Elektron recently unveiled an all-new version of its popular Octatrack sampler. The Octatrack MKII has the same key features as its predecessor, with eight audio and eight MIDI tracks as well as a sample engine capable of time-stretching and pitch-shifting in real time. It’s been been given an overhaul on the outside, with new back-lit buttons that resemble those of Elektron’s new Digitakt drum machine and a striking grey color. It’s also got a new OLED screen and more dedicated buttons.

So is there a better hardware sampler than the Octatrack? Depending on how convoluted you like your hardware interfaces, the eight-track performance sampler has the potential to be one of the most advanced machines for performance and music creation. Containing a set of features not found on any other non-software sampler, the Octrack’s sample manipulation is legendary. Also legendary is its difficult learning curve. The new Octatrack MKII, shares the software and workflow with the original model. So the question now is more whether to go for Octatrack or Digitakt. Fortunately there is a new video out that will definitely guide you in the right direction.

Based on the result it is clear that Octatrack is definitely the deeper box and it allow you to pre-load more materials. On the other hand Digitakt, which Elektron is describing more as a sequence generator rather than an all-in-one performance machine, has its own unique character to which those limitations add a certain personality.

Aside from these cosmetic improvements and increased headroom on the audio inputs though, it looks to be the same Octatrack in a fancy new wrapper. It still uses CompactFlash cards for storage and doesn’t appear to have support for Overbridge, Elektron’s software for integrating with DAWs.

Elektron launched the first Octatrack back in 2011, and quickly gained itself a great reputation among musicians not just for its sample engine, but also for its ability to sequence external gear in a live setting.

The new model costs €1449/$1349 and starts shipping in August. It comes just a few months after the launch of the Digitakt, which shares the MIDI sequencing and some of the sampling power, but doesn’t have the song mode of the Octatrack.

8 stereo audio tracks
8 dedicated MIDI tracks
Instant stereo sampling
Real time sample time-stretch & pitch-shift
2 × insert FX per audio track
3 × LFO per track
Live friendly Elektron sequencer
Contactless performance Crossfader
Crisp 128 × 64 OLED screen
Hi-res encoders
Durable back-lit buttons
1 × ¼” headphones output
2 × ¼” impedance balanced main output
2 × ¼” impedance balanced cue output
4 × ¼” balanced external input
1 × USB 2.0 High Speed port
W340 × D185 × H63 mm (8.5 × 7.2 × 2.5″) including knobs and rubber feet
Weight approx. 2.3 kg (5 lbs)
Fully compatible with Octatrack MKI projects/data

If one takes a closer look at Digitakt as a comparison one will find that there are even more things to take into account before you decide on which model to go for, although the price point may lead you into a certain direction.

Comparing Octatrack and Digitakt straight off may not be so easy, but where the Digitakt really comes alive is when you dive deep into the menus and start messing around with samples to make your own drum kits, making it an ideal tool for people who are averse to retro drum sounds or want to get more experimental. This is possible on Ableton Live or Maschine too, but the Digitakt feels better set up for spontaneity, whether you make razor-sharp techno rhythms or dusty hip-hop. In some ways the Digitakt offers a decidedly old school experience, but Elektron fans will be pleased to hear that it’s got just as many advanced features squirrelled away as the Analog Rytm and Octatrack. First, there’s the parameter lock function. This allows each “trig” button (Elektron’s term for a note in the sequence) to have their own unique values. So, by holding down the trig and using the eight knobs, you can easily tune your kick drums to different notes, add delay to just one hi-hat or pan your snare drums individually. In short, it offers a lot of control.