The 7 Best Grooveboxes for Music Production and Performance (2020)

A Groove box refers to a standalone electronic or digital instrument that is used for looping, sampling or live performances. It is a highly portable unit with self-contained samples banks, which is ideal for electronic music production, composition or improvisation. 

The term ‘groovebox’ was coined in ’96, when Roland released the MC-303 – the first groovebox.

Today, grooveboxes have come a long way and they commonly combine drums, samples and synths that can be used without a DAW or computer to build entire tracks.

The integrated drum machines and sequencers make it easy to compose music on the fly and the final sounds can be recorded to a computer for edits or modification.

Let us look at which grooveboxes made it to our top seven.

1. Novation Circuit Groovebox with Sample Import

Novation Circuit is a great blend of a synthesizer, sequencer, and drum machine.

These are three important but disparate tools rolled into an ultra-portable package with handy presets. This unit is very beginner-friendly but it also a powerful and portable unit that can be a great creative tool for performers.

This is a standalone groove box that combines the Nova synth and drum machine to help you make music in seconds. It shows that you don’t need the hassle of displays and plug-ins to make a hardware device that can reliably serve as an electronic music notebook.

The right strip allows you to access the three main modes of the Circuit – Pattern, Mix and FX. It also have a row of buttons that provide access to Scale, Swing and tempo.
The small build is sturdy and can work on six AA batteries for four to five hours. Alternatively, you can also use a USB port to turn it into a MIDI controller and sequencer.

Overall, the Novation Circuit is a fully independent sketchpad that is fun and functional. The intuitive panels and straightforward design allow you to generate ideas on the fly and jam over them until you find something useful that can be exported for composition.

2. Akai MPC One

You will be hard pressed to find a list of the best without the mention of AKAI MPCs.

They are the classic grooveboxes that defied the boundaries and defined hip-hop production. There is a wide range of MPC products for every skill level and genre but we’ve picked the Akai MPC One which is ideal for modern music production.

The MPC One is loaded with all the beat making essentials and on demand sounds. The unit is durable and it looks elegant. The UI is what really defines the MPC experience. It has 16 velocity sensitive pads and a high-resolution touch screen.

The connectivity, software, samples and storage are impressive to say the least. It has thousands of high-quality samples and a stellar synth engine. The mixing tools, splice function, and industry-renowned sounds make this a great groovebox for users who want high-fidelity and advanced functions.

In a nutshell, this unit allows you to create, compose, improve and store all your musical ideas and improvisations. This feature-packed groovebox has a powerful processor that can serve as a complete studio-in-a-backpack.

3. Korg Electribe Sampler, Metallic Red

Very few companies can package sample and sequencing in a unit as well as Korg can.

The Electribe Sampler is a testimony to the design prowess of the company. This easy-to-use unit is petite and portable but also highly function and playable. The product includes a license for Abelton Live Lite 9 and allows MIDI traffic.

The inclusion of oscillators from the original Korg Electric (non-sampler version) is a great idea. The LED backlight and Step Jump mode add a lot of value to this groovebox. Additionally, you can purge all the factory samples and add your own files to replace them.

The pads are sturdy, the output is clean and the chromatic playback is among the best features of the unit. This may not be the unit for you if you want to sample or re-sample in real-time.

The Korg Electribe is a formidable sampling sequencer that has fun and useable presets, great export options and free lifetime updates. Though it may not do everything you want, it is a versatile and multi-faceted unit that works as well for the novice as it does for a seasoned musician.

4. Octatrack Elektron MKII – 8 Track Performance Sampler

The Elektron is a highly sought-after groovebox.

When it comes to hardware samplers, they’ve given us great units like the Machinedrum and Monomachine. These devices were hit or miss when it came down to the UI. Some users loved it while others found it to have a notoriously steep learning curve.

However, the MKII has dedicated buttons and various improvements that make it easy to study and include in your workflow. This is a new approach to the high-end sampler with dedicated buttons, a new screen and highly functional rotaries. The only thing missing in the MKII is an Overbridge compatibility (or USB MIDI sync).

The main selling point of this unit is the multiple varieties of sample track “machines”. It offers eight flexible audio channels and an eight-channel MIDI sequencer. Samples are handled by extensive processing options and offer great on-the-fly manipulation. Each channel also has 3 assignable LFOs that can be tweaked with the LFO designer.

The Octatrack2 is a fabulous live-performance tool that can be adapted to work as the centerpiece of any workflow. From DJ setups to live electronic music, this unit offers a lot of features and options and has rightfully earned the tag of a ‘modern classic’.

5. Roland MC-101 Groovebox

A great groovebox from Roland.

The MC-101 may not be the most jaw-dropping unit on the market but the comprehensive sequencing parameters and sound design make up for its modest looks. It is highly portable and sample friendly unit that have many advanced features for its size.

Once you get past the sharp learning curve and the UI, you will discover a ton of high end features that are ideal for advanced users and layered productions. The Clip and Scatter functions are also incredibly fun and add to the versatility of the instrument.

The MC-101 is packed with drums, lead synths, bass and other categories of sounds like strings and woodwinds. This is no meager unit – it armed with 3500 synth and drum tones alone. Moreover, the interface design makes it easy to sift through all the presets and individual tones.

That being said, the battery life leaves a lot to be desired and the headphone volume can also feel fragile at times. There are simple workarounds to these issues and despite the limitations, the MC-101 is a powerhouse of functionality and fun. It can authoritatively find its place in music production and performance. It can handle everything from Electronica to hip-hop to EDM with great finesse.

6. Synthstrom Deluge

Synthstrom’s Deluge is an intuitive interface for sequencing, arranging, performing and recording.

It is a 128 RGB pad unit that you can use for grid-style sequencing. Or, you can access up to 32GB of samples from the SD card and create sounds using its internal synth engine. It can also be used as a controller via MIDI outputs.

The Deluge is an ultra-portable unit that is battery powered unit and armed with a built-in mic and speaker. It offers great fidelity and can run the tempo into the thousands to experiment with sounds and waves. The battery life is reasonably good and the MIDI setup is easy even for beginners.

The UI is simple and once you get a hang of the shortcuts you won’t find any reason to menu-dive or refer to the manual. The patching matrix is highly customizable and you have LFOs and envelopes for each synth as well. The effects on the unit may feel a little lacking and the absence of screen can deter some users from option for this unit.

The workflow architecture of Synthstrom Deluge is immediate and instinctive, and it offers some of the most accessible settings for a sampler/sequencer. You can also record full sets via the clips and auto-load multi-sample support.

Summary

A groovebox is a unique production tool has a rich history in certain genres but it is still one of the most dominant tools in modern electronic workflows. It is a great way to improve, compose and learn to think out of the box. I hope this list will serve as a shortlist to find the right groovebox that will help you shape your sound and workflow. 

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply