Best Sequencers of 2020 – Complete Guide

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Not so long ago there was a time where computers weren’t used in music production on a regular basis,.

There has been a special type of synthesizers called workstations that allowed you to compose all the instruments inside of a single synth

And the main feature of those revolutionary workstations was a sequencer.

Our Top Picks for Sequencers

  • Sequencer & Arpeggiator
  • Hundreds of patterns
  • 237 sounds included
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  • Advanced sequencing mods
  • Up to 16 patterns
  • Intelligent Randomizer
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  • Sequencer & chord maker
  • 4 MIDI independent tracks
  • 16 Chord Memory slots
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Comparison of the Best Sequencers

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • 32-step sequencer and arpeggiator
  • Hundreds of sequencing patterns pre-programmed
  • 237 sounds and kick drum included
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  • Advanced sequencer with an attractive mods
  • Store up to 16 patterns per project
  • Handy and intelligent Randomizer
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  • 32-step sequencer and chord generator
  • 4 MIDI independent tracks
  • 16 Chord Memory slots with inversion mode
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  • Best Drum Sequencer
  • 4 track with up to 32 steps sequencer
  • Random and Infinity Mode with probability engine
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  • Best Sequencer for Mac
  • 19 modulation routings
  • 8 snapshots per preset
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  • Best Step Sequencer
  • 53 Western and Eastern scales included
  • Advanced Infinity and Random Mode
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  • Best Analog Sequencer
  • 8 probability sliders for various note resolutions
  • 4 note resolutions available per channel
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  • 32-step filter sequencer for audio files
  • 8 filters with its own output gate sequence
  • Real-time waveform display per band
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What is Sequencer in Music and What Does a Sequencer Do?

A sequencer is a software that can record and play back music captured in digital (MIDI) or analog format (CV/Gate). Besides capturing notes and defining the length and pitch, it also may provide your hardware and software devices with the information about other sound parameters and values such as volume control or filter frequency, for example.

As a matter of fact, the MIDI editor combined with the automation features found in many modern DAW software could be considered as next-gen sequencers. Probably the best example of a DAW interface matching the workflow of real sequencer layout can be found in FL Studio.

Sequencer Types

Apart from CV/Gate input sequencers found in hardware analog interfaces, there are several types of software sequencers out there:

MIDI Sequencer

MIDI sequencer doesn’t have any specific traits compared to the analog. But it uses the MIDI interface, a digital standard that a huge majority of hardware and software units can understand and communicate with.

It’s the most usual sequencer you would find these days. It’s that type of sequencer which became popular with digital synth workstations thanks to the quantization feature it has included. 

Simply put, the MIDI sequencer generates a note sequence by using the MIDI interface and commands. Such a sequence can be processed or sent further to any equipment that has MIDI support.

Step Sequencer

Step sequencers are often linked with the MIDI interface because they got mainstream popularity in about the same time. It can be both MIDI and analog. 

However, it's a more plain and basic version of the sequencer. It uses 16 or 32 steps and every step represents the same time-interval. By entering “step recording” mode, producers didn’t have to worry about timing issues, and therefore, it became a way to be more productive.

Eventually, it became a regular part of hardware and software drum machines, bass synths, and groove boxes.

Step Sequencer (Source)

Software Sequencers

All software sequencers rely on MIDI protocol and are the essential part of modern digital audio workstations, known as DAW. However, they can be organized in various formats, and depending on the specific DAW you can have a score, numerical, piano roll, or loop sequencer.

This way, all musicians can compose in a way that’s most familiar to their mindset, so a classically trained musician will use a Score Editor, a typically trained musician will rely on a piano roll, while DJ performers and electronic music lovers may go for numerical and loop sequencers.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Sequencers

Now, we’re going to check the best sequencers available at the moment:

PROS

  • 237 sounds and kick drum included
  • Stack up to 3 sample-based oscillators
  • 5 sequencers controlling different parameters
  • Polyphonic 32-step sequencer and arpeggiator
  • Hundreds of sequencing patterns pre-programmed

CONS

  • Randomize feature is missing
  • Doesn’t support 32-bit software

Features and Specifications

Consequence works based on the chords you provide and offer you advanced sequencing options. Hundreds of presets are categorized by the instrument type and they all rely on five segments that act as individual sequencers.

Modulation controls the instruments and filter behavior, Performance handles articulations, octave register and rhythm, Gate triggers notes, and their velocities while the Chord calls up to 16 chord snapshots and tells what notes to play.

All segments are controlled by the Global sequencer which lets you pick quantization and choice between internal and external clock synchronization.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Unlike other sequencers, Consequence comes with the 800 MB of samples and 222 presets derived directly from some of the most famous analog synths. You can combine up to 3 different samples and apply additional saturation or analog drift by using Age and Crush controls.

Provided presets are a wonderful addition to this plugin and can be very inspiring for any kind of sequencing you may need. And we have to emphasize the importance of having basic presets as well, a feature that many companies somehow forget but are actually essential for most situations you’ll encounter.

Runner-up:
Sugar Bytes Thesys 

PROS

  • Handy and intelligent Randomizer
  • Store up to 16 patterns per project
  • Assign up to 8 MIDI CC modulations at once
  • Interface split into 5 step-independent displays
  • Advanced sequencer with attractive mods and interface

CONS

  • Singletrack sequencer
  • May take some time to understand the interface

Features and Specifications

Thesys is an advanced sequencer that allows you to sequence or trigger live up to sixteen patterns per project.

The user interface is split into five displays controlling Pitch, Velocity, Gate Time, Performance, and Modulation. While it may be obvious what you would control with Pitch and Velocity panels, Gate time is used to define a note length.

Performance holds 5 sequencers in one panel allowing you to control Octave, Pitch Bend, Chord, Note Role, and Sequence Randomization while the Modulation panel allows you to assign up to eight different MIDI CCs with the independent controls.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We like how assigning a scale allows you to instantly paint a sequence without hitting any key that’s off-scale. Also, Sequence Randomization from the performance panel can provide you with several organic elements and make your sequences less sterile. This may come really handy for drum sequences.

There is a unique Performance mode for MIDI keyboards that splits the key range into three zones dedicated to pattern selection, action selection, and pitch transposing. This way you can trigger up to 16 patterns on the fly or apply 8 action sections such as half-speed, retrigger, or mute.

Best for the Money:
Kirnu Interactive Cream

PROS

  • 4 MIDI independent tracks
  • Can be used live and offline
  • Up to 12 patterns per track
  • 32-step sequencer and chord generator
  • 16 Chord Memory slots with inversion mode

CONS

  • No stand-alone version
  • Too much tab-driven navigation

Features and Specifications

The cream is a sequencer and a chord generator plugin. Chords can be stored into 16 slots and assigned to be played by pressing a single note.

Speaking of sequencer part called pattern generator, it provides you with the 4 independent MIDI tracks that can store up to 12 patterns each. All patterns can be up to 32 steps long and every pattern has 9 tabs of data control assigned to various controls such as Chord Memory, Length, Gate, Accent, Transpose, and every tab can have its own duration regardless of other tab settings.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We like what Kirnu did at this price. It’s not just that it’s fully capable of acting like a proper sequencer, it also provides you with four-track support so you may assign it to completely different hardware or software using dedicated MIDI channels which is a very impressive feature, especially for live performances. You will have enough power to organize complete performance from a single Cream preset.

The cream will work nicely for both melodic and rhythmic patterns and thanks to those nine tabs, you will have enough creativity in your hands for every possibility, probably.

Best Sequencer for Mac:
Sinevibes Sequential

PROS

  • 14 effects processors
  • 8 snapshots per preset
  • 32-step complex sequencer
  • 5 audio-controlled generators
  • Supports Retina screen resolution

CONS

  • Panning option is missing
  • Factory presets would be welcomed a lot

Features and Specifications

Sequential is an advanced audio sequencer that shapes your input signal into step-based sequences by applying some of the fourteen effects and five audio-controlled generators. Let’s name a few: HP and LP filters, phaser, drive, ring modulator, sine and pulse oscillator, noise, flanger, chorus, granulator, and a couple more.

Every parameter has its grid 32-step grid with a dedicated slider for applied effect. There is also a master effect slider along with dry and wet balance and you can also assign duration, timing, and the type of the matrix.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is a very complex sequencer capable of creating some advanced melodic and rhythmic patterns. However, we’re more impressed with how minimalistic the user interface is and it still has everything necessary placed within the single panel.

Using this type of plugin can be a very creative process that can change any typical sound into something more groovy. If you have trouble creating a trademark sound or a hook for your song, this plugin can maybe help you out.

If you’re curious how it may sound like, press the chaos button and see how randomizing all parameters go - maybe you will get lucky!

Best Drum Sequencer:
Audiomodern Playbeat 2

PROS

  • Support iOS hardware
  • Load your own samples
  • Creative Groove Randomizer
  • 4 track with up to 32 steps sequencer
  • Random and Infinity Mode with probability engine

CONS

  • Presets could be much better
  • 4 tracks may be considered as a limitation

Features and Specifications

The main feature of Playbeat 2 is the dice. The big top dice randomizes all the parameters at once based on the minimum and maximum values you have provided for every parameter, while smaller dice will randomize only those specific parameters - Steps, Density, Pitch, Volume, or Pan. Every parameter is organized on a stepped basis.

The user interface is very modern with a beautiful two-color scheme. It’s built-in a minimalistic way and provides you with the four sequencing tracks that support sample importing with a simple drag and drop option.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This plugin will work best with the rhythm instruments. Because of very advanced random procedures, it will be an endless inspiration for your creative workflow, especially with that Infinite Mode that will keep the grooves cycling through the variations. Thanks to the sample import you can listen to your work within the same software.

Also, it’s one of the rare VSTs that can be installed on iOS and works completely the same. This way you can use your iPad or even iPhone for your live performance and luckily, all controls available are organized to be touch-control friendly.

Best Analog Sequencer:
Softube Vermona Random Rhythm

PROS

  • Official emulation of Vermona hardware
  • 4 note resolutions available per channel
  • Can be integrated into Softube Modular plugin
  • 8 probability sliders for various note resolutions
  • Random-based dual-channel sequencer software

CONS

  • Only two tracks available
  • Require Softube Modular to work

Features and Specifications

Vermona Random Rhythm is an add-on for the Softube Modular plugin an official emulation of the exact same hardware unit. It was designed as a dual-channel sequencer with a minimalistic analog user interface.

The core feature of this unit is the randomization. However, this effect can be tamed by using 4 sliders that increase the appearance probability of specific note-values up to 100% so you may doze the chances for quarters, eights, sixteens, and triplets.

Those sliders are available per channel along with a swing knob and dice button.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s amazing how much creativity you can achieve with such a basic panel. The emphasis is to have fun while getting the results and not being strict and precise regarding your patterns. However, if you get something you love, you can store those settings into a preset.

While it works in 4/4 beat resolution by default Vermona also included a 3/4 time signature option which may lead to some very interesting rhythmic results if played over a regular 4/4 dance beat. Creating polyrhythms is also possible thanks to the triplet resolution and dedicated swing knob.

Best Step Sequencer:
Audiomodern Riffer Generator

PROS

  • Quick-Export or edit MIDI pattern
  • Advanced Infinity and Random Mode
  • 53 Western and Eastern scales included
  • Excellent tool for creating new melodies
  • Modern-looking step-sequencing generator

CONS

  • Doesn’t work in stand-alone mode
  • May not be so useful for rhythm sequencing

Features and Specifications

Riffer is a step-sequencing generator that really excels in creating new melodies and it will work flawlessly with any device that supports the MIDI interface.

There are more than fifty scales at your disposal including both Western and Eastern scales. An option to build your scales is also included.

You can define the number of steps, note duration, and velocity, root note, tie or sustain specific notes, shuffle amount, type of motion in a beautiful graphical user interface. And it’s also good to know that the undo button is present on the front panel.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We love how Random Riffs’ feature works in practice. It's an awesome brainstorming tool, especially combined with non-Western scales.

And once you turn the Infinity Mode on it becomes an awesome jamming tool as it will keep changing the notes and provide you with the different backing track infinitely. And just to make things even more fun, there is an option to apply that in reverse.

Everything about Riffer looks simple and feels just a click away. It really excels in real-time editing thanks to pre-defined octave shift and transpose buttons located beneath the main part of the user interface.

Editor’s Pick:
Sinevibes Array

PROS

  • 8 snapshots within each preset
  • Real-time waveform display per band
  • 8 filters with its output gate sequence
  • 32-step filter sequencer for audio files
  • Simplified and beautiful graphical interface

CONS

  • Compatible with MacOS only
  • Randomize per filter band not available

Features and Specifications

This gate sequencer is made from eight 24db/octave filters organized in a very graphical user interface. Every parameter is defined by the color and waveforms of the input track are displayed in real-time based on the frequency spectrum that has been assigned to the specific filter.

You can use up to 32 steps and define cutoff frequency and resonance amount, along with sequence length, note division, and swing parameter.

On top of that, there are eight snapshots for every preset that allow you real-time switching and automation.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This may not be a typical sequencer as it doesn’t work with MIDI notes. But, the idea is quite similar - it filters the input track into eight bands and provides you with the option to individually pass or mute them in a rhythmical fashion, simulating the gate sequencer behavior.

It can be used on both rhythmic and melodic tracks regardless if it’s monophonic or polyphonic. It’s a pretty creative tool that can help you make something completely new out of the regular audio track. We are pretty sure that applying such an effect on vocals can create very unique and interesting rhythmic patterns.

Pros and Cons of Sequencer Plugins

Let’s review the most important traits and flaws of sequencers:

Pros

The following are some pros of this kind of sequencer plugins:

Time-Saver

In most situations, you can record tracks much faster and edit it within a couple of clicks. Don’t like the drum fill? Just rewrite the groove pattern and you’re good to go.

Brainstorming

Sometimes, you need to hear an idea before going further with composing. Laying out ideas in sequencer helps you to hear what you have in mind and it may also be an easy way to involve other members.

Creativity

It allows you to experiment and work on your ideas. Also, factory presets can be a really creative tool that will inspire you in a way you wouldn’t even think of.

Cons

However, it comes with some drawbacks, including:

Editing

Sometimes, it can be so hard to program a sequence so that it matches real-time performance that it may be easier to record it audio than write it down in sequencer. This especially goes if you need to input any kind of realistic expression parameters.

Lack of Personal Signature

Using a sequencer instead of performing in real-time may narrow down your signature traits regarding your expression. This could probably be most audible in themes and solo parts, so we would recommend you to record real audio whenever it’s possible.

Comparison Overview

Sequencer is often mixed up with so many different types of equipment, so let’s try and explain the main difference between those terms:

Sequencer vs. Arpeggiator

Arpeggiators could be considered as basic sequencers. They both don’t generate a sound on their own. You can perform with an arpeggiator in real-time with the patterns provided, some may even allow you to perform polyphonic note input or to create your own patterns, but they aren’t capable of step-recording or recording more complex tracks.

Arpeggiators are more oriented to real-time playing, an addition to any patch you’re performing with, while sequencing is something you would need to prepare in advance.

Sequencer vs. DAW

Most modern DAWs have integrated some sort of sequencing into their interface. And they tend to emphasize their sequencing capabilities compared to the hardware sequencers as a key feature. However, only a few flagship DAWs really excel in this area, so having a software sequencer is still a really handy add-on. 

Sequencer vs. Synthesizer

Not all analog synthesizers have a sequencing mode. Some synthesizers don’t even have an arpeggiator. As a matter of fact, integrating sequencers in the synthesizers came with the rise of digital workstations in the ‘80s. The sequencer doesn’t generate sound, it just provides you with the note information that can be performed later at any sound generator - drum machine, synthesizer, sampler.

Resampling Beats vs. Sequencer

Resampling works with the sound, loops, or one-shot samples to be more precise. You can slice them, move around, organize in any way you prefer and it may resemble what sequencing looks like.

However, besides the fact that sequencer doesn’t generate the sound on its own, the sequencer can do a lot more - it can also trigger various MIDI parameters that control filter cutoff frequency or resonance, or maybe play with the release envelope or automatize volume control to create a fade-in or fade-out.

How to Use a Sequencer

For this purpose, we’re going to analyze how a multitrack 16-step sequencer works.

  1. There are 16 buttons so that each represents a single step. 16 steps by default form 1 bar of music, so basically you will have a sequence with the 16th notes with steps 1, 5,9, and 13 representing the quarter note or also called the beats. 

  2. You can create a sequence offline, but the fastest and best results are achieved if you press play and edit the pattern while it’s looping.

  3. Select a track that you want to edit and simply press those steps where you want to hear the sound. Once you’re satisfied with that element result, select another track and repeat the process.

  4. You can apply the same process if you want to add some envelope or filter modulation to any specific sequencer track, too.

  5. The most usual rhythm is made from kick and hi-hat on the fours (1, 5, 9 and 11) while snare hitting half-time (5 and 11)

  6. It’s always better to lay down the basic hi-hat, kick and snare before experimenting.

Also, layering handclaps goes pretty well with the snare sound. Rimshots can be a nice substitute for additional percussion sound.

The video below shows you the hardware sequencer, but nevertheless the principles remain the same:

Conclusion

Sequencing became such an important part of music production these days that having a dedicated one may not be mandatory as it has already been integrated within software somehow. But, if your favorite VST instrument doesn’t have such an option sequencer will bring a second wind to it.

People Also Ask

Sequencers are used everywhere in modern music. But even though, there are so many terms used everyday that remain undefined. 

If you’re not so sure what quantization and swing stand for and what’s the correlation between Drum Machine, MIDI interface, Synth and Sequencer, stay with us to find out more.

What is a Quantization?

Quantization is a process that allows you to play sequences in real-time without worrying about being precise. If you perform slightly off-beat the notes will be moved to the nearest defined grid. It can be very useful for laying down the drum or bass line basics.

What is a Swing?

If you thought about swing music, you were right - it’s exactly what it does to your sequence. The opposite of playing in a swing is playing straight. Applying a swing parameter allows you to shift from the grid which isn’t a welcomed feature if you’re about to compose EDM or hip-hop music. 

What Does a Sequencer Do on a Synth?

The sequencer allows you to assign a specific melodic or rhythm pattern that will be performed automatically based on the notes given within the sequencer mode while using the sound and the features available on a synth. Usually, it can be recorded by performing in real-time or in step mode. 

Is a Drum Machine a Sequencer?

It could be said so. Almost every significant drum machine had some sort of sequencer installed. However, a drum machine is much more than just a sequencer. It can be either a sampler or analog or digital synth focused on reproducing various drum sounds with optional effect generators included.

Which Came First, MIDI or Sequencers?

MIDI interface was invented back in the ‘80s with the rise of the personal computers while sequencers have been used in various formats since the 1950s. 

Probably the most standardized sequencer besides MIDI sequencer was using CV/Gate with up to eight-channel polyphony. However, MIDI replaced it and it’s still being used worldwide.