September 26, 2011

Tempest First Impressions...

by Chris Randall

DSI were kind enough to loan me one of the first production versions of the upcoming Tempest drum machine for beta testing and to write some presets. The word "loan" there is loaded, because they're gonna have to send heavily armed gear ninjas to my house to get it back. To describe this thing as bad ass is to understate the matter entirely.

There are plenty of articles out there on what the Tempest is, and a simple Google search will give you the full technical run-down, so I won't bother with that. Long story short, if you're familiar with the Mopho/TETR4/P'08, this is obviously designed by the same folks, and has the same general vibe.

The oscillators are one of the two places where the Tempest really departs from the normal DSI analog voice architecture. Each of the six voices has two analog oscillators and two digital ones; all four can blow at once. The digital oscillators comprise several methods of making noise (they did a very good job in the noise selection department), a couple hundred different drum samples running the gamut of styles, and the complete Prophet VS waveform library. They are quite capable, and while being necessarily drum-centric, Tempest can also do a pretty favorable turn as a synth.

The other place the Tempest differs from normal DSI gear is in the envelopes. There are five in all. Three are hard-wired to pitch, LPF, and VCA respectively, and two are not pre-assigned. These envelopes can be ADSR (synth-like) or AD (drum-like), and they are very fast and accurate. These are some of the best envelopes I have come across, period, and I might have a little experience with synth programming. I'm going to strongly lobby that DSI put them in all their products from here on out, and that other synth manufacturers license the design. Another pure win aspect: the envelopes can mod themselves via the excellent mod routing page. What this means is that DSI doesn't have to have a bunch of extra controls for envelope shapes. You can just hit an envelope with its own output to change the response curve. Extremely simple once you get the knack of it, and it extends the sound palette considerably.

The timing and feel of the unit is rock solid. No offense to Elektron, but they need to send someone to DSI to learn how this is done. I recorded several passes and got in to single sample viewing range trying to find diversion, but there is none. "Spot on" doesn't begin to describe it. The feel of the sequencer is subjective, I'll grant, and is a function of the timing, the swing, and the velocity response curve, and how they interface with your worldview. The swing in this unit is lifted directly from the LinnDrum via the MPC60, and feels exactly right, as it should. Roger Linn knows swing, and this unit reflects that.

Several people have asked me on Twitter about its sampling capabilities, and suffice it to say that there are none. It is a drum synthesizer with some sample ROM, not a sampler at all. There is no audio input on the unit, period.

Anyhow, long story short, this is my dream drum machine, and I'm turning my house in to a bunker to fight off Dave Smith and his Ninja Army. I'll be happy to field any questions anyone might have, within the confines of what I've been given permission to talk about. (Keep in mind that despite being a production unit hardware-wise, this still has beta software, and I can't talk about features that haven't been implemented, or that are experiencing a state of flux.)


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Sep.26.2011 @ 12:34 PM
I've been beta testing one of these things, too. ;)
Sampling capability is not quite necessary here. I think they have provided enough to work with for some time.
Also can't imagine shipping it back. :-/

Sep.26.2011 @ 12:43 PM
Chris Randall
I agree. There's no need for it at all. It is one of those rare drum machines that is actually an instrument unto itself. That's a pretty lofty category, too. Personally, the MachineDrum, 909, Studio 440, SP1200, and MPC60 are the only members, IMO.

I say this only as a way of pointing out that the tendency these days is to think that every single product released has to have everything and the kitchen sink stuck in it. "ZOMG IT DOESN'T SAMPLE WTFBBQ!???!" That's just ridiculous. If you want to spend your whole day flipping through banks of samples, stick with Live, or get an MPC5K or whatever. This is a self-contained instrument that is perfectly capable of a broad palette of percussion (and synth) sounds.


Sep.26.2011 @ 12:47 PM
thanks chris for the details. can't wait to hear what you do with it. i pre-ordered mine about a month ago. crumbs like this aren't helping with my impatience :)

Sep.26.2011 @ 2:03 PM
beauty pill
I love that is an INSTRUMENT instrument. My band had a lot of discussions about that distinction when we were in the studio this summer.

I can't wait to get one and design sounds for it.

I bet you everyone sounds different with it.

Which is another key characteristic of the INSTRUMENT instrument.

- c

Sep.26.2011 @ 2:04 PM
How well could this work double duty as a synthesizer? I had decided awhile ago that I had no need for a stand alone drum machine. Not with what I can do in software. Plus, I keep a DR-110 on hand for the occasional thing. But the Tempest is really tempting. Also it's stupid expensive on my budget. Though, if I could come out on the other side with an amazing drum machine AND a pretty decent analog polysynth... That is something that might make it worth saving money and pawning unnecessary body parts for.


Sep.26.2011 @ 2:21 PM
@wgparham The synth implementation hasn't been fully fleshed out but it will be in an early OS update. It will be pretty similar to the way our current synths are handled with far more flexible polyphony and layering options. The main difference in the voice structure is 5 envelopes/2 LFOs in the Tempest compared to 3 envelopes/4 LFOs in our other synths.

Sep.26.2011 @ 2:45 PM
How does this sucker handle voice allocation? It has 6 voice, right, but each "beat" (kit?) can contain 32 sounds.

In a digital synth this makes sense to me, but it would seem a pretty neat trick in the analog world (I know this synth is a hybrid, but you follow.)

Am I missing something here?

Sep.26.2011 @ 3:01 PM
tuning range of the samples? i love pitching samples way down or up to make something new/weird/electronic etc.

Sep.26.2011 @ 3:04 PM
I love that the sample you posted on SoundCloud sounded like you. Cool that you have a distinctive style and that this instrument can be tailored to sound that way.

Sep.26.2011 @ 4:18 PM
My first synth was a Sequential Six-Trak, so this is basically the 6-voice multi-timbral Prophet (and then some) I've been waiting for since, mmm, 1984, assuming it doesn't have some deal-killer limitation (unlikely, although I was disappointed it only has 2 LFOs, but with 5 envelopes I assume one could be put in repeat mode and used as an LFO when more than 2 LFOs are necessary ... my default Mopho-Tetra patch uses 3 LFOs, 2 for asynchronous PWM and one for vibrato or filter mod)

If the build quality is proportional to the price, I see nothing but win here. I appreciate your succinct overview, as solid info on this puppy has been scarce.

The only thing I see that could be better is if it had 6 distortion circuits integrated into the voice architecture, rather than one on the master bus. I guess that's what multiple outputs and Kombinat are for.

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