Many of the great DJs started by just choppin’ shit up. From DJ Shadow and J Dilla to The Avalanches, a ton of incredible musicians made their breakthroughs by mastering the art of sampling and looping, creating hard-hitting beats and groovy melodies by combining great moments lifted from other places. Since electronic instruments came onto the scene, there’s always been something exciting about taking powerful art created by others and wielding it into something totally new and original. Whether you’re making hip hop beats or just some chill, ambient waves circa late-80s-era Aphex Twin, it all starts with relatively simple tech. If you think you’ll need to score an MPC sampler, a turntable, a tape recorder, and a massive vinyl collection to become the next Madlib, you can rest assured that you don’t have to go that far. After all, it’s not the 90s anymore (though nobody seems to have told Hollywood).
Countless new sampling and mixing instruments have come onto the scene in recent years, often collapsing the whole process into a single product. Now, the amount of equipment you need is literally pocket-sized. Behold the Orba 2 and the Orba from Artiphon, with which you can record, loop, sequence, and listen to your own compositions on one snazzy device.
Perfect for both those with and without experience playing a proper musical instrument (yes, that includes middle school violin practice dropouts), the Orba 2 is, like, the size of a tennis ball, which means you could make music on public transit, at a baseball game, while watching the newest Avatar movie, or while skiing. (Let us know if you’re able to do the latter—that’s definitely something we’d want to explore further.)
Both Orbas have built-in synths, loopers, MIDI controllers, built-in speakers, and can connect to the Orba app for more detailed composing. Both are also based around eight sense-pads that use nine core gestures, like tapping, tilting, pressing, vibrato, and shaking, to create nuanced pitches—not unlike the different ways you’d pluck the strings of a guitar or press the keys on a piano. This is how you put ~feeling~ into the music and give it some personality… because music isn’t just the notes, right? You can also connect via USB-C or Bluetooth to real instruments, but be careful about how many devastating Slayer-esque riffs you pack it with, since I cannot advise on how much pure, searing heat this hardware can hold.
There are some key differences between the Orba and the Orba 2. For one, the Orba 2 lets you record and import your own samples and has real audio samples to choose from, while the Orba does not. The Orba 2 also can handle significantly longer loops: It holds up 128-bar loops, or up to five minutes of material, while the Orba can only do 8-bar loops, or up to about half a minute.
Basically, if you’re working on a longer song, the Orba 2 might be the thing for you; if you’re just trying to create juicy little samples—and, honestly, that’s probably what most of us really are trying to do—the Orba could be sufficient.
That said, if you’re really trying to turn your spurts of sonic creativity into full-on songs, both Orba models interface with a number of professional recording softwares—like Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and even GarageBand. In addition to the Orba series, Artiphon makes an actual instrument—amazingly called INSTRUMENT 1—that acts as its own MIDI controller. If you’ve been toiling away in your basement for the last decade trying to make the next James Blake or Untrue, the Orba could be your breakthrough moment.
Keep on rockin’ in the free world, and remember: With enough perseverance, your own “Whoop That Trick” might be right around the corner.
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