ALESIS ControlPad

Learn about the Alesis ControlPad USB MIDI percussion controller.
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The Alesis ControlPad is an easy-to-use MIDI percussion controller.

If you need to augment your trap kit with a MIDI percussion controller, Alesis would love to talk to you about the ControlPad ($399.95). With eight rubberized pads that are meant to be played with sticks, the ControlPad is an effective performance tool for drummers who want to trigger sampled sounds but don't need a bunch of fancy features.

The ControlPad can transmit MIDI over the traditional 5-pin DIN cable or via a USB link to a computer. The controller can be powered by USB or from the included wall-wart power supply. A generic USB driver is used for both Windows and Macintosh computers, which means there is no special driver to install: just plug in the included USB cable, turn on your computer, and launch your favorite percussion software.

Launching Pad

The ControlPad has 21 memory slots for kits, and there is no Save button; any changes you make to a kit will be there the next time it's called up. A kit defines a MIDI Note Number and MIDI channel for each pad, as well as a Program Change number that is transmitted each time the kit is loaded.

Each pad also has its own settings for sensitivity, Velocity curve (four options, including fixed), and triggering threshold. However, these settings are global for the instrument and are not stored separately with the various kits.

The ControlPad's default settings worked fine for me. I encountered no false triggering, double strikes, or other problems. While I'm not much of a drummer, I felt the ControlPad responded realistically to variations in stick velocity. The output Velocities were a bit lower when I played near the edge of each pad — though not by much — but there is a generous sweet spot in the center.

The user interface is simplicity itself. It includes a function selector button (with LEDs that let you know which of the seven functions you're editing), increment/decrement buttons, and a 3-digit numerical LED to show the data values. The buttons are big enough to poke with a drumstick and have concave tops so the stick won't slide off — very thoughtful.

The ControlPad is 9.5 inches deep by 15.75 inches wide, and the boundaries between pads are a bit curved. The pads are about 4 inches by 5 inches, and the boundaries between the pads are dark, recessed grooves, which could make it difficult to play the pads accurately in dim stage lighting conditions.

Rather than including a built-in mic-stand mount, the ControlPad has holes in the bottom that accept third-party mounting brackets such as the Roland APC-33. For tabletop use, the ControlPad's rubberized feet grip surfaces well, so I doubt scooting will be much of a problem as you play.

Around the back of the unit are two footswitch inputs for triggering additional MIDI notes, two trigger inputs for drum sensors, a TRS dual-footswitch input that duplicates the increment/decrement buttons, a USB port, and MIDI In and Out jacks. When the kit select function is enabled, the dual footswitch will work as a kit selector, which is bound to come in handy onstage.

Big Deal

The ControlPad comes with a copy of FXpansion BFD Lite 1.5 (Mac/Win), a software drum module that can be used as a VST plug-in or as a standalone instrument. BFD Lite lets you mix and match instruments, chosen from 1 GB of included sample content, to create your own setups. Using the program's mixer, you can blend the close-miked sound with room and overhead mics.

BFD Lite can also function as an auto-accompanist, thanks to its MIDI groove playback features and generous supply of built-in drum patterns. However, this feature cannot be used with the ControlPad, because it relies on a MIDI key being held down while the pattern plays. The ControlPad sends a Note On message followed immediately by a Note Off, with no possibility of sustaining a note.

Hit Me!

Overall, the Alesis ControlPad is a simple but effective MIDI percussion controller. Once you factor in the discount pricing available from online retailers and the included copy of BFD Lite, you'll find it to be a sweet deal.

Value (1 through 5): 4