A few weeks ago, I was spinning the bezel on my dive watch for no particular reason – as one does – and began contemplating the very notion of a tool watch. For the most part, they are, well, tools. They’re dedicated to a singular purpose. One of my favorite examples of a tool watch in that vein is the chronograph with a pulsometer scale. Effectively, its sole purpose is to measure a heart rate. Sure, you can use the basic chronograph function whenever you like but, in theory, the watch is pretty much dedicated to this one pursuit.
Most modern-day tool watches, in the mechanical sense, are basically homages to the tool watches of yore. We have smart devices now. That’s why I was so curious when I came across a device that just might exemplify what it means to be a tool watch in the year 2021.
The Soundbrenner Core is a smart device – I hesitate to call it a watch outright, but it tells the time and straps onto your wrist, so yeah. The device also has Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, and vibrates when you receive messages or calls. But those are all ancillary to the main function. It’s billed as a watch for musicians – a dedicated tool with a singular focus.
But what does that mean, a watch for musicians?
Well, simply put, this watch is a metronome – a digital version of the pendulum that sat atop your grandmother’s upright piano. It keeps time by pulsing against your wrist, and it lights up as you play.
I was admittedly skeptical of its capability at first, but simultaneously intrigued, so I decided I’d put this thing through its paces and see if it does what it says it can do.
I play multiple instruments (piano, guitar, ukulele, bass, and drums, among others), but I do not have all of those instruments available to me at this time – if I put a drum kit in my one-bedroom apartment, I think my landlord would evict me.
So, I came up with a plan to record a song with the instruments I do have at my disposal using the Soundbrenner as my metronome. Each instrument would be recorded separately, in different locations, without listening back to the other instruments for reference. Only the vibrations of the watch there to guide me. It would be an original song and one I had never previously recorded before.
Once I had each track recorded (on guitar, piano, and ukulele), I would compile all of the tracks using recording software and create a complete composition. Best case scenario, the metronome would function as advertised, and all the instruments would be in sync. Worst case scenario, I’d just call it avant-garde.
First things first, the instruments needed to be in tune. For that, the watch comes equipped – in the box – with a pretty high-powered magnet (keep that away from your watches!) which can be used to attach the Soundbrenner to the instrument of your choice, though likely a guitar or something with strings.
The watch comes with extra straps as well. There’s a leather strap and two rubber straps. Why two you ask? Well, one is longer so that it can be fitted to your body or leg. Shades of 1940s pilot’s watches aside, I can see this being super useful for a drummer. The body-strap aspect, I’m not quite sure about.
To use the watch, you engage a button on the side of the case. Then, you cycle through to the home screen (which features the time and basic notifications) and to the metronome screen, which allows you to change tempo as you see fit.
The watch also has something of a rotating bezel, which is both functional and familiar. When on the metronome screen, you use this bezel to scroll over all of the possible functions. You can control the beats per minute, the time signature, as well as the cadence of the beats. You can decide to have a more pronounced upbeat, or downbeat, or play around until you find something you like. In order to activate the metronome and get the watch pulsating, you tap the screen with two fingers.
So for my experiment, I kept things standard in 4/4 time, at 120 bpm with a standard beat signature where every beat is equal. Let’s see how it turned out.
Recording #1: Guitar
With the Soundbrenner on my wrist (and definitely not on my leg) I activated the metronome by tapping the screen. The watch not only pulsed against my wrists but lit up in a blue color on the outer edges. We were underway.
I began strumming my chord progression and, honestly, it wasn’t as simple as you might think. In theory, a pulsing metronome vibrating a beat into your body should make for a far easier – and on-the-beat – playing experience. Instead, it required a bit of trial and error. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and here are the results:
With one instrument in the books, it was time to pull out the “mini guitar.”
Recording #2: Ukulele
Now that I had a feel for the device, the uke was easier to get into right away. I began the accompanying strumming pattern and quickly picked up the rhythm (remember, I couldn’t hear the guitar track while I was doing this).
I played a few variations of the melody to give myself options in the final recording.
Recording #3: Piano
The piano part required me to venture outside the confines of my apartment – to a music shop a block away from where I live.
I found a piano inside the shop and sat down, placing my phone beside me to record. Once the recording began, I tapped the watch, starting the metronome, and began banging away at the keys.
While I had a blast getting out of the house and tickling the ivories (an activity I sorely missed), I couldn’t help but wonder how all of this would come together.
So, all of the sounds were in the can, and it was time to import them into the computer and piece it all together. Since all of the instruments were played separately without listening back to any single one while recording another, it took some time to get everything together. I probably could have recorded a reference sound, like a clap before every recording – but I suppose I prefer to make things difficult for myself.
Ultimately, you can be the judge of how this minor opus turned out. I don’t know if the Soundbrenner Core will become a part of my daily music-making regiment, but it sure was fun to use for a while and felt very much like a tool. You can find the finished composition below.
The Soundbrenner Core Steel: case, black stainless steel, crystal, scratch-resistant tempered glass, 45.5mm in diameter x 13mm thick. Stainless steel rotating bezel wheel, with a stainless steel strap rig for removable case. Bluetooth connectivity, compatible with iOS or Android. 22mm lug width, with polycarbonate and leather strap options. Price, $ 229, Core and $ 329, Core Steel, (pictured). For more, click here.
Photos: Kasia Milton