Horizontal control surfaces — ribbon strips in particular — have always been popular on electronic instruments. Doepfer based the design of its ribbon controller on the Trautonium, an early German electronic instrument that used a string manual to control pitch and volume. The Doepfer manual is a horizontal position sensor, played with the tip of a finger, that includes a conductive rubber strip to sense pressure.
The R2M system comprises a control strip that is connected to a control box using a USB-style cable.
Doepfer's first version used an analog-synth-style module as the interface and offered two control voltage (CV) and two gate outputs. To power it, you needed an A-100 frame and power supply.
In contrast, the R2M ($299) is a standalone system consisting of a ribbon manual and a tabletop hardware interface. Unlike its predecessor, the R2M (which stands for ribbon-to-MIDI) interface offers simultaneous MIDI In and Out, two CV outputs, and a gate output, giving this controller greater versatility for studio and stage use than its predecessor.
On the Horizontal
The ribbon manual is just over 23.5 inches long, with a playing area of about 19.5 inches. It feels weighty and well built, and its size and shape allows it to sit above the keybed of your favorite controller. You can use Velcro to keep it from sliding around or use the small holes on the bottom and ends of the ribbon manual for permanent mounting.
The diminutive control box has a 2 × 16 LCD and ten buttons. In addition to Preset, Store, and increment and decrement, there are six dedicated menu buttons: CV Parameter, MIDI Event, MIDI Parameter, Mode, Arpeggiator, and Start/Stop. Programming the controller is straightforward once you get the hang of it, and none of the menus are more than five pages deep. Once you get a performance setup established, you can easily save it in one of the 16 nonvolatile memory slots.
Besides the MIDI Out port, the R2M has a MIDI In port, which is used to transpose notes and control the internal 6-step arpeggiator. An external MIDI controller is required to use the R2M's arpeggiator. Running the arpeggiator with analog and digital synths simultaneously provides hours of fun (see Web Clip 1).
The CV/gate behavior reflects whatever the MIDI settings are, and you will need to set the R2M's pitch-bend range to match the destination device's range. That's easy to do with the control box.
The CV outputs have a range of 0 to +5V. The voltage level of CV 1 is determined by horizontal finger position on the manual, and it is typically used to control pitch using the 1V/octave standard. The level of CV 2 is determined by finger pressure.
The R2M lets you invert the polarity of each controller axis independently. For example, you can use left-to-right motion to lower the pitch, or vice versa, while using pressure to raise or lower a filter's cutoff frequency.
The gate output sends a 0V (closed) or 5V (open) signal, and you can set the polarity so that the gate is open when the ribbon manual is touched or vice versa. Owners of vintage Moog synths will appreciate that the R2M can be used with instruments that need S-triggers. Unfortunately, that mode requires you to remove a jumper inside the control box — not the most elegant solution, but it's available.
Slippin' and Slidin'
You can also use the R2M melodically. You can set the range from 1 to 5 octaves and select one of 15 pitch quantizations, from chromatic to chordal (including chords built on fourths, fifths, and sixths), allowing you to play melodies and arpeggios. You can't set up your own pitch set, however, and the controller doesn't give you the final octave note (for example, with a major scale, your highest note will be the major 7th, never the octave), except in 1-octave mode.
There are seven performance modes: simple note triggering, three ways to add pitch bend once a note is triggered, and modes for sending Control Change, Aftertouch, and Program Change data. The user manual points out that the ribbon's pressure axis is not as accurate as the positional axis, so if you want exact control over a parameter, you're better off using the horizontal axis. The pressure strip offers a large degree of sensitivity, however, and it works well with most CV and MIDI parameters.
The R2M does have one flaw. The horizontal sensor sometimes introduces a subtle and erratic noise into the audio signal, causing a variation in timbre, especially the harder the ribbon Is pressed. (It doesn't matter whether the pressure sensor is on or off.)
If I could add anything to the R2M, it would be a bipolar response (10V peak to peak) and a zero-point mode. That way, no matter where you touch the ribbon, you can bend in either direction from your original note (as with the Yamaha CS-80). Having more notes in the sequencer would also be a welcome addition.
Under Full Control
Overall, the R2M is a very useful controller that covers a number of performance needs. It's simple to program, works well with MIDI- and CV-controlled instruments, and is a joy to use.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3.5