Every now and then I like to review a gadget that's a little out of the ordinary. Something that makes me change my routine a little bit, hopefully for the better.?
Soundbrenner Core is one such device. It's primarily a tool for professional musicians, which I'm not; I'm an amateur at best. But, as a combination of a vibrating metronome, wristwatch, tuner, and a decibel meter, it's a bit more versatile than Soundbrenner's Pulse, which is just a metronome. It's also pricier, at $229 (the cheapest option on Kickstarter, where the device was launched), versus Pulse's $99.?
I took it for a spin for a few weeks to see whether it makes sense for someone who doesn't spend half his time in the studio, but who does need a metronome and a tuner every once in a while.?
A very rich box
The Soundbrenner Core looks alright for a professional tool, but it's only passable as a smartwatch. It's a bit bulkier than your typical watch, and the plastic finish means this is definitely not something you'd want to wear with a suit.?
The build quality is fine, though the rotating bezel (which is very important, as it's used for navigating through the Core's menu) is a bit wonky. In fact, my first impression was that it could fall off, but after prolonged use, I've gotten confident that it won't break easily.
The Core is charged by attaching a magnetic cable to the side of the device. The magnetic connector give the Core some other cool properties: It's very easy to swap wristbands and you can attach it to an instrument as a tuner.?
The Core is comfy on the wrist, but your hand will get sweaty after a prolonged metronome session. Fortunately, the watch is water-resistant up to IP65 standard.?
However, it may so happen that you won't primarily use the watch on your wrist at all. The Core comes with a longer strap that you can attach to other parts of your body, for example, your thigh (see video below) or your chest. For me, this worked better than having it on the wrist, as it was easier to focus on the buzzy metronome.?
For those not familiar with metronomes, here's a short intro. A metronome is a device or a piece of software that keeps a steady beat. For studio musicians, it's a must. Anyone who records music needs it, really — without it, you'll probably start off your tune too fast or too slow, and you won't be able to keep the same pace throughout. If you just strum on the guitar at family gatherings and don't aspire to record music or play in a band, you'll be perfectly fine without a metronome.?
Typically, a metronome clicks or pings into your ear. The Soundbrenner Core is different — it's a vibrating metronome that pulses on your hand (or other body parts), keeping up with a designated pace. It also has a circular light that fires up on every beat. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Soundbrenner Core is near-silent and, potentially, less annoying than a traditional click metronome. As a wearable, it also goes everywhere you go, and is always at your disposal. On the flip side, getting used to the buzzy beat isn't easy; after weeks of usage, I still prefer the click.?
This, unfortunately, is one of those features you just have to try out yourself — it's either your thing or not. Do note that the Soundbrenner Core buzz is far stronger than your typical smartwatch or phone, so don't worry about not noticing it.
What I can say, though, is that the Soundbrenner Core's metronome had all the features I needed and more. You can set up irregular time signatures such as 5/4 or 7/8; you can set up triplets with ghost notes; you can connect several songs into a setlist, which is useful for live performance. All of this is a little finicky to set up on the watch itself, but there's a very good accompanying app (I've tried out the iOS version) that makes it easier.?
Is it enough for a professional? It depends. I've shown the Soundbrenner Core to a couple musicians, and while they were all intrigued, all had their own, old way of doing things. To anyone interested in the device, I would recommend downloading the (free) first and see whether it suits your fancy.?
I should note that, even with all the extra features, the metronome is still by far the most important feature of the Soundbrenner Core. You will be buying this device for the metronome; if you never or very rarely use the metronome, it's not for you.?
Decibel meter, tuner, and more
I do sometimes use the metronome, but not often enough to warrant a purchase of a specialized device. I guess I'm right on the edge of the subset of users Soundbrenner is trying to woo with the Soundbrenner Core. So what else does this device have to offer?
First, it's a regular, digital watch with a date that wakes up when you flick your wrist upwards. It also has a timer and a stopwatch, and can relay notifications from your phone. It may not be much compared to modern smartwatches, but its very decent set of features cover the basics.?
Then there are the extra features. Decibel meter could be useful to sound pros or perhaps even people who work in construction. For me, it's a fun thing to show my friends and forget. Plus, it only seems to pick up certain frequencies; for example, raising your voice will result in a decibel increase, but placing the device next to my Roomba doesn't register at all.?
The tuner is pretty nice. With the Soundbrenner Core, you get a sticky magnet that you stick to your guitar. Then, you can remove the device from the cradle on its wristband and connect it to that magnet (you also charge the Core in a similar way, by attaching a magnetic cable to it). Choose the feature from the menu, and the Core becomes a guitar tuner.?
While this is admittedly cool and extra value if you don't already have a tuner, I do have a couple of tuners, so it was wasted on me. Also, my standalone tuners worked better than the Soundbrenner Core, which is harder to read and doesn't keep the tuning info on the display for long enough. I give it a passing grade: It's a nice addition, but you will not be buying the Core for his feature.?
You also get a set of ear plugs and an additional, larger strap that lets you attach the Core to other body parts, such as leg or chest. This is very useful, as having the Core on your wrist just doesn't work that well when you're playing the guitar (at least for me).?
All in all, the extra features on the Core are nice and do provide extra value. The box the Core comes in is richer than what you'd get with most smartwatches.
Battery life on the Core is pretty good: It'll last a couple of days, perhaps even a week of regular use. One or two longer buzzy sessions will bring this down to maybe a day or two.?
Still not for everyone
With the Core, Soundbrenner has attempted to expand beyond the pro musician's playground and become attractive to a much wider audience. It's succeeded, to a degree.?
The thing is, if you have no need for a metronome, the Soundbrenner Core isn't for you, even with all the additional things it can do. If you are a musician and can get used to the Core way of doing things, it's probably the best wearable you can get.?
But what about those in the middle, like me? The Core isn't something I need every day, but I do use it occasionally, and the additional features make it a nice addition to my arsenal of wearables. The fair price and the rich box of extras makes it a perfect gift for your musician friend.?