Edirol''s compact PCR-M1 has a slim profile, standard-width keys, and an assortment of assignable controls. It can be powered by batteries, an AC adapter, or a USB connection.
The Edirol PCR-M1 ($249) is a USB/MIDI keyboard controller similar to the PCR-1 but without audio I/O. The beauty of this unit is its compact size: at just less than 18 inches wide, 9 inches high, and 1.12 inches deep, it is slightly wider than a notebook computer and incorporates 25 standard-width keys. Though they are shorter in height and have a shallower action compared with full-size keys, they feel surprisingly sturdy, as do all the front-panel controls. The PCR-M1 can be powered by the USB bus, four AAA batteries, or an optional AC adapter.
The PCR-M1's controls have an infinite-rotary encoder labeled Value and eight assignable knobs, each with a center detent. The Value encoder affects the selected parameter, and the assignable knobs send MIDI values to their assigned destinations. My only gripe with detented knobs is that, although they're useful for increasing or decreasing a parameter from a center value, they inevitably interfere with smooth, full-range control sweeps. Four buttons located next to the Value encoder let you perform various operations such as setting the MIDI channel, selecting banks, changing programs, and capturing snapshots. A 3-character LED display indicates current function values, USB connectivity status, hexadecimal values, and more.
To the left of the keyboard, nine buttons perform basic functions that include octave shift, transpose, enter, back, and cancel operations. Six of the buttons can be assigned to send MIDI messages, including transport control functions. A short, metal modulation bar sits below those buttons, and a hard-rubber pitch-bend control is below that. Both controls take some getting used to, as they are smaller than typical wheels or levers. Both are appropriately sensitive, however, and the pitch bender is especially comfortable to use.
Edirol throws in a few handy plastic template overlays for the eight rotary knobs and for six of the nine buttons on the left. One set is preprinted with common functions, and another set of blanks serve as strips for labeling your own assignments.
Flipping around to the rear, the PCR-M1 sports a DC in connector, a USB port, a three-way power switch, MIDI In and Out ports, and 1/-inch jacks for a footpedal and a footswitch. Two 1/-inch-to-¼-inch adapter cables are provided.
Get Down with It
I used the PCR-M1 with a Mac G4 running OS X 10.3.7. In addition to drivers for Mac OS X and OS 9, the installer disc provides drivers for Windows 2000, XP, 98, and ME. The user manual's directions were clear, and although the included PCR Editor software isn't covered in the printed manual, the software embeds HTML help files. Installing OS X drivers was a simple drag-and-drop procedure, and after a restart, my MIDI setup immediately recognized the bus-powered PCR-M1.
I launched Propellerhead Software's Reason and changed its MIDI input assignment in the Preferences pane. I played several instruments in Reason, and the PCR-M1's keys felt quite good — light but not flimsy. The timing response was excellent, even when I played with both hands as fast as I could. Although the keys transmitted Velocity, none of Reason's instruments would play any softer below a certain threshold. To determine whether that limitation was with the PCR or with Reason, I launched Apple Logic Pro and played a few of its synths. Sure enough, the Velocity ranged smoothly from 1 to 127.
PCR Editor's onscreen image doesn't entirely match the PCR-M1's control panel, of course, because the software is global for all PCR-series keyboards. Fortunately, the directions were easy to understand; once I had figured out which controls were relevant, I had no trouble setting custom controller assignments and transmitting them to the hardware. Using the MIDI Learn function, I quickly mapped the PCR-M1's controls to various parameters in Reason.
To use the PCR-M1 as a MIDI-only controller, I unplugged the USB cable, connected the AC adapter, and connected a cable from my MIDI interface. I launched Reason, reset the MIDI input assignment, and the PCR was once again instantly recognized. Its responsiveness was still good, and remote control worked just as well.
Like other Edirol gear I have reviewed, the PCR-M1 is solid and user-friendly. It works as it should, and using it was fun and hassle free. Edirol should, however, consider adding some PCR Editor basics to the printed material. I'd also like to see different graphical user interfaces in the editing software for the various models. Other than the minor annoyance with the detented knobs, I was very pleased with the PCR-M1.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4