USB MIDI Controller Punchout
Round Four: Front-Panel Programming
Both units let you program from the front panel as well as from dedicated GUI software. To program the Trigger Finger, you enter editing mode by pressing the Memory Recall and Prog/Bank Change buttons at the same time. Once in edit mode, you tap the pad you want to program and use the eight knobs to determine specific values. Knob 1 sets the note number, knob 2 sets the continuous-controller number, knob 3 sets the velocity lock value, knob 4 selects the MIDI channel, knob 5 sets the program number, knobs 6 and 7 set the MSB and LSB values of the bank-change MIDI message, and knob 8 adjusts the MIDI channel used for the program/bank changes messages, making it possible to play a sound on one channel while sending a bank-change message on another channel. To save newly edited programming, you hold down the Memory Recall button while pressing the pad that corresponds to the memory location you wish to save. For example, selecting pad 4 will save your edits to memory location 4. All in all, I found that the programming was easy to understand, but setting exact values with the knobs was tricky. It often took several tries to get the exact value that I wanted, as the knobs are pretty sensitive and a small movement might make the value jump by three or four numbers.
To edit the padKONTROL, you first press the Setting button to move to the editing mode. Once there, you select the pad you want to program and select the Parameter Value button: note number/controller number, MIDI channel, switch function (momentary or toggle), MIDI Output, velocity curve or fixed velocity level, and the USB MIDI port (A or B). If you’re programming a pad as a controller, you can also select the on/high value and the off/low. To make value changes to any of the parameters, you turn the rotary encoder knob. Since the rotary encoder has a tactile click for each value change, it’s very quick and easy to dial in. To save your edits, you have to press Write and then Scene. Finally, dial in the scene number and press Enter.
ROUND WINNER: DRAW
Round Five: Software Programming
Both machines come with proprietary programming software. The Trigger Finger uses M-Audio’s Enigma, while the padKONTROL uses Korg’s padKONTROL Editor Librarian.
Programming the Trigger Finger with the Enigma software is just a little bit confusing at first. Before programming a note number for a pad, you must first set a continuous controller setting to #147. Once set, you can then assign a note number and a MIDI channel, one of the velocity curves, or a constant velocity. I see no reason why programming a note number requires setting a controller number. In addition, when you want a pad to operate in toggle mode, you set the controller number to 148. While it’s not that tough to get used to this particular procedure, it is counterintuitive. To be fair, Trigger Finger’s ability to sense both velocity and pressure requires a software-based editor that is perhaps more complex and comprehensive. One bright note is the vast library of nearly 100 controllers, note numbers, MMC, and instrument specific controller numbers included in a huge on-screen library. Programming by dragging these library elements to the pads, knobs, and faders is infinitely easier than programming from scratch!
Korg’s on-screen programming is a breeze. The keyboard only lets you program notes A0 through C8, but you can reach the extreme ranges of MIDI note numbers by simply typing in the note you want the pad to send. My note numbers were one octave off from what might be expected. It should be noted that on the padKONTROL, middle C is designated at C4 rather than C3 (both are actually accepted, however C3 is more common). Other than that, programming padKONTROL from my computer was quick and easy.
ROUND WINNER: DRAW
And The Winner Is …
Both machines have their individual talents, strengths, and skills. If you’re looking for a great USB drum controller with quick and easy programming, a clean user interface, and the ability to manage two controller axis at one time, your best bet is the padKONTROL. If you think that you might make use of the built-in MIDI-USB interface, the padKONTROL is your only choice. The back-lit buttons look cool, the programming is rock solid, and the ability to quickly control flams and rolls is unique.
If you want the absolute greatest flexibility in being able to send note numbers and a large number of controller messages at the same time, the Trigger Finger is the machine for you. With 28 potential control messages available in a single preset, it’s easy to automate many parts of your home studio.
I’ve been at this MIDI game for many years, and I welcome the ability to use a single USB device to help with my drum programming and to automate and control much of my music software. The potential of these new machines, to say nothing of their low cost and portability (both are about two bills on the street), makes it a no-brainer to add one to your electronic percussion tool box. So what are you waiting for? Buy one and put it to work. You’ll be glad you did!