I received some cash for Christmas and was stumped with how to spend it. I always spent the amount of gift money on an item I would necessarily buy as it’s a want rather then a need. As followers of instagram and facebook will know this years cash was spent on two Stylophone devices by Dubreq.
Traditional ‘Stylophone S1’ Pocket Organ
I’m not sure how well known the Stylophone is outside of the UK but they were a popular British made children’s toy released in 1968. According to the Wikipedia page the design ‘consists of a metal keyboard played by touching it with a stylus—each note being connected to a voltage-controlled oscillator via a different-value resistor—thus closing a circuit’. That said I’ve read in a couple of places there is a chip to control this now. If someone with electronics experience knows I’m interested.
It wasn’t embraced by that many professional musicians but it has over the years appeared on a number of great tracks, here is a few notable appearances:
- David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’ (1969)
- Kraftwerk – ‘Pocket Calculator’ (1981)
- Pulp – ‘Styloroc (Nites of Surburbia)’ (1992)
- Belle and Sebastian – ‘Mayfly’ (1996)
- Manic Street Preachers – ‘So Why So Sad’ (2001)
I have one of the 2007 reissues which still has that retro aesthetic with its chromed grille, nickel plated keyboard and brass tipped stylus. It features the classic vibrato function and volume control. Unlike the original design it includes three voices (bass classic and treble) as well as 3.5mm headphone/aux out and an ‘mp3’/aux out. It should be noted that if you want to play this along with other instruments you need to tune it using the pot on the bottom.
Enough specs how does it sound? The bass tone is very warm and full whilst the classic is that dry cutting organ tone you associate with the vintage stylophones. The treble is thin and bright which is great for lo-fi melody parts. Regard of the voice setting the depth of the vibrato function summons vintage horror movie. As you’d expect the smaller speakers take a lot of the bass end but running it into an amp yields better low end response. It also loves analogue effects pedals.
‘Stylophone Beatbox (BB)’, Pocket Drum Machine
I wasn’t initially going to get this one as well but as it was on sale I thought I’d check it out. As the name suggests the BB is a drum machine but it also includes a bass voice as well. Dubreq refer to this as pocket size but it’s about a pocket size as the first Nintendo Gameboy was (he says revealing his age).
Aesthetically it fits in with the retro vibe of the S1 but uses a round 1 octave keyboard. Like the S1 it always has a volume control and 3.5mm aux and out. How does it sound?
The first voice features real samples of beatboxer MC Zani and no matter how much time I spend with it, I don’t like it. It brings back bad memories of DJ sound effects on old Yamaha keyboards, which is not a great start. The second voice is a more traditional electronic drum kit and sounds great, like a vintage Roland kit. The third voice has an 80’s synth bass vibe that sound great with a that darker deep house sound that’s so popular right now. I wish it had a second octave for the third voice. I have tried multiple times to get the loop/record feature to work but triggering the loop requires using the stylus. So to get a loop working you have to anticipate the time it takes to get across to the first beat and deal with that rhythmic deficit.
My biggest problem with this model (aside from the human beat box mode) is the lack of bass end. Initially I thought it was a new speaker problem but even after wearing it in the kick drum it so much quieter then the rest of the samples.
As you can tell from the review I’m very sold on the S1, it’s a dry, analogue sounding texture that combined with some effects gives interesting tones and for £15 is a fun gift for the musician in your life. I should note whilst its range is limited it is still perfectly usable and the limitations often force you to be more creative in your playing.
The BB left a lot to be desired. The bass voice was it’s saving grace and once I can figure out how to sample I doubt it’ll stay for very long. I hope they introduce a revised version of this model with greater range and sounds.
Have you ever played one, new or old? Let me know your thoughts and if missing something with either model please let me know! Thanks for reading!