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Review: Singular Sound BeatBuddy - EMusician

Review: Singular Sound BeatBuddy

A Deep Digital Drummer in Stompbox Form
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Despite what its name suggests, Singular Sound BeatBuddy is more than a drum machine: It’s a pedal that lets you access MIDI File songs, load WAV files for an associated kit, and trigger the kit pieces, just as any sequencer or drum machine might (albeit with fills, intros, outros, and accented hits selectable in real time). Yet, to think of the unit as a Standard MIDI File player with samples is also a gross oversimplification.

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BeatBuddy’s build is superb and emanates a pro vibe, from its metal case and bright LCD to the solid feel of its buttons, pedal mechanism, and jack plates (see Figure 1). You activate fills and transitions by tapping or holding down the pedal. The display is color-coded to indicate whether you are on verses, choruses, fills, or transitions. Tempo is indicated by a shaded bar that steps across the display.

The pedal has three knobs: Volume, Drum Set, and Tempo, with the latter pair functioning as buttons. Turn the knob to select a drum set, then press the knob to confirm your choice: The transition is seamless.

Press the Tempo knob to access Projects, which are made up of MIDI Files and associated drum kits. The Tap button, shown in Figure 1 above, is flanked by menu navigation controls.

Pressing Drum Set and Tempo opens Beat- Buddy’s Settings window, where you can program the functions of the optional external footswitch ($49) or the main pedal, check your firmware version, restore factory settings, and more. I recommend getting the footswitch, so you don’t have to stoop down to pause or change songs.

CHEER I/O

Connectivity surrounds the pedal. Two 1/4” inputs are on the right side and pass audio through the box, uncolored, to the output pair. In addition to the footswitch jack, there’s an independent level control for the 3.5mm stereo headphone output, and a connector for the MIDI Sync cable that accompanies the unit in order to sync BeatBuddy with other clock-driven gadgets in your rig.

BeatBuddy accepts an SD card, which holds all the MIDI and sample data (supporting 16- and 24- bit WAV files) that is bundled into Projects. The pedal comes with a 4GB card loaded with 200 songs and 10 kits. The 4GB card should take you through plenty of gigs, but the pedal can accept SD cards of any size. However, it’s the micro USB port, in conjunction with the BBManager software (Mac/Win), that transforms BeatBuddy into a versatile groove powerhouse.

YOURS FOR A SONG

Fig 2. BBManager software is key to BeatBuddy’s deep and expressive architecture. Note the velocity layers and round-robin samples in the snare drum. BBManager loads the content of your SD card and, in doing so, reveals BeatBuddy’s remarkable depth and the key to its realistic and musical performance capabilities. Round-robin articulations help the sample playback avoid the machine-gun effect, and a hefty amount of velocity layering of samples provide realistic dynamics (see Figure 2). I counted a dozen velocity-switched snares in the factory Standard kit.

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The factory kits are a diverse and useful bunch, ranging from standard and jazz kits to brushes, human beatbox sounds, and analog drum machines, among others. They all sound terrific and lively. Adding your own samples or building your own kits is simple, and additional content will eventually be available from Singular Sound.

The songs are well-played, with natural-sounding grooves in a variety of styles. And, as with the drum kits, you can load your own MIDI Files and create your own content. There are tons of drum-oriented MIDI Files available online, and if you already own a sequencer, you can create your own or edit existing performances to taste. Factory settings conform the drum kits and songs to General MIDI Note assignments, though the editor will let you remap note numbers, too.

BEAT IT, BUDDY!

As it is, Singular Sound has a hit on its hands with what may be the simplest, most flexible, most compact, most elegant, and (apart from hiring a live drummer) the most musical means of working with digital drums and percussion for live accompaniment.

Offering the ability to add your own sounds and grooves, coupled with an impressive depth of expressive programming features in such a compact unit, puts BeatBuddy in a class of its own. Kudos!

STRENGTHS
Solid build. Great factory sounds and grooves. Remarkable deep programming and expressiveness. Easy to use. Imports user sounds and MIDI files. MIDI Sync plays well with others.

LIMITATIONS
None.

$299 street mybeatbuddy.com

Marty Cutler still regrets the use of a Yamaha RX-11 drum machine on a country music gig.