It's been a few months now since I got my Octatrack, and rightly some of you have asked about my experiences and whether I got along with it. It seems to be an interesting topic as a lot of folks consider the Octatrack as the big brother of the Digitakt.
Why I think the opposite is the case, you can read in my little report. I have deliberately waited a bit with this article, because who has followed my initial whining about the complexity knows that I have struggled with the implementation of the Octatrack in my setup a lot.
Why? Of course, the OT can do a lot (and yes, it's really a lot!) and that goes at the expense of usability. The handling is complex, just quickly sample something is not possible, you have to screw in many places of the system and then hear nothing in the end.
There are many illogical controls, extremely many key combinations that you have to master and I could list more things that simply frustrated me in the first weeks of having it. Setting up a jam with it was simply impossible for me and the technical hurdles completely paralyzed my creativity.
That's why I didn't pay any further attention to the Octatrack for the time being and continued to work with the Digitakt only. But at some point It tickled me again and I wanted to know if and how I could gain access to this juggernaut.
How I started to understand the Octatrack
I did that with my minimal strategy, which I often use when things get complicated and which also worked great for learning Digitakt: I broke down everything to simple tasks and started using the Octatrack initially as a super expensive mixer for Digitakt, Digitone and Peak. No more and no less. No machine setup, just connect and go.
A few jams followed, and with each of these I tried out another new function. At the same time I watched many tutorials so that I could better understand the data structure and the complete system.
Octatrack controls the entire setup
So now I have reached a point where the device almost naturally controls my setup. I use the sequencer to play the Novation Peak, I can modulate its CC parameters with the help of the LFOs, I switch my effect pedals on and off, I use the arranger to control the tracks, the mixer to balance everything and I can add additional sounds to my arrangements with the 8 Octatrack audio tracks.
Here's a jam with this setup:
Meanwhile, I haven't tried everything yet, but I'm not afraid of the Octatrack anymore as I was in the beginning and the whole architecture has opened up to me quite well. For example, the mastering effects, the scenes and also the parts are still waiting to be discovered. It remains exciting and I developed kinda fun using the machine.
What is good about Octatrack?
It offers an insane number of functions. Sampling, looping, arranger, mixer, effects slots, sequencer, that's already a super package and for a longer set certainly unbeatable versatile. It makes a perfect companion for the smaller Elektron boxes and offers many sound design features.
What is not so good about Octatrack?
All this comes at the price of poor usability and, unlike the smaller Elektron boxes, also with a much more complex data structure. Take parameters as an example. Digitakt stores parameters IN a pattern. If I change the pattern, I also change the parameters. Especially for filter runs or sound morphs, this is difficult to handle in live performances.
The Octatrack, on the other hand, stores parameters separately from the pattern in so-called "parts". This is great, because when you change the pattern, the parameters remain untouched until you change the "part" too and you can keep tinkering with it. But this increases the complexity of the whole architecture immensely and at the same time again has the limitation that there are only 4 patterns per bank.
This is only one example. There are others - scenes, for example, or "sets", all of which you have to understand first.
Well, of course, it's complex.
Digitakt = is it an Octatrack upgrade?
What I have often read I must clearly contradict here after my first 3 months with this machine: the Octatrack is NOT an upgrade of the Digitakt nor a bigger brother. It is a completely autonomous system with a completely different approach! You can already see this in the data architecture and the incredible variety of functions.
I will certainly not replace my Digitakt with the Octatrack, rather they both play together - Digitakt delivers the sound and Octatrack refines them and controls the whole setup.
Do you own an Octatrack too? What are your experiences? Let us know in the comments below!
Learn how to make your own house music with the Digitakt!
Have a look on my Digitakt Online Class! It's a video course focussed on creating tracks with the Digitakt. It covers LFOs, Arrangement, Performing, Digitakt FX and many other interesting topics!