You are here

Sonicware SmplTrek

Sampling Groovebox By Robin Vincent
Published June 2023

Sonicware SmplTrek

Sonicware’s SmplTrek packs an ambitious sampler, sequencer and recorder into a single portable box.

The Sonicware SmplTrek may have lost a couple of vowels in its fight for position amongst other portable sampling grooveboxes, but with integrated MIDI sequencing, live looping and mixing, it might well have a lot more to offer.

The workflow feels a bit like a hardware version of Ableton Live Lite, or perhaps more accurately like Roland Zenbeats with its orientation of tracks at the side and scenes along the top. In full flow, it’s really more of a hybrid digital portastudio than a beat‑making groovebox, as it combines live recording with clip launching, scene triggering and playful sampling endeavours. Finding the flow can take a bit of patience and dedication as you first have to wrestle the interface into submission.


SmplTrek is a thick but compact box of black plastic designed in part to be held in two hands like a portable games console. As you grab either side the navigation D‑pad and a couple of buttons locate right under your thumbs, although I found that there’s not much you can do with just those controls, so it inevitably ends up on your desk. It has a handy screw thread on the bottom for mounting it on a mic stand for a more live‑performance vibe.

Across the front, you have 16 scene buttons and 15 track buttons, which double up as velocity sensitive finger‑drumming pads. There are a handful of other buttons to get to the things you need, and everything lights up beautifully except for the array of black, Volca‑style knobs, which are really hard to see. In the centre is a small but readable screen about the size of an Apple watch; this is where the action happens.

On the back is a pair of quarter‑inch line inputs that can handle guitar and microphone levels, and a pair of line‑level outputs. Very welcome 5‑pin DIN MIDI in and out and a DC power socket complete the back panel. On one side, you’ve got a micro USB port and SD card slot. SmplTrek has no internal memory, so everything’s done on the SD card (not included). The USB port is useful for data transfer but also turns the SmplTrek into a 2x2 audio/MIDI interface and controller for a phone or computer. On the front edge there’s a 3.5mm headphone socket, and on the top we’ve got 3.5mm analogue sync in and out.

The SmplTrek’s back panel offers quarter‑inch audio I/O and, joy of joys, full‑size MIDI I/O ports.The SmplTrek’s back panel offers quarter‑inch audio I/O and, joy of joys, full‑size MIDI I/O ports.

In line with Sonicware’s love of portability, the SmplTrek can take six AA batteries, although it did come with a power supply which, I think, is a first for Sonicware boxes and much appreciated. It has a reasonable built‑in speaker so you can impress your friends with your beats while out and about. For sketching out ideas or sampling on the go the built‑in mic is brilliant, but you’ll need a pair of headphones if you don’t want to risk feedback or find yourself resampling the output of the speaker.

Overall, it’s quite a neat box, with a good weighty feel and a clean layout that doesn’t look too complex or busy. And that alone makes you feel you can pick it up and go and get on with making some music.


The SmplTrek has five track types to choose from, which dictate the content of the track’s clips. You can set a track up as an audio loop, or a one‑shot sample; you can have a sample‑based instrument, a drum kit track or a MIDI track. There are no virtual or hardware instruments, so everything is sample‑based unless you MIDI out to an external synthesizer.

The review model was running firmware v1.4.99. This brought in some very welcome expanded features and improved some of the more laborious user interface functions. The interface can be very challenging. It’s almost like a not‑so‑fun side‑quest in a video game designed to distract you from your ultimate purpose. You just have to grit your teeth and learn your way around it, and it does start to open up.

The SmplTrek has 10 tracks for your sampling, drumming and sequencing clips that you can arrange over 16 scenes. The latest updates boosted the number of drum and instrument tracks to four of each. In addition, there are three audio tracks for recording vocals or live instruments alongside your song. You can also route through an external source or connect a computer or phone via USB for sampling or mixing alongside. To help with the mixing, there’s EQ and a choice of 32 effects.

Loop Mode

The original concept for the SmplTrek seemed to be to keep the sampling and sequencing as two different functions. You would spend some time capturing and processing samples and then use the sequencer to import them as loops or instruments for arranging. This created a bit of a disconnect as you couldn’t sample into the sequencer, so you would have to keep navigating to and from the sample pool to find your newly sampled samples and bring them back in. With recent firmware updates you can now sample directly into a clip.

Being able to record directly into a clip is what gives SmplTrek its live looper feature. It’s not quite what I expect live looping to be. Rather than automatically overdubbing, you have to hit the right combination of buttons to record another loop alongside the first on another track. If you set up each track to be in loop mode then you can step down through them quite smoothly in order to keep layering up loops. But it doesn’t have the flow of features, the overdub, undo/redo and so on that you’d expect to find in a dedicated looper.

You can transfer your own loops and samples to the SD card and import them into the clip,...

You are reading one of the locked Subscribers-only articles from our latest 5 issues.

You've read 30% of this article for free, so to continue reading...

  • ✅ Log in - if you have a Subscription you bought from SOS.
  • Buy & Download this Single Article in PDF format £1.00 GBP$1.49 USD
    For less than the price of a coffee, buy now and immediately download to your computer or smartphone.
  • Buy & Download the FULL ISSUE PDF
    Our 'full SOS magazine' for smartphone/tablet/computer. More info...
  • Buy a DIGITAL subscription (or Print + Digital)
    Instantly unlock ALL premium web articles! Visit our ShopStore.

Claim your FREE 170-page digital publication
from the makers of Sound On SoundCLICK HERE