Elektron's FM powerhouse gains a keyboard and a lot more besides.
The Digitone was easily my favourite bit of new hardware of 2018. It's a four-part FM synth workstation built around Elektron's distinctive sequencing environment. The Digitone Keys takes the desktop module and turns it into an expressive instrument with the addition of a 37-key keyboard, dedicated performance controls and a few surprise extras.
The Digitone Keys is an unusual–looking synth. Elektron have not followed the convention of putting a keyboard in front of a panel of synth controls. As with their 2003 Monomachine keyboard, they've kept the original desktop unit more or less intact and grafted the keyboard onto the side. Unlike the Monomachine the DTK has a raked synth panel, making for a better viewing angle. Overall, this narrow footprint is rather practical, leaving room at the rear for more gear, or space in front for a computer keyboard.
There are a couple of drawbacks to this layout, though. With the desktop machine in front of you, your right hand operates the main encoders while the display shows you what they're doing. On the keyboard version, you're offset to the right. It's now your left hand on the encoders, and the display gets obscured.
A year on from my original review, the Digitone continues to be my go-to place for captivating sounds and song ideas.
The second compromise is that for the width of the instrument you get a comparatively short keyboard range. Three octaves of keys puts the DTK in the same 'semi-compact' synth class as, say, the Moog Subsequent 37 or Access Virus Polar/Darkstar, which may feel restrictive to 'proper' players . The keys are full-sized and unweighted, with a springy 'synth' action. The keyboard features aftertouch, although not polyphonic.
It's not just keys that have been added. To the left of the original section you get lovely weighted Pitch and Mod wheels with assign buttons, and keyboard octave shifters. Above the keyboard you have eight performance encoders that can be toggled between a default control set and a user bank. Five new buttons engage the various keyboard features such as Multi-Map and MIDI Controller mode. All the controls have that silky smooth feel, and it all adds up to the DTK feeling like a top-quality instrument.
The main volume knob has been moved across into a prominent position above the wheels. The space it leaves behind has been put to excellent use with the addition of a dedicated Sound Browser button. On the desktop machine...