Ever wished you could unite the old and new kit in your studio with one simple box? Hollin Jones checks out Arturia’s BeatStep Pro…
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Although Arturia made its name developing software synths, in recent years the French company has gone all out in building an impressive array of hardware products: from controller keyboards to drum machines and hardware synths.
We loved its tiny BeatStep controller, and now it has a bigger brother, the BeatStep Pro. Although still compact, insanely portable and lightweight, it manages to cram in a surprising amount of connectivity and functionality.
What is it?
The BeatStep Pro is billed as a controller, performance sequencer and composing tool in a single box. Its aim is to give you control over your instruments, be they hardware or software, and to that end it has a more expansive selection of outputs than you might expect.
Though shallow, the rear edge houses a range of ports. There’s a micro USB for powering and connecting to your computer, plus a splitter for using an optional power supply at the same time. There’s 1X1 MIDI I/O using mini ports, though two adaptors are supplied to convert to regular, larger MIDI connectors. So far so standard, but here’s where it gets interesting.
Although the smaller BeatStep has a CV output, the Pro has several. CV (control voltage) is a system for triggering and controlling hardware synthesisers, especially the kinds of modular synths that are experiencing a massive surge in popularity.
This isn’t the same as MIDI, although it is used for some similar ends. BeatStep Pro has two melodic monophonic sequencers, each with CV outs for pitch, velocity and gate. There’s also a drum sequencer with eight Drum Gate outputs that are triggered from pads 1-8.
You can connect any of these CV outputs to synths or instruments with compatible inputs, such as Arturia’s own Brute models to generate sequences, tweak sounds or trigger drum parts. There’s also a MIDI clock I/O facility to send or receive clocking signal when dealing with external MIDI gear.
Although some of the huge, wall-mounted monster synths you might see are undoubtedly a bit daunting, connecting smaller instruments to the unit is straightforward. Having three separate modes of operation and the relevant outputs means you can connect both hardware and software-triggered kit at the same time. The main panel is laid out logically for moving between the modes in real time.
For making musical sequences, there are two melodic step sequencers that let you program pitch, duration and velocity of notes using the pads or an external keyboard, or using step mode.
Sequences can have up to 64 steps and you get 32 sequences per project and 16 projects.
The drum sequencer works in a similar way, with 16 tracks that can be recorded using the pads or a more old-school step input method. As well as a rigid, mechanical feel, you can use the knobs to achieve more organic patterns, quantising less strictly than the default values. There’s a swing/randomiser section to help with this, too. This also has a roller/looper strip and a note repeat function.
This is all great fun, and the clever workflow means almost everything is available at your fingertips. The knobs are touch sensitive, which means you can reveal their current setting by tapping them without needing to change the value.
The 16 pads are pressure sensitive, and the 16-step buttons are used both for switching steps on and off and for selecting a sequencer’s preset. There’s a third mode, too – MIDI control.
In this mode, you can use the hardware controls to change almost any parameter on your MIDI devices or software instruments. There’s a software application provided that lets you make assignments, customise setups and save them.
BeatStep Pro is a great step up from the smaller model for people who want to control different types of kit at the same time, and who have at least a couple of bits of CV-capable hardware.
Even if you don’t and you’re more reliant on software-triggered or MIDI hardware-triggered sounds there’s much to like. Workflow feels natural, and transport and remote control are possible. Multi-functional devices can cost more, but Arturia has struck the right balance of features, build and price. It proves controllers can be fun and modular synths needn’t be the preserve of hardcore synthesis nuts.
● 2 monophonic step sequencers
● 16-track drum sequencer
● MIDI and clock adaptors
● Touch strip control
● Touch-sensitive knobs
● Multiple CV outputs and USB
● MIDI clock
● Software template app