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Akai Rhythm Wolf and Tom Cat review

So I got an Akai Rhythm Wolf and Tom Cat new for $100 each. Not bad, considering that they are normally $200 each. But, in truth, for $200, I would have been disappointed in both of them. For $100, they are pretty good.

Rhythm Wolf

Since I already have an old Korg ER-1 with a nice kick and high hat, but lousy snare (and only two outs to boot), I first got the Rhythm Wolf to have a nice snare without having to use my Juno-Di (my mega-big-chord box).

The snare, by itself, sounds pretty trashy. The white noise is more like chiptune pink noise, giving the snare a 12-bit industrial music drum feel to it. However, it sits pretty well in a mix; adding some Valhalla Vintage Verb gives it a really nice, usable sound.

The sequencer is not that great: There is no song mode and only 16 32-note patterns (albeit with 16 corresponding 32-note “fill” patterns); to make the patterns four bars long like the ER-1’s patterns, I had to make them have only 1/8 note resolution.

Even worse, its MIDI sync is broken: It thinks the “start” button on my Roland R8 means “continue”, and its own start/stop button doesn’t work when using external sync. To work around this bug, I power cycle the Rhythm Wolf before starting a song, then have to hit shift+A/B twice to make the first pattern be in 32-note mode (the other way I could do it is to set sync to internal, stop the patterns, reset the sync to external, and then have the R8 start the song). This is something AKAI should have fixed with a firmware upgrade (they have been aware of the issue for a while), but considering they’re letting retailers dump these for $100, it’s very unlikely AKAI will ever give these any more real support.

The manual is thin and doesn’t describe basic stuff like how to play the drum sounds over MIDI (channel 10; kick is low C on my Juno-Di, snare is D, etc.).

I don’t care for its kick; the rimshot/percussion sounds nice, either as an analog woodblock sound or as a brief noise burst; the hi-hats sound like analog hi-hats — there’s a reason why, on the 909, Roland made the hi-hats digital while keeping other sounds analog — but I slightly prefer their sound over the hi-hats on my old TR606.

I haven’t had a chance to really play with the bass synth yet. It has tuning issues, but Akai at least has made a Windows program that can tune it; I will have to install and use it before giving the bass synth a spin.

Tom Cat

I prefer the Kick and Snare drums the Tom Cat has compared to the Rhythm Wolf. The kick can have a definite “thump” which I didn’t get with the Wolf’s kick. The snare is fairly clean sounding, more akin to Roland’s classic analog snare drums. With the high pass filter, I can give it a nice snap without it having the trashy feel to it that the Wolf’s snare has.

I have not been able to get a clap sound out of this that I care for. The hats have less sizzle and sound darker than the Wolf’s hi-hats — I perfer the Wolf here. The “Disco Tom” is used like the bass synth on the Wolf, and I haven’t gotten a sound from this I care for yet.


For $100 each, they are not a bad deal. The Rhythm Wolf has a usable (if not great) snare, a nice percussion sound, and usable (but, of course, analog sounding) hi hats; the Tom Cat has a nice kick and snare, and a couple other percussion sounds which may be usable in some contexts.

For the usual price of $200 each, I would pass. At $100 each, if one already has other ways of getting drum sounds, they make for nice additions to a drum sound palette.