USB MIDI Controller Punchout

The Weigh-In

M-Audio’s Trigger Finger
11" x 10" x 2.25", 2.3lbs., 16 trigger pads, eight assignable knobs, four assignable sliders. White case with silver trim and translucent buttons.

Korg’s padKONTROL
12.4" x 9.2" x 2.2", 2.1lbs., 16 trigger pads, x-y pad, two assignable knobs, pedal input. Silver case with black buttons, knobs, and sliders.

Round One: Case

Both machines offer a USB connection that provides power to the unit when plugged into your computer. Both also have a 9-volt DC input for power when you don’t want to use the USB connection or if your USB hub doesn’t supply enough juice. Each has a MIDI-Output that can be used to send signals from the machine to other MIDI compatible devices.

Korg’s device has a few more features than M-Audio’s does. A pedal input functions just like one of the surface pads. With it, you can attach a bass drum trigger or even a momentary footswitch and use an additional limb for programming or triggering. More important, the padKONTROL also has a MIDI-Input that can be used to interface another MIDI device with your computer. In other words, the padKONTROL doubles as a USB-to-MIDI interface. I tried connecting my drumKAT directly into the padKONTROL, and it worked like a charm. The drumKAT sends messages completely independent of the padKONTROL, and by having both devices sending on the same MIDI channel, the two machines work together as a single unit.

The M-Audio machine can be table mounted, screwed into the top of a microphone stand, or for an additional $24.95, you can purchase a mounting bracket. The Korg unit must sit on a table or other flat surface. If you’re worried about someone walking off with your controller, the Trigger Finger offers a Kensington-style security port.

ROUND WINNER: padKONTROL

Round Two: Pads

Both the Trigger Finger and the padKONTROL have 16 pads that can fire sounds with their own note number, MIDI channel, and velocity settings. On both machines, pads have the ability to sense velocity or play at a constant, fixed velocity. Both machines also have eight selectable velocity curves to make the instrument more responsive to your playing style.

Pads can be programmed to act as a momentary switch with the note-on message sent when the button is pressed and the note-off message sent when the button is released. This is a great feature when you are programming sounds that have length because you can control the relative duration of each pad. Pads can also be programmed to toggle on and off with each press. This is a useful feature when triggering long pads or working with loops.

The buttons on the padKONTROL are translucent with little red lights mounted under each pad. As you strike one of the pads, a red light illuminates for just a moment, turning the performance into a mini light show. In addition, pads that have been programmed to send control-change information are lit all the time, making it very easy to see which pads are sending notes and which are sending control messages (more about control-change messages in the next round).

ROUND WINNER: DRAW

Round Three: Control Changes

The fundamental differences between the two machines become brutally obvious in this round. For the newly initiated, control changes are the MIDI commands that alter a sound in some manner. Mod wheel movements, stereo pan position, breath controller, and master volume are common examples of continuous controllers. With contemporary music software and the ability to MIDI map and automate just about any item on the computer’s screen, continuous controllers can be called into play to offer a mind boggling mass of sonic control. Just a few examples: turning specific audio channels on and off (great for DJs and remixing on the fly), sweeping a filter’s frequency or resonance values, changing an oscillator’s waveform in real time, adjusting the amplitude envelope’s attack value, or changing the wet/dry mix ratio on a reverb unit. With today’s software, nearly anything is possible with control-change messages.

At first blush, it seems as though the Trigger Finger has more flexibility in the control-change department. After all, there are eight knobs and four sliders on the Trigger Finger that are just begging for clever assignments, while the Korg has only two assignable knobs.

But wait. The unique feature of the padKONTROL is the x-y pad on the lower left-hand side of the machine. Based on Korg’s well-known Kaos pad, you can program one controller on the x-axis and a different controller on the y-axis. It’s then a simple matter to actually control two aspects of a sound at the same time. Next to the x-y pad are three buttons: Hold, Flam, and Roll. When the Hold button is pressed, the values on the x-y pad are held until changed. When the Flam button is pressed, the flam volume and the flam interval (space between the notes) are automatically assigned to the x-y axis. Press the Roll button, and the roll expression and roll speed are assigned to the x-y axis. It’s also possible to have the Roll and the Flam buttons active at the same time.

Korg’s pads are velocity sensitive, but they are not pressure sensitive. In addition to programming notes from the pads, you can assign a control change message to any pad. When programming control messages from pads, you determine the control change number, the MIDI channel, the switch type (momentary or toggle), the on value, and the release value. Using these features, it’s easy to jump from one value to the next — for example, changing the stereo position of a sound from the left to the right channel, or changing the wet/dry mix from 20/80 to 80/20. When pads are set to toggle, the on and off values will be sent alternately each time the pad is played.

The Trigger Finger doesn’t have an x-y pad, but each of the 16 pads is pressure sensitive as well as velocity sensitive. This means that a single pad is capable of sending a continuously variable stream of controller messages, not just jumping from one value to another. In fact, it’s possible to program a single pad to send MIDI note information and controller information at the same time! If you’re programming drums, bass, lead lines, or pads, you can use the continuous controller values to make subtle changes to the character of each note. This is a very cool feature and really makes the Trigger Finger stand out in terms of potential creativity.

ROUND WINNER: TRIGGER FINGER

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