Ultimate Hardware MIDI Sequencer

A bit of my background. I started writing music in Ableton Live. I think I was most productive during that period. The whole workflow made sense. What I didn’t like is using mouse and keyboard for writing. On top of that I think either my computer had issues, or I was doing something wrong, but I constantly had problems with latency, sound crackling and so on. So I dove into the world of hardware only. I started with Model Samples and that sucked me in. Now my Elektron setup is A4, AR, OT + Mother 32 and Hydrasynth. I got rid of everything else I had and that allowed me to focus on the process more clearly. I did try Push2, but didn’t like it at all.

So now is the issue I’m facing. I’m very visual person, so seeing a piano roll and clips and having instant access to this multiple levels of musical hierarchy is very important to me. Right now I use OT’s arranger to drive patterns on A4 and AR and also sequence M32 and Hydra through MIDI. I think I learned to live with the arranger, but not a huge fan of it. I really miss how I could just place a cursor at a specific place on time line and just work on it. Maybe I just need to spend more time with it. But where it goes downhill from there is completely losing visual feedback when melody is boiled down to trigs, or if I want to see relationship of different drum tracks on AR. Again, it might be that I need to spend some more time with this, but perhaps there is another way, so I started looking into various sequencers.

Disclaimer, aside from “Elektron Workflow”, I really enjoy A4 and AR as instruments.

So here is what I’ve looked at, but maybe I either missed something, or some of you may have a great workflow. Another note is that I plan to use it as a sequencer, so internal synths don’t really have any meaning. I.e. Akai MPC One internal synths are bad (from what I’ve read), but that doesn’t really bother me, as I’m not planning to use it, maybe only to just write ideas down.

  1. Akai MPC One. I don’t think I’ll benefit from Live MK2, as even outside the studio, I’ll always have an outlet nearby. I don’t completely like it, and the “song mode” reminds me of the arranger on OT too much. I like piano roll. Biggest problem that I have is switching patterns on Elektron gear via MIDI cc. I’ve read that it’s quite problematic, but might be wrong.

  2. Maschine Plus. I’ve tried to find videos of the new “Clip Arranger” on the Maschine+, but could not find anything. What I saw on the desktop sort of looks like what I want - clips that I can arrange on timeline, like in Ableton Live. Unfortunately, aside from a few reviews on YouTube, I don’t have a much knowledge of this whole ecosystem. So sometimes I feel that it’s rather ignorance that draws me towards Maschine Plus.

  3. Square Pyramid. I watched Loopop’s comprehensive tutorial on it, and up until Sequence mode, I really liked everything, then the Seq mode was a complete let down for me personally.

  4. Deluge looks like a good option. It’s surprisingly very visual for not having a screen. And I think arranger makes total sense to me, but there is something off about it. Also not sure how well will it work with Elektron boxes.

I would love to retain ability to change patterns from the sequencer as an option, but it’s not a compete no-go for me. If the sequencer is great and the workflow is great, I may pretend that all the Elektron gear I have are just instruments. Though not sure if I’ll survive without trig locks =)

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If you’re writing songs and transitions, loop variations, combination of long evolving structures with short step beats, audio recording and structure matter, Deluge hands down. Nothing beats the Dellie when you set out to explore what’s beyons the four bar loop. Especially if you’re a visually oriented fellow like myself.


Don’t leave out the Akai Force - its sequencer is very different from the MPC - it’s clip-based like AB Live, with independent clip lengths, & clips can start at different times, so polymetric rhythms are no problem. True polyrhythms (multiple time signatures) are more difficult and requires a bit of math since Force only supports 1. Song Arranger coming very soon, with proper Program Change from what I’ve heard.

What didn’t you like about it? It sounds like you want Ableton to assist your hardware with a better way to control it besides mouse and keyboard?

If you’re using mostly hardware now and want to use Ableton as a sequencer your crackling issues would be gone. Then it’s just a matter of controlling it with something that works for you.

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For sequencers I have had all the Elektrons, Deluge, Pyramid, Cirklon, Engine, RM1X, MC707, MPC 2000XL and Electribe 2. Of those, I personally like the Elektron’s the most, most relevent here being Octatack. If you want to try something different that is available new and well supported, I would go with the Pyramid. It is most different from the Elektrons, so it will give you a good contrast. If I have learned anything it’s that you need to work with what you have, there are limitations and downsides to everything. Just make sure you use something that doesn’t have any deal killers for the type of project you are working on – either something that is impossible to do, or just incredibly time consuming. The MC-707 for example can do a lot, but it is time consuming to do quite a few things, too much for me at least (like chaining patterns, especially if you have to start re-arranging things).

Ultimately I think working with the Live and Mascine+ is going to feel a lot like working on a computer. I would personally use a nice laptop and Bitwig before those, but maybe it’s worth a try for you.

I really enjoyed the Engine, but mainly for making simpler type music. I never really pushed it hard. Didn’t care for the Deluge, you really need to commit to learning that inside out since there is no screen. That will be one you’ll just have to try and probably the biggest risk of not liking it. I wasn’t a fan of the Cirklon, certainly not a bad sequencer, but not enough going for it considering the type of music I make. It would shine more in a full studio environment where you have a lot of equipment hooked into it since you can save configs and you have tons of tracks and midi connections as well having drum sequencing on one track (which has a lot of annoyances too). None of the others I can recommend, although the I do like old MPCs personally. The Pyramid reminds me of them in some ways because you tend to live record into both of them.


If visuals are important to your sequencing then ITB is without doubt the best option. The ITB success is grounded in its sequencing power, initially just MIDI and then incorporating Audio etc.

If you are happy to use a computer you could try the regular Maschine as opposed to Maschine +. The software is the same regarding clips.

Or it might just be a case of finding a MIDI controller that you like and carry on using Live, although a mouse is the most efficient way to use Live as it was designed from the ground up to be used as such (unlike Maschine, which was always software plus dedicated controller).

Have you looked at hardware sequencers with screens that are sufficiently large for a piano-roll display like Yamaha QY700 (old) or Sequentix Cirklon (expensive)?

Alternatively, you might find some ideas for a computer-based MIDI sequencer in this topic:


People who have a Cirklon rave about it - if you’re talking ULTIMATE then it’s got to be considered - it’s pretty pricey.

Have you considered using your computer purely for midi? Latency is very low if it’s not processing audio too. In this way, the computer does the job of OT’s arranger and midi tracks for your other synths. I too like to use a piano roll for my Nord Lead, for example. And for drums, I use Elektron sequencers because piano roll for one shots sucks :slight_smile:

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I’m curious, what about the pyramid’s sequence mode turned you off?

I think Push sort of made sense within Ableton, but less so with external gear. The pads are really nice and all the scale modes were really useful, but setting up project mainly on the Push wasn’t fun - so it’s all back to mouse clicking on my computer.

But you’re bringing a good point. I have tried Live with Overbridge, got frustrated with pattern changes and gave up too quickly perhaps. I also think one of the automation was getting stuck, so it was back again to debugging why the hell software is not working the way I expect it. This really pulls me out of the flow. In that respect closed ecosystem (using only Elektron gear) is what brought me to hardware - it just works (mostly =)

I wonder if I’m doing something wrong, but it just feels backwards to need put Midi CC for pattern change in previous clip. Ideally it would be nice to have clips in Live that correspond to Patterns on each Elektron box, but in reality it doesn’t work. A4 and AR have “Direct Start” mode, which I have not tried yet for Patterns. Not sure of OT has that or not.

It felt similar to OT arranger, which I’m also not a fan of. I guess I was expecting something along a timeline arranger (left to right) while watching a video, as it all looked so great and logical. In other words, I had different expectations perhaps.

On the other note, maybe it makes sense to just spend a couple more weeks with the Dark Trinity and just make a few more tracks. I think, muscle memory may make the workflow more tolerable. Again, my biggest joy with Elektron boxes is that it just works, and I don’t have to think or troubleshoot anything. But objectively it’s changing a ton of mouse clicks to a ton of button pushes =)


You definitely have an open mind for solutions here, which is nice! I can confirm that direct-jump is a solution for Ableton Clips and the A4/AR, but the OT does not have that feature, so it unfortunately doesn’t help you there.

Would a cheaper Launchpad work (or other grid controller), for visually playing notes into the Elektron sequencers? It doesn’t help you once it is recorded, but that way you don’t feel like you are stuck entering in notes/trigs through trig presses and parameter knob turns.

Maybe the OT loses its place as sequencer, and Ableton owns it, and then you basically just use the OT on recorded tracks to spice them up after?

Also, I haven’t had a chance to try it, but here’s a potential tool to make pattern matching nicer:

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I made a Max for Live device to address that exact issue, as @FlexMundo mentioned above.

You simply name the clip A1 or D14 for example and when you arm the clip to play it sends the program change early.

Have you considered it only being a temporary scratch pad In regards to Push and Ableton as a sequencer (or just Ableton).

You could write your MIDI parts in Ableton and then “live record” the clip into your Elektron sequencer. This would help you get the basic loop of MIDI notes down and recorded in the sequencer. From there you could make small edits or p-lock things on the Elektron sequencer after muting the Ableton scratch pad track.

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It’s not playing the notes, as I use an Keystep for that, it’s more of seeing where existing stuff is. YES+Trig made it a little easier, but certainly not very visual.

Oh thank you for that. That might actually be quite a game changer for me. I’ll check it out.

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You could run patterns of notes in Ableton while using trigless locks to still take advantage of the Elektron sequencer. As long as your clip in Ableton and patterns are in sync then this would a feasible way to work.

Notes from Ableton with corresponding locks on the Elektron sequencer :wink:


After-the-fact sketch pad… kind of like a musical seismograph!

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This is brilliant! I haven’t thought about this aspect. Also much easier to do Param Slides this way probably.

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