Saturday, January 28, 2012

QuNeo Controller

In an industry that seems constantly drifting toward more of the same, it takes some effort to dig in and find unique and useful controllers. The difficulty of further perfecting the workflow around two decks and a mixer is being realized by bother manufacturers and consumers as more modular setups and touch based controllers enter the market. While neither of those options have been perfected, they are being toyed with in more interesting ways than the past few years have shown us.

The interesting thing to me about DJing these days is the ability to craft my own workflow. It is, in fact, what I spend the majority of my time focusing on when I get a new controller or software. Molding a new method with a standardized set of decks (two platters, two or four faders, and a bunch of buttons and knobs) can be interesting, but eventually they all just seem to feel the same. Enter the QuNeo.

This utility controller has enough functionality crammed into its iPad sized body to satisfy both the standard producer and the experimental controllerist. We got to get our hands on it at their booth at NAMM and play around with their Ableton setup. My initial feeling was exactly what I expected: excitement. This controller steps beyond everything else I saw at the show. They managed to take a standard MPC style workflow and just put as much control as humanly possible into it.

Game changer - a platitude often bandied around by marketing departments to describe something that is a little different from the norm, but merely moves things on a tad. The QuNeo controller from Keith McMillen Instruments doesn't describe itself as such, but could certainly fit that description. Whatever you thought of controllers before, prepare to be blown away.

Looking like a big touch pad, the QuNeo is in fact a thin physical iPad sized controller, resplendent with low profile tactile pads. Now you might think that such controls might not do very much, but each of the controls are "pressure, velocity and location sensitive". You have to watch the video to realise what this means from a triggering samples point of view.

Yes it does look a little Lemur like, and obviously has striking similarities to all manner of iPad apps. But there's nothing quite like having a physical control to bash away at, especially when it responds so well in different dimensions.

What I also like is the openness of the project. It's class compliant and will work with MIDI and OSC, meaning that it'll work out of the box, but will soon see many clever adaptations. For your average DJ, hitting a pad will probably be the most that is needed, and frankly is all that is supported in most software. But if you're wanting to get a little more expressive (Vestax's PadOne supports pressure messages too), QuNeo could be for you.

Here's the interesting and highly tempting part. Are you aware of Kickstarter? It's a website that essentially proposes projects and asks for backers. And that's just what is happening with QuNeo. You can send them as little as $1, or as much as $1000 for a super VIP package. I've got my eye on the $200 package - not because I need one, but because this kind of innovation needs to be supported. And I also think it'll be an amazing tool to explore. It'll be the first time I've paid for a product to review, and I'll gladly do it in this case.

Take a look. Perhaps it'll be a new direction for other controller manufacturers to explore. Is it OK to say nextleveleness this time?

The kickstarter video which breaks down the basic functions, so I won't bother rehashing those. The unit looked great, and everyone I dragged to their booth agreed. The best part of this controller is the veritable unending amount of control you can add to a very simplistic setup. The touch pads can be used as almost anything from a drum controller to a step sequencer, to a 8x8 trigger controller to individual x/y pads. The LEDs were bright and clear, though the standard Red/Green/Yellow did seem a little toy-like. My hope is they add some finer LED control for purples and blues.

quneo midi controller kickstarter

The real interesting control comes from the rotaries, faders and x-fader. The long 100mm x-fader currently supports 3 points of contact but will eventually support up to 6. The short up-faders are also multitouch, but if you want to use them as simple volume faders they can also work as rather responsive VU meters. The rotaries can be used for a lot of exciting functions, especially when combined with multitouch and pressure sensitivity.

Obviously this isn't a lot of new information, but it was really great to get our hands on the unit and get a chance to play with it. They will be releasing the ability to remap the unit for nuanced, individual control, and will be providing communities to share said mappings.

My excitement for this controller comes from where this technology can lead more than where it exists right now. Placing so many functions into such a small unit, and keeping it elegant heralds steps in the right direction for iPad DJing and production, as well as really powerful modal control that can avoid over complication. The QuNeo has a workflow built very much around an Ableton setup, but if the next unit Keith McMillan Industries decided to work on reflected more of a DJ setup that could be tailored to iPad based software I could see some extremely exciting and visionary control added to an already proven workflow.