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Arpeggiators: Every Producer Needs One – Which Will You Choose?

Photograph of the blog post author, Alex Erker

Alex Erker

16.7.2020

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Arpeggiators are widely used in electronic music and can easily add flavor to any simple composition. They are frequently used to add energy to chords whose notes would otherwise be played together as one. Most MIDI arpeggiators can take a single note, or a simple chord progression and turn it into a moving, rhythmically-complex melody. Electronic artists such as Chrome Sparks and deadmau5 both use arpeggiators as tools to elevate their tracks to complex levels that in some cases could not be played by hand. So, let’s take a look at what an arpeggiator is and then compare some of the best MIDI arpeggiators around!

What Is An Arpeggiator?

arpeggiator

Arpeggiators are extremely powerful musical tools that can transform any simple note or chord into a rhythmically complex, tonally dynamic musical sequence called an arpeggio. Every arpeggiator has different features, but most basic arpeggiators give the user control over the clock rate, note divisions, and direction of play (up, down, up/down, and random as pictured below). While synth arpeggiators were first introduced in hardware synthesisers like the Roland JP-4, software arpeggiators like BlueARP and Cthulhu have also been developed to control devices via MIDI data using your DAW. Whether based in hardware or software, these powerful programs/circuits enable users to play arpeggios automatically without any keyboard-playing skills or finger dexterity. In the following paragraphs, we will give you some insight into the most popular arpeggiators out there right now.

Our List Of The Best MIDI Arpeggiators

SimpArp by WOK

SimpArp by WOK

Price: FREE (click to download)

Compatible operating systems: Windows

The SimpArp by Wok is one of the simplest arpeggiators out there. With absolutely zero menu-diving required, it might be the best arpeggiator for learning just what an arpeggiator can do. The downside is that it is only compatible with Windows and it appears the developer is no longer offering support. 

So, maybe it isn’t the best option, but if you want to explore further on a whim, Wok has more downloads available. You will just need to set up an account. If that’s not what you were hoping to hear, read on!

Sweet MIDI Arpeggiator by Roni Music

sweet MIDI arpeggiator

Price: FREE (click to download)

Compatible operating systems: Windows

The Sweet MIDI Arpeggiator by Roni Music offers all the basic operations of an arpeggiator, multiplied by four. Using this multi-channel arpeggiator allows you to control four different devices by routing MIDI data to individual sources within your software. 

The best part about this arpeggiator is the graphical interface. It is nothing fancy, but everything you need to start making arpeggios is right there in front of you. There is little to no menu-diving, for those who desire simplicity.

Arpeggiator by Ableton Live

ableton live arpeggiator

Price: Included with Ableton Live Lite (click to download)

Compatible operating systems: Windows and Mac

Ableton’s built-in arpeggiator is not to be overlooked. While it may appear simple, it has all of the features that most basic standalone arpeggiator plugins have in addition to offset and groove. These two features both help to add variety and swing to your arpeggios. So, if you use Ableton and don’t feel like bringing in external VSTs or Audio Units, this is your best option.

Even if you decide not to purchase Ableton’s full Suite, or Standard, you can use the arpeggiator with Ableton Live Lite, which is free but has more limitations. Just be aware of what you’re getting with Ableton Live Lite. Check out this video if you want to see the Ableton Live Arpeggiator in action.

Thesys by Sugar Bytes

Thesys by Sugar Bytes arpeggiator

Price: 99.00 USD (click to purchase)

Compatible operating systems: Windows, Mac, iOS (iPad)

Other versions: Thesys for iPad

Thesys is much more complex than its peers. It is a feature-packed MIDI sequencer that makes it very easy to build your own arpeggio patterns from scratch, or you can choose from a list of presets and test your favourites. It allows you to use the onboard synthesiser to test patterns, or you can route MIDI data to another software or hardware synth to achieve different sonic goals.

One of the best and most notable features of Thesys is the visual representation of each arpeggio parameter. You can click the visualiser and its controls to change everything from note pitch, velocity, gate time, performance parameters, and modulation. You can even copy, paste, and nudge patterns if you don’t want to draw everything out every single time. Another intriguing option is to record your arpeggios live from a MIDI keyboard. If you’re using Thesys in a live setting, you can map MIDI parameters from your controller to trigger different options such as transposing, mutating, mangling, and other creative features without touching your software. Check out this video to see it in action!

Cream Arpeggiator by Kirnu Interactive

Cream arpeggiator

Price: 35.00 EUR (click to purchase)

Compatible operating systems: Windows, Mac, iOS (iPad)

Other versions: Cream Mobile (for iPad)

Like Thesys, the Cream Arpeggiator is a powerhouse, but a much more affordable powerhouse. Including all the features of basic arpeggiators, Cream boasts features like chord memory, independent tracks, a visual pattern sequencer, pattern memory, and presets that you can tweak and save as your own. You can route MIDI in and out of the plugin to four different tracks at once, and you can even program the plugin to receive MIDI data if you want to control the software using knobs or sliders on an external device. 

While it is tough to choose between the features of Thesys vs. Cream, it is worth noting that Cream is a little easier to look at and read. Thesys’ interface is very obscure and the plugins’ sections blend together, while the Cream arpeggiator’s sections are a little easier to see and navigate. To go much deeper into Cream’s features, check out the manual here.

Cthulhu by Xfer Records

Cthulhu arpeggiator

Price: 39.00 USD (click to purchase)

Compatible operating systems: Mac and Windows

Created by the legendary Steve Duda, Cthulhu is one of the most well-known software arpeggiators on the market. Electronic music producers swear by it for its ability to open the doors of creativity in an instant. Part chord progression generator and part pattern-based arpeggiator, this beast allows you to customise your arpeggios step by step like few other plugins can. You can even mute unwanted steps. In addition to creating custom arpeggio patterns, Cthulhu allows users to string together these patterns to make longer, more complex sequences.

For example, if your four-bar rising arpeggio is sounding dull and repetitive, the pattern-tie feature helps you break out of the monotony for a moment. You can tie a rising arpeggio to a falling arpeggio to a random arpeggio and back to the beginning. Whether you desire a simple or a complex pattern, Cthulhu offers tons of options to experiment and create some amazing music. Still not convinced? Xfer Records offers a demo version for users looking to take it for a test ride. Follow this link to watch Steve Duda demonstrate the power of Cthulhu in action.

BlueARP by Oleg Mikheev aka Gray Wolf

blueARP

Price: FREE (click to download)

Compatible operating systems: Windows and Mac

The BlueARP is rising quickly in popularity and getting a lot of attention in the online music production community. It is not only free, but it is packed with powerful features that could make Cthulhu users reconsider their arpeggiator of choice. Like Cthulhu, the BlueARP allows users to tie patterns together and create longer, more complex sequences. It is another feature that helps break from the monotony of arpeggios whose patterns would otherwise repeat indefinitely.

This arpeggiator operates by sending MIDI data to other software synthesisers or external synthesisers connected to your computer via MIDI or USB connection. It does not generate any sound, so you must route MIDI to another hardware or software synthesiser in order to hear your arpeggios. According to the creator, Oleg Mikheev, whose coder name is Gray Wolf, this arpeggiator plugin was designed specifically for electronic music genres like house and trance. He also encourages users to experiment with other uses including triggering drum sounds. You can watch Gray Wolf demonstrate the power of the plugin in this video

One of the biggest positive differentiators for this plugin is the ability to customise the look and colour scheme (or skin, as it is sometimes called). You can edit the skin to fit your specific tastes and change it whenever you want. So when you’re coming down to the wire on which arpeggiator to select for your setup, the ability to customise the look of the program you will be using all the time is a game changer.

Making A Final Decision

Now that you have looked through your different options, selecting the best MIDI arpeggiator to add to your setup should be a breeze. Whether you are just starting out producing music, getting more into arpeggiators, or you are a seasoned professional poking around for better options, this list should help lead the way.

As with most musical software and equipment, the decisions you make to integrate any one of these options into your setup will depend on personal tastes, existing gear, desired features, and budget. Happy exploring!

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