Dubreq Stylophone and Stylophone Beatbox

Fun, portable synths that you can take anywhere
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Invented in 1968 by the English engineer Brian Jarvis, the Dubreq (dubreq.com) Stylophone is a portable electronic instrument that resembles an old transistor radio with just over an octave of metal pads. Using the attached stylus, you touch individual pads to trigger notes, hence the instrument’s name. What you get is a raw electronic tone that has appealed to musicians for decades. Notable recordings featuring the Stylophone include David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the White Stripes “Icky Thump,” and Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator,” among many other tracks. Although used by pros for decades, the instrument has been equally popular with non-musicians because it is so easy—and fun—to use. And anyone can play it.

Although Dubreq went out of business in the early ’80s, Jarvis’s son, Ben, brought it back to life as Dubreq Ltd. in 2003 with a series of new products. This year, the company is offering a new, highly affordable model ($34.95) through its U.S. distributor eMedia (emediamusic.com). The new Stylophone offers three basic timbres and the ability to switch on a vibrato effect. It also includes a master tuning control and a 3.5mm audio output/headphone jack in addition to its built-in speaker, so you can run it into an amp, mixer, or audio interface. An especially welcome feature is a 3.5mm audio input, so you can run your favorite tracks from a mobile device through the Stylophone and play along. (A cable with mini plugs is included.) Three AA batteries power the instrument.

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For those of looking for beats and bass to go with your Stylophone, Dubreq and eMedia offer the Stylphone Beatbox ($49.95), a drum machine/bass synth. Its 13 metal pads are in a circular configuration, and like the standard version, you trigger sounds using the attached stylus. Three sound sets are included—drums, a synth bass, and a human-vocal beat box. Better still, you can create loops using all three sound sets, though the input is un-quantized. You can change the speed of your loop in real time, as well as run audio into the mini-jack input for jamming. A built-in speaker and 3.5mm audio output are also included.

Although it can be a little challenging at first to build loops that are perfectly in time with the Stylophone Beatbox, it just takes a bit of practice. But as your rhythm section, it’s the perfect complement to the standard Stylophone, as well as a blast to use on its own.