Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

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Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by mitya33 » Sun Apr 28, 2019 7:28 pm

Hey guys

So again my terminology is a bit off; I'm new to all this but I have definitely heard the term jam box somewhere to describe these standalone boxes like those listed above. (Novation actually refer to the Circuit range as a "Groovebox".) The sort of boxes you can take to the park and sit and, well, jam. You know the sort of thing.

My question is this: how much control do you get with boxes like this? I'm watching the demo video of the Circuit, for example (https://youtu.be/19eUNV7tPjg), and sat there wondering: great, but who wrote these melodies, and on what hardware? Are they built-in riffs, or, before recording the video, did the performer somehow, on the same box, create the riff?

Essentially, are these boxes any good as standalone units for music composition or just performance? To what extent does composition on these devices depend on connected software rather than just the box itself? I would also ask the same question of keyboard-based controllers like Roland's JD-XI; again, can you compose entirely on that? Can you record on it, or, again, is it only half of the equation and really needs a software sidekick?

Thanks in advance!

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by meatballfulton » Sun Apr 28, 2019 9:39 pm

Grooveboxes give full control over the musical aspect, entering melodies, chords, drumbeats, etc. The amount of control you have over the synth/sample engine inside varies from unit to unit.

When you say "compose" if you mean can you sequence entire songs on the box, it again depends on the box and how complex/long the song is. The sequencer in the JDxi is definitely not able to sequence full songs. Actually, most modern grooveboxes are less capable of doing full songs compared to units from 20 years ago. Mfrs tend to market these as ways to get ideas down quickly and then export the sequences to a DAW for completion.

Maschine is not a standalone box, it is a controller plus software package that runs on a computer. It is capable of sequencing full songs.
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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by Ashe37 » Mon Apr 29, 2019 5:18 am

The circuit performance is using a combination of loops, drum samples, and probably some onboard synthesis. the Samples may have been created by the artist or part of some sample set- there are lots to choose from.

As Meatballfulton said, newer grooveboxes are actually simpler and less capable than older ones- specifically the Electribes, the Circuit, etc, are slightly less capable than stuff like the Emu XL7 or the Roland MC 505/808/909, which can indeed be used to sequence an entire song. They are more sketchpads instead of complete solutions, partly to meet a price point.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by mitya33 » Tue Apr 30, 2019 10:05 pm

Thanks for the info, guys.

So it sounds like grooveboxes like the Circuis and JDXI are really just for ideas, very much a secondary piece of kit next to your main setup (whether that be computer-based, or something like a Kronos), right?

Thanks again.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by groy » Wed May 01, 2019 4:15 pm

mitya33 wrote:
Tue Apr 30, 2019 10:05 pm
Thanks for the info, guys.

So it sounds like grooveboxes like the Circuis and JDXI are really just for ideas, very much a secondary piece of kit next to your main setup (whether that be computer-based, or something like a Kronos), right?

Thanks again.
Yes that might be true of those particular models, but to reiterate what meatballfulton and ashe said, that’s not necessarily true of all groove boxes. Again, the first generation ones - MC505 / 909, emu command stations, Yamaha rm1x / rs7000, and even the korg emx-1 - were all intended to be stand alone pieces. How deep each one is in terms of song/track arrangement and whether they can sound good (the way you want) varies per model. I think they all share a loop based structure for 'song' creation, then various methods for stringing together these loops or phrases, either programmatically or manually on the fly. There should be demos of each on youtube, you just need to wade through the crappy-a*s dance music a lot of these output to find the good videos, or videos that show they can each do things you might not expect.

Any of these could also work to midi sequence other hardware synths you have.

A point worth noting is that any of of these will get you away from making and sequencing music on a computer daw, and stuck, instead, making music in the respective groovebox’s weird ecosystem. This can be frustrating and limiting, but also very quick to get something going and amazingly fun.

Just some thoughts. And it probably boils down to how detailed you want to get in controlling a composition and whether you are willing to take a punt buying (and then maybe reselling) some older gen gear. Sorry if you wrote this before, what type of music do make?

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by mitya33 » Fri May 03, 2019 12:17 pm

Thanks @groy.

I'm principally interested in making what often gets called IDM, or intelligent dance music. Some of the more interesting techno, that sort of thing. I've spent my life listening to the stuff but never sought to make it.

Very much in flux at the moment. As I mentioned, I went for the MODX as it was a good compromise between my need for a new piano and getting into the world of synth.

But it's DEEP, menu-diving etc. I'm sure that's the case to a point on Maschine too, yet something draws me to it. Then I'm also finding myself these days looking at a modular setup with multiple boxes. I really like the look of the new Arturia Microfreak, for instance; couldn't really be more different from the MODX, yet tactile knob-twiddling (no jokes, please) is attractive as a workflow.

As you can tell, I'm all over the place currently!

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by groy » Fri May 03, 2019 10:23 pm

mitya33 wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 12:17 pm
Thanks @groy.

I'm principally interested in making what often gets called IDM, or intelligent dance music. Some of the more interesting techno, that sort of thing. I've spent my life listening to the stuff but never sought to make it.

Very much in flux at the moment. As I mentioned, I went for the MODX as it was a good compromise between my need for a new piano and getting into the world of synth.

But it's DEEP, menu-diving etc. I'm sure that's the case to a point on Maschine too, yet something draws me to it. Then I'm also finding myself these days looking at a modular setup with multiple boxes. I really like the look of the new Arturia Microfreak, for instance; couldn't really be more different from the MODX, yet tactile knob-twiddling (no jokes, please) is attractive as a workflow.

As you can tell, I'm all over the place currently!
Looking over your other recent posts, I’m trying to figure out what you might be after. Do you have a DAW and whatever interface you might need to hook your MODX up to your computer? Or are you looking to avoid making music in a computer, or don't know maybe?

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by groy » Fri May 03, 2019 10:47 pm

groy wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 10:23 pm
mitya33 wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 12:17 pm
Thanks @groy.

I'm principally interested in making what often gets called IDM, or intelligent dance music. Some of the more interesting techno, that sort of thing. I've spent my life listening to the stuff but never sought to make it.

Very much in flux at the moment. As I mentioned, I went for the MODX as it was a good compromise between my need for a new piano and getting into the world of synth.

But it's DEEP, menu-diving etc. I'm sure that's the case to a point on Maschine too, yet something draws me to it. Then I'm also finding myself these days looking at a modular setup with multiple boxes. I really like the look of the new Arturia Microfreak, for instance; couldn't really be more different from the MODX, yet tactile knob-twiddling (no jokes, please) is attractive as a workflow.

As you can tell, I'm all over the place currently!
Looking over your other recent posts, I’m trying to figure out what you might be after. Do you have a DAW and whatever interface you might need to hook your MODX up to your computer? Or are you looking to avoid making music in a computer, or don't know maybe?
Sorry for multiple posts / dumb questions… I guess what I don’t understand or missed in your other posts is where you are currently at and where you want to get to. Right now, is that MODX your only piece of gear and only method to make the electronic music you want to make? And now you are looking for something else or in addition to it?

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by mitya33 » Sat May 04, 2019 12:23 pm

Hi Groy - thanks for the replies.

My current position is this. The MODX is my only piece of kit. I got Cubase AI with it which I'm yet to load up. My knowledge of how software and hardware work together is currently very limited. I watch videos of people running various, disparate synth boxes, effects boxes, etc, all linked up to and being run by the 'master' Ableton, say, and sit there with my mouth open wondering how such magic actually works.

I have some empathy with myself. I'm a web developer and if I took my first steps in that field today I'd probably react the same way if I saw my alter-self in a YouTube video discussing the pros and cons of various PHP-based MVC frameworks, say.

So I'm lacking knowledge.

The MODX is great but I'm flux because, although it was a great compromise purchase (between my need for a new electric piano and wanting to enter the world of synth), I'm now starting to question whether the workflow is the right one.

The lack of step sequencer, for example, is annoying. To set up loops as you would on many other boxes, I first have to program then assign an arp. Making beats this way sucks.

To answer your other question, yes, I am attracted to doing as little as possible staring at a screen (a computer screen, anyway). The MODX again ticks the box there, but then so, I've discovered, does Maschine - I watched a video where a guy made a whole track with only the box. Perhaps I just like rubbery pads.

Did I mention there's a third possibility that interests me? Perhaps something like the MODX is just too big and overwhelming for your first synth. To that end I'm even looking at something like the new Arturia Microfreak; sure, infinitely less sound potential than the MODX, but that reduction in potential means a more focused learning curve, of one device (and others like it), from which I can then move on to bigger and bolder things.

To sum up, the idea is to either stick with the MODX or trade it for a dedicated electric piano and something like Maschine or, say, some dedicated units (to learn on) like Microfreak and a drum box (e.g. SparkLE.)

This has become less of a question and more a stream of consciousness rambling, so take from this what you will!

Continued thanks.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by groy » Sun May 05, 2019 12:49 pm

I think the sparkle le needs software, so does maschine.

Not to be simplistic, but in my mind if you really want to stay away from a computer, the basic building blocks are pretty much always going to be the same: synths (or sampler), a drum machine (or sampler), something that sequences those things, and a mixer (then effects). If all of things are provided in one box that looks good to you, great. If not, also great. they are insatiably fun to add overtime -hence this forum.

So I think maybe first concentrate looking for something that will be the main driver (sequencer) while imagining the kind of work flow you might want. Is it important to work quickly, experiment, and knock out beats and riffs on the fly? Is it important to have a measured deliberate way to get down ideas and music you may have in your head? Do you want to manipulate loops in real time or lay down a song and then let it play through? Do you not want to deal with menus and just have a tactile experience?

Likely this centerpiece will handle a few tasks and from there you’ll figure out what you want to add.

And if the MODX you have now serves your need for a nice keybed and piano, maybe keep it around a bit while try other stuff? It can always be your master keys, provide sounds, and you might end up returning to dive back into it deeply again later.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by mitya33 » Tue May 07, 2019 12:57 pm

groy wrote:
Sun May 05, 2019 12:49 pm
So I think maybe first concentrate looking for something that will be the main driver (sequencer) while imagining the kind of work flow you might want. Is it important to work quickly, experiment, and knock out beats and riffs on the fly? Is it important to have a measured deliberate way to get down ideas and music you may have in your head? Do you want to manipulate loops in real time or lay down a song and then let it play through? Do you not want to deal with menus and just have a tactile experience?
You've hit the nail on the head. This is the main sticking point for me: how do I want to work? I'm a web developer, so I'm trying to stay away from DAWs as much as possible, hence something like Maschine is tempting as you can do a lot on the box.

That said, if staying away from computers is my priority, then I probably have the best thing going, the MODX, which does pretty much everything. I just get a bit despondant when I get into things like FMX menus and realise how complex it all is. Part of me just wants to twibble knobs (no jokes, please).

So as I said initially, this is very much a stream-of-consciousness discussion with myself as much as anything. But your advice is appreciated and I will give it further thought.

Thanks!

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by groy » Tue May 07, 2019 6:28 pm

Look, I don’t know anything about the MODX, so take this with a large pinch of salt, but even if it’s capable, maybe it’s not the best thing going for what you want right now. If you’ve dug in and you’re feeling uninspired with it, there is A LOT of gear out there that is tailor made for getting synth loops and beats up and running to make all genres of electronic ‘dance’ music.

Korg just made a ton of gear for this, including redoing the electribe family (that were made for this purpose 20 years ago). Roland made the aira stuff. Elektron seems to have some really neat looking boxes, like the Analog Four MKII.

But hopefully someone else here with more knowledge will chime in with recommendations for modern hardware vs a software controller like Maschine.

I personally like a tactile approach to making stuff - I look at a screen all day too and don’t want to do that when I actually find time for music. I have the rm1x or a korg emx-1 I use to synch and sequence a few cheapo synths and drum machines. I’m just a hobbyist, but is so fun for me. Can get something going very quickly - how far you take it is up to the musician - h**l, check out acemonvw on here.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by meatballfulton » Tue May 07, 2019 11:11 pm

groy wrote:
Tue May 07, 2019 6:28 pm
I look at a screen all day too and don’t want to do that when I actually find time for music. I have the rm1x or a korg emx-1 I use to synch and sequence a few cheapo synths and drum machines.
Both the machines you mention are older boxes with more sophisticated sequencers than modern, less expensive grooveboxes.

The Yamaha RM1X sequencer is pretty much the same as the Yamaha Motif in terms of what it can do. There's no groovebox available today that has anything close in terms of sequencer power.

A lot of owners of the first generation Electribes (like yours) were disappointed with the sequencing restrictions of the current Electribes.

Maschine may not require a DAW but it still requires a computer and there are still some things that require you to use the keyboard and mouse.

mitya33,

You really need to watch a lot of the beginner tutorials on Maschine and search local dealers to see if anyone stocks it so you can get some hands-on time with it. It certainly will be a better choice than the MODX as I mentioned in your other thread.

One option to Maschine that is computer free is the Akai MPC, they sell two boxes that can be used without a computer but they are more expensive than Maschine and cannot be endlessly expanded by adding plugins the way Maschine can. That may not be a concern for you.
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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by Jabberwalky » Wed May 08, 2019 12:14 pm

Check out these and research the specs and features on youtube. It's really hard to say what you need or want so you probably just need to try one and see. I have no experience with ModX, but I avoid anything that has a touch screen like that because I might as well use a laptop at that point (i have a laptop free live setup).

Groove Boxes:
Novation Circuit & Monostation
Elektron Digitakt, Octatrack
Korg Electribe Sampler
Deluge
Toraiz Squid (not released yet)
MPC Live

Sequencers only:
Squarp Pyramid
Beatstep Pro
Keystep
SE Engine

I can't speak for the Rm1x suggestion. That was a time in synths a little bit before I started, when hardware sequencing sort of peaked. I think in terms of shear sequencing power today the Squarp Pyramid is at the top of the heap.

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Re: Question re: "jam boxes" e.g. NI Maschine, Novation Circuit etc

Post by meatballfulton » Wed May 08, 2019 1:35 pm

I wouldn't recommend the RM1x myself, I was just pointing it out as an older box that was built to sequence entire songs. It's an old unit so is more likely to have maintenance issues, it uses floppy disks for storage! No USB or flash card slots, either.
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