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Arturia's hardware division are on a roll, not only have they been creating awesome little monosynths based around the Steiner parker filter (MiniBrute and MicroBrute - both of which we have reviewed), but at NAMM this year, the Beatstep was unveiled. It's a small format, pad based controller with a built-in sequencer and CV and Gate output. A perfect match for the Mini or MicroBrute you might think.
Powered purely over USB (it can work in standalone mode or hooked up) the unit has 16 backlit pads (Blue/Red), 16 rotary encoders, MIDI output on minijack adapter, CV and Gate output (standard 1V/Oct). MIDI is connected over USB as a single input/output and can receive and transmit clock for syncing.
The build feels good, the base plate being chunky metal, gives it a solid, whackable feel, the knobs are indented rotary encoders - fully assignable and are used for note selection and controller transmission depending on whether you are in Sequence/Control mode.
Knobs can transmit control or NRPN/RPN for finer parameter control - each with it's own channel and min/max range.
The pads also feel good, and transmit both velocity and pressure, transmitting various data types - Note, control, MMC, switched control and patch change - either momentary or toggle. Pressure is currently only sent as fixed channel pressure (aftertouch) though I'm told that this could be updated in software to transmit per pad control data too. My only bugbear is that you cannot transpose the pads - instead, you'll have to assign them - a real inspiration killer when in drum composition mode.
Beatstep operates in two distinct modes CNTRL and SEQ - control mode is pretty self explanatory in that it transmits the MIDI data you have set it up to send, all stored in 16 patches - you need the Arturia MIDI Control Centre to edit the setup - MAC/PC - free download.
Sequencer mode turns Beatstep into a 16 step note or CV sequencer - each pad can be assigned to specific note which you dial in via corresponding rotary encoder - pretty straight forward - you can work chromatically or set it to be a variety of scales to make for quicker programming. The note data is output to MIDI and to CV/Gate allowing you to drive compatible analogue gear - the Brutes and most Eurorack stuff - not the korg MS20 Mini sadly as this uses the older Hz/V format.
Sequencer playback modes: FWD, REV, ALTernating, RAND are available via shift functions, as is the playback resolution - 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 and 1/32 beat divisions.
It is also possible to change the sequence length on the fly (though I didn't initially spot this)
hold SHIFT & CHAN then select the length with the corresponding pad.
You can also transpose the Seq using the larger data wheel, which is okay but hard to accurate if you want to move it around in musical intervals. You can also adjust the swing of the sequence, though only via the editor.
As a set of pads and controllers it's works nicely - although it should be noted if you are into beat repeat and rolls, it doesnt have that feature. As a sequencer it's nice and simple to use, can be hooked up to analogue gear and of course will act as a bridge between your DAW and CV/GATE world. The other thing to mention is that you can run a sequence, then switch modes to control and play/control over the top. The ability to channelize each knob and pad as well as set the sequencer to a separate MIDI channel makes that possible. Basically as a tool it's got plenty to offer for the price. I don't think it's going to be your only controller, but it certainly has a role in most setups.
Affordable workstation type keyboard