Updated: Jun 6
If by now you are fortunate enough to call yourself a well seasoned composer and producer, surely you remember a time when just trying to figure out the settings in your DAW seemed like an almost impossible task. Where do you start? Where does it end? Between buffering, latency, and even trying to navigate around your audio and MIDI connections, getting up and running smoothly in Cubase alone was a monumental task to say the least.
For someone like me who has been a recording artist for the last 20 years, I can tell you in all honesty, that I have probably spent easily a total of 5 of those years simply trying to learn my way around these Digital Audio Workstations, with most of my earlier sessions, or lack thereof I should say, always ending up with me basically banging my head against the computer screen as my inspiration quickly turned to horrible frustration.
But even after having mastered most of how these environments work, I have to admit that for many years I have been secretly lusting after a different way of doing things. While I have to say Cubase is an amazing program, and is a staple of many studios around the world for a good reason, there have been many innovations since, like Ableton and its quick workflow (which is what I was mostly after), and more hardware oriented approaches like with the powerful Akai MPC Live. Cubase for me allows me to produce and master a song as properly as you could possibly want, but somehow the workflow feels stagnant, at least for me, and there really is no way to speed up its workflow, as the structure of the program itself lends itself to a slower, more methodical way of doing things.
Enter Roland Zenbeats. Yeah I know, somehow the name suggests this is merely some app that will let me "make beats" on the go, but you soon find that to not be the case. This is a full DAW that combines the best of things like Cubase, Ableton, and some of the more recent apps like Caustic, into one powerful, cross-platform powerhouse that will let you both work hard in-studio, and on the go...without leaving anything out of equation!
First, let's talk price. Recently I decided to see if I could make the plunge into a new version of Cubase, or maybe even go with Ableton. The problem is, these are expensive. One takes me back to what I am trying to get away from in the first place, and the other takes me to uncharted waters and for a fairly heavy price.
Roland Zenbeats gives me almost everything for free to start, and for a mere $49.99 I get not just the full version of the desktop DAW, but access to 2000 of the samples and loops that Roland has made available for Zenbeats (6000 altogether) like 808's, 909's, and many of their timeless classic pieces. So yeah, it's a complete no brainer. Even the app which used to cost $14.99, is now free as part of a special promotion in response to COVID-19 on both Android and iOS, with every feature unlocked. If you want access to all 6000 samples and loops available, Ultimate Unlock gets you there for $149.99. Anyway you look at it, you get more than just about anything else out there, and for a fraction of the price.
One of the greatest strengths to Zenbeats in my opinion, is its ability to deliver the power of a full-fledged DAW like Cubase or Logic, with the quickness and cleaner (and simpler) interface of programs like Ableton. While there aren't as many features in regards to interface layout and colors, or complex MIDI filtering capabilities, all the core features needed to properly record and sequence out songs are there and very straightforward, without any overly confusing aspects.
Even as a total beginner to this program, I was able to get my audio and MIDI connections up in a flash, and in about 5 minutes, I was rocking the beats non-stop! The program's interface is a perfect balance between flexibility and complexity, not very dissimilar to any other DAW you have used, but with the minimalistic approach of some of the better produced apps out there. Everything about Zenbeats, even how you size, edit and move your material around in each track is designed for ease of workflow, taking away those cumbersome extra steps!
What may be the truly greatest thing about Zenbeats however, is its seamless cross-platform way of working. I can go in-studio and work on my laptop, save everything locally, as well as on the cloud (either Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive), and then head into town and keep working in my free time via the app version. The layout on both the desktop version and the app is virtually the same. Nothing is left out. Simply access your files and keep chipping away at it!
Those afraid of working within an enclosed environment, will be glad Zenbeats has full VST/AU support, so you can integrate your favorite effects and plug-in instruments without hassle. Recording audio and even MIDI is also a breeze, with MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) supported. Add to that the 9 "instruments" included in the program, which are really in my opinion just presets and slightly different architectures of its internal polyphonic synthesizer, ranging from synths to keys, and basses, which can further be manipulated via the the filter, envelope, or 2 LFO's with anywhere from 3 to 7 destinations (depending on which of the 7 "presets" you use). The other instruments included are the nifty SampleVerse sampler and arpeggiator, and of course, an internal drum machine that can be loaded with the previously mentioned 2000 to 6000 samples and loops that come included with the unlocked versions.
Personally I feel Roland have really outdone themselves here, especially by boldly stepping into a new arena to deliver very strongly with something unusual to their work in professional audio. For me, I feel it's a serious game changer, and I am sure if you give it a try, you will feel the same way.
Zenbeats for your desktop is available directly through the Roland website, with the app downloadable via the Apple app store, or Google Play. As mentioned, there is a very special promotion going on right now which gives you full access to the app, both on iOS and Android, for FREE. Do not miss the chance to own such a powerful and versatile tool! If you have been looking for a versatile, powerful DAW and music making app, with a minimalist, hassle free approach, I couldn't recommend Roland Zenbeats enough...it's that good!
Watch the video below to learn more about Zenbeats: