The Beatstep Pro adds everything you may have missed from the smaller Beatstep, including tap tempo.
Review: Brad Watts
Arturia has moved from strength to strength over the years. Kicking off as a software instrument manufacturer with its sturdy recreations of not-so-sturdy vintage analogue synthesisers, the company soon moved into the realm of hardware with the Origin keyboard. Since that time there’s been a procession of hardware controllers and synths, all of which borrow heavily from the analogue ethos; lots of tactile control.
Last year, Arturia released the Beatstep portable controller and step sequencer. Come 2015 and the ante has moved well and truly upward with the Beatstep Pro. The new design offers a stunning array of connectivity – enough to make the unit a serious contender for the keystone of a live performance rig. But more on this shortly.
Like all Arturia hardware, the Beatstep Pro is solidly constructed. It sits firmly on your desktop ready to withstand years of percussive bashing. The unit incorporates an assignable MIDI controller, two analogue style sequencers, and a drum programmer/sequencer. The same 16 velocity sensitive and backlit trigger pads and 16 MIDI controller pots found on the original Beatstep are present. However, the Pro adds 16 step programming buttons, offers an additional section on the left of the unit for access to sequencer functions, tap tempo button and tempo value LED (a feature sorely missing from the first Beatstep), transport controls, along with pots for control over swing and randomisation of sequences and other parameters. There’s also a ribbon controller which will re-trigger the pad your hitting at 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 and 1/32 bar timings. In sequence mode the ribbon controller will loop the sequences according to the time division selected.
Perhaps most invigorating is the unit’s capability to simultaneously sync and trigger via USB, MIDI and CV/Gate. This opens a universe of possibilities. You could control external analogue devices via the two CV/Gate sections, even controlling those devices via your DAW, control external MIDI devices <and> clock older external hardware with DIN sync — standard 24ppqn or 48 ppqn, or even a single pulse per step. V- and S-trigger gate options are supported, as are 1V/octave and Hertz per Volt control voltages. Start/stop control is also supported. Connection for these sync, pitch and trigger sources is via 3.5mm jacks, and Arturia provide the relevant breakout cables.
The eight drum gate outputs correlate with the first eight trigger pads, with the first eight control pots providing adjustment over gating length. And you can record patterns directly into the sequencer. As mentioned, this sets the scene for the Beatstep Pro to act as the main conductor and sequencer for a formidable live performance system. Should you opt to use the Beatstep Pro standalone, without the aid of a computer, power can be supplied via a normal USB phone charger.
When it comes to step sequencing, there are 16 ‘Project’ memory positions, within which can be stored 16 sequences for each of the two step sequencers and the drum programmer. That’s plenty of slots for either compiling entire tracks, or for a comprehensive array of motifs for mixing and matching. When run in conjunction with a DAW you can also trigger clips within the DAW.
When ‘stepping in’ those events to either sequencer section, you can work to pitch templates such as chromatic, major, minor, dorian, mixolydian, harmonic minor, blues, leave the scaling completely open or an additional ‘user’ template. Each sequencer can contain up to 64 steps.
Arturia supplies editing software for the Beatstep Pro whereby you can edit the controller attributes of each control pot, each pad, and even the step buttons. These controls can all be edited to control the entire gamut of MIDI information, with the exception of the pots affecting MIDI note information and the step buttons not sending velocity information. There’s scads of options in controller mode. The software doesn’t stop at controller mapping, however. You can also program the two sequencer sections and the drum section via a typical matrix style editing window. This ‘MIDI Control Center’ application also controls Arturia’s other control surfaces such as the Spark and Spark LE units, the previous Beatstep and the Keylab range. So, if you’re racking up an assortment of Arturia devices you can flip between them using the same app. Very tidy indeed.
JUST ADD DEVICES
For such a tiny controller, the Beatstep Pro offers an incredible range of functionality. With such an array of options, from the multiple sync sources through to the comprehensive control voltage and gating, through to drum triggering and more contemporary MIDI and DAW control, the Beatstep Pro really is only limited by your imagination and whatever machinery you can get your hands on to integrate with it.