Before you buy an Elektron box… and sink into despair

This is a long read into my own personal experience jumping head first into Elektron’s world again after a hiatus of nearly 4 years. I think it had a lot to do with my misunderstanding what an Elektron box (Digitakt, Analogs, OT, etc) actually is, and is not, during my first round with it. So, if you’re thinking of buying yourself an Elektron box this may help you with some upcoming frustrations, expectations, and perhaps even money. I am in no ways an expert in any of these boxes, and I’d say I’m at Grade 3 at my piano exam levels with them. I have an OT(Grade -9), DT, ARM2, Models C+S (Grade 3). An A4M2 is on its way and I’m more heavily invested in Elektron’s boxes now than any others except maybe Roland over the years.

Many of us coming from a world of Groovebox, Music Production Center and controllers, we come into Elektron’s world and completely misunderstand what their boxes actually are. I know I’m definitely one of them and for many years I regretted buying the Octatrack. I heard it’s powerful, a pain to learn but it could do all those wonderful stuff you hear on YouTube. The mistake I made was thinking I could apply what I am used to from the MPCs, and the MC’s and Maschines to Elektron’s boxes. Throw that idea out of your head right now. Can it do some of all the above? Yes it can, but not exactly how you’d imagine it to be.

The perfectly crafted sound and pinpoint programming saved to an SD card which I can recall at a whim. The multiple layers of effects and beat matched slicing on gorgeous multi-touch screens. Programming minutiae like the “sample tail” now included in MPC v2.10, endless VST plugins for every imaginable sound design, yet, I find myself preferring the head pounding frustration of learning how to use an Elektron box! If you’re intrigued and planning to sink yourself into Elektron, hear me out.

Current modern music making boxes mostly fall into these three categories:

  1. Groovebox/MPC : MPC One, MV-1, Circuit etc
  2. Controller: Ableton Push, Maschine Studio, Launchpad etc
  3. DAWless: Akai Force, MPC X etc

And the Elektron boxes? I think they are more like a music instrument along the lines of a piano, a cello or a guitar and not really like any of the above three paradigms. If we stop thinking of Elektron boxes specifically in that way, we open our minds to what it really is. It is a dichotomy that it is a music computer yet a musical instrument in the traditional sense. Maybe that’s why it is so hard to put them into a slot, and why it provokes such extremes: Love it, or hate it.

For example, each time you play a piece on a Digitakt, it has the nuanced difference as you would playing a piano piece. It’s never exactly how you programmed it because this is a mechanical musical instrument with a CPU, knobs and LFO replacing the hammer and string in a piano. If you shift away from thinking it should behave like a digital musical instrument solely, and play it like a piano, you’d be fine why it doesn’t have a song mode or why the pattern chaining can’t be saved. I was a feature requester asking for these, and mind you, I still want them and that’s why I like the ARM2 for it’s Song Mode. But the moment I programmed a Song with steps and mutes, and let it run, I had an a-ha moment and fully understood the huge difference in approaching Elektron boxes and the rest. In the ARM2, there’s the flexibility of the Performance, Fills and Mute buttons when you run it in Song Mode, so musically it can sound very organic already programmed with probabilities and conditions. But the real musicality of it comes from you playing the box by hitting the pads, twisting the knobs, switching patterns manually, and hear the sonic changes as you progress through the song with some guardrails in place returning easily to the saved patterns if you stray too far away.

The MPC with its beat matched clips and launch controls, assignable encoder knobs and X/Y pad can do the same too, but from my personal experience the guardrails are so perfect that I find it faultless to a fault. I can’t believe I am actually saying I prefer to hack a time-stretch for the sample on my Digitakt than just pressing a button like my MPC One allows me to!

Go watch on YouTube Ezbot, Ivar Tryti, Nick Cartwright where they do live jams on their boxes and you’d see they play it more like a musical instrument rather than a programmed sound spitting box. Before I get bashed by the MPCers (peace), I know you can do that too and this is by no means saying one is better than the other. I still have my MPC One and Force, and I will keep them for their way of approaching music making. But for many of us who are thinking of buying an Elektron box, I am suggesting not to compare it to a typical groovebox because you’d be upset why some of the features found in a MC101 or even an iOS app is not found on a Digitakt or the Analogs.

It comes back to this, reminding myself as a kid with my hated piano lessons. In fact, piano lessons was a lot easier! With any of these Elektron boxes (perhaps with an exception to the Models), it’s like going back to piano lessons but having to learn what an LFO does with what knobs to turn, and where to save the bloody kit, and what the hell is NEI? It takes a while to learn how to play the piano brilliantly, and that’s what the Elektron boxes are. I have been hearing my late piano teacher, Mr Ashcroft, repeating this after every lesson in my head: Practice makes perfect… And in place of Mr Ashcroft, the good people of this forum will be my teacher :grin:

My Elektron family, and a few friends.


Great write up! I completely agree with your main point: elektron machines are truly designed as instruments to be played, not computers that do tasks for you.

I’d like to add 2 thoughts:
I feel like the distinction you make between elektron machines and other grooveboxes is not just something related to the manufacturers, but to the way people perceive music making.

For me, making music is an art. It’s a way to express yourself, and to create something unique. To a lot of people, making music seems to be more like a career/business plan where you work to become financially succesful. This frame is the one thats being promoted by a lot of the youtube commercials selling chord packs and telling you you can become rick quickly by using them (and capitalism in general I guess). Both approaches ask for different tools: I love it when a machine challenges me, and takes me to unexpected places, like all elektrons do. Others like machines which you can throw in some loops from splice and a track comes out on the other side (which I kind of despice).

To me: using splice loops and a machine which automatically syncs them is like making a painting by first buying the design, and then using an automated paintbrush which makes sure no line is crooked. I like my elektron machines because everything comes out unexpected and different from what I intended, they truly lead to creativity.

Also: I will have to stand up and defend my old mpc :joy:. Those old machines did exactly what you describe, their limitations and quirks forced you to use them as instruments. I guess Akai took a wrong turn somewhere…


Its kind of summed up nicely here really

Elektron music machines.


I’m naturally drawn to Elektron too, and I think it’s because they make machines that push me towards new ideas. That became apparent once I sold my Elektron boxes. My production technique went from totally original - to copy and paste on Ableton. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I find it so uninspiring.


LOL… it’s the insta-noodle society we live in now. The cut & paste, camera filter app to get fast results mentality. I’m not saying using stems or Splice is bad, and I’ve downloaded loops and stuff before. But, it’s just not satisfying. It is like painting by numbers and after a while I got bored of it.

So it will be interesting where Elektron will go from here. Their flagships are more than 10 years old and in versions 2.0 already. Will they “lose their way like Akai” as pointed out by you? Or can they innovate without losing their soul?


Curious about this as well… I hope they make something completely different from what everyone expects.

Btw: not saying using splice is a sin, its more the intention/mindstate going in that matters to me. Creating consumable musical products as efficiently as possible is something very different from musical expression.


I fully concur with my following concurrence


I really love the Elektron workflow when it comes up with improvising / creating.

I still have to find a proper workflow for a liveset: I can’t rely on improvisation only, and I’m not sure I’d be ok with something totally written on a song mode… I suppose mute + performence/crossfader should be enough manipulation to get entertained myself while performing.


I’m an Ableton Live junkie 'til the end, and find Elektron boxes work for me as external instruments rather than just drum machines, synths etc. They’re multi-purpose devices and I wouldn’t be without at least one on the desk. :wink:

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+1000 for the instrument factor. I’m soon begining my second year with Elektron devices and the way i use them is slightly different than how i thought i would at first.
I went from a somewhat replacement of my DAW and VSTs to an instrument i play for the pleasure of performance.

I still love to build a piece of music with soundbanks and vsts, so i can enjoy my multiple personalities : Soundtrack composer, Prog rock band, Pretentious hipster Jazz trio, obscure lo-fi Dada avant-garde orchestra of masked freaks …

But with these machines, i found myself spending hours preparing performance and even more hours playing them.
If i substract last year’s Jamuary jams i made (mostly to boost my learning of the boxes) and the few things i’ve posted on my YT Channel, i didn’t “finished” anything from the many projects living on the +Drives, because i get so much satisfaction with performing rather than give them a definitive state.

And talking about performing, i’m a happy camper because these boxes are pretty perfect with my “skills”.
So i tried…and fail so hard, to perform Tracks with a “to do list” of sections and manipulations, and i’m not that guy.
( and i’m definitely not half of the little finger of mister T) but that’s even better.

My natural element is to react instantly to quirks, errors and happy accidents, plus, i love weird and “faulty” music.
The Elektron workflow and options give me many ways to create, react on the fly and catching ideas, even the ugliest ones (muhaha).
That’s why 98% of my sessions with the boxes are ending with a dumb smile on my face.


A looper on the main out/your mixer’s main inserts can also do wonders for live jams…I currently have my SP16 in that position, which allows me to loop everything that is going on on the fly (and on multiple tracks…so one pad per loop) and in the meantime I can change patterns, try stuff out with individual sounds or go for a vibe change in the background and fade that back in when the time is right.

If one can run their setup through the OT, the crossfader with a track dedicated to sampling the OT’s main out on SRC3 paired with a scene that brings that track’s volume up and all other tracks to XVOL MIN is the ticket here. Send the Cue Out to headphones and bam, an amazing setup for transitions in live jams (that you never asked for :)).

Personally, I totally agree with OP’s post, I treat each of my Elektron boxes as instruments rather than “grooveboxes” or “DAWs in a box” – their designs make it possible.


Bingo! It has its own quirks, and by god you need to have the patience of a saint to get anything out of it. And for many of you who are doing your research before jumping into one, the moral of the story here really is, you need to spend time with it. You’re not going to get instant gratification. After getting reacquainted with it over lockdown with loads of free time. I’m only just beginning to wrap my head around it. :sweat_smile:


The Elektron workflow has been refined, and in some ways, watered down over the years, but in end I think for the good. The modern day Elektron device is so pin sharp in terms of what it wants to be. Me personally, my most recent foray in the Digitone Keys is something of a revelation. Things are opening up to me in ways they hadn’t before, it’s truly a playable instrument, I love it. I imagine Analog Keys and SFX-6 owners probably felt the same way. But the DNK, there’s just a nice amount of new features that really give it this breadth. It wasn’t something I felt in previous Elektron machines. I probably actually felt boundaries more than anything, but on the Dkeys it all just feels fluid and open. Very happy and def recommend to the Elektron fam.


I don’t know all the Elektrons but yes, there are some operations that are a pain to do compared to a DAW or (surely) other grooveboxes, and the workflow must resonate with you.
I felt at home pretty quickly, to the point i guessed how i could do certain things based on what i began to understand about the “philosophy” of the ergonomy.

This is similar with using things like, let’s say, 3D Softwares.
My experience with some of them :

  • 3DS Max : …yeah okay
  • Maya : I understand it’s powerful, to me, it’s a bit of a pain.
  • Modo : Who the frakk designed this ?
  • Cinema 4D : That’s my jam

I’m about to get a third machine soon (or later) and still evaluating which one would add real benefits to my workflow…but it’s evolving more and more:

After nine months of learning the Digitone, only on the “synthesizer side”, i’ve started very recently to explore the percussive side…and it’s like having a new machine “for free”.
I knew it was capable to do the job, but now that i began too add this Drum Machine aspect to use, i’m seriously thinking of getting a second Digitone.

It was @eaves performances that pushed me to get a Digitone, and since i began to go more percussive, Baseck’s live sets are indeed a huge inspiration.


Bit of a clickbait title (what despair?) but I was glad to read the actual review of Elektron boxes versus some of the other groveboxes out there. I must admit, tho, that I don’t use them as instruments at all. I’m all about hyper focusing on the details, making constant small tweaks to parameters, LFOs, microtiming, p-locks, trig conditions, etc, until they basically play themselves. But that’s the beauty of them – there are lots of different ways in which they can be used and the workflow is adaptable to many different scenarios.


Hard same.

I like the idea of like the new MPC’s feature set. It would be cool to be able to layer samples and make multisample instruments and what not. But if it’s a choice between easily being able to edit fine details of a sequence and that, I’ll take the details. But that’s me. I also like to make songs with pattern chains as opposed to doing much of anything live even though that can be fun too.

But to go to back to the overall thrust of the topic. I like sharing my little hip-hop beats on social media. I unironically like being greeted with a bunch of fire emojis and what not. I’m over whatever weird older millennial aversion to hashtags I had going. But I always feel weird when people start asking about using the Digitakt because I think most people in this genre would probably prefer to just record huge chunks of songs into their sampler, chop them by quarter note, load their drums from some big sample library they have and bang their sequences out on the pads. Nothing against that. Go with God. But that’s just not the Digitakt. And I worry that I’ll contribute to someone spending entirely too much money figuring that out.


I prefer to play and be fully in control of every nuance of every note to get the sound I have in mind but appreciate that others prefer to use probability, etc, on their device to get sometimes unexpected results. Indeed, that’s often mentioned in conjunction with the Octatrack too - not having a preconceived idea of an end result.

Never used Splice or sample packs and rarely sample anything more than around 1 second max of audio chunks - which I then mangle, resample, etc, etc. The MPC Live, for me does this better and the limits are less defined by the manufacturer in terms of how I accomplish end results.

There are some out there that think everyone uses an MPC to sample entire songs and then finger drum over them and call them their own. In reality, the range of uses is more varied than any similar device ever made.

That said, I gave my Digitakt to a younger relative and they have learned a lot about synthesis from it and have found it to be very tactile and hands on.


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Erm, I’m pretty sure MPC’s, Maschine’s and Push boxes are more of an instrument.
Elektron’s are knob twiddling boxes with performance capabilities

Not hating on the new MPC’s to be clear, they look like awesome machines, and I’ve often been tempted to get one because of all the possibilities. Also nothing wrong with using splice, I guess it’s a great pool of samples without copyright issues, so thats good. I think a lot of people use new MPC’s and/or splice loops to create awesome, unique music, as I believe you do as well.

The main point I was trying to make is that I love elektron machines because they don’t try to make everything as easy as possible, but instead offer an interface which inspires you to do things differently. Most machines today seem to try to offer as many options/functions to the user they can, all to make music production easier/faster/more fun. I guess I personally do better with machines that force you to be creative to do some basic things, and believe making things more efficient/easy isn’t necessarily producing better art.

Btw: completely on the same page as @doug, @craig and you in the sense that I like to have complete control over all details in my tracks. I guess my point about things turning out differently then you intended has more to do with being inspired to go in a different direction because of the elektron interface/sequencer.


people expect pieces of gear to be DAWs if there is a certain level of sophistication about them. it’s funny to see, but it’s also just a thing ppl do once they get their hands on something that’s hard to understand abstractly and learn what its actually like to use it. it’s good to limit ourselves or just embrace DAW music and its endless possibilities. I saw someone talking about not liking the DT because you can’t play long loops in it and that blew my mind. It feels like such an obvious thing that you can’t do that and that the machine is not set up to do that, but still ppl feel those feelings. I don’t think it’s whether ppl treat things as an instrument or not, but rather are they willing to adapt to how something works or expect it to tailor to their specific comforts and imagined workflow.

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