Arturia Beatstep - Sonic Lab Review

Controller, step sequencer and CV interface      07/05/14

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11:31 mins    

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.

Hardware

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.

Modes

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.

In Use

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.

Available now.

 

£89/$99/€98

More From: ARTURIA
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27 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
StepOff    Said...

It lacks a few fundamental features that would actually render it useful. As such, I simply can't agree with the "at this price" argument.

If it was fully featured and untethered to software, Arturia would likely have found themselves a new customer; despite the fact that it would probably ship at over twice the current asking price.

As it stands though; to me, it's simply a useless waste of space.

(albeit not much space)

07-May-14 09:14 AM


Nick B    Said...

hey StepOff, be interested to hear what those features are? I think beat repeat and transpose are the ones for me.

07-May-14 09:21 AM


Cliffman    Said...

I notice you weren't using the CV gate output. Have you experienced issues with it? It appears to not have enough current/volts to actually trigger things, I need to use a powered multi with it.

07-May-14 10:51 AM


Jan s.    Said...

Great review, thanks!

07-May-14 12:05 PM


Nick B    Said...

Cliffman no, I ran it into the Doepfer A111-5 synth voice with no problem, but it did need a bit of tweaking to drive the Atlantis, But I dont know if that was it or the module as the other worked fine, But that might be the case from what you say

07-May-14 12:09 PM


chris    Said...

To me the biggest disappointment is that it's basically only one track and you can't sequence a drum kit or even multiple lines. I was hoping for something to give my old hardware samplers a new lease on life. I'm sure they could add a multi-track function with a software update. Perhaps they want people to buy them 4 at a time, but there's no way to cascade units really.

07-May-14 12:15 PM


xtraman    Said...

thats odd, i just saw a video of it playing pretty nice with a ms20 mini

07-May-14 12:34 PM


Empyrean    Said...

I'm curious how it would work as a Spark 2 controller in place of the SparkLE controller.

07-May-14 01:12 PM


nick b    Said...

You could run it with an me so mini using midi out of course.

07-May-14 01:39 PM


acidalius    Said...

The fact that it doesn't slave to midi, means it can't be used without a computer. That's a pretty big omission for what is trying to be a step sequencer

07-May-14 10:24 PM


eXode    Said...

@ StepOff and others:

Why so negative? I think your posts are a tad harsh for a product that costs under €100.

The features you talk about, how much are the step sequencers that offer that kind of functionality? I'm personally not aware of any other step sequencer in hardware that does what the Beat Step that isn't the double in price.

Would it be wrong to say that it simply doesn't fit your needs?

I personally won't be getting the Beat Step, as I don't have any use of it, but I honestly think that it has close to zero competition when it comes to bang for the buck...

08-May-14 12:33 AM


AndyKeys    Said...

Ive seen a vid on youtube of some one transposing using a Nanokey ... must of been hooked up thru a DAW and back to the beatstep but it can be transposed other than using the knob

08-May-14 02:37 AM


Julien    Said...

Would you recommend The Beatstep or the Keith McMillen Qunexus?

08-May-14 04:10 AM


zigziggler    Said...

Hello all =) Are there any really good hardware sequencers around? I am looking at buying a roland mc-80 due to it being so full featured. But is there any current HW sequencers worth looking at?

08-May-14 07:58 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

I've set the last 8 memories as "transposed" keyb layouts, basically, I Recall the respective memory to get a certain Octave range.

That's my current workaround, hoping they'll add that feature in the future since there's enough button combinations for that.

btw, this was something I suggested during beta, so it won't be new to them and I'm glad Nick also missed that in the feature list.

08-May-14 09:25 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

I own Arturia's Beatstep and I don't own Keith McMillen's Qunexus.

Qunexus doesn't have a built-in sequencer

Beatstep doesn't have tilt sensors per pad.

Qunexus allow you to have 2 octaves available at any one time.

Beatstep can simulate 1 complete octave. As I said on a previous comment, I can have 1 octave (+1 pad as Sustain Pedal and +2 pads as CC buttons) out of possible 8 octaves because I use 8 of the 16 controller-mode memories to set that.

I also have 2 memories set to mimic Spark, other 2 to mimic SparkLE 2x8 pads config and the other 4 memories for Reason's Dr.OctoRex, ReDrum and Kong as a 2x4+2x4 pad config.

Speaking of Reason, I'm waiting for some firmware improvements that would allow me to do a more sophisticated Remote Codec. Right now, it's not worth the trouble and the generic controller is enough.

08-May-14 10:23 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

oops, forgot to start my last comment with:

@Julien :)

So, basically, you're the one to decide if you need a 16 pad +sequencer that can work as 1 octave kinda-keyb or a 2 octave keyboard with no sequencer that can work as a 25 kinda-pad :)

08-May-14 10:26 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

@Julien oh, and BeatStep has DIN MIDI-OUT, Qunexus doesn't (from what I know).

BeatStep has 1+16 knobs, Qunexus "only" has tilt per pad.

08-May-14 11:16 AM


Joe    Said...

Good review nick. Been considering this for a while. The key feature for me that a lot of other sequencers overlook is the rotaries dialling in the pitch. A lot of happy accidents happen this way and it feels like you're playing the sequencer rather than programming it

08-May-14 02:42 PM


Julien    Said...

@ Koshdukai

Thanks! :)

08-May-14 08:15 PM


abc47    Said...

Think ill wait to see the SE version...

09-May-14 01:38 AM


Koshdukai    Said...

@Nick: I don't get this sentence: «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.»

I'm getting Key Aftertouch out of BeatStep, just like from SparkLE and Spark. Could it be that the firmware on your unit was too old? 1.0.1.4 (2014-Mar-18) here.

10-May-14 04:13 AM


Nick B    Said...

I was told by one of the engineers, that only aftertouch is currently sent by pad pressure. But that a software update could allow for per pad assignable controller data to be sent.

10-May-14 09:34 AM


brian    Said...

@zigziggler: The Doepfer Dark Time is a good hardware sequencer, albeit in a different price range….

question: how well does this control the Spark software? I have the software, but not the controller, and looking for a multipurpose unit that could also deal with that… thanks!

17-May-14 05:54 PM


psykohed    Said...

The knobs don't work like a normal controller in controller mode. VERY slow. It takes 8 turns to go from 0-127. This thing is a total piece of junk. Unusable as a midi controller!!!!

24-Jun-14 10:29 PM


Handbuilt ColdFusion CMS    Said...

iOS MP4 link broken :(

06-Aug-14 09:36 PM


geezer    Said...

sonictalk: HaaAAEEEELOW everybody! soniclab: HELLOWELCOMETONUTHERSONICLAB!

I miss the calmer Nick of years past ;)

09-Aug-14 01:10 PM


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