Arturia Beatstep Pro: step sequencer / controller review and hands-on performance

Arturia have been making some really interesting gear in the past few years, from analogue synths and drum machines such as the Mini/Micro & DrumBrute, to very impressive modular systems like the Matrixbrute. Wherever Arturia decides to focus their attention exciting things seem to happen, and the Beatstep Pro is certainly no exception.

The Beatstep Pro (BSP) acts as a controller, performance sequencer and composing tool all at once.  You have the ability to easily connect and sequence multiple hardware and software instruments, a problem that is often faced by music producers and performers. The BSP can be used as either a brain, slave or controller with a huge array of gear, meaning it can be the heart of your setup, or just a sideline controller. You can even use it without the aid of a laptop. 

Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW productionFirst Look

The first thing you notice about the BSP is just how swish this bit of kit is. The sleek design coupled with the crisp white finish is enough to get any hardware fanatic excited. And it doesn’t just look good either, the build quality is exceptional. The BSP is compact but solid, making it ideal for lugging around from venue to venue.

 

Off the bat, you can see three channels named drums, sequencer 1, sequencer 2 and an additional control mode on top. The original BeatStep only had the ability to create one monophonic sequence at a time, so the possibility to create 3 separate sequenced lines already sets this device apart from its predecessor.

Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW productionTo the left of the channels you have a number of buttons and knobs that allow you to adjust project parameters and control the inner workings of the BSP. You also have a touchpad ‘roller/looper’ which might be one of my favourite features. It acts as a slicer tool that cuts and replays part of the loop in a very effective way; a feature you might find on certain DJ programs and devices.

 

Like the first BeatStep, to the right you will find 16 velocity sensitive pads with aftertouch and 16 rotary knobs. What Arturia have cleverly done with the BSP, is sandwiched an extra 16 on/off buttons in between these sections. These are used for displaying where you are in a sequence, adding notes and adjusting a number of various control features. The BSP also comes with a nifty program called midi control center; from here you can edit built in default parameters, edit/save/backup projects as well as loads of other convenient features.

On the back you will find a satisfying number of output choices, these consist of;

  • Sequencer 1 – Pitch, Velocity & Gate
  • Sequencer 2 – Pitch, Velocity & Gate
  • Drum Gates – 1 – 8
  • Clock – In/Out
  • Midi – In/Out
  • Micro USB

Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW production

Once you delve into the full connectivity options, you begin to realise the endless combination of equipment arrangements available. This makes the Beatstep Pro attractive to a wide variety of electronic music producers and performers. Simply having the ability to sequence multiple instruments from one device is a huge asset for live electronic performance, and can also be used as an incredibly efficient composition tool.

 

Step Into The Box

With the BSP comes a quick guide to setting up and basic features,Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW production however I would strongly recommend downloading the manual from Arturia’s website, particularly if you are new to step sequencers. There is also an array of interesting looking cables and adapters which I have listed below:

  • 2X Midi – 3.5mm jack adapter (grey)
  • 1X Midi – 3.5mm jack adapter for clock input/output (black)
  • 1X USB – Mini USB
  • 1 X Y shaped anti-ground-loop adapter

This combination of cables allows you to hook up a variety of kit, and with the addition of CV (control voltage) and gate cables you can play with just about anything. I put the BSP through its paces to see just how well it coped when dealing with a number of different signal outputs. A list of the gear I tested with the Beatstep Pro is included below,  as well as a link to a performance showing off its capabilities.

 

Taking Steps To Get Connected

After plugging in the cables to various devices, I was amazed at how  easy it is to connect up everything I had; admittedly I did have to refer to some troubleshooting forums for one or two things. I found that when you hook up certain analogue synths, it causes the pitch to jump up by an octave or two. I believe this is caused by the CV signal output being disrupted and selecting the wrong default midi note. After a quick google I found a video link on Arturia’s website that had a fix. I had to to go into the midi control center and change the default midi note to my desired pitch.

I also found mild latency issued when running through a DAW (Ableton), however this can be fixed by adjusting the output buffer size in Ableton’s audio settings. Despite minor connectivity problems, the BSP smashes other step sequencers out of the water for simultaneously sequencing multiple hardware and software devices.

   

Functionality

The 16 MPC like drum pads can be used to record notes or be played as a standalone synth or drum rack. As mentioned earlier the 16 on/off pads can be used to manually write in notes or change a number of extra features when the shift button is held down. Above these pads you you’ve also got 16 rotary knobs which can edit pitch, gate or velocity for sequencers 1 & 2. When the drum channel is selected they affect shift, velocity and gate.

When in ‘control mode’ the rotary knobs have some very handy features including the ability to midi map the rotary knobs and selected buttons. You can chose to arrange maps or use the ‘Macki Control’ setting for a pre-set arrangement. I found that by midi mapping knobs and buttons to mute, record and various effects within Ableton, I was able to control my performances almost entirely via the BSP.  

Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW production

As previously mentioned the ‘roller/looper’ is a truly great element of the control surface and I had endless fun playing around with it. Alongside this feature you have three separate rotary knobs labeled ‘swing’, ‘random’ and ’probability’, with these you can tweak rhythms and swing. If used tastefully you can create some interesting results, however depending on the current rhythm being played, too much can cause confusing and incoherent rhythms.

Once you get to grips with general functionality, the BeatStep Pro is a very intuitive piece of kit. I really enjoyed playing around with different loops created from hardware instruments, then using my Ableton Push to build other loops and clips on top. Personally I found this to be a great process for developing live sets and creating tracks based around simple looped hooks.

 

Conclusion

When it comes to electronic music hardware I am a bit of a spontaneous buyer.  I see something I really like… I want to buy it immediately. This in turn can cause issues when I  try to integrate something new into my setup. It’s great having a lovely piece of kit, but if it doesn’t talk the same language as your other gear it’s going to be a nightmare to arrange in a playable format. This is where I feel the BSP raises the bar for step sequencers.  It really doesn’t matter what equipment you’ve got, the BSP will find a way to integrate into your arrangement.

Although it came out nearly 2 years ago, the BeatStep Pro maintains a solid buzz of excitement from musicians and producers of all kinds. And based on the ratio between what the device can do in conjunction with what it costs, it’s really not surprising. You can own one of these for just over $250 (£200) which is considerably cheaper than its competitors. You just don’t find control surfaces with as much functionality as the BSP for under $400, Arturia have found a way of producing a sophisticated and durable product that the masses can afford.  

What does it for me is the fact that it doesn’t matter whether you are using hardware or software, Midi or CV, the BSP will talk its language and know what to do with it. Personally I wouldn’t refer to the BeatStep Pro as a sequencer or a controller, but as a mechanical chameleon that can combine your devices into one super-control surface.

Arturia Beatstep Pro sequencer controller MIDI music equipment drum machine DAW production

 


Getting Hands on with Beatstep Pro

For this video my setup included:

  • Arturia Beastep Pro (Brain)
  • Arturia DrumBrute (Midi)
  • Arturia MiniBrute (CV)
  • Korg Kaoss Pad KP3 (effects module for MiniBrute)
  • Ableton Push
  • Ableton (DAW)

If you are interested in finding out more or purchasing one of these badboys you can check it out on Arturia’s website – www.arturia.com/beatstep-pro/overview

Sonos’ first speaker in 4 years is a giant soundbar your TV sits on

Sonos have announced the ‘PLAYBASE’, a brand new speaker from the WiFi speaker creators that goes under your TV set like a soundbar.

Late last month a leak suggested that a new Sonos speaker was on the way, that would sit under your TV for unmounted TV’s. Now Sonos have revealed the speaker, named ‘PLAYBASE’, that connects up to your TV and any other Sonos speakers to offer a new level of sound from your television.

An off-the-wall approach to better TV sound

Typical soundbars work best when wall-mounted directly below a TV. Truth is, most TVs end up on stands and furniture – exactly what PLAYBASE was created for. Its low profile design practically vanishes beneath your TV, yet it fills your entire viewing room with epic home cinema audio.

Feel the heart and soul of your movies and music

Ten amplified internal drivers – six mid-range, three tweeters, and one woofer – replace the limited output of your TV’s built-in speakers with deeper booms, crystal-clear whispers, and huge waves of sound. Movies, sports, TV shows, gaming – the slim, low profile PLAYBASE adds dynamic, pulse-pounding sound to whatever’s playing on your TV. And streams your favourite music when your TV’s off.

One app. Complete music control

Search instantly through all your music services to find the songs you love, set them to play in different rooms, and adjust the volume and other settings for each room. Sonos plays it all: popular streaming services, free internet radio, podcasts, audiobooks, your go-to collection of downloads – whatever you love to listen to.

Unfortunately for some audiophiles the PLAYBASE uses Dolby Digital instead of DTS multichannel audio for their surround sound. Sonos explained this decision, as a spokesperson said:

For home entertainment, DTS content is only found on physical media such as DVD, Blu-ray and Laserdisc – no video streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu support DTS. Sonos is focussed on modern listeners who predominantly stream and because most physical discs encode DTS at bit rates substantially similar to Dolby Digital, we have decided to not support DTS on Playbase as we don’t believe it offers a better listening experience for the majority of owners.

Sonos TV speaker music streaming Playbar music streaming watch audio soundbar

With only three ports, for ethernet, optical audio and power input, wired audio is unfortunately limited to optical. The Sonos spokesperson also explained this decision, saying: “While newer HDMI standards such as HDMI ARC and CEC promise increased control functionality, they are unlikely to be found on TVs that are several years old and are still implemented in a fragmented way across newer TV models. We continue to monitor the state of HDMI audio implementations in the market for future roadmap products.”

Whilst Sonos have built the PLAYBASE to go under or in front of the TV, their long-standing PLAYBAR is Sonos’ recommended choice when it comes to which soundbar to use with wall-mounted TVs. PLAYBASE is capable of supporting TVs that weigh up to 77 lbs.

You can pre-order the Sonos PLAYBASE right now if you’re an existing Sonos customer with it’s release date expected on the 4th April.

Play your vinyl upside down or on the wall with this floating record player

Wheel is a new minimal record player that takes the basic record player design and flips it on it’s head, literally it is pretty much upside down.

Wheel is the new record player from Miniot, designers of luxury cases for phones and tablets, and of course adds a unique touch to the traditional record player. It has been designed so that the needle comes from underneath the records, minimising dust collection, giving you a good view of your record and, the most cool feature of all, hang it vertically on the wall.

In essence, Wheel is a high quality record player turned upside down. The heavy aluminium platter is driven by an electronically stabilized belt drive at a dead-on 33.3 or 45 rpm. The outer ring of the platter supports and secures the record, while eliminating resonance. A vibration isolated block inside of the cavity of the platter contains the linear tonearm, belt drive, amplifiers and electronics. Newly developed bearing systems for both the platter and tonearm guarantee an imperceptible noise level and a clear and crisp output.

With the record sitting flat on top of the player, filling it’s space, all functions are controlled with the center stick that you place your record on. Turn the stick to adjust volume levels, or click it into place to turn it On and off or switch tracks. All fragile moving parts are built in so as to protect the stylus and your records from damage.

Wheel’s linear tonearm is build around the beautiful AudioTechnica AT95E cartridge. With our tonearm, the AT95E offers a warm, rich sound, and outstanding clarity and detail. For a perfect match, the entire arm is micro machined out of a single piece of laminated mahogany. By using a single type of cartridge, we can fine-tune each tonearm for damping, resonance and weight distribution to make Wheel sounds its best.

The undistorted signal of the AT95E cartridge is sent straight to the RCA connectors. Without conversion or loss of signal. A switch lets you choose between phono or pre-amp line signal. The built-in high quality headphone amp serves the 3.5 mm jack. This way Wheel connects to all amplifiers and every type of active speakers.

floating vinyl record player

Wireless is an analog record player. It doesn’t run on batteries, and to unleash its full potential, it has to be wired to a good amplifier, speakers or headphones. However, it’s perfectly possible to connect a wireless transmitter to one of Wheel’s outputs (it still needs a power cord). This way you can use your Sonos or other wireless speakers.

Wheel is currently on Kickstarter where the Miniot team have managed to raise a massive €318,409 with a goal of just €50,000. You can pledge to the Kickstarter to guarantee yourself one of these unique Wheel vinyl players, with the lowest possible backing of €568 or more (30% off the retail price of $850 – €806) here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/865809794/wheel-by-miniot/description

Make any pair of headphones wireless with ‘Jack’ by Podo Labs

We made the West African Black Rhinoceros extinct in 2011 and now our next conquest to wipe from the earth appears to be wired headphones, but there’s a solution.

Apple cause a massive buzz last year when they revealed that their latest iPhone, the iPhone 7, would be ditching the headphone jack. Now as other smartphones and devices are getting rid of the jack input, like Samsung’s Galaxy S8, Podo Labs have jumped onto the scene to save all those wired headphones and speaker inputs.

With ‘Jack’ by Podo Labs you can assure your headphones still work with the latest smartphones as it essentially creates a wireless connection to your headphones. The device is as simple as it’s name, just plug your headphones or speakers into the ‘Jack’ and it will connect you to your device wirelessly. So unfortunately you’re still going to have tangly wires but on the upside you can slot it wherever you want, without having to tuck them into your pocket with your phone.

The ‘Jack’ is currently raising money on Kickstarter before fully launching, which it should have no issue with thanks to raising $677,000 so far with a goal of just $20,000. The Jack adapter is available from the Kickstarter page at 28% off for just $29.

Modes

Share

Jack is the only adapter that lets you sync headphones and share music wirelessly with a friend. Sync two Jacks with the push of a button and receive audio from the same Bluetooth source.

Receive

Receive audio from any Bluetooth source and play it through your headphones, speakers, car, or other audio player.

Compatible with Bluetooth-enabled phones (any OS), tablets, computers, and watches.

Transmit

Use Jack to transmit audio to another Jack (or Bluetooth headphones) from a normal aux output, like your TV or in-flight movie screen.

The device is available in white/gold, black/gunmetal, and navy blue/gold. You can nab yourself a ‘Jack’ by Podo Labs from their Kickstarter now with deliveries expected this June.