by Stefan Wyeth | 3,4 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 5 Minutes
The Best Grooveboxes for Beat Creation and Live Performance

The Best Grooveboxes for Beat Creation and Live Performance  ·  Source: Thomas Evans / Unsplash / Roland

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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.

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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.

Novation Circuit Tracks

Novation Circuit Tracks

Novation Circuit Tracks

Novation Circuit Tracks

Customer rating:
(51)

Polyend Tracker

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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Polyend Tracker

Polyend Tracker

Polyend Tracker

Polyend Tracker

Customer rating:
(67)

Elektron Digitakt

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.

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron Digitakt

Customer rating:
(355)

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.

MPC One+

MPC One+

AKAI Professional MPC One+

AKAI Professional MPC One+

Customer rating:
(4)

Roland MC-707

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.

Roland MC-707

Roland MC-707

Roland MC-707

Roland MC-707

Customer rating:
(45)

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Image Sources:
  • Novation Circuit Tracks: Novation
  • Polyend Tracker: Polyend
  • Elektron Digitakt: Elektron
  • The front panel.: AKAI
  • Roland MC-707: Roland
The Best Grooveboxes for Beat Creation and Live Performance

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6 responses to “The Best Grooveboxes for Beat Creation and Live Performance”

    teak says:
    5

    what about the Mschine Plus?

    MC707 Fan Club says:
    0

    Gotta pick the best groovebox that suits your needs. Been using an MC707 every day since the release date in late 2019. To me, it’s a magic machine, the best thing Roland have made. Synth, sampler, sequencer, 8 track but with internal sampling that lets you bounce tracks onto a drum pad, so it can play a lot more than 8 tracks once you’ve sussed how to use it. Back up at £1000 now, at one point you could get them for £700. Downsides, no sidechain compression, no pitchbend wheel (but you can use the knobs), each tune loads as a Project and takes 30 seconds or so, so you’d have a gap between tunes if using live as your main hub. Other than that, a real classic Roland instrument.

    Kol says:
    0

    The best groovebox on the market today without doubt is the New Zealand Synthstrom Deluge.. and it doesn’t even get a mention…

      Nagon says:
      1

      Was surprised not to see it mentioned in a ‘Best’ life, sure, it’s not the most affordable one out there, but the only way I will let go of my Deluge is when you pry it from my cold hands.

      Dongleboob says:
      7

      That’s because the Deluge isn’t available for sale on Thomann! 😉
      As much as I love this site for news and interesting articles, these sort of lists are basically advertising for Thomann.
      I don’t mind that, running a site like this costs a lot and is time consuming. They need to get something back.
      Just understand that when reading articles / lists like this.

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