10 controllers that are as cool as the Tenori-on
14th Jul 2009 | 11:42
With bands naming themselves after it and appearances on BBC Breakfast, Yamaha’s Tenori-on seems to have become part of the cultural zeitgeist. However, this light-up instrument/controller isn’t the only game in town. Here, we present 10 other controllers will integrate into your current setup and get people talking when you use them on stage.
In this case, looks are not deceiving: this really is a box containing just a load of light-up buttons (the newly-launched version features a whopping 256 of them). Furthermore, the monome is far from a plug-n-play controller, but once you use it in tandem with one of the many apps that are freely available (or program one of your own) it becomes an endlessly flexible and impressively flashy (literally) box of delights. Deadmau5 is one famous user who’s fallen for it.
Ah, the Lemur – plaything of the rich and slightly ostentatious. Its tablet-style design may give it the look of one of a next-gen cash register, but if you’re after a full-on multitouch control surface that can be programmed with pretty much any type of interface you like, this is the daddy. If you’re looking for further reasons to buy, consider that this is the controller of choice for the likes of Daft Punk and Hot Chip.
Stanton DaScratch SCS.3d
Once upon a time, M-Audio started developing a touch controller called the Surface One, but never got around to releasing it. This feels like its spiritual successor; it’s a DJ-orientated device that’s designed to be used with Native Instruments’ Traktor in particular. Ideally, you’d take a pair of these onto the stage with you, but it is possible mix using just the one.
Novation Automap for iPhone
So cutting-edge that it only came out last week, this is surely the most affordable way of breaking free from your mouse/QWERTY keyboard cage. In a nutshell, this app turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a handheld MIDI controller. The only downside is that your audience might misunderstand and assume that you’re updating your Twitter feed when you should be giving them your full attention.
Akai EWI USB
Controllers aren’t just things to be pushed and prodded – Akai’s EWI USB is designed to be ‘fingered and blown’ as if it were a saxophone, oboe or flute. Several performance-enhancing features are onboard (breath modulation, pitchbend and adjustable vibrato, for example) and unlike real woodwind instruments, you won’t have to spend weeks perfecting your mouth technique in order to get a decent sound.
Although it looks like a concept product, the OTUS is actually very practical, serving as both a DJ controller and a 6-channel audio interface. The centrepiece is the 7.5-inch platter, which is ably supported by two touch-sensitive zones that can be used for pitch adjustment and scratching. Yes it’s relatively expensive, but if you rock up to a club with one of these, you’re bound to get people talking.
Teenage Engineering OP-1
Like the Tenori-on, the OP-1 isn’t just a controller: it also features audio I/O, a synth and, err, an FM radio. Its control aspects do look promising, though, comprising four rotary encoders, 16 quick keys and transport controls. What’s more, the design is gorgeous, somehow managing to seem retro and cutting-edge at the same time. The downside is that the OP-1 isn’t yet available – with any luck, we’ll see it some time next year.
Each of the controllers we’re featuring is individual, but the Audio Cubes are something different altogether. Available in sets of two or four (you can use as many as you like), they send data based on their proximity to other things and position in relation to the ‘receiver’ cube. Such a dry explanation doesn’t do the Audio Cubes justice, though; if you want a workhorse studio controller, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for something that will turn heads, investigate further.
The Manta is a touch-sensitive controller with a difference in that each of its 48 sensors ‘knows’ how much of it is being covered by your finger. This means (for example) that you could not only use each one to trigger a note, but also that by moving your finger slightly you could tweak the volume. It’s clever stuff, and the Manta – which is available in maple and walnut finishes – is also gloriously thin.
Livid Instruments Ohm64
This is the deluxe MIDI controller you’ve always dreamed of – but better. OK, it doesn’t have any fancy multitouch capabilities, but its styling is of Rolls Royce standard and the knobs and faders are truly luxurious. Each of the buttons is also a programmable LED and – perhaps best of all – there’s a wooden crossfader. If James Bond played a DJ set, he’d do it using this.