Review: Palette, A Modular MIDI Controller

So you’d like to be able to build your own modular MIDI controller which is as easy to configure with extra buttons, faders and knobs as simply snapping them together? Welcome to Palette.  

The Palette is a really interesting piece of tech that has been on my radar for a while now. It’s a physical desktop controller that is completely customizable and is made to ‘change the way humans interact with computers’. I finally got to my local retailer that carries it in the US and after trying it out for a few minutes, I took the plunge and picked up the ‘expert kit’. Here’s what I found out...

What it is

Palette is the sum of its parts, quite literally. With Palette, you can create any configuration of buttons, sliders, and clickable knobs that you like. The components are magnetic and attach together with ease. The expert kit comes with the ‘brain’ component, 3 knobs, 2 buttons, and 2 sliders. The accompanying companion app allows you to configure these various components to control just about anything you’d want to in various software titles.

Palette assembly

The Hardware

I found the hardware to be quite durable. It has a boutique look to it, and the color coding around the edges of each component is an especially nice touch. This way, if you’re using the Palette with several different applications, you can use the color coding to remind you of the function for each device. The gamer in me appreciated that the buttons feel and respond like arcade controller buttons, too.

Palette workflow

The Software

In order for Palette to communicate with whatever software you run it with, you need to run the accompanying PaletteApp. It’s an elegant piece of software that is very small and has a minuscule CPU footprint (thankfully!). PaletteApp allows you to configure what you want the buttons to do, how you want the sliders to react, etc. 

Palette on a desk.

PaletteApp is fairly simple and straightforward to use, and I was able to configure what I wanted Palette to do in each app fairly quickly. I found that it automatically detected when I loaded apps like Adobe Lightroom. Palette loaded up my Lightroom preset without having to even be ‘told to’. A nice touch, for sure.

Compatible Applications

Palette has some applications that it’s designed to work with, and therefore has a bit smoother integration with. If you use Palette with Adobe Photoshop, for example, when you go to assign each controller, you’ll find all the common actions you might want to do right inside the PaletteApp window. You simply assign them and away you go.

When using apps that are not ‘connected’ to Palette, you’re not totally out of luck. Palette will memorize common key commands, making working with various DAW or MIDI workstations a breeze. I was able to configure Palette to utilize my most common key commands for Final Cut Pro, for example, and it definitely sped up my workflow considerably.

Conclusion

I’m very happy with my decision to purchase the Palette. I’ll definitely be adding a few more components (at $20-$30 per ‘thing’ you want to add, it’s very easy on the wallet). My only gripe is that I wish the sliders were more functional with apps that are not supported directly by Palette. I can use the sliders in Photoshop, for example, but not in Final Cut Pro. Hopefully this functionality is only a software update away!

 

Price: $199 for the Starter Kit / $299 for the Expert Kit / $499 for the Professional Kit

Pros:  Highly customizable, good build quality, elegant look, great functionality, magnetic connectors make configuring Palette a breeze.

Cons: Slider components don’t work for unsupported apps… yet

Web: www.palettegear.com

 

Matt Vanacoro is one of New York’s premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More

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