Monday, March 5, 2012

Beat Thang Staff Review

Beat Thang Staff Review

The Beat Thang Mobile Production Studio by Beat Kangz is a portable music machine with the ability to integrate pre-loaded samples, sounds kits, and waveform editing in a pint-sized customizable beat-creating piece of hardware. The Beat Thang bills itself as the “worlds first fully portable mobile production studio”, allowing producers to craft beats without the need for a computer or even a wall outlet.

First Impressions
I was really excited to get my hands on the Beat Thang music production system. It came in a sleek black box and when I opened it, I was thrilled to see that only the actual unit, a USB chord, a power supply plug, and an extremely thin instruction manual was in there. This led me to believe that this would be simple to set up and begin using right away.

I was struck by the size of the Beat Thang when I opened the package. At about 11 inches wide, 9 inches long, and only 2 inches thick, the Beat Thang is by far the smallest beat machine we have ever used. Its diminutive stature makes the device easy to use on-the-go since it can fit on your lap or even a airplane seat-back table.

In picking up the Beat Thang for the first time I was surprised by its weight. Although much smaller than other production studios such as the Native Instruments Maschine, it was nearly double the weight of those units. This is expected, however, as the Beat Thang includes a battery which allows it to be used without being plugged in. However, one of the promo videos they have show Grammy-winning producer-songwriter, Dallas Austin, walking around, carrying it one hand and tapping on it. In my opinion this isn't realistic. You couldn’t comfortably hold the Beat Thang with one had for more than few minutes, let alone record a smooth bassline.

Setup is extremely simple, simply the turn the Beat Thang on and its ready to go. However I found it frustrating that both of the Beat Thang's audio outputs (main and 2 headphones) are quarter-inch connectors. In my opinion a system that bills itself as a “mobile production studio” should really offer either an RCA or eighth-inch headphone cable as options. Also, considering the price of the system (1,499 at Best Buy), you’d expect it to come with everything one needs to immediately get started. We would have liked to see a set of cables included in the box.

After playing with this for about 30 minutes, the best part I noticed about it was the sheer number of features and option you had at your fingertips. The Beat Kangz have loaded the Beat Thang with over three thousand different sounds in addition to hundreds of beats, patterns and loops. The sampler is great and allows you to waveform edit. It’s also relatively easy to edit sample start/end times. The Realtime Sequencer can be used to create patterns on the fly using quantize, swing, and individual bar lengths that can all be connected to make song. The Mixer with built in FX Change track, pad and pan levels is a nice touch especially when you’re just messing around jammin’ with other people.

One of the most unique features of the unit is inclusion of mod and pitch wheels on either side of the unit. These allow you to tweek the sound output as you are tapping on the pads. This makes it ideal for live sessions.

Once you have crafted your beat you can export it to your computer via the included USB wire or save it to a SD card. You can also import new sounds and kits from your computer.

The Beat Thang comes with a program that allows you to craft beats on the computer. We found installation to be simple and the program ran fast on a relatively new computer. Essentially the Beat Thang software gives you a “virtual device” on your computer that you can use to make beats rather than tapping on the actual device itself. You can use your mouse to navigate each button and knob on the device and the sounds and kits load instantly – whereas when doing this on the actual device there can be 1 or 2 seconds of load time. The advantage to this is that once you get used to using Beat Thing hardware, there is no learning curve needed to use the software and vice versa. The only notable difference we found is from within the software you can choose what patterns, kits, sounds, and songs using a folder-style set up at the left side of your screen. For people like me who are accustomed to this organization, it is helpful to select my sounds in this familiar format rather than cycle through them using a knob on the device.

This beat maker is made for hip hop. While other beat machines cater to a dance, house, or electro producer, the Beat Thang is clearly made for a hip hop head. The layout of the buttons makes a lot of sense for doing bass-lines and riffs. The buttons and controls are efficiently arranged. You don’t have to push them too hard but they are sensitive enough to recognize when you are trying to get a certain volume of sound.

The instruction manual is very simple and short. It’s definitely one thing they did right, you can easily find and read exactly what you are looking to learn. I’ve seen other beat machines manuals; they are about the same size as the Bible. The Beat Thang on the other hand? Only 20 pages long!
It has a Rechargeable internal battery which extenuates the portability of the system. It allows you to bring it outside or wherever you have speakers or headphones.
On top of this, I found the online tutorials to be thorough yet easy to follow. None of the hosts use engineering language or make assumptions that the user is very sophisticated. They speak in layman’s and go slowly which for a “noob” is nice to see and helpful.

Although it is small, it is very heavy compared to other beat machines. Its not something you could use while holding in your hand as shown in some promo videos.
With the ease of scrolling through searching for songs with the data wheel and cursor knob, also comes the difficulty in finding exactly what you need. We are accustomed to searching with a keyboard. For example, typing “b-a-s-s” to find bass sounds or “s-n-a-r-e” to find different snares. Sometimes, I find it easier to type in a search box instead of twisting the knob. Luckily you can fall back on the software which makes searching for the right sound much easier.

The biggest con in my opinion is the cost. The Beat Kangz are asking you for $1,499 (exclusively at Best Buy) which is over double the cost of competitors like the Native Instruments Maschine. However, if portability is important to you, than that additional cost may be worth it.

To summarize, The Beat Kangz Beat Thang Portable Production System isnt for everyone, but it does have a number of cool features that make it a contender in the beat machine market. If you are a person who has strong experience in MPC’s or analogous machines then definitely check this out as it might be everything your old machine was not. Also, if size and portability are really important to you then you find anything on the market better than the Beat Thang. However, if you are on a budget and you don't see yourself crafting beats on the go, then this might not be the unit for you.

The world's first fully portable music production studio, The Beat Thang comes loaded with everything you need to make your own original Hip Hop, Dance, Pop, Dubstep and Electronica tracks in just minutes.

Fully portable, loaded with over 3,000 original and professionally mastered sounds, a built in mixer, effects rack, sampler, and performance keyboard - the Beat Thang gives you the tools you need to make music...just the way the Pros do.

After nearly 5 years of development, the Beat Thang levels the playing field - simplifying professional music production down to its core - redesigning the production experience in a way that lets any music enthusiast - beginner or pro - create music the way its meant to be the moment. Forget about confusing menus, manuals and frustration - everything about the Beat Thang interface has been simplified to keep your time spent making more music, saving you valuable time while never compromising on features or functionality.

- Fully illuminated control surface: (Blang) So you can see what you’re doing in a dimly lit studio, stage or club.
- One octave pad layout with 8 banks so you can bang out beats OR play the keys over 8 octaves.
- 16 layers of velocity sensitivity per pad for emotive performance. Pad solo and mute for added remix control.
- On board Effects: Filters, Delays, Reverb, Chorus, Disintegrator, Overdrive, Distortion, Phaser, Chorus/Flanger, Pitch shifter, Vibrato Vinyl effect and more. The FX are open source LADSPA plug-ins so they are future expandable!
- Export .wav or .aiff files of your songs and loops for easy import to your DAW.
- Import .wav or .aiff through the USB to use as loops or samples.
- Record your own samples directly into the Beat Thang.
- Fully editable samples with clear waveform view. Edit start and end points. Normalize, Reverse and Resample to customize your sounds.
- Auto chop allows you to quickly create mash up parts and custom kids from your samples. Bust out that vinyl!
- Easy to use Real-time Sequencer. Create patterns in real time using quantize, swing, individual bar lengths and tap tempo, then string them together in SONG mode. Step sequencing also available.
- Mod and Pitch wheels let you put your own feel and touch to your sequences.
- Easy to browse file system that syncs with the Beat Thang Virtual PC application.