Apr 5



I must say I do have a soft spot for a drum machine but I have never found one that will do all that I want from it. There seems to be less around today and those that are have been with us a few years now. I think some of the larger companies are concerned that they do not sell that well due to the fact that so many people fall into either end of the spectrum with software at one end and the more professional recording of Studio Live drums at the other. Using a hardware drum machine therefore falls somewhere between these two. So the hardware drum machine needs to have something special about it. The famous Dave Smith and Roger Linn have set out to achieve this by building the Tempest which creates its sound from six analog synthesized voices to create and manipulate all of your own beats and grooves in real-time.


As I took it out of the box, I realised that this is a very solid (nearly 3kg in weight) and professional piece of kit, which looks and feels expensive. It looks a bit like a Prophet 8 module without the pads and looking at the controls appears to be as much as a Synthesiser as it is a Drum Machine. It was actually smaller than I imagined it to be with the size being 15.4? in length, 9? deep and shallow height of 2.5?’. It is packed with 90 controls from its 24 knobs and 48 buttons to give you direct, real time editing and performance. It also has those traditional wooden end pieces that not only add to its look of solid build quality but usefully provide something to lift it with. It comes with a power supply that cleverly clips in connectors for different countries and it has a very long length of cable which makes a pleasant change. Lastly is the small A5 size manual which is 72 pages long but if you take out the usual stuff at the beginning and end gives you about 60 pages to digest.


Before I switch it on, I need to get connected up so let’s have a look at the connections at the back. Going from the usual left to right, first up is the power switch with a distribution input via 1.5 VDC 1.1A. Next is a USB B socket which can be used for importing data from SysEx files. Next are five-pin Din MIDI ports for MIDI In and out but no Thru followed by two ports for expression pedal or footswitch. Then you have 6 mono voice ¼”outputs and 2 x ¼” for the main L and R outputs. Lastly there is stereo headphone mini-jack output.


As you switch it on, you have to remember that this is analogue circuitry and you should allow the components a few minutes to warm up. However, on power up you will notice how it lights up creatively around the unit and the bright 256 x 64 dot OLED display that isn’t particularly large, has really crisp clear text. I am eager to hear it and I start to play the pressure and velocity sensitive pads from the sixteen displayed immediately in front of me. These pads are also back-lit and there are two rows of eight MPC style pads and the sound reminds me of the famous Simmons drums.

This is not your standard beat-box and I know I have to think along lines of Analogue Synth here but as I look to play a series of patterns, I realise that I do not know how. The obvious choice is to press the ‘Play’ button which does start a very interesting eighties-sounding pattern and the back-lit lights on the pads indicate which pads are being used by flashing as they automatically played. It is certainly looking good. The instant user-friendliness has me doubting a bit and whilst some of controls are awesome and obvious like ‘compression’ and ‘distortion’ on the main output, I still cannot instantly work out, how to play another pattern.


I need to understand how this machine is designed and with a little bit of research, I have discovered that there are Sounds, Beats and Projects. Apparently a ‘Sound’ is a not just a single sample but a collection of all the settings that make up that sound including settings for the sample, the oscillators, filters, VCA, envelopes, LFOs etc. From what I can tell there are 462 samples on board the Tempest, so presumably if you alter the sound of one of these samples it can be saved as a ‘Sound’. You cannot however load your own samples.

A ‘Beat’ to me is what I would call a Rhythm Pattern. This is made up of four measures of 4/4 time and eventually when Pad Bank B becomes available will be able to contain thirty-two Sounds (sixteen in pad bank A and sixteen in pad bank B, but for now can only contain 16 sounds from pad bank A). A ‘Beat’ is also saved with its mixer and effect settings etc. The Tempest can hold sixteen beats in memory at one time. So if I was to press the 16 Beatskey I can play 16 patterns that are loaded in memory. This answers my earlier question of how to play another pattern.

Saving a ‘Project’ means saving nearly everything in memory – Beats, Sounds, Tempo, Play Lists, and various project-related settings. The Tempest has 4 MB of internal flash memory to hold Sounds, Beats, Projects, and system settings and the manual explains how this is divided up and also states that there is no set number of Sounds, Beats, and Projects you can save in Tempest; the only limitation is the available memory. I found the saving aspects annoyingly complicated but on the positive side to this it did give you a lot of flexibility and also when you use the Save/Load switch it shows you the amount of free memory.

There are 16 Projects for you to choose from:- Rogers_Beats, Juno, IDM_Zap_Kit, HipHop, Trinculo, Electro_Grime. Pretty_Things. Dub_Tech_Break. Gonzalo. HipHop_Breaks, Miranda, Minimal_Tech. Iris, Antonio, Old_Kit. These provide 256 Beats or drum patterns. Some of them are divided in groups of four and build up the pattern from a verse to a chorus. The ones that had bass lines or synth sounds were great because I found myself instantly creating a song by singing over the patterns and changing the patterns in real-time to build up my verse until the chorus and it conveniently provided more dynamics and punch – great fun.

They will not be producing a software editor and/or librarian for the Tempest but I am sure a third-party vendor will eventually develop one.


The layout of the Tempest is very much an analogue synth and it is conveniently divided into sections with the usual Oscillators, Filters, Envelopes and LFOs. If you own a Dave Smith Synth like the Mopho or the Tetra, you are going to feel right at home here. At the top left you have the Oscillator section and each of the 6 analog voices has 2 analog oscillators plus 2 digital oscillators. Selecting Analogue 1 & 2 allows you to adjust the ‘Shape’ (Sawtooth, Triangle, Saw-Triangle or Pulse), ‘Mix’ to mix the output of the two oscillators and Pitch to set the base oscillator frequency over a 10-octave range. Selecting Digital 3 & 4 allows you to select the samples from within the Tempest and adjust the level.

Moving on to the Filter section which is one of my favourite areas there is a really lovely ‘Lowpass’ filter which you can use in either four or two pole mode for a -24 or -12dB slope. I loved the bite of the four pole mode. There is also a ‘Highpass’ filter and another little gem – the ‘Amp Feedback’ for you to damage your ears and speakers, so be warned.

The Envelope Section is very extensive with its five switchable envelope generators which are Pitch, Low-Pass, Amp, Aux1 and Aux 2 and two LFOs. There is also an ‘AD Mode’ (attack and delay mode) useful as most drum and percussive sounds have a fast attack and then decay away with no sustain. As you switch this on, only the attack and decay portions of the envelopes are used.

With the mixer section, you really need to use this with the mixer screens so that you can effectively control volume, mute, solo, pan, delay send and effects settings for the sounds you have selected. As you will see in the Screens section, pressing the Pads and Sounds buttons together gives you the Mixer screens on the LCD.

This leads on to the ‘System Functions Section’ where you have 18 buttons which cover pad functions, pad options, screens, record/edit, system and save/load. When you first start out with the Tempest it is a good idea to get used to the pad functions because it is here that you are selecting whether or not the pads are used for sounds or beats or whether or not you are taking out sounds from beats. The top right of the Tempest gives you the LCD screen which has four knobs and eight buttons for navigation and transport functions and above this you will find four more knobs for you to adjust the BPM and swing and for the overall output – distortion, compression and volume.


To have some greater fun, in the bottom left section of the Tempest is the real time effects section with two back-lit ribbon controllers where you can affect either the whole pattern or individual notes. My favourite effect on the Tempest is without doubt the Stereo analogue compressor which really makes it punch through the mix. My recordings in Sonar sounded great and meant I did not need to use valuable computer resources by adding compressor plug-ins.

The distortion effects provided some grit but I thought that you did not necessarily want to use too much here else you would lose too much of the drum sound. The Delay feature is just like a digital audio delay but instead creates additional delayed notes in order to keep Tempest’s entire signal in the analog domain. If you want that beat-synced “stutter” effect, you can loop short portions of the drumbeat on the fly.


The Tempest has 6 modes in which you can use the pads. If you want to you can have 16 Sounds across the pads to play or you could have 16 drum beats to create an arrangement of beats for your song. By using the ‘16 Time Steps’ mode, you magically have two rows of 8 pads available as a step style programming interface. Pressing the ‘16 Mutes’ mode button allows you to turn parts on an off whilst your beat is playing. ‘16 Tunings’ mode allows you to play pitched melodies across the pads and lastly you can change the pads to 16 volume levels to control your velocity levels when step programming. If you are not happy with the way the pads respond to your playing you will find that there are four velocity curves to select from in the System settings. There is a roll feature to produce drum rolls or DJ type- stutters.


I found this very odd but at the same time fascinating that they decided to ship the Tempest with not all of the features implemented. I think they must have been just so keen to get the product out rather than wait until all the facilities are sorted. It is their intention to then periodically release free software updates to be installed via MIDI. One of these features we have already mentioned which is Pad Bank B. This switch will toggle to a second bank of sounds for a total of 32 per beat. Time Signatures other than 4/4 will also be added as will an Undo Record facility. Some things are under consideration like the loading of MIDI patterns and the ability to load additional projects or beats in the background without having to stop playback.


As I said earlier the sound of the Tempest has similarities in my opinion with the Simmons drums of the Eighties but with a 2012 flavour. It is very much a Synth and Drum module with an awesome amount of controls to provide you with endless real-time editing. I particularly like the fact that you can create patterns for songs on the fly with no real fixed elements, so if you want the verse to have 6 bars instead of 4, you don’t change to the next pattern until you want to. It is a beast that will grow and with the intended free updates you are going to have even more facilities at your fingertips.

I feel that I have hardly touched the surface with this review. It is a little bit deep at times and you feel that there is a lot to learn but like anything as you use it, read the manual and try things out it does start to get easier and more interesting. Experimenting is the key here and the fun. There is not much out there to compare it with except perhaps the Elektron Machinedrum but really these two are different beasts. I think I agree with the inventors Dave Smith and Roger Linn who think of the Tempest not just as a drum machine but rather as a new musi¬cal instrument for the real-time performance of beat-oriented music.

Absolute Music

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