Why Is Elektron’s Syntakt Analog/Digital Groovebox So Amazing?

There's not much it won't do

  • Elektron’s new Syntakt is an absurdly capable analog and digital music machine. 
  • It’s like the greatest hits of all Elektron’s devices since 2001.
  • Nothing beats knobs and buttons when it comes to immediacy.
The Elektron Syntakt groovebox

Elektron

Elektron’s new Syntakt groovebox is probably the most exciting piece of music gear in 2022 so far. 

The Syntakt is a combination drum machine, synthesizer, analog FX box, and sequencer. It joins two already-legendary boxes from the Digitakt and Digitone to make a same-sized trilogy of musical magic or mayhem. 

"No other box has given me such instant, usable results, in such a short amount of time," said electronic musician and Syntakt reviewer Adam Jay in a forum thread. "It’s fine by itself, but paired with another Elektron, you really don’t need anything else."

All Together Now

To see why the Syntakt is so important, we need to see its place in Elektron’s lineup. The Swedish electronic music company made its name with 2001's Machinedrum, a drum synthesizer with a uniquely flexible built-in sequencer that made it easy to create and tweak rhythms on the fly.

Machinedrum by Elektron.

Elektron

Skip forward to 2014, and we get the Analog Rytm, regarded at the time as "the best drum machine ever." 

Analog Rytm by Elektron.

Elektron

More recently, Elektron launched a smaller, more wallet-friendly range pair of devices, the Digitakt sampler and drum machine and the Digitone synthesizer. 

OK, history lesson over. The Syntakt is a miraculous hybrid of all these devices. It shares the compact form of the two Digiboxes, packs in the digital drums of the Machinedrum, and the analog drums and effects of the Analog Rytm. And by all accounts, it’s a massive hit, a real classic in the making; only they did it.

It’s as if you took Jean Claude Van Damme, Sly Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, and Arnie, combined them into a hybrid 1980s action hero, and somehow ended up with a modern-day fighting/parkour superstar, only without the sexist wisecracks. In other words, an impossible mission. 

All-In-One

The Syntakt comes in at around $1,000 and might be the only music box you ever need. The only thing it doesn't do is record or play samples. But if you want a drum machine that has both digital and analog drums and synthesizer modules that can play melodies and baselines (and chords, too, if you like to make music via menus instead of keys), then the Syntakt is it.

Early reports from the front lines of the Elektronauts forums say that if it suits your musical style, it really is quite something. 

"It’s seriously amazing. Been playing with it for a few weeks now. It sounds huge," techno musician and early Syntakt tester Dave Mech said on the Elektronauts forum.

Syntakt modifier keys.

Elektron

So why is this better than just fixing up Ableton Live on your laptop? In some ways, it’s not. Live can do anything the Syntakt can do, and more. But for many people, it all comes down to the electron sequencer. We’re going to get technical for a moment, but it’s interesting-technical, not snooze-technical. 

See that row of keys along the bottom of the Machinedrum above? Each one of those represents a quarter note in a four-bar sequence. The Syntakt puts these in two rows of eight, but the principle is the same. You can place a sound on any of those steps. If you put a kick drum on steps 1, 5, 9, and 13, you get a classic four-on-the-floor techno beat. 

The Syntakt has 12 tracks, so you can put a kick on one track, a high hat on another, a bass line on another, and so on, quickly building up patterns. It’s way faster and much more fun than drawing steps onto a grid with a mouse. And here’s the part that makes the Elektron sequencer amazing:

Say you want only the last kick drum in a bar to ring out with reverb. You just press down that kicks’ button and twist the reverb knob. That reverb level is now locked to the step. This works with pretty much any parameter, and once you’ve used them, it’s hard to go back. 

And if you do prefer to use Ableton Live? No problem. Thanks to Elektron’s Overbridge plugin, your hardware boxes can morph into outboard effects boxes for your computer. They really did think of everything. Now, excuse me, I’m selling off some old gear to pay for this.

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