The BeatStep Pro follows on the heels of last year’s BeatStep, a sequencer and controller that offered a straightforward way to control your synths and drum machines via both MIDI and control voltage. While it was well received, certain limitations eventually became obstacles: The desire of many to step away from the glow of their computer screen, in particular, was limited by the BeatStep’s ability to control just one device at a time. The BeatStep Pro adds a bunch of extra functionality to the original, designed to help liberate users from the clutches of their screens.
How It Looks
With knobs aplenty, 16 sequencer keys, and 16 velocity-sensitive drum pads, the the BeatStep Pro remains a very portable device, and does loads more than the original, to boot—firstly by adding two additional sequencers to its party. This means you’re able to hook up, say, a drum machine and two synthesizers, and have all three sequences play simultaneously; you simply hit a button to arm the pads and controllers to the desired track, and you’re off and running.
Importantly, the BeatStep Pro’s array of connectivity options is vast: Along with MIDI In and Out with DIN Sync, it has two dedicated sets of CV/Gate inputs and gate connections, and Clock In and Out, meaning that you’ll be able to connect to most any music machine built in the past several decades. If you’re connecting several devices via MIDI, you can change the channels each sequence transmits on by using the enclosed excellent MIDI Control Center software (though you might need to use an additional MIDI-thru device to do so). The color scheme is a nice change of pace, aesthetically, and practically helps segment the face of the device into its component functions.
How It Plays
With its addition of buttons and LCD screens, the BeatStep Pro is easier than the original BeatStep to immediately jump into. Despite the limited real estate of its screens (precisely three digits apiece), creating sequences is straightforward, in either “real-time” (quantized) or step-sequencing mode; there are controls for randomness, swing and probability, each of which can be applied to the whole project or an individual sequence (you can also transpose your melodies individually, or all together). The device lets you save up to 16 projects, each of which can have 16 patterns of up to 64 steps in each of the three sequencers. You can switch between patterns on the fly, and control your devices without needing to store anything on a computer. There’s even a real-time looper/roller/note repeat touch strip, which is lots of fun.
The encoders also bring touch sensitivity to the table this time around, showing the current of a knob on the LCD display when you rest your finger on them. The display also rather conveniently shows note values when controlling pitch and ranges from positive to negative when controlling timing; it’s a huge boom for a hardware sequencer, when there’s no computer screen to immediately garner such bits of necessary info.
The Bottom Line
We’ve been collectively experiencing the resurgence of synthesizer and drum machine hardware, and it’s generally been a rather wonderful thing. The BeatStep Pro is one of the strongest attempts yet to give those machines something to plug into. Though the workflow can’t quite claim the same depth and UI sophistication as something like Push or Maschine, it somewhat makes up for this in terms of its vast and simple inter-operability possibilities. Whether you want to sequence a modular synthesizer, a piece of retro hardware, or even Ableton Live—or all of the above, simultaneously—it’s an impressively versatile device for doing so.
Arturia BeatStep Pro: Pricing: MSRP: $299; Street: $249