Portable USB MIDI
controllers for nearly
SOMEONE ONCE said that controlling a DAW
with your mouse is like painting a picture
through a keyhole, and most of us would agree.
A MIDI controller is one of the best workflow
enhancements you can have. The more
affordable and robust it is, the better.
The four products in Samson's Graphite
M Series—M25, M32, MD13, and MF8—are
suitable for use with desktop and laptop
setups, as well as with the Apple iPad. In
addition to being lightweight and housed in
hard, sturdy plastic, all four controllers are
USB bus powered and designed for a variety of
settings—onstage, in the studio, and traveling.
Each controller includes a cable with
standard USB connectors. (iPad users will
need an Apple Camera Connection Kit.)
Samson offers a free software editor that
works with all four units. (You’ll find it under
the Download tab for the M25 and M32
product pages at Samsontech.com.) Simply
launch the editor, select your controller from
the pull-down menu, map the controls to your
DAW, and then save the mapping as a preset
to the controller itself. To recall the preset,
use the pads on the M25 and MD13 or one of
the F buttons on the MF8. The M32 stores
only one preset at a time.
With Keys, Please As you would expect,
the Graphite M32 and M25 have 32- and
25-note velocity-sensitive keyboards,
respectively, yet each weighs a mere 2 lbs.; they fit easily into the pocket of a carry-on
bag or backpack. Both keyboards offer
Aftertouch and include a Prog button that
initiates Program mode, in which the upper 11
notes on the keybed (labeled 0 through 9, and
Enter) can be used to send Program Change
Besides having the most keys, the
Graphite M32 (see Figure 1) has the fewest
controllers—pitch bend and modulation
strips, a programmable volume knob and data
slider, and five buttons (Oct -, Oct +, Sustain,
CC, and Prog). As you would expect, pressing
Sustain holds the notes you’re playing for as
long as you press the button, and CC allows
you to send Control Change data.
|Fig. 1. The Graphite M32 provides
enough keys for melodic, chordal,
and bass sequencing while
remaining small enough to slip
into a carry-on bag.
|Fig. 2. Despite having fewer keys,
the Graphite M25 has pads and
rotary encoders that are perfect
for real-time control.
|Fig. 3. The velocity-sensitive pads on
the Graphite MD13 offer Aftertouch
and can be used melodically or as
percussion and event triggers.
|Fig. 4. The Graphite MF8 provides
plenty of DAW control in a highly
The Graphite M25, on the other hand, has
a data wheel, Pad and Preset buttons, five
transport controls, four velocity-sensitive
pads, and eight rotary encoders (see Figure
2). Hold down the rewind and fast-forward
buttons to engage Panic mode, which quickly
resets channel and port connections if a MIDI
note gets stuck.
The Pad button switches between two
assignable pad banks. The pads also send
Aftertouch and can transmit Control Change
messages when you’re in CC mode. Use
the software editor to set the pads into
momentary or latching behavior. You can
access your MIDI presets by hitting the Preset
button and selecting the pad that holds the
configuration you want.
Twistin’ and Slidin’ The MD13 offers
13 velocity-sensitive pads with Aftertouch,
arranged chromatically in an octave (see
Figure 3), six rotary encoders, a crossfader
(useful in DJ-related apps or programmable as
a generic continuous controller), a data wheel,
and eight buttons. CC and Prog work as they did on the keyboards; in this case, Program
Change data is sent from pads P1 through P10.
The Shift button works in combination with
the Play/Record button to send a secondary
data message. To select one of the MD13’s five
presets, press Preset and hit pad P1 through P5.
If you don’t want pads or a keyboard on your controller, the MF8 is the ticket. It
provides eight tracks of controls, each with
a separate knob and fader, as well as buttons
for solo/mute and record-enable (see Figure
4). Using the Shift key allows you to send
a secondary message from the solo/mute
buttons; they light red or green depending
on which message—primary or secondary—you send, making it easy to keep track of the
function of each.
The MF8 gives you a full complement of
transport controls (play, stop, record, fast
forward, and rewind) and five function keys,
in addition to Preset and channel-increment
and -decrement buttons. A data wheel and
crossfader complete the picture.
The MF8 also holds five presets, which you
select by pressing Preset and the appropriate
function button. On their own, the function
buttons can be programmed to send control
information or MIDI Note messages, with
the option of setting them in momentary or
The More the Merrier I used all four of
the Samson controllers with Apple Logic
Pro X and Ableton Live 9 Suite, and they
are essentially plug and play, working easily
without a hitch. The controller you use
will depend on the style of music you make
and where you are in the production cycle.
For example, you might use the M25 for
sequencing parts while mapping the knobs to
important performance parameters such as
filter cutoff or modulation rate. On the other
hand, keyboard players might prefer having
more notes over real-time parameter control,
so the 2.5-octave MD32 is the place to start.
If you prefer a pad interface for sequencing
percussion and bass parts, the MD13 is perfect
and provides a data wheel, slider, and knobs
for real-time tweaking. And when it comes
time to mix, you could call the MF8 into action
and use it to write automation on banks of
eight tracks at a time.
The good news is that you can use several
of the Graphite controllers in tandem, giving
yourself access to the number of knobs, faders,
buttons, and keys that makes the most sense
for your personal style. The footprint of each
controller is small enough that having two or
more doesn’t require much space, and their
low cost doesn’t take much of a bite out of your
pocketbook. And the more you use them, the
more you’ll wonder how you worked without
Gino Robair is technical editor of Electronic
Strengths Portable and lightweight.
Convenient layout. Software editor. Stores user
Limitations No footswitch inputs.
Graphite M32 $69.99 street
Graphite M25 $79.99 street
Graphite MD13 $59.99 street
Graphite MF8 $59.99 street