Continuing on our quest for Tech You Justifiably Should Buy for aspiring bedroom producers, this time we’re looking at Izotope’s Breaktweaker.
US-Based Izotope are big industry names in the world of music software. Traditionally their software appears to have been geared slightly more toward the professional studio market rather than the bedroom producer – with a variety of products more geared toward fine-tuning mixdowns and esoteric effects rather than more accessible widgets designed to give your creative channels a much-needed kick for those mid-week 1am “Christ, I have work in 7 hours” sessions. The launch of Breaktweaker and its surrounding press looks to be a step toward the latter
BreakTweaker is a sequencer – like the native drum machines in all DAWS. However unlike Ableton et al’s drum machines, BreakTweaker has been designed to allow the user to sculpt drum samples and edit sequences to a far greater degree. Whilst in native drum machines the emphasis is often on global control – getting the kicks, snares and hi-hats all in precisely the correct sequence, all sounding mostly the same – with BreakTweaker the main emphasis is the ability to ‘microedit’ specific drum hits. Throw in a massive bank of presets and a sample engine designed around ease of use and it’s clear from the power-up that this is no ordinary DAW drum factory – but a standalone tool all of its own.
The Need To Know:
-BreakTweaker is a standalone instrument. It runs on any DAW.
-It’s multi-track output can be routed as one master into one channel of your DAW (the default setting) or each of it’s six tracks can be routed into six different outputs
-As above, Its sequencer has six lanes. (So one would be for Kick, one for Snare, etc) Each lane can carry up to 3 different samples simultaneously (all of which activate at the same time), with each sample given it’s own set of onboard effects including Distortion, Filter and LFO.
-These effects can also be linked from lane to lane – so you might have a snare, hi-hat and shaker all of which share the same LFO effect.
–Lanes can be set at different speeds in ratio to the tempo – so a Kick might be set at 1X, whilst a Snare might be at half speed 1/2X and the percussion at two thirds, 2/3X
-BreakTweaker has a very simple to use sample import system, as well as a handy ‘Discover’ button for finding lost or broken native factory samples (it goes back and re-downloads them from the Izotope site). Most importantly, its own factory library is brilliant – you’ll spend hours knee deep in weird and wonderful snares before you actually sit still and make some music!
BreakTweaker means business. Depending on what you’re used to, you’re either going to be instantly drawn to it’s no-nonsense blue, orange and green, boxy layout or you’re going to find it takes some adapting to. We loved it. It’s functional beyond anything else – which – for a piece of kit as detailed as this, is a godsend.
BreakTweaker does things its own way. That’s obvious from the moment your power it up – an instruction screen informs you how the device is mapped to your keyboard. No ifs, no buts. That sets the tone for the rest of the device experience. Whilst midi mapping individual parameters is a breeze – BreakTweaker’s rotors proving smooth across the board – the rest of the layout is regimented. Different scenes are created using steps – shown by the numbers on the bottom right of the screen. The sequencer however doesn’t allow for tempo or sample changes between steps. Nor do sequences sync automatically to your DAW (the overall tempo, however, does). The sample generators themselves have up to three sample slots – these however can only be viewed one at a time – opening one box closes another completely. All this has created a fray amongst commenters and those out there who diligently downloaded the crack in order to better review the kit for the good of the community/ their own YouTube channel. Frustrated would-be bass makers claim BreakTweaker is deeply flawed because of the above workflow restrictions.
Data Transmission sees things differently.
Izotope have been making music software since 2001. To put that in perspective, they were making plug-ins at a time when no laptop on earth was fast enough to run studio software. With that in mind – it doesn’t make sense that the rules inbuilt into BreakTweaker’s software have come about owing to a lack of programming ability. The more hours we spent playing with this piece of kit, the more it became clear that BreakTweaker has been carefully designed to keep you running on a very specific workflow. Its keyboard activated multi-step set-up – best demonstrated in its brilliant factory presets, its insistence on you drawing in sequences (there’s no in-device feature that allows you to free-record drums in – though you could do it on your own DAW) are all geared towards you building tight standalone drum samples.
BreakTweaker’s multi-scene sequence system: designed to get you dancing the right way
That, in a knock-on effect, is designed to push you over to the Generator area of the device, where each slot can be filled with an imported or native sample, or a synth. The latter two are brilliant: we can’t get enough of BreakTweaker’s unashamedly loud, boisterous, tough drums, a ‘Glitch’ library that could re-start the 2007-8 Fidget House craze all by itself and even ‘Film’ and ‘Noise’ folders that’ll keep you scrubbing and restarting new ideas for hours.
BreakTweaker’s Factory Library is on its own one of the best Drum libraries we’ve come across
Meanwhile the synth option hits that sweet spot between diverse enough to give any sequence an interesting and original bass sound as well as being coupled with a straightforward and powerful enough effect rack to add a whole realm of new noise into the back end of your kicks.
BreakTweaker’s Synths – add some colour to your kicks, or just fall down the retro-bass rabbit hole
BreakTweaker’s own favourite sell is its MicroEdit engine. Sitting at the bottom of both the Sequencer and Generator screens the concept is simple. Whilst most drum machines are built around making uniform changes: every Kick having the same filter, the same attack and release parameters – and there being only superficial changes beat to beat, BreakTweaker turns that on its head. Each individual beat can be micro-edited – which mostly involves being cut, pitched, time-shifted stuttered, gated and filtered to a precise degree. To give you some ideas, the engine also has a Randomise button, which lays on the changes thick and heavy. Used on bass notes and percussion like shakers, hi-hats and toms brings a totally original element to each hit, and with it, each sequence. It’s a time consuming exercise – global changes across a lane of beats aren’t encouraged – but the ease of use and the intuitive layout will have you approaching every element of beats on your tracks with a more open mind.
BreakTweaker’s MicroEdit Engine – A very neat way of transforming percussion
BreakTweaker is not, in our opinion, intended to be a like for like replacement for your DAW’s drum machine. Its rigid workflow set-up doesn’t suggest that. Instead, its optimum use is as a a sample creation engine – prompting you to record drum loops for use in your projects. Its Midi setup, allowing you to swap between steps playing instantly, its micro-editing ability, its extensive sample library and its brilliant synth Generator engines that blur the line gloriously between beats and bassline will all bring a splash of fresh ideas to your drum writing. At £150, this shouldn’t be seen as an upgrade to your native drum kit, but instead as a standalone sample engine giving you entirely new angles on the mechanics of your track. For aspiring producers – access to such leftfield, diverse and straightforward drum programming is well worth the investment.
Easy to use – if you go with the flow. Massive range of samples and options, hours and hours of scope for experimentation. Loads quickly, very stable, and the inbuilt presets and their own customisability will you have brainstorming rapidly opening forgotten projects in minutes.
You’re gonna have to play by the rules, bro. The creatively techy amongst you that have plans of routing this into some ornately complex IDM effect rack are going to have a hard time. This is a brilliant bit of kit – as long as you use it in the right way.