Warning: alter.audio’s Timetosser can interfere with the fabric of time and is dangerously addictive.
There’s a dangerous possibility that Timetosser will turn you into the grooving, live‑slicing, reverse‑beat, glitch DJ that you didn’t know you wanted to be. The name itself, which alter.audio should probably win an award for, gives a fair indication of its purpose but also hints at how much fun it is going to be. The Timetosser lets you perform stutters, remixes, reorders, splices and time travel on any audio, inside or outside your computer via a very friendly and colourful box.
The simplest way to describe Timetosser is probably along the lines of being a beat repeat or stutter effect. It’s similar to what you’d find on a Novation Circuit, an Arturia BeatStep Pro or in Ableton Live but tied up in a nifty little desktop box that you can drop into anywhere on your signal path. It’s also more than that because it can shift your beats, reverse time, mute, sample and slice loops across its very playable surface.
The box itself is made from plastic, and feels solid and heavy enough to be relied on to stay put despite the arcade‑style button-mashing. On the back you have stereo audio in and out on quarter‑inch jacks, TRS MIDI out and a sync input that also doubles as a TRS MIDI in. The on/off button is always appreciated.
In the sculpted middle of the Timetosser sit two rows of eight buttons. These are not velocity sensitive pads or anything like that; these are lightly textured, illuminated, confident and clacky buttons. The top row is used to trigger the effect and the bottom serves as mode selection and clock division along with Reverse and Mute buttons.
To get busy with the beat repeating simply plug in some audio, tap in a tempo and start experimenting with the top row and time division buttons. Very quickly you find yourself locking into the groove, finding those vibes and beaming with the enjoyment of it all. The amount of instantaneous joy you feel is largely dependent on your content. You’ve got to be feeding it big beats, heavy rhythms and timely melodies; it wants the obvious and rewards you for it.
What Does It Do?
Timetosser is capturing (or sampling) 16 beats’ worth of your source material in reference to the tempo and then lets you reorder or repeat those beats. By the way, the tempo can be tapped in, auto detected from the input, or sync’ed from MIDI or analogue sync. The buffer of 16 beats is constantly updating and moving in real time; the sampling is continuous.
The top row of eight buttons holds eight beats and you’ll find the other eight by holding the Shift button. If you run a drum loop into it in Normal mode the loop is moving through the buttons so that the first beat could be followed along each step if you play along with the tempo. Because of the movement of time, you get a very different feel to when you’re playing sample slices on an MPC‑type sampler. There’s a certain amount of bafflement, of chasing beats and accidental happenings that gives a very vibrant edge to your remixing. Or that may just be that I haven’t got the hang of it yet and with practice you’ll be able to pick out exactly what you thought you would. In either case what’s important is that you always return to that first button, the one with the circle on it, to bring the buffer back to that first beat. Because each button acts like a time delay, restarting the loop from whatever is in the buffer at that button’s beat at that time. This has the effect of offsetting your input which may or may not be something you were after, although it can get interesting when Timetossing one element of a track within other rhythms rather than the whole thing at once.
Button‑mashing mashups are only one element — most of the satisfaction comes from the beat repeating. You have quarter, eighth and 16th notes, and triplets if you hold the Shift button. The beat repeat function is always active and happens when you hold one of the top‑row buttons down. Performing quick and easy kick or snare ratchets with increasing intensity is deeply satisfying, as is chopping and changing to other buttons, grabbing a hi‑hat for a splurge of 16ths, re‑beating that crash, rolling the snare or picking up a couple of notes from your sequence. Then you spot the Reverse button, have a bit of that, and then you hit the Mute, take a breath and drop the whole lot back in. What’s almost impossible at this point is to take your hands off the device. Sure, you might pause for a bar but then you must remix again, re‑beat and re‑work, reverse and re‑form whatever it is you’ve got going into this box of awesomeness. I am a Timetosser.
Patterns & Modes
Beyond beat repeat there are some preset patterns that enact a sort of auto‑remix on your music. You access them by holding the time division button and then pressing one of the eight top‑row buttons. They add in a bit of beat shuffling, some nice offbeat timings and drop in the odd mute and reverse within the pattern. They have a ton of potential but feel like they are not quite fully formed yet. There are only two patterns for the quarter note, three for the eighth note and five for the 16th; why doesn’t each one have eight? I asked alter.audio whether this was to allow for user patterns but there is no ability to record patterns at this time. It’s a good function and I wish there was more to it.
Finishing off the functionality there are two more modes which were in beta versions at the time of writing. The first one is a loop capture mode which freezes the buffer into a single loop that you can Timetoss just like with live audio. You can also use it to capture the Timetossing you’ve just done and mess with it all over again. The second is a sample slicing mode that slices the buffer across the buttons in an MPC style that you can then play like a drum kit, although the loop continues if you hold the button down. alter.audio are still tweaking these modes, but I think they work really well in the context of this machine and definitely add something to it.
It’s a box that can instantly transform, add surprise and interest while never doing irreparable damage to your set.
So far, I’ve used Timetosser in standalone mode, where you might have your entire mix going through it, or at least a major part of it. It feels live and raw and of the moment like only hardware can. However, there’s also a VST3 plug‑in version that can transform Timetosser into a more thoughtful and nuanced device while expanding its potential for messing about with your music.
What you must understand first is that the standalone mode and plug‑in mode are not interchangeable. The mode is auto‑enabled depending on what you’ve plugged the Timetosser’s USB cable into. Plug it into a computer’s USB port and it’s in plug‑in mode; plug it into a USB charger or power bank and it’s in standalone mode. This is important because the two modes use the hardware very differently. In standalone mode the audio flows into and out of Timetosser via the jacks on the back. In plug‑in mode Timetosser doesn’t use any external audio at all; it becomes a MIDI controller for the plug‑in acting on audio within your DAW. So, if you are powering it from your computer and want to run audio into the inputs, it won’t work. This had me stumped for quite some time. I asked alter.audio if we couldn’t use some kind of switch to change to standalone mode while powered by a computer, but they saw it as opening up a can of worms around combining external audio with internal MIDI control. They liked the clarity of starting up in separate modes.
The brilliance of plug‑in mode is that you can run eight instances of Timetosser and control them all from the hardware box. The plug‑in looks like the front end of the Timetosser and lights up in response to what you press; it’s a direct MIDI connection. The plug‑in then does to the audio in your DAW exactly what it does to external audio in standalone mode. Inevitably you’ll drop a plug‑in on to a drum track, but you can also be more thoughtful about it and place them in unexpected, experimental places, reworking melodies and glitching pads. At the moment only the regular Normal mode is available in the plug‑in but the interaction between plug‑in and hardware gives it a drama that Ableton Live’s own excellent beat repeat plug‑in can’t quite match.
Having one Timetosser device and eight plug‑ins could get a bit unwieldy in live performance as you can only affect one track at a time, selectable on the hardware. But as this is MIDI you can sequence the performance and use it to build up ideas within a project. It doesn’t have to be purely about playing live although as the Timetosser must be present for the plug‑in to function it does encourage you to keep toying with it, although very little encouragement is needed.
Timetosser is a wonderfully physical device that can quickly become an integral part of your live performance. It’s a box that can instantly transform, add surprise and interest while never doing irreparable damage to your set. Just drop it in there and enjoy the ride. The split personality of standalone and plug‑in modes actually gives it a whole other life outside of hitting your audience with dramatic breaks. It lets you get playful with beat repeats and ratchets, feeling your way into them and coming up with something on the fly while still giving you the power to program it in if you prefer. To get the best results your sync and your personal timing need to be on the button, but the greatest danger is not knowing when to stop playing with it.
I’d like to see the pattern side of it developed a bit more as it could open it up to doing some more creative things on purpose rather than in the heat of the moment. Otherwise Timetosser is a thrilling little box that you can’t take your hands off.
The manual gives a number of recommended setups but doesn’t recommend using it on the master output of your mixer. Timetosser can accept and enjoys a quite hot signal and so alter.audio suggest that it would be appropriate to have some volume control after the Timetosser. It may be better placed before the mixer directly between your synth or drum machine and your console, or on a send/return. It is a lot of fun running your whole mix through it and that’s always going to be the first thing you do, but I can see how it can probably be more effective and diverse if you get a bit more choosy about what you direct to it.
- Enormous fun.
- Easy to use.
- Instant remixing.
- You can run eight plug‑in instances at once.
- Can transform your live performances.
- Comes in a handy case.
- You need good timing skills.
- Sometimes feels accidental rather than intentional.
- Can’t power from computer in standalone mode.
- Can be too much of a good thing.
Timetosser will transform your live performances by dropping in beat repeats, stutters and rhythmic remixes, but is so much fun you’ll be in danger of overusing it.
£325 including VAT.