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Review: Elektron Overbridge 2
Dave Mech on Tue, March 19th 0 comments
With Overbridge 2, Elektron takes a giant leap into perfecting a solid hybrid workflow. Dave Mech goes in-depth to show you everything it can do.

In case you are not quite sure what Overbridge is, here's a quick rundown of what it does. Overbridge acts like a bridge between your Elektron hardware and your computer. While working out of the box is what makes the Elektron hardware so enjoyable, Overbridge aims to add a complete hybrid way of working into your studio. As well as streaming all audio channels directly into your computer over USB, it opens up a lot of convenient possibilities.

You could of course use the individual outputs on some of the Elektron units (Analog rytm, Analog 4/keys) and use the inputs of your audio interface to record, but with Overbridge you get to bypass your audio interface inputs and stream all the channels from your gear directly over USB. In the case of the Digitakt and Digitone, you get 5 additional channels of stereo audio which you didn’t have before. If you have multiple Elektron instruments you’ll be able to stream all the channels from each instrument simultaneously while still having your audio interface inputs completely free, provided that your computer can handle this of course.

Better yet, you’ll gain extra inputs via the machines themselves. For each instrument there’s a dedicated standalone application and a plugin (VST/AU) for your DAW. In each Overbridge application/VST there’s a complete overview of all the controls which you of course can automate within you DAW. The plugin versions also sport a total recall function that syncs the plugin project settings with the hardware project settings.

Hybrid: The Best Of Both Worlds

In the last couple of years there has been a move from “in the box” to “out the box”. This move towards a real life interface makes sense. Although software is great at giving you pretty much endless possibilities, with hardware you get the real tactile feel of an instrument. It’s the combination of workflow and sound that can make working with hardware inspiring. What Elektron aimed to do with the first Overbridge years ago was give you the best of both worlds.

Get the hardware feel while being able to connect to the computer for convenient recording sessions as well as linking the possibilities of software automation to your hardware. Similar to this, but from a software point of view, is Maschine from Native Instruments. You get the hardware experience with total software integration. You can’t use Maschine as standalone however.

One of the reasons this type of hardware-software integration is hard to make is that there are many different kinds of computer systems and many different DAWs. Even Elektron themselves might have underestimated the problems that could occur given the fact that the second iteration of Overbridge has had a troublesome release. Their plan to release Overbridge in 2017 after the release of Digitakt was delayed by more than a year. As of right now, Overbridge 2 is in public beta and far along its development cycle. This second version promises a smoother connection and a better interface and I’m glad to say, it was worth the wait.

MultiTracking And Audio Interfaces

Heaps and heaps of cables. Nothing wrong with cables of course. I mean, when you’re into synthesizers you have to embrace the wires. When you own multiple Elektron machines and want to record your sessions, you’d need a huge audio interface or mixing desk and loads of cables. With Overbridge, you’ll be able to bypass all this and stream every individual channel from your instrument to your computer over a single USB cable. Of course the Digiboxes don’t have individual outputs so in this case Overbridge actually adds a lot of features to the design.

Each Elektron box has audio inputs so you can stream your other hardware through them to your computer as well. It’s great being able to take your instrument anywhere, create some tunes and then multitrack record them to the computer without having to reconnect a whole lot. Another cool thing about the Elektron machines is that they can all act as an audio interface themselves. And proper ones at that!

The Applications

Overbridge consists of multiple applications: a control panel, an engine, the standalone versions per instrument, and the VST plugins per instrument (AU is not yet available at the time of writing). The engine takes care of the communication between the hardware and software - a background process. The control panel is meant for changing general settings of Overbridge for each device.

Overbridge Control Panel

Here you can enable ASIO per device in case you want to use it as an audio interface. If you have a mark 1 Analog Rytm, Analog4 or Keys you can manage the amount of bandwidth being used here. There is a bandwidth limitation on those instruments because they use USB 2 full-speed rather than hi-speed. Clicking the wheel on the top right opens the buffer range and driver speed settings (Win10 only) for each instrument.

Standalone And Plugin

The standalone versions of Overbridge are identical to the plugin versions, except that they have an option menu to change audio interface settings and a menu to record sessions to your hard drive. You can choose which channels to record and the destination. So if you work completely out of the box and don’t have or want a DAW, you can simply use Overbridge to record your entire sessions. So for people that just want to use the computer as a recorder this is quite neat!
 
The VST plugins can be loaded simultaneously for each Elektron machine you have. Let’s say you have two Digitakts. Overbridge will see you have two of the same machine, and as you load two plugins it will assign them accordingly. Via a dropdown menu you can change which plugin corresponds to which Digitakt. Nifty! Like I mentioned before, the plugin versions sport a total recall function. This keeps your DAW project and hardware project in sync. Let’s say you saved a project on you computer, take the hardware out on the road and change some things. Ones you reconnect and reload your DAW project Overbridge will ask you how the projects should be re-synced: keep the DAW project, keep the instrument project, or leave the projects as they are. Very nice.
 
Like some heavy synthesizer plugins, loading a plugin does add some plugin latency. This isn’t very surprising as information has to go roundtrip. Luckily most, if not all, DAWs employ automatic latency compensation in this case. If you want to record finger-drumming on your Rytm, you might feel this latency. To bypass this you could use the Rytm as your audio interface and record the finger-drumming with direct monitoring.

Recording Send FX

Each Elektron instrument employs send fx. You can send the output of individual tracks to the send fx which then send their wet signal to the main output, blending the signal with all the dry track signals. Tracks that you stream individually to the computer are therefore completely dry signals. The send fx only appear at the main output. To record the send fx without any of the dry signal you can mute tracks from being send to the main output so this way only the send fx are left. An elegant solution.

One downside of this is that when you edit the recorded individual tracks in your DAW, like the timing of a hi hat, this doesn’t translate to the separately recorded send FX. So for tracks that I tend to drown in FX and might want to edit or re-record later, I’ll record them separately. Even if you like to record your tracks entirely in one go into a stereo track, Overbridge is still useful. When your track is going to be remixed, you have all stems ready to go.

The Interface

Each plugin has a different layout based on the instruments. I’ll try to keep it as general as possible to give you an idea. As an example: in case of the mixer section you’ll find these at the master page together with the FX on the digiboxes and at the kit section on the analog units.

Kit / Master Page

 
 

At the top of the interface you’ll find tabs to go through the different sounds, a master/kit page, and an fx page. On the master/kit page you can load kits, change mixer volumes, and depending on which unit you have, change things like performance macros and scenes. I love these as they make creating macros and scenes a lot faster. It would be great if we could see an update to the mixer section to show meters like in the OB control panel, and the real time volume levels in dB.

Sound Pages

On the sound pages all parameters that are connected to a track/sound are found. Next to the ability to save and load sounds here, the page shows a nice visual overview of it all and visualisations like the LFO waveforms, Filters and envelopes. With a right mouse click on any parameter you can easily route parameters to a modulator like an LFO, velocity, mod-wheel etc. The sample window itself is quite handy. With two tabs you can change between the sample window and sample assign window. It would be nice if they could improve on this further by having the ability to see the sample waveform full screen and the ability to drag the start and length points across the waveform. These bars could then also move when the LFO is modulating it for instance.

FX Page

Going over to the FX tab you’ll find each effect is visually displayed. For the delay they have added time divisions which is very nice. It does leave me wanting a bit more insight into things especially the overdrive window and compressor. The overdrive is a bit vague compared to the delay visual, and on the compressor page I really miss an indicator to show me how many dB I’m actually compressing. These are things I think Elektron could add to elevate the usefulness to an even higher level.

At the top right of each plugin you’ll find a tab to go to the sound browser. Here you can drag saved sounds onto tracks or into your sound pool for some heavy sound-locking.

Capture Window

In the stand alone versions you’ll see a tape icon at the top of the window. Clicking it opens up the capture window. You can choose which individual channels you want to record and/or the main-output and inputs. Set a destination and a name for your project and you’re good to go. Very handy for those that don’t wish to work with a DAW.

Next to that you can see the keyboard item which opens up the keyboard view. And next to that there’s an input icon which lets you route virtual audio through your analog instrument (Rytm and Analog 4/Keys only). With this functionality you could route another VST plugin through the analog circuits of the Analog4 and add all the processing from that instrument for instance. Nifty!

Conclusion

With this update Elektron makes sure they can bring Overbridge into the future by growing with the newest OS’s and DAWs. The driver has been completely re-written and should improve latency across all instruments. The GUI is improved as well although there could be some improvements in my opinion which I hope to see in the future.

All in all it’s all about the hybrid workflow and the fact that you can record whole sessions through a USB cable without the need for audio cables or another audio interface. Not only is this cost-effective for people that start out with producing (hardware instrument + audio interface in 1), it’s also very convenient for the demanding producer that wants to multi-track as much as possible.

Of course we shouldn’t forget the automation possibilities that the plugins bring. You can go completely mental here. Out the top of my head you could use this in a live set where you have clips in Ableton with heavy pre-programmed automations which you trigger during you live-set to create crazy breaks and fills or complete changes to a pattern. You could use these on different patterns creating happy accidents live etc. That sure seems exciting. Before I go into full brainstorm mode, let me finish this review by saying Overbridge is completely free when you buy one of the Elektron instruments and to me that’s pretty generous considering the time they have invested in it and the risks they took for developing it.

Price: Free with Elektron hardware

Pros

  • Multitracking multiple Elektron instruments simultaneously
  • Streaming its individual tracks, main outputs, and audio inputs
  • Great looking GUI
  • Automatable parameters
  • Greater visualisation of parameters
  • Fast workflow for things like modulation assignments and performance  macros
  • Improved stability and lower latency than the first Overbridge
  • A high end low-latency audio interface with each instrument
  • Total recall function to keep you DAW project and hardware in sync
  • Standalone versions for people that don’t use a DAW

Improvements I’d love to see:

  • Sophisticated sample management system for the Rytm and Digitakt
  • Adding the modulation matrix to the Rytm and Digitone like in the Analog 4 plugin
  • Adding a CV and input page to the Rytm plugin like in the Analog 4 plugin
  • A fullscreen mode for the sample waveform (Rytm & Digitakt) and the ability to move start and length points in the sample visualisation itself
  • Adding frequency indicators in the filter section for a bit more precision
  • More visuals for the LFO like a playhead in the waveform window, and time divisions
  • Audio levels visualized in the mixer section including the levels in dB
  • Compressor level visualisation including compressed amount in dB
  • All in all I think Elektron could try to improve visualisation of things to enhance the precision experience software can get you. They could look at pure software plugins for inspiration.

Web: www.elektron.se

Get a complete guide to Elektron hardware and software: https://ask.audio/academy?nleloc=category/audio/application/elektron

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