Now, let's be clear: At $449, it's not exactly an impulse purchase. But it's still squarely in the affordable realm when it comes to samplers and sample players. Plus, more often than not you can find it for just $399. That's in the same ballpark as Novation's Circuit and Korg's Electribe Sampler, the two grooveboxes that are its closest competition.
Spoiler: I can't say definitively that it beats those in terms of features, because they're ultimately all different products with their own strengths and weaknesses. But one of the things that makes Elektron devices unique is their 64-step sequencer, and that thankfully carries over here. The Model:Samples has a ton of advanced features that allow you to create evolving, less-robotic patterns.
For one, each of the six tracks can be different lengths. That means you can have a simple, 16-step bass drum loop just playing a four-on-the-floor with a 64-step snare pattern changing with each bar. And if you want to get really weird, you can lay down a 37-step bongo track over the top to create a constantly shifting rhythm where your hits never line up quite the same way twice. You can also change the scale of individual tracks, meaning you can play the bass drum loop at half speed, double speed or three-quarters speed, adding even more opportunities to create interesting polyrhythms... or just plain chaos.
And one of the things that's special here is the ability to set trig conditions for each step: That just means you can set a rule that determines whether or not a particular note is triggered. The most basic of these is "fill," which plays that step when you press the the fill button. But you can also choose to skip a step when you press fill. Or you can play a hit only the first time through a pattern, every time after the first or every other time. You can also set a simple percentage chance that a step plays.
There are even rules that use the results of other trig conditions to determine if they play or not and complicated ratios that only trigger steps at certain intervals. For example, a 4:7 ratio will play that step the fourth time through a sequence and reset the counter after seven times. That means the step will play again the 11th time through the pattern and again the 18th time. And these conditions can be applied not only to individual steps but also to entire tracks or patterns if you want create some real unpredictability. This can help create drum patterns that feel more "live" and change subtly every time through or just break up the monotony by adding something fresh every couple bars.
All right, so it's simple enough to create a lot of variety in your patterns, but how about humanizing them? Well, there are a couple of different tools at your disposal for that. The easiest way is to play the Model:Samples live. Unlike a lot of other Elektron gear, it actually has velocity-sensitive pads and aftertouch for adding a certain amount of expressiveness. And you can record your live performance, un-quantized.
But I'm gonna be honest. These pads aren't great. They're small, kinda mushy and take a lot of force to get full velocity out of them. They're playable, but only barely. Personally I find it's easier to punch in your sequence, then use other means to add some humanization. To start with, you can dial in the velocity manually -- which is actually what you have to do on a lot of other Elektron devices. And you can use the nudge feature to knock steps slightly out of time to keep things from sounding too robotic. (Or if you're like me and a terrible finger drummer, this is a great way to clean up your sloppy playing and get steps in time.)
Oh, and you can manipulate everything from the pitch of a sample to its starting point to the resonance of the filter by applying a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) to individual tracks -- or the entire pattern if you really want. It's yet another way to add some variety and movement to your loops. There are a few specific options that are only available to you from the LFO menu, but for the most part you can just hold the LFO button and turn a knob to target that parameter and change the depth.
That's one of the keys to the Model:Samples: Most of the controls are right in front of you, so there's not nearly as much menu diving as with other Elektron instruments. Each knob or button only has one or two functions -- and everything is clearly labeled. I don't have a ton of experience with Elektron products, but they can be notoriously difficult to learn and navigate. That's not the case here. It's pretty easy to pick up and start making music.