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Review: Arturia BeatStep Pro

April 15, 2016

Fig. 1. Even though programmable MIDI control makes up a fraction of the BeatStep Pro’s appeal, Arturia’s MIDI Control Center software facilitates thorough MIDI programmability.
IF you judge books by their covers, you may not get the best read on the BeatStep Pro at first. Seeing its price and layout, you may not fully grasp the potential of this clever, compact unit. Yes, it’s a fully assignable MIDI controller with transport controls with comprehensive MIDI Control Center software to configure and save your setups, but that’s only a fraction of what’s on deck (see Figure 1). The main appeal of BeatStep Pro comes from its three sequencer modules—one for drums, two for melodic parts—that can control pretty much anything, past or present.

THE THIN WHITE DUKE

First off, I have to comment on the exceptional build quality and design of the BeatStep Pro. It packs utility into every square inch of its surface, yet sections off its controls in a clear, understandable manner. The top is covered with a sturdy white plastic faceplate while the metal bottom plate has five rubber feet for tabletop grip. This keeps the unit very flat in height and reliably strong in construction while it only weighs about three pounds.

Fig. 2. Plenty of CV/gate, MIDI and Clock sync connections mean the BeatStep Pro can wrangle together just about any music gear into a cohesive performance troupe.
The back panel absolutely abounds with 3.5mm minijack connections for a variety of gear types (see Figure 2). There are two sets of analog connections for Pitch (CV), Velocity and Gate, which are color-coded green and yellow to match the two melodic sequencers on the front panel. Next there are eight Drum Gate outputs for triggering drum sounds from analog modules from the first eight drum pads of the BeatStep Pro’s Drum sequencer. You also get Clock I/O and MIDI I/O connections, with three included minijack-to-5-pin DIN breakout cables. The MIDI connections are obvious: You can set the three sequencers to any MIDI channel for sequencing outboard MIDI gear, either from the MIDI I/O or to virtual instruments within a DAW using the micro USB port (cable included). You can even sequence iOS apps over MIDI. The Clock I/O ports are for syncing up pre-MIDI gear such as the old DIN Sync-based Korg drum machines, Roland TB-303, and others.

So you can see how the Beat-Step Pro can act as your command center for electronic music composition and live performance, wrangling all kinds of gear together into one electric orchestra. You can use the three sequencers for any MIDI or CV/gate-compatible modules or software, including up to eight drum modules (if using just one sound per module) while also syncing up other MIDI and DIN Sync units that have their own sequencers.

SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS

The BeatStep Pro has internal memory for 16 Projects. For each Project, each of the three sequencers has 16 pattern memories, and you can set each pattern to have 16, 32, 48, or 64 steps, as well as chain up to 16 patterns together, so you can create long-playing sequences.

You can input notes either in step-sequencer style on the 16 multicolored step buttons, or record them in real time on the 16 velocity-and pressure-sensitive pads with input quantization. On Sequencers 1 and 2, the pads illuminate to represent a 13-note chromatic keyboard, going from C to C, with two more pads used to switch octaves up and down.

Creating and chaining patterns together is only the beginning of your creative possibilities. Once a sequence is running, you can transpose the notes using the pads, change the timing and the direction of the sequence playback using Shift plus the pads, and change pitch, velocity, and gate of the notes using the touch-sensitive rotary encoders. A Knobs button on each sequencer determines if the 16 encoders will change the note’s pitch, velocity (volume), or gate (duration). The 16 encoders correspond with the 16 steps of each section of the sequence, so you can spontaneously make many creative edits to the music while it’s running. (On the Drum sequencer, the knobs can “shift” the timing of drums forward or backward, rather than editing pitch.) With the capacitive encoders, you only need to touch them to see their current values on one of the displays, which is very helpful when you have the same set of knobs editing many sequence parameters, as well as functioning as MIDI controllers in Control mode.

In addition, there are several global controls on the left side of the BeatStep Pro for setting Swing, Randomness, and Probability percentage, which are also touch-sensitive endless encoders. Randomness changes the pitch, velocity, and gate for notes from 0 percent (no change) to 100 percent (completely random), and Probability determines how often the Randomness occurs. These three knobs affect all three sequencers unless you engage the Current Track buttons.

The Roller/Looper touch-strip works as a type of responsive Note Repeat feature for single pads when in Control mode, or for looping all three sequencers in sequencing mode. There are also mute buttons for each sequencer.

MANY STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Expansive sequencing and performance editing features make the BeatStep Pro a performer’s dream for anyone doing improvised or semi-improvised live sets. All the global and single-note-sequence editing features provide endless variation for your music at your fingertips.

If that weren’t enough, Arturia has proven to be keen on updating the unit with new features over firmware. All of these abilities on a hardware unit with no screen make it a necessity to dive into the manual to fully comprehend all the possibilities, but it’s well worth the time. This is no comic-book MIDI controller; it is a deep read with powerful sequencing abilities at its core. Best of all, to analog gear and hardware module fanatics, this story is nonfiction: The BeatStep Pro controls and syncs all of your analog and digital gear at once for a very reasonable price.

STRENGTHS

Three sequencers. CV/gate, DIN sync, and MIDI. MIDI control mode. Touch-sensitive encoders. Velocity-and pressure-sensitive pads feel firm. Excellent variety of sequence editing features.

LIMITATIONS

Breakout cables required (three included) for MIDI and DIN ports. Deep capabilities take a bit of time to learn and understand

$249 street
arturia.com

Markkus Rovito drums and DJs, and contributes frequently to DJ Tech Tools

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