beatstep

Every new season brings new music tools. Some of these designs, of course, are splashy and grab headlines. Some just look like no-brainers that will see heavy use in your work.

Arturia’s BeatStep stood out at the recent NAMM trade show as just an insanely-great use of a hundred bucks, in a tiny box that sort of does everything you’d want.

It’s a pad controller. But it’s also a step sequencer. It connects to your computer via USB. But it also does analog CV and MIDI (via breakouts) when your computer isn’t around. It works as a controller. It works with an iPad. It can be a clock source.

In short, it’s mobile control and step sequencing for pretty much anything you own, with or without a keyboard.

We’ve already heard from a lot of readers who were drawn to it, many of them already wanting something just like this. Now, we have some extensive tutorial videos from Arturia that show how it works, plus some questions and answers from the makers.

First, official pricing and availability is end of March – direct through Arturia or dealers – at US$129 / 99€. That’s US$99 street.

Expect a full review, but Glen Darcey at Arturia already answers some of our questions:

CDM: What’s the MIDI implementation for the step sequencer like?
Arturia: You have access to the sequencer via SysEx. Our librarian, MIDI Control Center, is being updated to allow users to edit their sequences. The step sequencer can be set to its own MIDI channel for output.

The product description mentions being able to switch between software and external gear control in the same setup. So you switch modes – how does it function when you’re using two modes at once?

The Sequencer has its own MIDI channel and each pad and knob in controller mode can be set to their own channel.

You can start and stop the sequencer from the transports in either mode. The sequencer will run in the background when you are in controller mode so you just press the one button and you switch from one mode to the next.

I’m correct in understanding that the hardware can run in standalone mode, sequence CV/MIDI without being connected to a computer?

Yes, you need to power the unit via USB. This can be a USB charger…just needs to have enough current (over 500 mA). Then you can use it with CV gate and MIDI.

Any other tips you can give us?

The user can set the sequence length from the hardware.

We have other features like Swing, Gate Time and Legato, that can be accessed in the editor. ( we are considering some button combinations to allow access to these from the hardware but we don’t want to add them if it makes the user experience bad, you know press SHIFT + MIDI CH + PLAY + stand on left foot and turn knob 5 counter clockwise 3 clicks).

We are in the final stages of the firmware and are adding little features and other tweaks to make it all work better as we discover different way to use it but I think you will find it a lot of fun.

Full specs:

MIDI controller Mode – RED LED MODE
Step Sequencer mode – BLUE LED MODE
16 velocity and pressure sensitive pads
16 encoders
16 MIDI Controller presets
16 Sequence presets
Works with MIDI Control Center Editor
Internal and External clocking
CV outputs
USB I/O
MIDI output
iPAD compatibility (using camera connection kit)
Transports can send MIDI CC or MMC
Kensington Lock
Standalone MIDI or CV operation when powered via standard USB power adaptor
USB Class compliant (no drivers)

BS1_650

BS3_650

The MIDI implementation is fairly advanced – think everything from Program Change to NRPN/RPN and MMC play/stop, not just MIDI CC (frankly, much more than almost anyone needs on these sorts of things).

There are also various step modes:
Forward
Reverse
Alternate > <
Random

Time divisions: ¼th, 1/8th, 1/16th, 1/32nd

Pattern length can be set from 1 - 16 steps, and you can set swing to 50-75%. (Oddly, these things are often far more advanced in MIDI implementation than they are in rhythm - that'll be a discussion for another day.)

BeatStep @ Arturia

Intro:

And for a clearer sense of how this works, Arturia has posted tutorial videos, covering the basics but also how you might work with external MIDI and analog CV hardware:

Glen also recorded a video explaining a bit of the thinking behind the design for distributor Source at NAMM (via Synthtopia):

  • mercury

    This looks great. Unfortunately, Arturia has a tendency to make beautiful looking hardware and excellent sounding software…but integration is lacking. I have an Arturia Keylab 61, and there is not even a script for integration with Ableton Live. I hope with this new release, they consider adding an Ableton script, it’s used by so many people now, it’s a little bit ridiculous not to have it.

    Btw, if anyone knows where I can get an Ableton script, I would gladly pay $20+ for it!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Hmm, maybe us intrepid users will have to step up. ;)

    • Glen Arturia

      I just sent the Keylab 49/61 files to our web master. They should be posted in the next day or two. I will create the 25 presets in the next day.

    • mercury

      Whoa, that’s amazing! I should have asked for more lol!

    • mercury

      What do you mean 25 presets? Will one them allow me to use the 16 pads and 10 knobs on the keylab controller as a beatstep? That would be awesome…it would make an amazing step sequencer. Imagine hitting a key on the keyboard and then step sequencing that key on the 16 pads and then hitting another key, etc…maybe there is a max4live device that already does this. If anyone knows of one, please let me know. I’ve searched but never found one so far.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Have you tried https://forum.ableton.com ?

    • mercury

      I’ve searched many times but was not able to find it.

    • Glen Arturia

      Hi, We actually have a preset for the Keylabs and an Ableton script (the user script) that we are going to be posting on our site in the next week or so). You need to Keylab preset to set the transports to MMC because Live does not listen to MMC and the Keylab transports are set to MMC because Cubase, Logic, Pro Tools, Studio one, etc. all use MMC. The more detailed scripting needs to be done by Ableton themselves to support all kinds of fun stuff but they have not done it yet. I met with them to discuss this at NAMM and I hope to see better integration soon. However that said, it is very easy and more flexible to use the MIDI learn on Ableton to create the mappings that you want and not have to use the ones that we decide you want. I have been using a BeatStep user script for Live that I made and it works OK. It controls the transports, the 8 parameters of a device, the drum rack pads and then you can map the rest but I find it is more useful to map things in MIDI learn to your own liking.

    • mercury

      The usefullness of the script for me really is one major thing, which is that blue hand…allows you to pick any channel’s instrument or effect and immediately have quick control of that synth or effect. If you map it yourself it becomes a global controller which is good but sometimes you don’t want to control everything, you just want detailed control of one instrument/effect

  • Freeks

    Can you sync multiple Beatseps without computer?
    Gelen talks about syncing multiple by using external sync from Ableton, but in modular stuff there is no computer ;) So three of these with modular would be great if they would sync.

    • Sylvain Poitras

      Looks like they’ll be able to sync to each other with MIDI.

    • beesleep

      how does that work if they only have MIDI out? and no MIDI in?

    • http://www.sylvainpoitras.com/ Sylvain Poitras

      You’re right, I missed that midi IN is only through USB…

    • DOG

      true, but once the new iConnect Midi stuff with USB host finally drops you can have them all hooked up to each other by one box and one unit as master clock. The original iConnectMidi is getting harder to find, but with a usb hub it could have x number of Beatsteps all sync’d up.

      An external box to tie everything together isn’t that big of an inconvenience, especially when you consider how many patch/thru/filter boxes are needed in a decent sized midi rig, or mixes old midi gear with new stuff that only has input and no thru.

    • beesleep

      so another box that costs basically as much as the unit itself… just because they didn’t have the thought to put MIDI in / CV in on it?

      i’m not rewarding their idiocy. especially not when it practically doubles the cost and complexity for no good reason.

    • DOG

      I’m quite sure they considered the possibility of adding a hardware midi in. I’m sure they also considered the additional cost of things such as:
      - will the CPU accommodate another serial input?
      - firmware size and additional CPU load by added routines
      - cost of an additional jack
      - cost of additional DIN to 1/8″ adapter cable
      - cost of additional dev time for mechanical engineers, programmers, and electrical engineers.
      etc

      The fact that they can even do the product as is at $99 is great, and a great testament to todays manufacturing costs. A big part of it is the fact that they know they can sell tons of these, otherwise the cost would be higher, and they could squeeze other features in.

      You can always get one of the _other_ $99 step sequencers with din midi and USB…

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      I think so, in the last video the guy says he’ll be using it like that. Surely if I had a modular setup I’d be thinking of getting 2-3of those. If they implement stuff like chords and drum sequencing it’ll be perfect for my micro modular. Maybe I’ll get it anyway

  • Sylvain Poitras

    Arturia must’ve found my wishlist…
    The only question left: how many beatsteps will I buy?

  • HalfGoodIsNoGood

    The BIG problem for me is the lack of feedback: you can see which steps are enabled/disabled but you can’t see the pitch (or any other parameter)! This makes the sequencer part kind of useless IMHO. Also, nowhere in the video you can see how to modify the velocity or the duration/length of each step… It’s a HUGE limitation!
    And what about the MIDI In or CV In to externally sync the step-sequencer?

    It looks like an ok toy and keywords like “CV” “Hardware” “Modular” “Step-sequencer” will work good on sales! But I’m sure a lot of people will be at least disapointed when they will get their hands on it!

    • coolout

      The pad lights could provide the type of feedback you speak of. For instance, imagine if every knob was a 1:1 control for each step and adjusted a parameter on that step. Various (shift + x button + knob) combos would change a different parameter:

      A basic knob turn affects the velocity and that was displayed by the brightness of the pad. Brighter = higher velocity.

      (shift + knob turn) could set note length displayed by the pad blinking as you turn the knob. Faster blink = shorter note duration.

      Perhaps a (shift + x button) creates a momentary global sequencing mode where each knob changes a global function: knob 1 = swing, knob 2 = x, etc. The pads could provide a level feedback by turning into a stack of two lit pads that light up left to right. Basically looking like a level meter turned on it’s side. the more pads lit (increasing to the right) = the higher the value.

      just some ideas…Arturia, if you use any of these, feel free to send me a Beatstep.

  • Rainbug

    Seems promising!

  • coolout

    So if I understand this correctly, the step-sequencer is basically only one track/monophonic? There’s no way to sequence a drum kit for instance, aside from setting each step with different midi channel?

    • HalfGoodIsNoGood

      From a modular point of view, there is only one CV out so…

    • Gajimicu

      This is indeed key to me, and I think to a lot of people. Controlling a drum machine by playing drums with pads is fun… But sequencing a drum machine with a x0x style sequencer would be THE selling feature. There are a few x0x style hardware sequencers out there, but they are very expensive for just ‘trigger machines’. What we are talking about here is just a matter of programming (firmware), there is everything, hardware wise, to handle this. Each pad would be a ‘track’ or ‘instrument’, you select a pad, and you program it’s pattern. PLEASE Arturia consider this !!

    • coolout

      yeah…a drum machine mode would be a huge plus and probably cause folks to buy multiple Beatsteps. Imagine how fun it would be to have 2 side-by-side, one sequencing drums and the other synths. It would be like having a bunch of Korg Volcas without any limitation on sounds.

    • bengoldacre

      Aren’t there lots of hacks for the Novation Launchpad that basically make it work like this?

    • Swrvsd

      Bengoldacre do you have any links about this?

    • http://brunoafonso.com Bruno Afonso

      This involves a lot more programming and memory. It is not as trivial as you believe so.

  • Misled Bayonets

    Can one manually step or trigger each step sequentially from an external source? That’s always been something I wish more step sequencers actually did rather than just repetitive fixed tempo loops.

  • Cv jones

    Looks great and as always there is something you want that a product can not or does not do , but for me I want to want it though the time divisions have a pretty big deal breaker …. No triplets . I hope these can be added . I also hope the swing and gate and legato find hardware control …. I plan to use this sans computer . Till then it shows hope , but 1/10 away from being a no brainier .

  • angstrom

    Hopefully the note length can be added, that’s quite a useful function to get any sort of expression out of the thing.

  • j

    is it possible to hook this thing up to a meeblip anode for elektron-style standalone sequencing? notes and parameter locks at each step? if so, that’s probably the best 200 you can spend on new gear!

  • beesleep

    i see mention of External Sync… yet i only see CV *out* and MIDI *out*. guessing they mean external sync via USB only. not so standalone in that case.

    i was pretty excited about this when first announced until i noticed that key fact. almost missed it at first and was all excited to have a standalone MIDI / CV step sequencer to play patterns on whatever synth while syncing to a drum machine. not seeing that happening lacking MIDI in. having the external syncing via USB means a computer is then involved… meaning i guess i don’t see the point then.

  • leolodreamland

    in the current parlance i think the term is, sick.

  • Miguel Marcos

    I have been tempted by some of the hardware Arturia has been developing but haven’t bitten yet. I’m going to bite on this one, for sure.

  • CiM

    Will it drive a Hz per volt CV input like my Yamaha CS-15? Please say yes…

    • CIM

      Looks like it won’t :( From Arturia’s site:

      CV/GATE

      BeatStep has a standard 1 volt per octave CV output as well as a standard 1 volt per octave GATE output.

  • REGEND

    Saw this at NAMM and my #1 reason for buying this…I can use it on a plane with my iOS device. My #2 reason is for triggering cue points in Serato Scratch Live and Traktor. #3 Standalone sequencer for my old samplers. #4 MIDI controller for Ableton Live and a Laptop #5 CV for an ARP AXXE

  • foosnark

    I kinda want one, but as I contemplate it I’m not sure how much sense it makes with my (now Maschine-centric) workflow.

    But I do have a couple of Patchblocks coming at the end of next month, and this might be a cool way to sequence and/or trigger them. Hmmm!

  • Andy Moore

    Bravo for bringing what so many have wanted to the market place at such an approachable pricepoint and great build quality!