On Sunday, I had a quick Instagram Live session with my buddy Twilight Music Sculpture to share the latest epsiode of our house music podcast, "The Life of Music". During the session there was quite a bit of discussion about music hardware, and some of you wondered since when I owned a "Squarp Pyramid" and what I do with it in my setup.
I haven't owned the device for long, but I wrote down some first impressions for you and I can tell you in advance, this thing is a Beast - especially for Dawless producers.
First of all a quick note: I have no connection with the manufacturer, I bought the device myself and I am not paid for this article.
Why an external sequencer?
If you follow my dawless jam videos on YouTube, you'll probably wonder why I need another piece of gear. Especially a sequencer like the Pyramid, as I can handle the Digitakt just fine. Its sequencer is ingenious, very powerful and lots of features.
As a solo groovebox or in combination with the Digitone, the Digitakt works great and without hassle. But I have other synths that I want to use within my setup: there is a Novation Peak, a Roland TB-03 and a Circuit Mono Station. And I have a few external effects pedals sitting around as well.
Now I could connect those devices to the Digitakt and sequence them with the Midi tracks of the Digitakt. But it is, despite the many Elektron specialties that can also be used for Midi tracks, still rather suitable for simple tracks than complex arrangements. Plus, Midi is a nightmare for me LOL and the Digitakt is not really the big Midi Machine.
That's why I've been looking for a dedicated sequencer for all my devices for a while. There aren't really many of those - the AKAI MPC is a standalone solution, but in my opinion it's not suitable for my Digitakt workflow. Other options are mainly for Modular setups or they offer a complete Workstation.
That's how I ended up with the Squarp Pyramid. So, what is it exactly?
What is Squarp Pyramid?
In short, Pyramid is a super versatile hardware sequencer that provides an easy workflow and almost unlimited, creative possibilities. Think of it as a Dawless Daw LOL
Pyramid provides 64 tracks. A track is a loop that contains polyphonic or monophonic notes, automation and effects; plays repeatedly, and controls instruments that you connected to the various Midi outputs.
The workflow is designed around muting and unmuting tracks to build sequences (which is actually a group of tracks). Moreover, you can create up to 32 patterns (P1, P2, ...) per tracks, to add variations to your sequences.
Pyramid Hardware Features
The hardware front offers 35 backlit silicon button pads, 5 assignable & clickable encoders, an assignable touchpad with 2 axis, a white backlit high contrast LCD screen and a SD card slot to save your projects and upgrade the OS.
On the backside, you will find 1 Midi in, 2 Midi Outs (yes, that's 2x16 Channels!), 1 USB MIDI out (another 16 Channels), a DYN sync out (available on the MIDI out B), a CV out, ENV out (secondary CV, e.g. to sequence filters) and a GATE out, 4x CV in and 2x Pedal in. All Jacks are 3.5 mm except the Pedal in that's 6.35mm.
Pyramid Software Features
pyraOS is the operating system of the Pyramid. It operates in realtime and Squarp is actively updating and enhancing the system, adds new features and stuff. They just released version 4 with another bunch of great enhancements.
pyraOS has some really cool and inspiring features!
Hold and Relatch
Complex Step Sequencer with unlimited number of notes and CC messages per step and FX parameters step locks
Polyrhythmy & Polymetry
Real-time and stackable Midi effects (Arpeggiator, Harmonizer, LFOs, Randomizer, Humanizer, you name it), and you can stack up to 5 of these per track
fully polyrhythmic throughout the entire Workflow
Workflow with 4 modes
Pyramid is a dynamic sequencer that allows you to interact intuitively with tracks and sequences. All of its 4 modes are always accessible. Launch sequences in SEQ mode; mute/unmute tracks in Track mode; play with effects; and even add notes and CC messages in Live and Step modes. You can assign one of the 5 multifunctional rotary encoders to control Midi effect parameters in real-time.
In the red Live mode, you can record notes and CC automation to the current track using the built-in keypads, smartpads (8 pads that can be configured as chord generator, note repeat or scaled piano) or an attached MIDI controller, The second Mode is the green Step mode, where you fill steps of the current track with notes and chords using the 16 pads of the Note & Chord stepmodes. This is mostly like the Digitakt's step sequencer. You can activcate different Step-Modes for entering single Notes, Chords, Euclid patterns, CC Messages and Effects.
The third mode is the yellow Track mode. This is where you mute and unmute the 64 tracks using the 16 pads. You can set up the length, time signature, zoom and midi channel of the current track and build the current sequence. The zoom factor is super interesting for instance! While Digitakt's Sequencer resolution is limited to 64 trigs plus retrigs for adding smaller note lenghts, the Pyramid offers a zoom feature that gives a much higher track resolution. The last mode is the blue Sequence mode where you launch your sequences (stored mute states of the 64 tracks) on the fly, or program a chain of sequences to create a complete structured song.
How's my Setup now?
For my setup, it's best to imagine 2 dedicated systems. One takes care of audio, the other takes care of Midi. The Pyramid is the center for all Midi data, while the Digitakt is still responsible for my audio data.
You wonder why? That's easy to answer :) In my setup there's a Digitone as FM synth, a Model:Samples, the Novation Peak and a Roland TB-03 bass synth - beside the Digitakt of course. These 4 devices are connected to a small Mackie Mix8, to whose Send-FX sits a reverb pedal that I can add accordingly.
The complete output of the Mackie mixer is routed into the Digitakt input. My studio monitors are connected directly to the Digitakts outputs. The advantage of this setup is that I can use the Digitakt as an audio interface and record all instruments directly with Overbridge (Mackie Mix will be recorded as one Stem of the Inputs).
From Midi point of view, an Arturia KeyStep is connected to the Pyramid itself (Midi-In). On the 1st Midi output there is a chain that goes first to the Digitakt, then to the Digitone, then to the Peak and finally the data to the Roland using Midi thru. The Model:Samples and the reverb pedal are connected to the 2nd Midi output.
This all sounds complicated, but even I managed to make it! You have to set up the Midi channels in the devices correctly, then it works great.
Right now, I haven't published any tracks with this setup as I'm still practising with the Pyramid, but I think you will see it soon during my Wednesday Live Sessions.
Conclusion about the Squarp Pyramid
This is not a full review. I just wanted to give you a short impression. If you're looking for a feature rich, inspiring hardware sequencer, you should really consider this one. I got a Mark III but I heard the Mark II version is basically the same for a lower price and it's still available.
And to answer my entry question: Yes, the Squarp IS a game changer for me as I finally got all my gear playing togehter in a reproducable system!
I was afraid the the Sequencer is worse then DT's system. But after my first attempts I can say that the combination of the Digitakt sampler functions with the Pyramid Sequencer are simply ingenious.