Feel the beat – literally

Monday, 12 June 2017 3:21 pm

While many modules have built-in metronomes, these aren’t always easy to use. Nor is a click track necessarily the best approach for all drummers.

Enter Soundbrenner, a wearable smart device that uses vibrations instead of the traditional clicks and sounds.

The device, a successful graduate of the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform, made its debut at NAMM last year and is already getting into the hands, or more literally, onto the wrists of some big-name drummers, including a few who have been profiled in digitalDrummer.

The theory is that it’s easier to feel the beat than to hear it while you’re playing. But before we get into that, let’s examine what you get for your $99 with Soundbrenner.

What’s in the box

The Soundbrenner solution consists of a hardware and software package. The hardware, the Soundbrenner Pulse, is like an oversized electronic wristwatch. The Pulse currently ships with a charger unit and a choice of two straps – one for your wrist and the other being a larger strap for use on your forearm, for example. In theory, you could use the hardware as a stand-alone. You can initiate a 4/4 beat by tapping the Pulse three times and then increasing or reducing the tempo with the outer wheel. Simply double-tap to stop or start.

But the companion app, The Metronome by Soundbrenner, really takes the solution to the next level.

The app is available for both Android and iOS (I tested it with an iPhone) and is used to control the Pulse via Bluetooth. And control is the operative word. The app allows for customisation of the Pulse settings – the type and intensity of vibration, the flashing colours, etc. – as well as the minute tweaking of beats.

In action

I’ve tested many metronome apps, but few are as easy to use as the Soundbrenner offering. It is easy to program a rhythm: you simply select a time signature (anything from 1/1 to 16/32); select the subdivision from more than a dozen combinations of notes and rests; and set the BPM – either by tapping or typing in the tempo. The parameters are comprehensive and really allow you to set the rhythm for anything you need to play.

The app allows you to save this information as a song and to save a number of songs as a set. So, drummers can program their entire gig and simply scroll through song by song as the performance progresses. The app doesn’t currently handle changes of beat during a song, but one could simply add the new beat as a separate song and skip from one to the other.

Once you’ve got the rhythms set up, you can also adjust the way they are “delivered”: you can change the accents, set the colours which flash, and set the duration and intensity of the vibration. This is especially helpful if you wear the Pulse on your wrist or arm and thrash it around when you’re drumming. Finding the right spot for the Pulse is a matter of trial and error. People have settled on locations as weird as the back of their head. Personally, I got used to using it on my forearm, but am now experimenting with placement on my chest thanks to a new body strap. I found that I needed to select short, very intense vibrations to get the maximum benefit, although it could be dialled down a bit when placed on my chest. And yes, initially, “feeling the click” takes a bit of getting used to, but after a very short time, it felt natural and was easy to follow – much easier than an auditory stimulus, especially when you’re listening to so much other stuff in a band setting.

For the electronically adventurous, there’s now a piece of software to link the Pulse to your computer music production applications. DAW Tools will synch with most Mac digital audio workstations and adjust the tempo of the Soundbrenner Pulse to whatever you set in the DAW. You can also use the Pulse as a MIDI switch for the DAW and there’s lots of scope for experimentation.

Bottom line

The Pulse on its own is a nifty tactile metronome, but, paired with the free app, it’s a powerful timing tool. The app is logical and easy to program, allowing you to easily set complex beats and, importantly, organise and save them for later use. And it’s not just a solo solution: if you’re in a band, you can use the app to drive up to five Pulse devices via Bluetooth from a single phone or tablet, ensuring that everyone is locked into the beat.

The Pulse takes some getting used to – and some experimentation with placement. Depending on the instrument and the way you play, it could work best on your wrist, on your ankle, on your forearm or, thanks to the new body strap, around your chest.

The Soundbrenner Pulse sells for $99 either online or at the major music stores. There’s a 30-day return window if it doesn’t work for you and a one year warranty if it stops working. And the downside: it’s another reminder of how inaccurate most of our body clocks are!

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