My Beaterator Review

Okay, so some of you know me as the guy that uses odd pocket devices or obsolete computers to make music. Thus, I had to get Beaterator for the PSP.

Here’s the feature list along with my analysis of each:

LIVE MODE - This lets you change patterns on the fly for 8 tracks. You have a choice of 4 patterns per track.

  • My assessment * While it seems okay, you quickly realize that in order for anything to sound good, you need multiple tracks working to make one sound. There’s no way to change two tracks at the same time unless you’re just THAT good. Overall, I have yet to really do anything even remotely interesting in Live Mode, but then again, I didn’t really buy it for this mode. Also, Timbaland is a retard and I don’t like staring at him while I’m trying to hammer out a mediocre sounding tune.

STUDIO MODE - This is sort of like LIVE MODE except you can record your pattern changes and the patterns change at the end of the previous pattern. This is more useful, but it takes a bit of setting up to get any kind of use out of it. Again, I pretty much leave it alone.

SONG CRAFTER MODE - Okay, here’s the meat and potatoes of Beaterator (I should fail Beaterator altogether because of it’s stupid name…). You have a typical looking sequencer view on top and 3 different types of patterns; Melody, Drum and Audio. Let me break 'em down for you so you can see how this disc feels so much like a hand job by a super model in your car that gets interrupted by a cop shining a flashlight in your window…landing you in jail.

MELODY PATTERN - This type of pattern features your typical piano roll but it’s got a really neat slide note feature that I have not seen and would like to see used beyond this sequencer. The typical ‘darker note = louder/higher velocity’ is in effect here, but for sliding notes, the note literally is tilted to the direction and touches the key it ends in. It makes it very easy to do things like acid bass lines and such. The melody patterns control either the onboard synth (more on this later) or a single sample. The samples can be edited in an editor (more on THAT later). The sequencer itself seems like it would have more than just your velocity and slide. IT DOESNT. You can’t change envelopes on samples (or synths for that matter once their set), you can’t pan each individual note, you can’t do anything except slide and volume set a placed note. WTF.
Now about the Synth…since I’ve mentioned the fact you have little control over each note, it should be said that this applies to the synth as well. Which is a REAL SHAME because the synth is quite robust. It’s a 4 oscillator synth (3 shapeable tones, i.e. you can morph between your typical sine, saw, square and 1 dedicated noise oscillator) with a mini modulatation matrix, 2 tempo-syncable lfo’s, a multimode filter and a modulation envelope. Quite nice. It doesn’t sound as good as DS-10 or Sunvox, but it’s definitely got some meat if you’re familiar with synth programming. So why on earth would they give us this so-tasty synth and then give us no control over it during song-time?! I’ll answer that at the end of this review…as for the sampling, there’s a built in sample editor you can access if using a sample instead of a synth that features the generic stuff like trim/crop, cut, increas/decrease volume, set loop points, fade in/out, pitch, timestretch, etc. Unfortunately, there’s no way to apply the built-in effects directly to the sample. You must render out the sample played with the effects (more on the effects later) then reload it back into the song. Doable, just not great. Did I mention the highest resolution of any pattern is 16th notes? Quite disappointing. The only saving grace out of any of this is the fact that you can have up to four simultaneous voices if using samples…the synth is only monophonic, but with 3 oscillators, you can easily make simple pads. I wouldn’t expect a high polyphony from a softsynth on a portable like the PSP. Oh, as an aside, if you import your own sounds, you don’t get a preview of them like you do the internal sounds, so you better have a REALLY good memory or lots of time to load up samples over and over…

Okay, next we have the drum patterns. They are 8 tracks, 16th note grid. You can set global track panning and volume and again, you can only control volume on each trigger. Kind of depressing. The sample editor is available for each sound. Unfortunately, you can’t change pitch of each track. Once you set it’s pitch in the sample editor, you’re stuck with it unless you want to load it up again for each pitch you use. Kind of stupid, if you ask me. But then again, I think this was aimed at pop-hip-hop people and frankly, pop stuff isn’t all that technically difficult to produce so you wouldn’t ever need that feature. However, I don’t make that style of music and would’ve liked to see more out of the drum patterns.

Next we have audio tracks…with REALTIME TIME STRETCH…HOLY SHIT! Too bad it sounds like complete ass. It was a really neat concept, but unfortunately, it fails. I have yet to use an audio track in any of the 20 tunes I’ve worked on in the program simply because of the fact that it muffles the hell out of the audio and it has a generic algorhythm that only sounds good on certain sounds. As well, the grain size is quite large. It may be okay for oldskool jungle-type stuff, but for general usage, it’s best left alone. This includes the time stretcher in the wav editor too…apparently the offline stretching uses the same algorhithm.

So finally, we have EFFECTS and boy…they are pretty damn good. There’s a global reverb that sounds very good considering the system it’s running on, a chorus that can get pretty nasty, a compressor that makes drums so oh-so-good, a distortion unit with bitcrush, a multimode filter (that unfortunately muffles the fuck out of everything when set to low-pass), a gater, a decent flanger and a couple of other odds and ends. Pretty much anything you’d need to make your patterns sound better. The best part is…you can stack two effects per track! That is definitely an accomplishment…but at what price?! This brings me to why I believe the rest of the program was left out many things that should have been in there…

The effects. OH THE EFFECTS…I would gladly trade effects in to free up processing power for per-note controls any day of the week. It’s quite obvious when you hear the low TPB timing that they’re really pushing the PSP to it’s limit and it’s sad they felt the need to give us 2 effects to compensate for bad note control instead of just saying ‘screw the general populace, we’re going to bombard them with options that require someone to read the instruction book’. Wait a minute…you don’t even need to read the instruction book…it’s got built in tutorial videos! AYEEE!!! It’s frankly frustrating that they made the design choices they did. Again, it’s the ultimate ALMOST. It’s got a great interface that’s easy to understand, quick to use and, with a little coercing, able to spit out some good sounds (I’ll be uploading some when I get back to America). I just hope they decide to make a ‘pro edition’ or something (or friggin’ change the name and drop Timbaland’s dumbass off the label) and give use serious guys the tools we like to have…and the ability to render in a resolution higher than 22khz. (yeah, that last part is for real…to get the best sound, you have to record your tune playing in realtime…wtf is that backward-ass shit?!)

And there you have it. Final verdict, if you want a nice little sketchpad (it does import and export MIDI btw) to play with on the bus or whatever, I definitely recommend it. It’s really good at that and if you have enough patience, you can really crank out some killer sounds out of the thing. However, if you’re looking for something that wasn’t aimed at first-timers and has features you take for granted from bigger sequencers (like being able to place a 32nd note or changing time signature), you should stick to your preferred program of choice…currently, the best out there are Bhajis Loops, Sunvox, Milky Tracker and LGPT.

HS out.

Man you get around!! (use of programs)

Surprised you didn’t mention PSP SEQ or PSP RYTHYM as alternatives!

Well, of those two, PSPRhythm is more in the catagory of the programs I posted, i.e. heavy sample usage, though SunVox is capable in both arenas and could go either way. PSPSeq shines best when you take advantage of it’s synths. It’s also the same reason I didn’t post DS-10 as an alternative…it’s a totally different focus.

Speaking of which…I still haven’t been able to find a copy of DS-10+ in the store…I was hoping to get it before leaving the states and being stuck on a boat for 4 months! Oh well…

OOOOOOOOOOO I c…sold out maybe@ds-10??

stuck on a boat??? what r u up to??

I would say sounds fun, but as you use the verb “stuck”, maybe not??

ps…dunno if you saw my reply…enjoyed “Chase the Cats”, been really looking to hear your renoise work!

If you want to hear some sounds, here’s a track I made 98% on Beaterator.
I want now to redo the drum parts in Renoise.
All sounds are presets, mangled with effects and/or the internal sound editor