I’ve always been a fan of Grooveboxes and I’ve tried several of them in my search for the ultimate one. The one thing that seems to plague them all is that they are tied to a rompler engine for their synthesis. This is not inherently bad (the MC-909, for example, runs very deep), but I’ve always wanted something more. So finally, I grabbed myself a Spectralis. In addition to the usual rompler engine, this one has a very, very good v/a synth part with analog filters and it sounds downright stunning. But still, monophonic, not full analog and a little deep of an engine to be making drum sounds on it. Enter the Tempest.
Now, the Tempest is billed as an analog drum machine and it certainly is that. But what you’re really getting for that hefty price tag is much more. It actually doubles as a 6 voice analog polysynth with each voice having 2 analog oscillators and two sample based oscillators. Or, if you prefer, it could also be six separate analog monosynths that you can play simultaneously, with the proper voice allocation settings. More, actually, depending on how complex and dense your pattern is. The only thing missing is the ability to upload your own samples but it does have a nice selection of 400+ samples onboard to help you along as you make your own drums and synth patches. As far as I’m concerned, this is it. This is the full fledged analog groovebox monster that I’ve been wanting all these years.
Build-wise, this thing is solid. The pads feel very nice and are very expressive, with velocity and pressure sensitivity. The pots are sturdy and the OLED screen is a beautiful thing to behold. In addition to the main output you also get individual outputs for each of the six voices. It has midi in and out, of course, but no thru. USB is there for updating and loading/saving sysex files and integration with your DAW, if that’s how you roll. Physically, there is not much more that you could want.
One thing I love about the Tempest is that when you hit a button or turn a knob, the screen reacts instantly and displays the appropriate edit section. From there, you can go a little deeper by using the four dynamic buttons under the screen and the arrow buttons. Above the screen you have four knobs that do different things depending on where you are. There are two shift buttons which is very nice because most of the physical controls have dual functions and having a shift button on each side means you’re not constantly reaching across and possibly blocking your view of the screen. They really thought of everything.
Sequencing of external gear is a little thin, as you can only assign one of the 32 parts in each beat to sequence externally. Coming from gear like the MC-909 and RS-7000, this took a bit for me to get my head around, as I have (or rather, had) about 10 different pieces of gear that I liked to sequence. My solution was a drastic one and possibly the best gear decision I have ever made. I sold off almost everything and made sure that every piece I kept could serve multiple duties for me and had its own sequencer. It wasn’t easy for me to do because I was one of those people who becomes attached to gear and hoards it. Well, not anymore.
I kept the Tempest, Spectralis and JP-8000 and ditched some of my favorites like the Bass Station 2, Drum Station, Minibrute, SU-700, ESX. Then, I ditched my TT-303 and used the money toward one of the synths I’ve lusted after for many years: The FR-777. I kept my SP-808 for effects and for capturing chunks of whatever I’m working on; also kept the MC-909 but haven’t been using it. I’m debating whether to let it go as well or find a place for it in my new landscape. Anyway, it all works out great. The Spectralis has buttons that you can use to play it but it’s not very intuitive or particularly inspiring to use them. But it’s set up so that any midi notes received on CH1 will play whatever part happens to be currently selected. So the Tempest transmits on CH1 and voila, I no longer need to have a separate midi keyboard for the Spectralis. I just go into record mode on the Spectralis and use the Tempest to play the notes, allowing me to still take advantage of the amazing Spectralis sequencer. The JP8K and FR-777 receive midi clock from the Tempest and I let them run wild with their own sequencers as well.
Why am I telling you all of this in what is basically my “review” of the Tempest? Well, I want to illustrate that it’s such an intuitive and great sounding piece that I actually redesigned my whole set up around it. I find it hard to express just how much it has changed things for me but I can tell you, I don’t miss any of the stuff I sold and that is due, largely, to the Tempest itself. A full fledged analog six voice and tough as nails analog drum synthesizer plus some things I haven’t even gone into here? This thing is the real deal and worth every penny. And really, I got mine used and well below retail so it really feels like a steal.
I give it 9/10. User sample upload, more than 4mb of memory for your patches/beats/projects and maybe another channel or two of external sequencing would be nice. On the other hand, it’s nice that they kept it simple in some ways and focused on making it absolutely bad ass in the main areas.