Hardware DAW or recorder like OP-1 Tape Mode? (or, Any other DAWs for easily distracted people)

Is there a device out there that offers a workflow like tape mode but has better midi and recording I/O? Tape mode is the only DAW I like working with, it’s simple, it’s linear, it’s easy to copy and paste stuff, it’s just annoying to record external gear into. I have severe ADHD and get easily distracted in Ableton, so I only use it for post-production when I must.

I can relate and empathize, but my honest advice would be not to try to look for a replacement for the tape mode recording style of the OP-1. I think it is pretty unique at this point in time unless you want to look backward at older gear which would just involve more limitations and frustrations. I am not saying the OP-1 workflow is the best or unreplicable (lots of cool gear out there), but I don’t think anything does the OP-1 workflow better than the OP-1.

You might want to consider getting something that complements the OP-1 rather than tries to replace it based on the type of music you are making. I use a hardware looper with the OP-1/everything else because I can quickly sketch vocal/instrument ideas out.

The key with Ableton (speaking personally) is to create a very simple template (use clear labels) that focuses on your most commonly used tools. Like, “Vocal Track 1, Drum Track 2, Bass Track 3, Melody Track 4, OP-1 In 5”. Doesn’t matter if you tend to use external instruments, plugins, or Ableton instruments, but just pick one tool that you generally like for each track (e.g. 808 kit on drums) and save it to always start there when you open the template. Don’t go preset browsing or start playing with effects unless there is something specific you want that you already hear in your head. Use whichever view works best, but Arrangement view is definitely the more “tape-like” place to record. Rather than messing around with each take and tweaking MIDI notes, I suggest trying to record like a band and just hit record and keep doing takes/experimenting until you find something close to what you want.
Stick to few simple tracks in Arrangement view and focus on a groove instead of effects/knob tweaking. Treat it like tape and use the mouse to cut/join chunks of sound rather than fiddling with MIDI notes or worrying about being off by 1/32.

Once you get a structure down that you are happy then you can go in and make the micro-adjustments, swap out drum samples, duplicate and chop up tracks, etc. If you haven’t taken this approach before then I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how fluid Ableton can feel (rather than being an incredibly distracting black hole of possibilities).

When I get distracted and overcomplicate things I try to keep in mind that for hundred of years composers have been able to use the piano as a tool for composing and performing the rhythm, bassline, melody, and harmony for fascinating expressive, and very distinct music. No recording devices (other than a pen) and any other instruments had to be auditioned separately (sometimes with months of waiting to meet with capable musicians).

I am very thankful I live in a time when I can make a wall of glitched-out alien noises at 300BPM and I love all the different workflows and sound mangling tools available to me, no Luddism here, but I think that many musicians (including myself) forget that we can simplify our goals with our instruments/gear rather than trying to find the right gear to simplify things for us. Ableton can be just a piano and a tape recorder if you want it to be.

Wish I had the perfect option to suggest to you instead of Ableton advice, someone else here might have a better idea. There is always option B of duct taping a couple of Octatracks together and surrendering to chaos. Good luck in the search!


I don’t own this, but the 1010 Music Bluebox just got an update last month adding some more robustness to it’s recording features! It’s a digital mixer and recorder so I see it as basically covering the tape and mixer sections of the OP-1, albeit in stereo (for all 6 channels, or 12 mono), only two effects but they’re high quality (reverb and delay) and a juicy compressor and a 4 band EQ per channel.

It’s not the OP-1 and as the other person here said, the OP-1 isn’t really replaceable in that way, but if you’re just looking for the backend stuff this can do it. Im sure it’s not gonna be as fun on the UI front, but it seems like it works.

Then just pair it with a drum machine and some synths (po’s, volca’s, legit synths, anything) and you’ve got an OP-1 in a much larger and probably more expensive setup, but the audio quality will also be better and you’ll most likely be able to put even more polished sounding tracks together outside of your DAW.


I love my Electro Harmonix 95000. I use it just as a tape machine a lot of times. It’s interface is incredibly well thought out, and it’s just as sturdy as the op-1! A great complement to it.

1 Like

Thanks for your suggestions. I like the idea of making a template to go into Ableton with purpose. Maybe I’ll just record in my multitrack recorder then import the stems to a template and see how that works. No need to buy new gear, only to realize there is one other thing it doesn’t do later.

I have seen this in some Youtube videos, but never investigated. I’m also looking at an iOS app called “Multitrack DAW” (original name, I know). It seems to just be a super paired down DAW, quite similar to tape mode. I might consider the 1010 Bluebox after I use my current set up, I have a new rule about buying new gear which requires me to make an album with it before I replace it.

I like your “new rule” I have similar restraints I put on myself before buying new equipment. That being said I did pull the trigger on an 1010 Bluebox and it is an amazing tool.

1 Like

I like iZotope Spire on iOS. it might not be what you’re looking for because it doesn’t handle MIDI but it has very simple multitrack audio recording and mixing. You can export a mixdown or individual tracks.

A lot of good DAWS on iOS. BM3, Cubasis, Auria, NS2 etc etc

I don’t think you’ll find a simpler machine than the OP1 that has linear recording + easy cut and paste editing + midi + sequencers.

so that means working on simplifying the midi and audio routing of your external gear into the OP1. how do you have things set up now? what’s the difficult part you are not happy with?

like you, I use the OP1 as a tape recorder and use external gear for audio sources.

here’s my set up.

MIDI Set up.
1/usb audio out of OP1 into Kenton midi host.
2/kenton midi host into MOTU timepiece midi patchbay (or could also use a midi hub)
3/ MOTU timepiece midi patchbay to/from all my external samplers and synths

Audio Set up
1/all my external gear into a mixer.
2/ audio from from mixer into OP1 audio in
3/audio out from OP1 into mixer.

It’s very simple to use once that is set up.
1/ Select the midi channel on the OP1 for the external synth/sampler you want to use.
2/ Raise the fader on the mixer for that piece of external gear.
3/ hit record + start the sequence on the OP1.
You’re done. I find it no more complicated than using the internal sounds of the OP1.

The only thing tricky is having the mixer set up so you don’t generate an audio feedback loop with the OP1. But most mixers have the capability to deal with that. I take the easy route – just drop the fader of the OP1 when I go to record.


This new update might have made this more feasible!

Hey sorry to ask a silly question but how are you preventing the internal synth from triggering? I saw a video of somebody turning the attack up but that seemed less than ideal.

Trying to do the same thing. Perhaps a silent synth patch?

1 Like

ah like a silent sample? Maybe…


to stop the internal synth from sending a signal, select any sampled sound in the synth sampler and turn the gain down to infinity (INF).