear. So don’t forget your menu diving goggles for this one.
- More about Roland
More about Grooveboxes:
- Polyend Play
- Elektron Syntakt
- Roland MC-101
- Roland MC-707 and MC-101 Editors
- All about grooveboxes
- Everything vintage
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- Novation Circuit Tracks: Novation
- Polyend Tracker: Polyend
- Elektron Digitakt: Elektron
- The front panel.: AKAI
- Roland MC-707: Roland