Earlier this year, Pioneer DJ's Toraiz department surprised producers and musicians with a new product, unlike anything they've made before. A hardware sequencer meant to be the brains of your operation, featuring tons of connectivity, and many unique features you won't find on others. After a sampler and mono synth, and rumors of other products, a sequencer caught many off guard, but in reality, it actually makes sense. But, is the SQUID an essential piece for your setup?
What is it?
The SQUID is a multi-track hardware sequencer capable of controlling many different instruments and machines at once, via its various outputs. The layout of the unit provides instant tactile gratification, which allows you to get right into the creative process. It comes with 16 pads that can be used in a multitude of ways, as well as some very interesting knobs and slider to aid in creativity. Connectivity includes MIDI in/out/thru, USB, CV in/out/clock/gate, and din sync in/out.
How does it work?
As mentioned, the SQUID is meant to be the brains of your hardware operation and allows you to connect many different bits of kit at once. By utilizing all of the connections, you could control synths, modular rigs, and even VSTs via USB. There is 2 separate MIDI out ports, each with 16 channels, which makes using things like drum machines and samplers a breeze, and freeing up your setup to add more gear. The SQUID has many standard sequencer functions like step sequencing, pitch/velocity adjustments, and an arpeggiator. But, it's what Pioneer has done with these standard features that make it stand out. One such feature is the pitch interpolation that allows you to quickly adjust the pitch of your triggers, which saves you time. Another cool feature is the trig randomization, which instantly creates interesting patterns for whatever MIDI channel you've selected. This is perfect for hats, and can also help with creating cool basslines, although you might want to adjust the notes.
On the lefthand side, there are other great creative tools to help keep things fresh and exciting, such as various running directions, which tell the sequence what order to play said sequence in. For example, you can have your sequence run straight, and then when it gets to the end, instead of starting over, it will reverse, which when combined with a random and interesting hat pattern, will, in turn, create an even more unique one. A very prevalent, and industry-first feature, is the groove bend, which can be used to speed up or slow down your sequence. The speed can be adjusted, and you can even record it into your pattern.
Two of the most loved features for many users are the Time Warp and Undo. These are both massive time savers. Normally when creating musical progressions or sequences, one would mess around until they come up with something cool, then record that after a few practice rounds. Time Warp saves you the hassle of doing that by listening and storing what you've just played up to 16 steps. Should you find you don't like what you did, or you've just "ruined" your perfect jam, Undo will allow you to go back up to 16 steps, saving you time and heartbreak.
What do I think?
Sometimes, you click with a certain piece of gear, other times, you don't. Honestly, this was a bit of a challenge for me. The idea is awesome, no doubt, but for some reason, I've just not had the best time with it. That's not to say it's the unit's fault by any means, or that I didn't enjoy certain aspects of it. In fact, there were somethings that I absolutely loved, such as the rhythmic control, which basically lets you loop a channel (think kick or snare rolls), and I definitely love the trig randomization. Another feature I love is not actually on the unit but is an accompanying software that allows you to import and export MIDI files, meaning you can save those cool hat patterns you made earlier for use in other tracks.
As for what I didn't like, I had issues connecting multiple synths to the unit and was only able to use it as a clock on some of my gear, which isn't the end of the world, but it would have been nice to only touch the SQUID. In truth, this is more user error than not, but the instruction manual isn't overly insightful.
Should you buy one?
If you are looking to get out of the DAW, or maybe just use it less, and need loads of connections, I would say that this is absolutely worth investigating.
Overall, this is a very sturdy machine. Again, sometimes you just don't click with certain gear, but as I also stated, that's not to say this isn't a great piece of kit. Perhaps if I was able to really focus on just learning the SQUID, I'd have a much more enjoyable time using it, but that shouldn't stop you from giving it a go. In fact, there are loads of people who find this to be the (current) holy grail. I will say that it has got me back into using only hardware, which is definitely a major plus. Check out the video below to see the more SQUID action.
Final Score: 4/5