Audiomodern Playbeat 3: What is it?
It takes your breath away to think just how far music technology has come in the last 40-or-so years. While its many evolutions – from 8-track mixers to DAWs say, or hardware synths to soft synths – have proven beneficial for most musicians (particularly those wanting to reduce clutter!), there are still those who look back misty-eyed at the era when manual input machines were all the home music-maker had to work with. It’s likely that this type of nostalgist would find the algorithm-driven likes of Playbeat 3 an affront to their sensibilities.
Audiomodern’s updated virtual groovebox relies on multiple intelligent algorithms which can instantly take the lead, and if you so choose it to, they generate fresh beats instantaneously.
- Our pick of the best drum machine plugins
Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.12 / Windows 7 or higher
Buy from: Plugin Boutique
While this pattern-shuffling randomiser has been the USP of Playbeat since version 1 in 2019, version 3 takes the inherent ‘cleverness’ to a whole new level. With the introduction of the ‘SMART’ algorithm, Playbeat 3 now studies how you use it to make beats, pens some studious notes and applies these observations into its choices of randomised groove that fit your own style. Yes, Playbeat 3 is the latest example in a growing trend in essentially living, learning music technology. It’s a trend that, for better or worse, is redefining the creative process.
But, let’s not get bogged down in the broader issues of man vs machine. This perceptive third instalment of Playbeat has clearly been designed with the aim of fixing compositional hitches, and delivering routes forward, while still allowing a significant degree of manipulation and fine-tuning from the user.
All this talk of a super-brainy, HAL-like observer might lead you to imagine a sizeable download, but Playbeat 3 conveniently comes in at a teeny 80MB. Loading it into our drum track in Logic, we’re thrust headlong into a circle-dominated world of circular steps. Playbeat’s UI is relatively simple to get to grips with from the off. After loading a selection of drum samples into the 8-tracks (there are 196 factory samples bundled within the download) we’re ready to go.
Audiomodern Playbeat 3: Performance and verdict
The main Steps Grid displays the current arrangement of the 8-tracks. Changes can be applied manually by selecting All or just an individual channel. Step editing is generally fairly simple, with self-explanatory controls for step quantity (with a max of 32), shuffle, shifting and duration. There’s also the option to make sure that tight sequences you’re happy with are firmly locked before you get too experimental with any global changes.
• XLN Audio XO
Smartly hoovers up your one-shot samples into a neat colour-coded cloud, ready for you to cherry-pick from. Superb.
• Slate + Ash Cycles
An all-in-one sample grinding and bending machine.
Across the top of the UI are arranged options to switch focus on editing the Density, Pitch, Flam, Volume and Pan of each sample. Most prominent, at the top centre of the display, is a big, inviting red button. Hitting this allows Playbeat to immediately shuffle the parameters of all the potential options, while clicking the dice icon to the side of each button auto-switches the options for that chosen section in innumerable ways – moving samples around the stereo image in Pan, shifting the pitch characteristics in real time with Pitch, or spitting out a completely new rhythmic template by selecting the dice next to Steps. There is limitless scope.
Quickly randomising any one of these eight sequencers results in immediate, hitch-free change. The Infinity Mode allows you to just sit back and watch as Playbeat generates a new pattern every time a new loop comes around, should you want to let Playbeat do the heavy lifting.
While the software itself presents an easy-to-use, boundlessly creative launchpad for fresh rhythmic ideas, the ability to work with external drum machines and hardware synths opens up even greater scope to lean on Playbeat’s smart deductive algorithms, and mine from an infinite repository of ideas to conjure forth new life from your dusty old physical arsenal.
Once you’ve built – or let Playbeat build for you – a sound and pattern that you’re happy with, there’s even more you can do to bring further colour or variation to your beat. The Remix option provides a way to build endless, sparkling remixes of your pattern. This not only can be used to add variation to your track, but can form the basis of something brand new. Selecting the icon (that elsewhere is universally regarded as ‘Shuffle’) provides you with an instant auto-remix, aka a slight adjustment to your existing beat, as opposed to a completely new pattern.
Deeper sonic tweaking can be achieved by accessing the Sample Editor; here’s where you get a waveform view, with pleasing visual feedback allowing for the modification of start/end points, fades and the option to preview the sample in isolation as you work. There’s not a whole lot of control here, but there’s certainly enough to feel like you’re having an input into the overall sound, particularly if you’re relying on Playbeat to form the pattern itself.
One I made earlier
While Playbeat comes loaded with a nice bundle of free presets, it’s worth noting that three sumptuous and flavoursome packs can be downloaded for free.
There’s the dark techno of Refract, and the snarling compendium of loops found within Fuse and Fuse 2. The characterful packaging of these tailored beats might inspire you to create your own, which you can with ease. Drop any folder from your computer into Playbeat, and then slide across individual samples into any of your eight slots to build personalised kits. You can then save both samples and patterns and export with your own artwork and titling. It’s easy to do and is a hell of a lot of fun.
Before you know it, those loops and hits are given a new lease of life within a vivid new sample pack.
Playbeat 3 provides an alluring set of tools for anyone looking to launch their beat-making off into new directions, Audiomodern also encourages the creation, editing and packaging up of your own created preset sounds (with options to add artwork, titles and more) which you can share with other users. This is a sweet way of not just presenting a tool, but maintaining longer term user engagement and prospective collaboration using the software.
In just a few days with Playbeat, we found ourselves working with rhythms we would not naturally build, exploring the hidden potential of even the flattest samples we’d had clogging up our hard drive for years. It’s the fast lane for showcasing how creative beat-making and sequencing can be, and further demonstrates Audiomodern’s knack for making captivating, creatively stimulating products. Another aspect, that nagging feeling that Playbeat has somehow got its eye on what you’re doing, and is adjusting itself accordingly, adds to this at-times bewilderingly cutting-edge experience.
MusicRadar verdict: Whether in need of fresh rhythmic inspiration, a new way to mould loops or seeking an aide to handle beats, you’ll find what you’re looking for – and more – here.
Audiomodern Playbeat 3: The web says
"Powerful updates and an affordable price make this a contender for the only software random-sequence generator you need."
Audiomodern Playbeat 3: Hands-on demos
Audiomodern Playbeat 3: Specifications
- Mac OS X 10.12 or higher
- Windows 7 or higher
- At least 50 MB of free drive space
- CONTACT: Audiomodern