Is 64 steps really enough?

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Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by coolshirtdotjpg » Tue May 12, 2020 2:34 pm

Why is it that in 2020, synthesizers that cost several thousand dollars give you 64 steps in their step sequencers? I would understand if they had a single knob per step, but if you are just punching in notes SH-101 style, why not make a it 128, or 512, or hell, a few thousand? My Ensoniq synths from the 90s can do that, so why do modern synths have so few steps? I know people claim that it's more "simple", but is it really simple to have less steps? I don't see why it's hard to just punch in whatever you like and not have to worry about the number of steps considering the amount of memory it takes. I love my Prophet 6, and my Mutable Yarns, but I just don't get the step limitation.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Red Electric Rainbow » Tue May 12, 2020 4:20 pm

the sh-01a gives you more than 64, but I know what you mean. its even more annoying when drum machines do that. I thought the Korg ESX and ESM knocked it out of the park by giving the user 128 steps. The TR8S also provides that luxury.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by GuyaGuy » Tue May 12, 2020 4:50 pm

I’m guessing here...but with some synths it may have less to do with the ability to store notes and the ability to store and process step modulation/motion sequencing/whatever your device calls it. That’s probably more of an issue with deeper synths with a dozen or more sequence lanes.

More than step count I’d like to chain sequences.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by ersatzplanet » Tue May 12, 2020 5:23 pm

There is one sequencer module that can record in realtime, step mode and actually record audio. The AS RS-450 basically is a 4-Channel CV recorder that is a modern take on the EMS Synthi sequencer. It has a large memory and in record mode, it is clocked and records whatever shows up at the input in 16-bit resolution (-10v to +10v) when a clock appears. If the clock in is manual, then it records as a step sequencer. If the clock is faster, it records in "realtime" and records gates and CVs as a string of memory locations. If the clock is at even higher speeds, it can record audio at its fastest sample rate. This is only 14Khz, which offers about 40 minutes on its 4GB memory card. That is one hell of a lot of steps when each sample can be a single set of 4 CVs and gates. (think 14,000 steps x 60 (sec) x 40 (minutes).

Now this comes at a price, the RS-450 is $1200 here in the states. I wonder why more sequencers like this are not available. I guess the makers think that this sort of stuff is better handled with a DAW or other computer based system. Like others have surmised, with memories as cheap are they are now, a step sequencer is basically a VERY slowed down sampler, so this should be not hard to implement.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by EPTC » Tue May 12, 2020 6:08 pm

Counterpoint: 8-16 steps is enough if you have a sequencer you can play with switches and reset.
You can get a 128 step phrase with a looping and live-configurable 8 note sequencer.

This works GREAT with a midi note recorder or CV recorder if you want to edit later.

Anything more than a set space of 16 notes to play with, or programming all those notes into some weird long 64 note sequence, seems to get away from something, at least it does to me.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by black_label » Tue May 12, 2020 10:06 pm

It seems like digital memory is one of the cheapest parts of a synth these days and expanding it to hold thousands of presets and thousands of sequencer steps wouldn’t increase the price that much. I’m guessing that it’s a design/workflow hardware choice. Infinite undos and infinite steps are great in your DAW.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by anselmi » Tue May 12, 2020 10:16 pm

Old tube electribes have 8 bars, so 128 steps per pattern...but I just used them to cover some tracks from kraftwerk and Depeche Mode´s Behind the Wheel once.
I think that if you just need variety over a certain sequence it´s far better to use other features like different track lenghts or probability. Of course if a more melodic/harmonic scenario this are not enough

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Whelm » Tue May 12, 2020 10:31 pm

It seems to me if you're going to program hundreds of steps into a sequencer, you'd be better off using MIDI from a DAW. The big advantage hardware sequencers have anymore is the immediacy and playability, IMO, and you lose immediacy if you're punching in 300 steps.

Though I say this as someone who hates programming step sequencers so maybe I'm biased. Sequencers seem like really weak compositional tools compared to a DAW, but can be strong performance tools.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Shledge » Tue May 12, 2020 10:34 pm

Not all sequencers are limited to just 64 steps. Plenty of current CV sequencers offer chaining, and sequencers like Nerdseq allows for full songs to be realised.

The step limit is likely more down to recreating the experience of old sequencers and to allow for immediacy in terms of performing, more than anything. You can get pretty creative even with a dual 8/16 step analogue sequencer. Complaining about such a hands on sequencer for their lack of steps is showing ignorance on why they're used, especially in the current days of DAWs with unlimited tracks.

I have complex sequencers like Nerdseq which can do full songs alongside my SQ1s and other simple sequencers. They all have their uses and it isn't always pitch!

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by coolshirtdotjpg » Wed May 13, 2020 4:30 am

Shledge wrote:
Tue May 12, 2020 10:34 pm
Not all sequencers are limited to just 64 steps. Plenty of current CV sequencers offer chaining, and sequencers like Nerdseq allows for full songs to be realised.

The step limit is likely more down to recreating the experience of old sequencers and to allow for immediacy in terms of performing, more than anything. You can get pretty creative even with a dual 8/16 step analogue sequencer. Complaining about such a hands on sequencer for their lack of steps is showing ignorance on why they're used, especially in the current days of DAWs with unlimited tracks.

I have complex sequencers like Nerdseq which can do full songs alongside my SQ1s and other simple sequencers. They all have their uses and it isn't always pitch!
Nerd Seq is great, but it's one of the only midi capable sequencers under several grand that is capable of that. Right now I am using my ER-101 with a midi converter to accomplish this. I just don't get why a 3000 poly like the prophet 6 doesn't have more. I still don't understand why you would want less when all you are doing is punching in notes. Even if you want something that just has a basic verse/chorus verse, you are going to need more than 64 steps. Even if it's recording aftertouch, it's just not much memory. Again, i understand why you would want a sequencer with 16, 8 5, 4 individual knobs, but when you are just using a keyboard to sequence something you've been riffing on, I don't see how it's a benefit to arbitrarily limit it.

Also, unrelated to your point, I don't get the whole "getting lost" thing. If you are capable of playing a song really slowly, you are capable of recording a sequence at the rather. Also, it would be great if there was a way to set subdivision per step like the ER-101, and be able to record the individual notes in. I guess a DAW makes sense in this context, but even this more complicated sequencer idea doesn't seem that hard.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by KSS » Wed May 13, 2020 4:43 am

While in agreement with everyone saying what are you complaining about, it's enough, or some version of that.

It's not too hard to imagine one button which switches from classic limited steps mode to modern zillion step mode. For them that wants that option.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Shledge » Wed May 13, 2020 7:55 am

coolshirtdotjpg wrote:
Wed May 13, 2020 4:30 am
Nerd Seq is great, but it's one of the only midi capable sequencers under several grand that is capable of that.
There are others with at least the ability to chain or have a song mode. BSP, KSP, Hermod, Toolbox, Eloquencer etc - all have MIDI sequencing capability too and many are quite affordable.
Right now I am using my ER-101 with a midi converter to accomplish this. I just don't get why a 3000 poly like the prophet 6 doesn't have more. I still don't understand why you would want less when all you are doing is punching in notes.
You're missing the entire point of it. They are for performance, not to make full songs on. No one complains that something like a metropolis only has 8 steps. Entire genres are based on these type of sequencers - just listen to any Berlin School music.

The other benefit is unquantized notes eg. they don't have to be specific pitches.
Even if you want something that just has a basic verse/chorus verse, you are going to need more than 64 steps. Even if it's recording aftertouch, it's just not much memory. Again, i understand why you would want a sequencer with 16, 8 5, 4 individual knobs, but when you are just using a keyboard to sequence something you've been riffing on, I don't see how it's a benefit to arbitrarily limit it.
I don't complain that my SH101 has barely 128 notes. Again, the sequencer isn't for the purpose. Even if its a note entry system, you're meant to use it for performance. You're meant to mess around with it. It's another handy tool alongside the arpeggiator.
Also, unrelated to your point, I don't get the whole "getting lost" thing. If you are capable of playing a song really slowly, you are capable of recording a sequence at the rather. Also, it would be great if there was a way to set subdivision per step like the ER-101, and be able to record the individual notes in. I guess a DAW makes sense in this context, but even this more complicated sequencer idea doesn't seem that hard.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by KSS » Wed May 13, 2020 8:33 am

I can remember on some old synths the overwriting that happened due to note limits could be used on purpose.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by coolshirtdotjpg » Wed May 13, 2020 8:54 am

Shledge wrote:
Wed May 13, 2020 7:55 am
coolshirtdotjpg wrote:
Wed May 13, 2020 4:30 am
Nerd Seq is great, but it's one of the only midi capable sequencers under several grand that is capable of that.
There are others with at least the ability to chain or have a song mode. BSP, KSP, Hermod, Toolbox, Eloquencer etc - all have MIDI sequencing capability too and many are quite affordable.
Right now I am using my ER-101 with a midi converter to accomplish this. I just don't get why a 3000 poly like the prophet 6 doesn't have more. I still don't understand why you would want less when all you are doing is punching in notes.
You're missing the entire point of it. They are for performance, not to make full songs on. No one complains that something like a metropolis only has 8 steps. Entire genres are based on these type of sequencers - just listen to any Berlin School music.

The other benefit is unquantized notes eg. they don't have to be specific pitches.
Even if you want something that just has a basic verse/chorus verse, you are going to need more than 64 steps. Even if it's recording aftertouch, it's just not much memory. Again, i understand why you would want a sequencer with 16, 8 5, 4 individual knobs, but when you are just using a keyboard to sequence something you've been riffing on, I don't see how it's a benefit to arbitrarily limit it.
I don't complain that my SH101 has barely 128 notes. Again, the sequencer isn't for the purpose. Even if its a note entry system, you're meant to use it for performance. You're meant to mess around with it. It's another handy tool alongside the arpeggiator.
Also, unrelated to your point, I don't get the whole "getting lost" thing. If you are capable of playing a song really slowly, you are capable of recording a sequence at the rather. Also, it would be great if there was a way to set subdivision per step like the ER-101, and be able to record the individual notes in. I guess a DAW makes sense in this context, but even this more complicated sequencer idea doesn't seem that hard.
If what you want is basically a DAW, use a DAW.
I’m not trying to argue with you, but I think you missed my point because I was specifically talking about $3000+ synths initially. Chaining patterns is common on standalone sequencers, of course, but writing a line longer than 64 steps where you can just enter notes in the order you play them is not. You ignore the part where I state that when there is a knob per step, that it makes sense to me. Having a knob for each step obviously is more performance oriented than not. I am talking about step sequencers where you enter notes in the order you play them. The metropolis is a sequencer with sliders per step, so it’s not really a great counter example. The SH-101 is another bad example because 1. It has more than 64 notes and 2. It was a bottom of the line synth made in the early 1980s when memory was literally millions of times more expensive (compare the cost per terabyte to the cost per megabyte then and you’ll see what i mean). Moreover, the mc-202 had even more note memory, note length per step, etc. so it’s not like Roland was opposed to it. I actually miss my MC-202 for that reason.

Also, I don’t really see how step sequencers are performance oriented. How many people are going to stop what they are doing in the middle of their set and enter a sequence? I think of arpeggios as performance oriented, not step sequencers. Unless you want to make John Carpenter-esque lines where you just shift whatever you are doing up and down, there’s not much performance oriented about the Prophet 6 (and most modern polys) sequencer. If there was some great way to chain patterns live, you and I would be in total agreement. Not everyone wNts their synth to be performance oriented, in the sense of live techno.

Also, I don’t understand how more notes means that I want a DAW. I can’t be the only one who wants to be able to sit at my synth, write some lines for a track and have it stores in my synth for a performance, without having to bring a laptop, and midi interface with me. I don’t hate DAWs, I just don’t get why there aren’t capabilities on my modern synths that were available on my 80s/early 90s polys.

Anyway, let’s try and be civil. I am not saying anyone is bad for not having the same musical goals as me, I’m just asking what I thought was a fairly simple question.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by coolshirtdotjpg » Wed May 13, 2020 10:15 am

KSS wrote:
Wed May 13, 2020 8:33 am
I can remember on some old synths the overwriting that happened due to note limits could be used on purpose.
Yeah, that’s actually a cool feature. I like that yarns lets you do that, but it just fixes to whatever the length the sequencer you entered is so it doesn’t have to be the maximum note length.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by flashheart » Wed May 13, 2020 4:49 pm

In the case of the Prophet 6 I recall Dave Smith saying he wanted it as WYSIWYG as possible, it's sequencer is intended as just a sketchpad. The cost of memory isn't the issue, it's the cost of writing more complex code to allow say to record and then edit other data. You talk about having verse/chorus structure and adding aftertouch data. All of a sudden you''ll need an editing interface for this, some way of defining the structure, maybe repeating sections and then a way to edit other data. That's becoming a full fledged sequencer rather than just a basic note recorder. There are of course synths out there that do this - workstations, but they're generally aimed at a different market. So maybe what you want is an analogue workstation :)
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by coolshirtdotjpg » Wed May 13, 2020 9:11 pm

flashheart wrote:
Wed May 13, 2020 4:49 pm
In the case of the Prophet 6 I recall Dave Smith saying he wanted it as WYSIWYG as possible, it's sequencer is intended as just a sketchpad. The cost of memory isn't the issue, it's the cost of writing more complex code to allow say to record and then edit other data. You talk about having verse/chorus structure and adding aftertouch data. All of a sudden you''ll need an editing interface for this, some way of defining the structure, maybe repeating sections and then a way to edit other data. That's becoming a full fledged sequencer rather than just a basic note recorder. There are of course synths out there that do this - workstations, but they're generally aimed at a different market. So maybe what you want is an analogue workstation :)
Could be. Personally, I'm less interested in aftertouch than just a bunch of notes. Probably why I loved my old MC-202 :)
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Feinstrom » Thu May 14, 2020 8:50 am

I sometimes need sixteen steps for my sequences, but mostly I can live with eight.

This one is 16 steps of SEM (R24 sequencer) plus two steps SH-101 (via Clockworks):


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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by nuromantix » Thu May 14, 2020 2:37 pm

Sounds like you want a workstation! The nearest thing to an analogue synth with a good sequencer was the ensoniq esq1 / sq80. Nowadays I guess you're looking at a Kronos or something. Do any of the newest Roland va synths have a proper sequencer?

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by EPTC » Thu May 14, 2020 7:58 pm

Feinstrom wrote:
Thu May 14, 2020 8:50 am
This one is 16 steps of SEM (R24 sequencer) plus two steps SH-101 (via Clockworks):


Cheers,
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Sounds great - Cheers! - Fellow R24 user, myself.

I've set it to play 24 notes and it's just a labor to watch it clock all the way down to the 24th note every time. Repeated phrases are music. I'm for four notes!

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by jabberwalky » Thu May 14, 2020 9:00 pm

Some good points here, but as was mentioned, Ensoniq samplers had the best on board sequencers, where you essentially hit record and they could take it all in. People used those sequencers to write entire tracks back in the day (although I can't say I've ever enjoyed it since I'm in my 30s and am firmly in the DAW era).

Synths are a product of the times and currently people are really into loop based music. I personally have moved away from heavily repetitive music, and for that reason have been looking at things like the MPC Live which seems to fill the role of free form/endless sequencing. I haven't used one yet so perhaps someone could chime in on that.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by MrNezumi » Thu May 14, 2020 9:19 pm

MMT-8 in a module.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by jabberwalky » Thu May 14, 2020 9:46 pm

MrNezumi wrote:
Thu May 14, 2020 9:19 pm
MMT-8 in a module.
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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by Low Life » Fri May 15, 2020 8:17 am

If they let you record a 1000-note sequence with 101-style input, the next thing people will be asking is a way to edit the sequence without doing it all over because they made a mistake on step 952.

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Re: Is 64 steps really enough?

Post by SingIt » Fri May 15, 2020 8:30 pm

Yeah thats the thing - editing on a super long step sequence kind of sucks. Plus I dont feel limited since I just chain together sequences if I needed that anyway.

When I make a sequence it’s because I either have a rhythm pattern or a musical idea that I want to modulate and Evolve in other ways besides note changes.

Also most decent sequencers have step probability so you can make a 16 step pattern never sound the same each time if you want.

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