Beatstation - Toontrack
Toontrack Beatstation is both a good application and an odd one; let’s get that out there from the start. It provides you with a sophisticated sound sampler, a useful sample editor and point-and-click virtual pads for constructing and playing multitrack sample hits.
The developer, Toontrack, is well known in the audio software field; it is the company behind EZdrummer and Superior Drummer. Like these, Beatstation is aimed primarily at musicians with other applications rather than as a completely self-contained audio program.
The main section of the Beatstation window shows a set of pads waiting to be clicked. These are given names such as Snare 1, Hand Clap and so on, and they can be controlled externally or just clicked directly while you play around. The display defaults to 12 pads, but you can choose different preset numbers and arrangements of pads.
Setting up the pads with your own sounds is simple. To start with, you can hit a button to get a random selection, which is good if you are a little stuck. If you want more control, you can drop audio samples onto individual pads. These can come from the list of Midi sounds, sequenced audio sample loops, from the individual parts that make up these sets, from the sample editor window, or MP£, Wav and Toontrack’s REX format directly from the Finder – and they’re ready for use. Multiple samples are played in parallel, building up the soundscape. Open the Pad Property window and you can even change the volume, pan, pitch and effects for individual samples, apply reverse and offset, and more, There is a limit of five separate sounds per pad. That’s pretty accommodating, but plan things carefully if you’re aiming for a rich layered effect.
There are hundreds of samples and sound sets supplied with Beatstation, but this is just part of what you can use. One of the application’s great abilities is the free-form audio sampler and editor. The built-in mic on your Mac is okay in an emergency, but it isn’t meant for serious work. Use a high-quality mic (analogue or digital), and start sampling anything and everything around you.
Beatstation isn’t meant as a totally self-contained application. Once you’ve set up a beat sequence, you can drop it into a high-end audio sequencer such as Pro Tools or Logic. The key benefit for serious musicians is the ability to construct rich custom drum/percussion loops in next to no time, in an application dedicated to the task.
Like many audio apps Beatstation’s interface is a little quirky. It isn’t scalable, and the floating Bass and Lead keyboard ‘windows’ can’t be dragged out of the main window. You can apply different ‘skins’; colour schemes and background graphics. Some are of questionable benefit; black text on a red background is more odd than helpful. You’re free to choose what look fits your mood, although this is really just changing the appearance; the look, not the feel. There are also aspects that look like clickable controls, but are really just decoration. The application does feel like something ported from a different platform, although we should add that it doesn’t take long to get used to the controls. The interface didn’t thrill us, but it makes sampling and percussive sequencing a quick and creative process.
The software requires online authorisation before you can use it. You can authorise two different computers at once, and you can use up to four authorise/deauthorise attempts. For a new application this is impressive. The instructions are too brief; they’re on a roughly A4-sized fold-out page. But once you get used to the interface, it does everything it promises.
If you’re audio-savvy, already make music and want a good way to create drum and percussion-oriented samples and loops, Beatstation should keep you happy.