It’s barely hit the streets, and BeatStep Pro is already turning heads! I hadn’t even received the device in the mail, before I’d already had a couple of chance conversations about the highly anticipated device. However, do I think it’s really going to be what everyone is itching for in terms of MIDI controller, step sequencer and drum sequencer, with an obscene amount of CV ins and outs? Let’s take a stroll through Arturia’s recent creation and see for ourselves.
Attention to Detail...
Rarely does a company come close to Apple with the kind of awe that takes place after one opens the box and looks inside. Arturia obviously spent some time and money on the packaging. In fact, the box is sturdy enough to act as a short-term road case, until you either make a custom, or find one out there that will work. And, it’s pretty rare that the quickstart guides are actually helpful. So, I’d like to applaud Arturia for getting the buyer gratification down out of the gate. Software installation was quick and simple. And, even the firmware update was taken care of for me, upon launching the included MIDI Control Center. All I had to do was power the unit on, and off, and then back on... Color me impressed, as installation and firmware updates tend to be the bane of everyone’s existence. Arturia appears to be a company that understands what the end user is going to see through listening carefully to their customer support.
Watch G.W. Childs performing on the BeatStep Pro with 3 analog hardware synths (and no computer!):
BeatStep Pro Standalone...
I was nervous, at first, there is no wall wart. I almost thought I’d have to do everything through the computer, which would officially say ‘Not-Standalone’. However, simply plugging the USB Mini Type B connector to a standard USB wall wart does power up BeatStep Pro, just as advertised. Though, you do need to configure everything through the laptop, in terms of button mappings, etc. They actually include a cool USB Mini Type B splitter, termed as an Anti-Ground Loop Adapter that allows you to have your BeatStep Pro plugged into the wall, as well as connected to a USB on your computer, thus avoiding any background noise that can occur when CVs are running along with USB audio interfaces. I really want to give Arturia props for going through and having something like this included, rather than just recommending third-party adapters.
"The USB Mini Type B splitter is as an Anti-Ground Loop Adapter and avoids any background noise that can occur when CVs are running along with USB audio interfaces "
On the back are several CV outs. And, nicely grouped and color coded, at that. It may sound silly, but when you’re setting up, fast, on stage, visual cues are always appreciated. I had the honor of being able to plug my Roland MC-202 up to the BeatStep Pro’s first internal sequencer, to the CV Gate in and CV Pitch in. And, it worked flawlessly, plug and play, without even having to go into MIDI Control Center and configure everything.
Getting my Korg volca beats set up took a little more work, however. There is CV Clock Out and I used the DIN Sync out which works out well for my 202. Due to the special type of clocking the Volcas use the Volcas play twice as fast as the BeatStep Pro when its resolution is set to 1/16th resolution. Well, there’s always MIDI. And, this turned out to be just as easy as setting my 202. The included MIDI Control editor is extremely straightforward. So, the setup time was nothing. I ended up running MIDI Out of BeatStep Pro to my old MidiSport 8x8 as a through box, so I could bring in my volca keys and volca bass. I ended up going with the default MIDI settings coming out of BeatStep Pro, and set up volca keys on MIDI Channel 2, and volca beats on MIDI channel 10. Once everything was configured, it was amazing.
Of course, as soon as you see a ribbon controller, you’ve got to play with it! And, that’s exactly what I jumped to the first time I jammed with BeatStep Pro, and every time since then. After getting a nice drum beat going with some of the increased ‘Probability’ and ‘Randomness’ localized to my current track ‘Drums’, I had a nice, non-static groove going. It just so happens that I had accidentally touched the Roller/Looper, and was floored by the cool, perfectly-timed loop that occurred from all of my current, running patterns. Segmented in to 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, and 1/32 time divisions, when all tracks are enabled, everything gets looped. And, with little practice it’s easy to get your timing down, and drop in some nice breaks.
"I accidentally touched the Roller/Looper, and was floored by the cool, perfectly-timed loop that occurred from all of my current, running patterns."
When you’ve selected a specific sequencer within BeatStep Pro, this ribbon becomes the Looper, allowing you to loop specific parts of one sequence, while BeatStep Pro loops the other sequences simultaneously. So, select that lead, start with a 1/4 time division, slide to 1/2, 1/6 and then pound them with a 32nd note break tight enough to send the whole floor in to convulsions.
BeatStep Pro with DAWs
I love my CVs, but I thought I’d go ahead and check out BeatStep Pro as a control surface, first. Thankfully, I was able to easily find a tutorial video that does go into great length on Ableton Live, in particular. In Control Mode, BeatStep Pro is easily mapped through Live's own MIDI learn. But, surprisingly, there is no dedicated mapping, everything is done through Mackie Control Classic. This seems a little strange when many rival companies to Arturia have dedicated control surface scripts that already have the button mapping taken care of for you. Granted, Solo Buttons, Faders and Mutes are all mapped through Mackie Control. But, having to dedicate MIDI notes to the transport, especially when trying to use the internal sequencers with VST and AU plugs, caused me some frustrations. Again, Arturia, why no dedicated Control Surface Script? Additionally, Reason has no Remote mapping for the BeatStep Pro. So, if you’re thinking about some DAW integration, get ready, you’re going to have to create a template.
As a standalone sequencer, BeatStep Pro sets a new standard for what one should expect, with a level of polish that will really set the bar for all of Arturia’s competitors. Thought and care has gone into this design to such a degree, that it really almost brings a tear to my eye, as you can tell this is a product of sheer passion. And, for the price, and for the sheer number of hours of fun, I’d recommend this product to anyone that has even a couple of MIDI, or CV-based devices. But, as a controller for a DAW, I would only recommend this device to someone who is experienced enough with not only computers, but also MIDI and DAWs, in general.
And, finally, I’d say to Arturia: You have an amazing device! Support it with amazing updates, controller scripts, and more videos, and you won’t even need to start working on BeatStep Pro II. You’ll be selling the original for years.
Price: £249 USD
Pros: An amazing product with 2 sequencers and a drum programmer that is fun to use and really does what it says it will do as a standalone.
Cons: No dedicated control surface scripts for DAWs, aside from HUI and Mackie Control Classic. Works as standalone, but includes no power adapter for separate use, away from a computer.