Alesis Trigger|iO

The Alesis Trigger|iO is an interface that connects electronic drum pads to software and MIDI instruments.
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The Trigger|iO connects electronic drum pads to software and MIDI instruments. With an optional third-party drum mount, you can attach it to a cymbal stand.

Although seasoned programmers can do amazing things with the tiny rubber squares in most drum pad arrays, traditional drummers prefer the feel of a full-size kit. To suit their desires, Alesis has introduced the Trigger|iO ($149), an electronic percussion interface that routes as many as a dozen ¼-inch drum triggers to a computer or sound module through its USB 1.1 and MIDI Out connections. The Trigger|iO allows drummers to take advantage of the massive sound libraries in software instruments and to edit drum parts as MIDI sequences rather than audio recordings, without a lot of finger tapping and avoiding the aggravating task of connecting an electronic drum kit's brain to your rig using old-school MIDI ports.

Check Your Brain at the Door

The Trigger|iO is a bit larger than a VHS cassette case and is substantially weightier, with a sturdy metal chassis built for gigging. Four rubber feet anchor the bottom, and a Kensington lock provides a security option. Instead of a graphic LCD (which would increase the price considerably), the display comprises only a 3-character LED and ten indicator LEDs. You navigate settings with four buttons: Function Up, Function Down, Value Up, and Value Down.

The bundle includes FXpansion BFD Lite 1.5 (Mac/Win), which runs standalone or as an AU, DXi, or VSTi plug-in and supplies nearly 1 GB of sounds organized into 12 kits. Installing the Trigger|iO and the software was straightforward and required no registration or drivers.

The Trigger|iO's ¼-inch jacks accept TRS plugs for dual-zone drum pads or TS plugs for single-zone pads. Jacks 1 through 8 are labeled Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat, and so on, allowing you to connect your pads to correspond with the Trigger|iO's presets. The unit also has a dedicated hi-hat pedal input and an input for increasing and decreasing values with a dual footswitch.


I connected the Trigger|iO to a Roland HD-1 kit and a MacBook Pro and then booted BFD Lite. Because the Trigger|iO defaults to BFD Lite's assignments, the drum sounds were correctly assigned to the kit's corresponding pads. The Trigger|iO automatically detected the hi-hat pedal input and assigned open and close commands. Although latency wasn't a problem, I wasn't happy with the kick pedal's response, but that probably resulted from the HD-1's unorthodox spring action.

BFD Lite's presets include rock, electro/dance, and jazz/brush kits. They bear the same high-quality sounds and Velocity layers that earned BFD 1.5 so much respect, but there's just not enough content. If you're serious enough to own an electronic pad kit and a Trigger|iO, you'll really want the enormous content of BFD or another large drum library.

I also tested the Trigger|iO using plug-ins within Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro 8, and Apple MainStage. The Trigger|iO provides 20 presets (also called kits), but only 5 of them are preprogrammed (for BFD Lite, General MIDI drums, GM percussion, and 2 chromatic scales). To create the kits I wanted in the DAW environments, I had to edit some other presets.

The Trigger|iO's onboard menus let you assign a MIDI note and channel to every trigger of each kit, specify a MIDI Program Change for each kit, and set global parameters affecting all triggers across all kits. Global parameters include Gain, Velocity Curve, Threshold, X-Talk (which attempts to correct false triggering), Retrigger, and Trigger Type; all of them determine how triggers will react when engaged. To change global settings, you scroll to the parameter type with the Function buttons and then adjust the setting with the Value buttons. Adjusting individual triggers is similar, but you engage the trigger first. To save your settings, scroll through the menus until you return to the Kit menu.

Curtain Call

The Trigger|iO provides plenty of programmability, but it's ironic that a product bridging electronic drum kits to the modern world of software appears stuck in a '90s programming paradigm. Although most MIDI controllers include editor-librarian software to simplify editing and to save and load presets, the Trigger|iO does not. Fortunately, you can transfer SysEx to and from a computer using third-party software. However, beyond initially plowing through a potentially tedious editing process to set up some go-to presets, the thought of frequently going back to create new kits is daunting.

Nonetheless, the Trigger|iO is a unique product that delivers on its promise and performs well at an attractive price. Using electronic drum pads to play software instruments over USB definitely will excite many drummers. However, my trigger fingers are still crossed for a much-needed software update to improve the Trigger|iO's programmability.

Value (1 through 5): 4