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Beat Kangz Electronics Beat Thang review

Beat Kangz Electronics, or BKE for short, deliver a portable, sampling music production studio called the Beat Thang.

Having helped music technology company Zoom create the Street Box SB246 out of the RT223, BKE founders (and top Nashville producers) Aja Emmanuel, Reavis Mitchell and Luke Jackson decided they wanted to go it alone and make a production tool that like-minded producers would want to use. The result is the Beat Thang, a portable music production studio, with a built-in sequencer and sampling capability. It is sturdily built in black steel with all the features accessed through an array of rubberized pads and two push encoders. You can use the cursor keys below the encoders to navigate through the songs, patterns, kits, instruments and effects that are displayed on the 3.5” colour – yes, colour – display, which is set at a fixed angle and has four function keys directly below it. There are modulation pitch wheels cleverly placed on each side, allowing the face of this small machine to have a familiar looking layout. All the pads are backlit with a satisfying blue glow and it’s possible to change the brightness and configuration of the back lighting by hitting the “Blang” button.

“Ideal for beatsmiths, especially those who dabble in hip-hop and R&B”

The Beat Thang is powered by 12V AC and has a power switch and a battery/power indicator light right next to it. The built-in lithium battery allows up to six hours of music making time before you need to plug the power back in. There are two SD card slots for expanded storage and two types of USB which mean the machine can be used with other controllers or hooked up to a computer.  There is also MIDI in and out and a foot switch, which can be useful in controlling the playback transport. Two handy ¼” headphone jacks with independent volume control are neighbours to left and right main outputs, which are also ¼” jack types. You can sample directly on to this machine using the microphone input which will accommodate both XLR and ¼” (they provide phantom power as well).

Getting started in making a pattern on the Beat Thang is quick and easy. The start-up guide that comes in the box is easy-to-read with clear instructions. There aren’t too many menus to navigate and therefore finding the sounds you want is a painless task. Put the machine in record mode, decide how long you want your count in to be, and then hit play; now you can create your own beats using rubber pads laid out like an octave of a keyboard. With 16 tracks easily accessible on the front plate, you can layer up until you’re satisfied. It’s possible to mix these patterns before you get to the ‘song arrange’ stage; you can also add effects but there is no step mode for writing and editing just yet.

We are told that a lot of effort has gone into creating custom-built drum sounds, loops and instruments on the Beat Thang. You’ll hear sounds you won’t have heard on any other machine, meaning there are plenty of fresh beats for hip-hip and R&B producers. Those who dabble in other musical areas need not worry, as you are not stuck with these sounds by any stretch of the imagination – this is a sampling production studio after all. Plug a mic or guitar into the back, set your input level and record your sample. You can normalize your sample or edit it from there. If you have your own sample library, you can access your sounds by first loading them on to either an SD card, USB thumb memory stick or an external hard drive over USB.

There are four main effects which can be turned on using the buttons to the right of the main screen. You’ll find a kind of flanging effect, delay, reverb and an effect that boosts the top end and pushes the overall level. You can assign the amount of reverb and delay in the kit editing section. Turning your beats and loops into patterns and then, ultimately, a song, is straight forward. Simply hit the ‘song mode’ button and choose your patterns. You can arrange the song by deciding how long you want each pattern to play and in what order.

“You’ll hear sounds you won’t have heard on any other machine”

Control over the navigation of this instrument is facilitated by two encoders, one of which tends to be used for navigating particular fields, while the other scrolls through the options available in that field. It’s a simple control but it can get a little bit confusing in the heat of the moment and you’ve found your sound or kit and then realise you’ve unwittingly changed to another mode or a parameter. (Of course this is what the ‘undo’ button is for though so all is not lost.) The spacing of the buttons looks good and feels right, even if the main performance pads are a little bit too close to each other. It’s easy to miss-hit during recording and this is where a step-write edit function would have been useful, and, pleasingly, there are rumours this function will be added in future.

The Beat Thang is similar in some ways to the famous MPC production units made by Akai. (In fact the MPC 5000 also has a built-in sequencer.) This unit also ships with a virtual version of itself, which is a stand-alone piece of software and doesn’t as yet work within a DAW of your choice. However, again there are rumours that this is being rectified. MPC recently launched their Renaissance Machine, which incorporates all the famous MPC designs with computer connectivity and sequencer software to go with it.  This Beat Thang’s main attraction is its sheer choice of out of the box sounds – more than 3,000 hits and loops have been created for this production style beat box. Along with the possibility of using your own sounds and sampling straight in to the one GB of flash memory using the single input on the rear, making beats quickly and without fuss (or a computer) is a tantalising reality here.

Review: Robin Lee

Specifications:

Power: 12Volt AC. Built in rechargable Lithium battery (6 hours life)
Dimensions: 290mm x 75mm x 220mm 2.7 kgs
Connections: Stereo XLR/1/4″ line input (with phantom power), Stereo 1/4″ master out, 2 x 1/4″ headphone outputs, Midi in and out, 2 x SD card slots, USB type A and B
Sample Rate: 16 bit/44.1khz (will read 24 bit samples)
Controls: 13, performance pads, rubberized function pads, 2 x push encoders, 4 x small function keys. Pitch bend and modulation levers.
Import/ Export: .wav or .aiff files
Display: 3.5″ colour display
Software: Beat Thang Virtual stand alone music production software