Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.
August 6, 2005

Hardware Sequencers...

by Chris Randall

For some reason, in the last week I seem to have been bombarded with references to hardware sequencers. Adam is currently designing a pretty nifty one for his modular, and the Analog Heaven mailing list has been chock full of hardware sequencer comments. Plus I keep running across references in my normal surfing activities.

Back in the day, I used to be anti-computer. In the late 80s and early 90s, there were two kinds of electronic musicians: those who used the Atari ST, and those who didn't. I was in the latter group, and my sequencer of choice was the Roland MC-500. Man, I was _fast_ with this thing. For some reason, the layout and keys lent themselves to just lighting fast editing and such. That and an S-50 sampler, and I was in business. When I signed my record deal with Wax Trax!, I used some of my advance to buy an Emax, but kept on keepin' on with the MC-500, and that was my combo for the first two Sister Machine Gun albums. (A SCI Studio 440 played a big part in the first three albums, as well. Man, I'd like to score one of those bad boys again...)

I made the big Switch in '94 or so, and got a Mac. I haven't used a hardware sequencer since (with one exception which I'll note below), and I don't think that anyone would argue that the non-linear nature of computer editing is far more suited to overall creation than the extremely linear vibes of your average hardware sequencer. However, because of the constant inundation of references of late, I've begun to think about getting myself a hardware sequencer again. So I went out and found all the current (cool) offerings. I won't, of course, link to anything that Rolakorgaha makes, because we're simply not interested in that shit around here. Q960 - This is a brand-new piece from the DotCom guys that is basically exactly the same as the old 960 sequencer from Moog. Of course, it's DotCom format, and thus will be happiest with some DotCom infrastructure. Impressive lights and such, which can be seen in this movie. (Link to WMV file.) It is $800 straight from DotCom. The big minus is no MIDI, of course. CV/Gate only.

Infection Music Zeit Sequencer - This idea was floated several years ago, and has been a long time coming, but it seems that Infection is about to actually have Zeit sequencers for sale. (Will be available in the US from Analog Haven.) The Zeit is a four-track 16-step "analog style" sequencer that goes for 1299 UKP. With today's exchange rate, that's approximately $194,000.50 or something. It is, however, BIG. And has a lot of lights on it. We like these two features. Both MIDI and CV/gate instruments can be driven.

Future Retro Mobius & Revolution - I owned (and technically still own) a Future Retro Mobius. This is an excellent piece of kit, being basically the sequencer section of their 777 synthesizer. It has a semi-303 kind of programming interface, and enough output possibilities to do some pretty sophisticated driving on a modular synth. I loaned mine to Van Christie from Die Warzau, and now he won't give it back. This particular unit is about as far as you can take your sequencing dollar (or Pound or Euro or Yen) at $345 from Analog Haven. They also make the Revolution, which is a sequencer similar to the Mobius, grafted on to a DCO-based noinky-noink kind of synth. I would very much like to get one of these, and probably will, eventually. It is a bit pricier than the Mobius, at $699, but obviously has a synth attached, which makes it a bit more usable. Both the Mobius and Revolution have MIDI and CV/gate outputs. The Mobius has a couple more options in this regard.

Manikin Electronics Schrittmacher - When you need to mach your Schritts, who you gonna call? This box is a whopper, clocking in at $1699. Babelfish tells me that Schrittmacher means "pace setter." This thing is the business as far as currently available hardware sequencers go, at least from my reading. I've never been in the same room as one, so I can't tell from personal experience, but it sure does seem to have every feature one could want in a hardware sequencer, except for one detail. AFAICT, it doesn't have CV and gate outs, and is MIDI only. I'm afraid that's a deal-breaker for me. Your mileage may vary.

Sequentix P3 - This box is a pretty tasty combo from Colin Fraser. It started life as a DIY project, and can still be purchased as a kit, although your cost-to-build isn't going to be drastically less than just purchasing the finished unit from Analog Haven for a grand. Now, this is the one I'd be willing to throw my endorsement behind, except it, like the Schrittmacher above, doesn't have CV/gate outputs. Other than that, it's as full-featured as you could want.

Analog Solutions Oberkorn - Back to the ever-present Euro-Rack formula, the Oberkorn has a pretty good feature-set for the price, which is $799. It is a true analog 16-step sequencer, with all the usual features such a beast would have. The minuses are (a) it's EuroRack, so you need some sort of infrastructure like the 960 above, and (b) no MIDI.

So, from our research, and taking my bias out of the picture, the Future Retro Mobius is, far and away, the best deal going for a hardware sequencer. At $345, you get a MIDI sequencer which also puts out V/Oct CV, Hz/V CV, gate, trigger, and clock signals, will drive a DIN-sync based unit of Roland vintage, and acts as a pretty good MIDI/CV interface. Quite frankly, all these other units are nice, but they just can't stand up to the cost-to-performance ratio of the Mobius.

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