The Soundbrenner Core is a smartwatch made for musicians.
In 2016 I reviewed an innovative wearable metronome called the Pulse from Soundbrenner, a brand‑new company from Germany, born out of a crowdfunding campaign. In the subsequent five years they’ve gone from strength to strength and, alongside the Pulse, have introduced the Core. Similar to the Pulse, it’s a wearable metronome that vibrates and flashes to indicate tempo, but Soundbrenner have taken things a stage further by streamlining the physical design and adding several musician‑friendly features including a tuner, dB meter and even Smartwatch features. The Core packs a lot of functionality into a small package and offers something for almost anyone involved in music and performance, from musicians through to sound engineers.
The Core packaging is very swish and certainly gives you the feeling that it contains a quality product, before you even open the box. The kit inside comprises the Core itself, a charging cable, a silicon watch strap, a larger body strap, a magnetic tuner mount and a set of rubber earplugs (contained in a very cool screw‑top metal container). The supplied comprehensive manual details everything you need to get started and operate the Core, along with QR‑code links that take you to a range of very informative video tutorials.
The first step is to charge the Core via the included USB cable. The Pulse ships with a magnetic charging dock, but the Core takes a more elegant approach — a simple two‑pin connection on the side of the watch that locates onto the charging cable, via two magnets, with a satisfying click. It might be a small thing, but this is so much better than trying to locate a tiny USB plug into an equally tiny socket... which is invariably upside down. Once charged, the Core can be locked onto the wrist strap by hovering the unit over the strap where, once again, magnets do their job and almost magically fix it in place.
The Core itself is controlled using two buttons on its side: the top button moves you forward through the functions or, as Soundbrenner call them, ‘apps’ (not to be confused with the separate app that you can use alongside the Core) and the bottom button moves you back. Navigation within each screen is achieved by turning the watch bezel.
The default screen is the Smartwatch, which displays the time, day, date and battery percentage, and is automatically activated when you raise the Core or tap the screen. This is also where you’ll see any smartphone notifications, such as text messages, emails and so on. At present the Core will display the same notifications as appear on your smartphone — you can’t currently configure a different set of notifications to appear on the Core. Although the features are fairly basic, you can read the text of messages on screen and scroll through each notification. You can also accept or decline calls via the Core but, as it has no speakers or microphone, you’ll need to use your phone to actually take a call.
Pressing the ‘Forward’ button on the Core takes you to the app screens, the first being the metronome. A second push of the forward button displays the Metronome parameters: tempo, time‑signature, click division and beat strength. The forward button moves through each parameter and rotating the watch bezel adjusts the value. In a matter of seconds, you can set up a 130 bpm eighth‑note click in 7/8 with a stronger vibration on the first beat. A quick double tap on the face of the Core starts and stops the metronome, and you can also tap the tempo directly on to the screen, which can be very useful in a live situation.
Inside the Core is a large Eccentric Rotating Mass vibration motor (ERM) that produces a vibration 700‑percent stronger than you would find in your mobile phone. To harness this vibration power and give it accuracy, the Core incorporates a patented Haptic Driver, enabling the device to produce its distinct and powerful vibration on each beat. It can take a while to get used to a vibrating metronome rather than an audio one, but very soon I was comfortably ‘feeling the beat’. The body strap enables you to wear the Core pretty much anywhere, so it’s worth experimenting with different placements to see what works best for you.
The next app is the Tuner, which requires the included magnetic tuner mount. This is a small circular magnet with an adhesive pad that you attach to a flat surface of your instrument. The Core, detached from the strap, then attaches itself to the mount at right angles using the magnets previously used to secure the charging cable. Before I move on to the operation of the tuner, an obvious question is what you do if you’d like to tune more than one instrument. It’s easy to peel the mount from your instrument and reattach it elsewhere, and a couple of extra adhesive pads are provided for exactly that purpose, However, fortunately, Soundbrenner also sell additional mounts at a reasonable £7$9 for two, so you can attach mounts to as many instruments as you need.
The app itself performs similarly to most of the contact tuners we’ve grown used to. The main display shows the note value, along with arrows to the left and right that move appropriately as you get closer to the desired pitch. The outer bezel of the Core also lights up, orange through to green, indicating whether the note is sharp, flat or in tune. The only option for the tuner is Chromatic (this is displayed on screen when you select the Tuner), which makes me wonder whether instrument‑specific tuners might be added in future updates.
As musicians, our hearing is crucial and protecting it is vital. In addition to the earplugs Soundbrenner thoughtfully provide as part of the Core package, they’ve also included a dB meter app. With the app open you can see the current decibel levels of your environment, in addition to the average level since the app was opened and the maximum level you’ve been exposed to. Regardless of whether the dB app is open, the Core also constantly measures sound levels every 10 seconds and alerts you if they reach ‘risky’ territory. The thresholds they use are based on WHO recommendations and take into consideration both the sound level and the duration of the exposure. This varies from ‑80dB for five hours and 30 minutes a day to ‑95dB for 10 minutes a day. Possibly a lot less than you thought could put you at risk of permanent hearing damage.
The final three apps — a timer, stopwatch and alarm — although not exclusively geared toward the musician, can certainly come in handy for organising practice routines and ensuring you get to rehearsals or gigs on time!
Although the Core can be used entirely as a standalone device, it really comes to life when used in conjunction with the free Soundbrenner app, which allows you to both configure the unit and control many of its features. Available on both iOS and Android (and updated considerably since its first incarnation as ‘The Metronome’), the app enables you to edit many aspects of the Core’s functions, including the vibrations and lights that are integral to its unique operation as a timekeeping device.
The app itself can also be used on its own as a comprehensive metronome, and includes some very useful MIDI and Bluetooth features for integration with other apps, DAWs and hardware devices. When you first launch the app, you’ll be taken through the process of pairing the Core with your smartphone, which, for me, worked flawlessly first time. It’s possible to pair up to five Soundbrenner devices with the app, so potentially each band member could wear a Core or Pulse and play to the same metronome.
The Metronome or ‘Player’ page of the app offers the same meter, click subdivision and tempo options found on the Core itself and will generate its own click sounds (from a very long list of options, from cowbells through to voice counts) and either flash your device’s screen or camera. When you hit play, the paired Core will then flash and vibrate in time with settings on the app. Just like the Core in standalone mode, it offers three different physical vibrations, typically to represent a downbeat, an offbeat and a further subdivision, but using the app you can link each beat to a different colour on the Core bezel, and each vibration can have one of six different intensities.
The app also features a Library, where you can save songs (with their associated tempo) and set lists. This is great for playing live and makes retrieving the right tempo for any song a breeze. However, the list of songs is limited to 10 and the setlist to two, unless you upgrade to Soundbrenner Plus (see the ‘Soundbrenner Plus’ box).
The app and the Core are a great package, but it’s also possible to connect the app to your DAW via USB cable, Bluetooth or Wi‑Fi. According to the Soundbrenner website, “the only option that is officially recommended by us and works most reliably is via USB cable.” Having said that, the website does give very comprehensive instructions on how to configure your Mac or Windows PC to the app on either iOS or Android using all three methods, in addition to equally detailed instruction on how to configure all supported DAWs. As someone who likes to live dangerously, I tried out a few tests using Bluetooth and USB connectivity along with an officially unsupported DAW, Digital Performer (as this is my DAW of choice).
Setup was very easy, and within a few minutes I had Digital Performer sending MIDI Clock to the Soundbrenner app, giving me a corresponding vibrating and flashing metronome on the Core as I played back a project. On occasion it might take a bar for everything to settle down and the Core to play in sync, but this was usually after I had changed tempo on the DAW. In the other direction, I was able to slave my DAW to the app, which meant that I could set the tempo using either the bezel of the Core or tap tempo, and then start my DAW with a double tap. I was also able to adjust the tempo in real time on the Core and have my DAW follow.
I was impressed with how this worked, particularly with an unsupported DAW, but Soundbrenner are very clear on their website that support for DAW connectivity is currently in beta and they cannot guarantee that all possible combinations of operating systems and DAWs will work reliably. The documentation suggests that the best option is currently using Ableton and AbletonLink, but all the major DAWs, such as Logic and Cubase, are supported in some way. The app is free, so you can download it and check that your combination works before you buy a Core.
I was a big fan of the Pulse when I tried it out, and found it a great alternative to a monotonous audio click but, lacking a display, it wasn’t the simplest device to use without the app. The Core takes everything I liked about the Pulse, repackages it in a more usable form and adds some additional handy features. Its sleek, slimline design means you can comfortably wear it as an everyday watch, and if you choose the Core Steel option with one of the black Italian leather straps it looks incredibly stylish. The smartwatch features are some way off those of an Apple Watch, but I found it quite handy to be able to see (and feel) messages without having to check my phone, and once you can specify which notifications go to the Core only it’ll be a very useful feature.
I’m impressed by Soundbrenner as a company. Their tag line of ‘made for musicians, by musicians’ really rings true — the feature sets of both the Core and the app are implemented in a musician‑friendly and intuitive way.
Primarily I think you’d be buying the Core as a timekeeping device, and that is something it does very well. The vibrating metronome is a great alternative to a click and, in combination with the flashing visual element, is more enjoyable to play to than an unrelenting cowbell sound! The additional body strap gives you the option to wear the Core anywhere that you best feel the vibration — bicep, ankle or even around your chest — and setting the flashing to ‘off’ means it can also be very discreet. The extra features are a great addition — you can never have enough tuners (they always go missing at gigs!) and, having seen the WHO data on how easy it is to damage your hearing, the dB meter and alarm can only be a good thing.
I really like the Soundbrenner Core and I’m impressed by Soundbrenner as a company. Their tag line of ‘made for musicians, by musicians’ really rings true — the feature sets of both the Core and the app are implemented in a musician‑friendly and intuitive way. I can certainly see it becoming a useful tool in any musician’s practice and performance routine.
With many apps these days there is an option to upgrade and include some form of premium content, usually for a monthly subscription fee. Soundbrenner offer users the option of upgrading to Soundbrenner Plus for £6.99$7.99 a month or £49.99$59.99 annually, with your first three months free if you own a Core or Pulse. Currently only available for iOS, the Plus subscription allows you to save unlimited songs and set lists and gain cloud backup for the Library. Your song libraries are sync’ed in the cloud, so if you have an iPhone and an iPad running the Soundbrenner Plus app, changes to songs and sets are instantly updated on each device logged into your account.
You also benefit from over 30 ‘Premium Rhythm videos’, which are designed to help you improve and master your rhythm. Featuring teachers and players from around the world, the videos are aimed at different skill levels and include everything from learning about note values and subdivisions to understanding different styles of music and practice methods. The idea is that this will become an expanding resource of tutorials and articles you can draw on to improve your playing.
Finally, Soundbrenner have partnered with over 15 different music brands offering discounts on a range of products from earplugs through to MIDI controllers for guitar and wireless CV devices. These aren’t, perhaps, the most well‑known brands but they all share the same quirky and innovative approach as Soundbrenner have, and there might be something that takes your fancy. You can also get 50‑percent off any Soundbrenner accessories as a Plus subscriber. Personally, I think I’d only take advantage of the extended Library features, so £49.99$59.99 seems a bit much, but you can check out the Plus option for free for a limited time, to see if it’s for you.
- Looks very smart.
- Comprehensive app.
- Includes Bluetooth MIDI integration.
- Soundbrenner Plus app option is expensive.
- DAW support good but still Beta.
The Soundbrenner Core offers a great suite of musician‑friendly apps, wrapped up in an innovative and classy‑looking smartwatch.