The unique C‑Loops from Red Sound Systems can automatically detect the tempo of incoming audio, sample it and chop it to length ready for re‑triggering, as well as automatically timestretching all its on‑board loops to match any new tempo it receives.
Sampling technology, as we all know, is a wonderful thing. Get your head around the operating system of a sampler, and the world of audio manipulation is your oyster. The trouble is that samplers, whether they're based in software or hardware, aren't the most approachable bits of studio gear, and the process of getting a sound in, chopping it to size, and then being able to play it back can often be a time‑consuming, fiddly and sometimes frustrating business.
UK‑based manufacturer Red Sound Systems aim to put a stop to all that with C‑Loops, a compact, six‑voice sampler aimed at DJs needing to grab sections of audio on the fly and play them back over a CD or record. The clever thing here is that C‑Loops makes use of Red Sound's impressive tempo‑detection technology (as seen in previous innovative units like the BPM FX Pro), and can thereby sample and replay loops in perfect sync with the tempo of an incoming audio signal.
Looking very much like the type of device that used to go 'ping!' when Leonard Nimoy pointed it at styrofoam rocks in episodes of a certain '60s sci‑fi TV series, C‑Loops, with its curvy chrome side panels and functional styling, is visually extremely desirable. Its long and thin dimensions are actually designed to be attached to the side of a 19‑inch rackmounted mixing desk (using the supplied brackets), which will doubtless please both DJs and studio users alike. At its budget price, you can't really expect too much in the way of serious general sampling or sample‑editing power, and the range of controls and inputs and outputs reflect this.
The top of the unit houses two pairs of phono ins and outs along with the power socket leading to a 9V DC power supply. The bottom of the unit has just a single headphone socket and a three‑stage switch that sets the approximate tempo range of the incoming audio track (60‑120, 90‑180 or 115‑230).
The front panel itself isn't much more complex either, largely opting for a 'one button, one job' approach. This means that not only is the 'getting to know you' time mercifully short, but you can be sure that in the noisy and dimly lit confines of a DJ's mix pit you will have easy access to most of C‑Loops' parameters. The simple four‑character LED display shows the detected tempo of the incoming audio source brightly and clearly, and at the very top of the unit is a large cursor wheel which is used either to manually set the loop tempo value if no beat information is detected, or to manually adjust the synchronisation (start) point of the loops.
The short length of the instruction manual makes it clear that setting up C‑Loops and getting it working is such a no brainer that even those who struggle with their own shoelaces should have no problems. Certainly, I found C‑Loops to be one of the most intuitive and easy‑to‑use modules I've come across in recent years, with a learning curve that wouldn't give even an arthritic terrapin any trouble.
As with any tempo‑detection process, it is the upfront bass and snare drums of modern dance music that enable the most reliable detection of tempo, and as this is the most likely type of music to appear in a DJ's arsenal of records, everyone should be happy (see box below). The tempo‑range selector switch starts C‑Loops hunting in the right area tempo‑wise, and from there it is usually only a matter of seconds (depending on the rhythmic content of your input track) before it displays the incoming tempo and is ready to sample.
There are six sample pads on the front panel, and once a tempo has been detected, these flash in time with the incoming audio source. The six pads allow you to sample different lengths of loop; one pad enables 16 bars of recording, another allows eight bars, another four and two pads permit just one bar each. It's interesting to note that I couldn't find any reference to the maximum sample time permitted within the instruction manual or on Red Sound's otherwise excellent web site. Suffice it to say, though, that with a total of 32 stereo, 16‑bit, 48kHz samples (or beats) at your disposal, you should have enough for live DJ applications.
Just a single touch of one of the sample pads begins recording and the screen displays a countdown of how many beats are left to record for each particular pad (16, eight, four, two, or one). Once a sample has been taken, the pad's LED lights continuously and instantly begins looped playback out of the main phono outputs which, incidentally, do not permit through‑monitoring before a sample has been taken — this is where your headphones, which you can insert into the jack socket on the front, will come in handy.
One of C‑Loops' great selling points is that playback of all the loops is synchronised perfectly with the incoming audio signal (utilising Red Sounds' acclaimed V2 tempo‑recognition engine), so once you have filled up all six pads with loops and effects you don't need to have the fingers of an ace percussionist to get them to trigger in the right place — C‑Loops ensures that they all fire on the beat. One obvious downside to this could be problems with phase. If you have two sections sampled from different points in the same track, playing them both back at the same time might result in duplicated elements (typically bass drums) partially phase‑cancelling one another. This is a small point to be aware of, but certainly nothing to get in a panic over.
Stored loops are also automatically stretched to fit with the tempo of incoming audio, irrespective of the tempo they were sampled at. This is a really useful feature — it means that it's now child's play to sample the main rhythm section of one track and seamlessly morph the beats into other tracks, even ones at wildly different speeds.
The manual helpfully lists a number of possible applications for C‑Loops, particularly with reference to being able to disengage the tempo‑recognition engine (hold the Resample button, then press Erase All). This is intended to prevent erratic tempo detection while you cue a new record, but it does mean that you can set C‑Loops running on its own at the last detected tempo while you put on another record. Alternatively, as the manual points out, in the event of total turntable or stylus failure, C‑Loops can save the day — even if your decks pack up, the beats will go on!
Tweaking The Beats
There are a few editing features within C‑Loops. The first allows you to trim the output level of each specific pad (with ranges of ‑9dB to +6dB) by holding down the pad and adjusting the data‑entry wheel. You can also adjust the synchronisation (start) points for individual loops or for all the loops simultaneously — a feature that would be helpful if your source recording drifts out of time or the tempo‑detection engine loses sync for any reason. There is also a crude but fun form of time‑stretching, which is activated during playback by turning the data‑entry knob backwards or forwards to speed up or slow down all the samples currently playing. This isn't really the type of scientifically precise tempo manipulation that users of computer‑based audio‑editing software will be used to, but it does offer instant and highly creative access to the kind of mega‑granulisation effects that you'll recall from Fat Boy Slim's classic track 'The Rockefeller Skank'.
You also have the ability to resample the content of any number of pads. This is done by simply hitting the Resample button, and then selecting which pad to re‑record to. The other button I haven't yet mentioned on the front panel is Erase All, which, as the name implies, deletes all samples currently in memory. Whilst this straightforward approach is certainly welcome for most features, even the manual warns users to take care, as it only takes the slightest touch of the button to instantly send all your carefully collected loops the way of the dodo.
It would be fair to say that C‑Loops is aimed at live DJs needing to quickly get hold of rhythm tracks, effects and instrumental grooves from an incoming audio source and loop them in time with any source recording. While there are unquestionably studio users who could find a creative use for such a device, it is live DJs who won't be bothered by C‑Loops' paucity of more detailed sample‑editing features, and indeed lack of backup facilities. However, I think these omissions are fair enough given the unit's price and primary target market.
There are a few niggles, the biggest being the ominous Erase All button, which does exactly what it promises, after just a single touch. Surely a better option would be to have this button only do its worst after keeping it pressed for a couple of seconds (busy‑fingered DJs beware — you could be left seriously high and dry by this one). Also, although recording vocal and effects samples is, of course, just as easy as recording loops, it would have been great to have the option of 'hot‑triggering' some of the pads (perhaps with the ability to adjust release time) so that effects or vocals could be 'stuttered' — as it is, you have to let them play back in their entirety each time you hit the pad.
One of the most impressive things about C‑Loops, though, is the one thing that in using it you actually take for granted; namely the ability to auto‑detect the tempo of a track, sample from it and have your loops chopped to length, looped and ready to fly instantaneously in time with pretty much any given audio source. If that doesn't sound like an attractive feature to you, there won't be much about this unit that will impress you, but if you're a DJ or live performance samplist and want to take your performances to another level, you really should give C‑Loops a try.
Tempo Detection & Studio Use
As mentioned above, any tempo‑detection system relies heavily on prominent rhythmic elements. The most obvious are bass and snare drums, but having test‑driven C‑Loops (and other Red Sound products) across a wide range of musical styles, I've always been impressed by what their tempo engine can successfully analyse.
It's fair to assume that the majority of users of a device like C‑Loops will be working with dance music of one sort or another, and when used with that style of music, there was nothing that gave the tempo engine any trouble, excluding drop‑out sections in tracks where there is just an ambient pad and vocal. Obviously, C‑Loops had no chance when confronted with such challenging material. However, within literally seconds of a single hi‑hat pattern kicking in over the top of the pad, C‑Loops had worked out the tempo, sync'ed itself up and was ready to sample.
You'll also be pleased to hear that it's not just dance music that can be 'C‑Looped' — I had pleasing results from quite a few rock and nearly all pop tracks I tried. The secret seems to be in the accuracy of the timing of the source material, and since I can't remember when I last heard a modern track that has anything but rock‑solid timing, you're unlikely to have problems.
Another possible use for C‑Loops could be as a very basic form of studio remix tool should you want to synchronise new drum loops or grooves to a master recording without the aid of SMPTE code or similar. Load your grooves into C‑Loops, then trigger the tempo engine from the rhythm sections of what you already have recorded. This isn't a foolproof system, but it's something that might just mean the difference between sync'ing and sinking!
- Impressive tempo-detection abilities.
- Fantastically easy to use.
- Extremely useful for live DJ applications.
- Stored loops automatically timestretch to incoming tempo — brilliant!
- Cool styling.
- All samples are lost on power-down.
- Frighteningly easy to accidentally bulk-erase all your samples.
- A little too limited for serious studio use, although that's not really where it's aimed.
- Lack of through-monitoring via Output phonos might be problematic, depending on your setup.
A unique, easy-to-use and immensely useful DJ gizmo that is the very definition of quick‑fire sampling. While some studio producers might find its range of features restrictive, what it does do, it does so well that for the live DJ, this has to be the essential tool of the year.
Red Sound Systems +44 (0)7770 654050.