Behringer''s B-control Nano BCN44 is a low-cost MIDI controller that stores 99 presets and can run on either an AC adapter or three AA batteries.
Behringer's B-Control series consists of several desktop hardware MIDI controllers that can be interconnected to provide a complex modular control surface for digital audio applications. Like other control surfaces, the B-Control series makes life easier for software-dependent musicians by providing tactile solutions to problems associated with mousing around in audio applications. MIDI controllers such as those give the user real knobs and buttons to use instead of graphical ones, which can be cumbersome to control with a mouse. The Nano BCN 44 ($64.99) is the newest B-Control unit, and it provides a dependable low-cost control surface that takes up minimal desktop space and is ideal for field use with a laptop. The unit comes with a 9 VDC adapter and also runs on three AA batteries.
The Nano as its name implies, is a small (½U) unit designed as a tabletop device, but it's just the right size for a rack tray with a second unit for a second computer. The Nano's surface holds eight buttons, four large knobs, and a Spartan LED display. When pressed, the knobs — marked Channel, Parameter, Value 1, and Value 2 — activate small accompanying LEDs along with the knob's assigned function.
On the upper-left side of the unit's surface, two buttons marked Panic send All Notes Off commands to any connected sound-generating devices. Those buttons double as Preset increment and decrement buttons for stored MIDI configurations. The presets can total 99, but the buttons don't allow you to move quickly from a low-numbered preset to a higher-numbered one. Holding down one or both buttons doesn't make the displayed preset number change rapidly. Cycling power to the unit brings up the most recently chosen preset.
On the upper-right side are twin buttons marked Global. Holding both down puts the unit into Global mode, in which you can use the pots to designate the MIDI receive channel, device ID, SysEx dump mode, and merge status. Those buttons also serve as Store and Edit/Exit controls. Used with the Learn button on the bottom right side of the panel, those buttons allow the Nano to memorize commands fed to it from another MIDI device, usually a keyboard or a sequencer, making the unit a time-saver for storing complex command setups.
The Nano's rear panel houses a power switch, the power-adapter receptacle, and single MIDI In and Out ports. A merge function lets the Out port function as a MIDI Thru. That allows you to connect a keyboard to the Nano's MIDI In connector and use either the Nano or the keyboard to trigger sounds or to adjust settings on sound modules.
Quick and Dirty
The Nano couldn't have been easier to set up. I plugged the unit into a power source and connected it to a Roland Fantom-S keyboard to confirm that the unit could advance presets smoothly without additional programming. The Nano's buttons and knobs felt sturdy, and the old-school LED display provides enough information to let you know where you are at all times. (Bear in mind, however, that when running on battery power, the Nano's display will not show the current preset. You must hit a button, and it will display briefly.)
I then connected the Nano's MIDI In to the output of the Lexicon Omega USB audio/MIDI interface that was attached to my Mac G5 running Digital Performer (DP). I wanted to test the Nano's Learn function for a control-surface task I've often had a need for over the years: correcting misplaced or mangled sustain pedal data (controller 64) on keyboard parts. I manually entered a pedal-on command onto a track in DP.
I set the Nano to Learn mode by holding down the Edit/Exit button, activating one of the four buttons at the bottom of the unit, releasing the Edit/Exit button, and then pressing Learn. I played back the DP track briefly, and the button became a sustain controller. I duplicated the sequence to put a sustain-off command on another Nano button. Then I could strip out all controller 64 messages from tracks and manually replace them using the Nano's newly programmed “sustain” buttons. I stored that basic preset to use later.
The Nano worked flawlessly in Learn mode, and for me that was the fastest way to customize the unit for my purposes. I was able to use the Nano to replace a sustain pedal and increment buttons, as well as for tasks such as volume control of plug-ins and adding continuous-controller information in real time. Although I generally had no need for a small, limited MIDI controller, I found the Nano to be convenient in ways that I hadn't anticipated, such as for recording real-time, random-panning data to tracks.
Control on the Cheap
The B-control Nano BCN44 is not for everyone, but its no-nonsense functionality and low price make it a serious option for those who need a lot of presets for various controller tasks and easy (if compromised) portability. And if you find you run out of buttons, knobs, and presets too quickly, there's an easy solution: buy two or three more units.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3