Razzmatazz review: A delightful (and delightfully pink) drum machine

Razzmatazz review: A delightful (and delightfully pink) drum machine

Earlier this year 1010music released the Lemondrop and Fireball, two surprisingly full-featured synths in unbelievably tiny packages. The company’s Nanobox lineup covers a lot of ground between those two instruments, but neither was particularly well suited to handling drums. So the company took the same core hardware, put a percussion-focused FM engine in it, along with a sampler, gave the whole thing a playful pink paint job, and dubbed it the Razzmatazz.

The latest member of the 1010music family is a rich sounding drum machine with a simple 64-step sequencer. While it may lack some modern amenities you’d expect from a $399 instrument, it makes up for it with a robust set of sound design features. And yes, even 10 months later, the Nanoboxes are still shockingly small.

Hardware

1010music Razzmatazz

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

I won’t spend too much time rehashing the hardware since I’ve already covered it in my review of the Lemondrop and Fireball, but here’s a quick recap. The whole thing is 3.75 inches wide, 3 inches tall, and 1.5 inches thick – small enough to fit in even the tiniest of bags or a large pocket. There’s a two-inch touchscreen on the front, plus four navigation buttons and a pair of encoders. Around back you get ⅛-inch MIDI in and outs, ⅛-inch audio ins and outs, a USB-C port for power and a microSD slot (pre-populated with a 32GB card) for storing samples and presets.

The only notable exterior change from the previous Nanobox entries is the color. There’s no functional advantage to the Razzmatazz being hot pink, but I love it. As I mentioned in my review of Cre8Audio’s East Beast and West Pest, synths should be fun. I have nothing against the Korgs, Elektrons and Moogs of the world. But their instruments often take themselves quite seriously. And I, for one, think the synth world could use a splash of color now and then.

The Sound Engine

1010music Razzmatazz

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

At the core of the Razzmatazz is an eight-voice engine that combines FM synthesis and sample playback. Each pad can be either or both, which is fairly unique. I can’t think of another affordable hardware drum machine that allows you to combine FM tones and samples in quite the same way. You can simply layer the two, but you could also, for example, use a sample of an actual timpani for the attack, then let the synth fade in after.

It’s a really fun effect and similar to what you find Roland’s late ‘80s Linear Arithmetic synthesizers like the D-50. The only issue is that figuring out how to achieve it isn’t immediately obvious. Since the two envelopes here are simple sustain / decay affairs, you can’t just soften the attack and be done with it. Instead you have to assign the envelope to control the volume of the digital oscillators, but set the mod depth to negative 100 percent, at which point the decay acts like the attack.

Another key difference is, the Razzmatazz can’t be played chromatically. So you can’t craft a room shaking bassline to accompany your drum pattern. You also can’t pull the trick of using the modulation sequencer to control pitch, like you could on the Lemondrop and Fireball. In fact, there is no modulation sequencer, just two LFOs and two envelopes. And pitch isn’t a modulation destination. You can change the tuning of individual pads and create something melodic that way, but that’s it.

The sounds themselves are excellent, though. The collection of 120 preset kits tend toward the glitchy and electro side of things. Since there’s a sampler, in addition to the FM engine, however, you can get convincing real drum sounds too. Most of the included samples don’t lean into the acoustic realm, but you can easily load or record your own if you like. The one thing to note is that there’s no way to chop up samples on the Razzmatazz. So if you want to slice up a breakbeat, you need to do that before you import it as separate files. Same for loops.