Review: Soundbrenner Pulse
The Soundbrenner Pulse is a Kickstarter campaign success story.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking the device treads a fine line between novelty and functionality. However it’s a surprisingly practical concept with a well-executed design.
If the name’s new to you, Soundbrenner Pulse is a wearable metronome that pairs up with your smartphone via Bluetooth and talks to an accompanying app. Only, this metronome doesn’t click — it vibrates. You can strap it on like a wristwatch, or use the larger band to append it to a lower limb, whereupon it pulses in time with the tempo of your choosing.
FEEL THE BEAT
The idea of a metronome being tactile rather than audible is entirely legitimate. The tangible thump of a kick drum erupting from a subwoofer is just as groove-able as listening to doof doof music through cans. Even bum-prodding drum thrones have become a popular drummer accessory. We’re tactile people, and to musicians who are kinaesthetically predisposed, a pulsing click track makes perfect sense. But could it replace the ever-familiar tick-tock-tock-tock of a wood block or marimba that studio folk are so accustomed to?
I was keen to find out. The unit charges up via Micro USB through a separate battery pack that magnetically attaches to the base of the disc-like Pulse. App control isn’t necessary for basic functions. Once you strap it on, tap the face at the desired tempo and the firm vibrations begin. The glowing dial flashes to give a nice bit of visual feedback and it can be rotated to change the tempo. Double tapping the face turns the metronome on and off. A few minutes in and it begins to feel quite natural. Pick up your favourite instrument and you’ll find it’s a very different experience than playing to a traditional click track, and it’s not nearly as weird as you might think.
Download the Metronome app for your iOS or Android smartphone and you enter a wide world of time-keeping fun with your Soundbrenner Pulse. The initial connection via Bluetooth was relatively stress free, though the app insisted on performing a lengthy firmware update upon first launch. Basic control is presented very nicely on the main Player screen. You can set the tempo on the dial or punch it in using the Tap button. Time signature and subdivisions are set with the two buttons above the dial and the Pulse emits a long-vibrate for the 1-beats of every bar. You can create setlists for performances, complete with custom tempo changes for your songs. The Song Library lets you load pre-determined click track styles such as Shuffle and Waltz, many of which include varying levels of vibration intensity for each beat. The Settings menu reveals funky features like being able to shake your phone to set tempo, change the dial colours on the Pulse, make fine adjustments to vibration lengths for individual subdivisions, and lots more.
The chaps who kicked off the Kickstarter project had far more in mind for Pulse than just creating a novel toy. Utilising Bluetooth connectivity and the benefits of app control, the larger concept is to allow multiple members of a band to synchronise tempo between all their Pulses when playing together. It’s a cool idea that’s way easier to pull off than, say, feeding a click into everyone’s ears at a pub gig with an under-resourced PA system.
Ableton Link brings a new layer of functionality to the Pulse that lets you synchronise it to the tempo of an Ableton Live session and feel the tempo in real-time, be it on stage or in the studio. I can envision this being a useful tool in the studio. A drummer could ditch the earphones when laying down bed tracks, simply playing to the tempo of the Pulse which is dictated by the DAW. Integration with more DAWs would be a welcome addition, as would a quieter iteration of the Pulse itself that wouldn’t leak vibration noises into mics when recording softer instruments. As it is, the vibration motor is far from silent.
Being an app-controlled Bluetooth device, Pulse is not without teething issues. I experienced the very occasional moment when the app connection went dodgy and caused the Pulse to spaz out erratically. Yet the device makes for a great alternative to a standard metronome. Soundbrenner pitches it primarily as a practise tool and I think that’s where it excels. Band members can lose the headphones at rehearsals and don Pulses instead — a far more comfortable way to stay in time over days of gruelling practise sessions. If you’re anywhere from a budding musician to a seasoned pro, you probably place value on playing in time. The Soundbrenner Pulse makes it a little more fun.