About a decade ago, M-Audio introduced one of the first
USB MIDI controllers that specialized in drum pads. The Trigger Finger
was so flexible that it became a favorite of many producers, and vintage
units are now quickly snapped up on eBay. At NAMM 2014, M-Audio
introduced a new version that took the original product and added
integrated sequencing tools, along with a massive software suite that
also works in any DAW—even without the hardware unit present. With a
product this expansive, we had to look in depth at its features, and we
were impressed. Here’s why.
Fans of the original Trigger Finger will be over the moon
with the Pro’s specs. Like the original, it features both MIDI and USB
outs, which enables control of hardware synths and samplers, as well as
integrating directly with your computer. As with the original, there are
16 velocity- and pressure-sensitive drum pads, but now with four banks,
bringing the total to 64. Like many current controllers, these pads
embed multi-color LEDs that shift hues to show which bank is selected.
A gorgeous four-line LCD shows all kinds of relevant
information and is really quite necessary considering that—unlike other
products in this category—the Trigger Finger Pro includes an integrated sequencer.
While Ableton Push and Native Instruments Maschine are simply
controlling their companion software, the Trigger Finger Pro is actually
a hardware sequencer, with TR-808-style step entry to boot.
In addition to the step-sequencing amenities, this
sequencer includes a lot of drum-centric features, like continuously
variable swing (with an MPC vibe) and the ability to set velocities for
each step on the fly. Patterns are also saved directly into the
hardware. In terms of arranging of patterns into songs at the hardware
level, there’s just a simple “Next Sequence” feature that allows for
basic verse-chorus chaining. It’s hardly a full-blown song mode, but the
point of an instrument like this is whipping up grooves in real time.
The Trigger Finger Pro comes with over 8GB of data
compressed into 3GB of installers. This includes both the essential
software and additional sound libraries. I was disappointed that this
wasn’t on a DVD in the box, as it required an overnight download.
Granted, I don’t have the fattest Internet pipe, so if you’ve got a
premium connection it won’t be an issue.
That said, the collection of soundware that comes with TFP
is immense: packages of samples, loops, and synth presets from three
different developers. While these focus on dance and electronic
material, I was surprised to find very few high-quality acoustic drum
kits. I’m guessing these will become available as add-ons, but it would
be nice to have a few right out of the gate.
On the other hand, if you’re an electronic artist of any
kind, you’ll be swimming in tons of fantastic material, covering pretty
much every dance and experimental genre and then some. The Prime Loops
package delivers a gigabyte of bread-and-butter in each of the major
dance categories, including deep house, electro, progressive, minimal,
and several others. The Anomaly package does a great job with streetwise
hip-hop flavors. The crown jewel for house connoisseurs is the 2.5GB
collection from Toolroom Records. With over three hundred drum kits and a
few hundred more synth presets—from legendary DJs like Mark Knight and
D. Ramirez—this collection is absolutely top-notch and will really help
dance artists take their productions to the next level.
The inclusion of Hybrid 3 ratchets up the Trigger Finger Pro’s value considerably, as it’s a powerful synth plug–in on its own.
Architecture. Hybrid 3 consists of two complete
subtractive synths, called parts, which you can use individually or
layered. In addition to each part’s integrated effects, there are five
effects modules and two step sequencers.
Oscillators. Each part has three oscillators: two
wavetable sources and one “classic” virtual analog type with
sub-oscillator and noise generator. The wavetable oscillators are quite
deep, despite their straightforward design. At first glance, each
oscillator’s waveform options include sync, cross-modulation and
“multi-wave” (stacked and detuned) options. This perform as expected and
tend to sound more digital than analog in that Access Virus kind of
way. All of the many wavetable options can be swept by Hybrid’s shape
parameter, which in turn can be modulated in a variety of ways. With
very slow modulation rates, some of these wavetables exhibited a touch
of stepping, but most were quite smooth overall. In practice, these
additional wavetables put Hybrid in the same territory as Native
Instruments Massive, which for some users will be a huge bonus.
Filters and amp. Calling Hybrid’s filters “multi-mode” is
an understatement. The 23 different modes range from the usual lowpass,
highpass, andbandpass to more complex options like notch-plus-lowpass
and highpass-plus-allpass. Frankly, this evoked one of my favorite
analog synths of all time: the Oberheim Xpander. Also in the filter
section is a saturation processor with six types of distortion. While
the more familiar overdrive modes perform as expected, the additional
bit-crush and resampling modes sounded quite unlike any other I’ve
heard, with unusual, jittery, loop-like artifacts. The amplifier section
includes basic chorus, delay, and reverb, which are separate from
Hybrid’s more sophisticated insert effects.
Modulation and effects. Each part offers four LFOs,
four envelopes, and a step sequencer, with a few twists that power
programmers will dig. For example, the filter and amp envelopes are
five–stage affairs with adjustable breakpoints, so you can add bouncing
attacks or complex decays. The two freely assignable modulation
envelopes are similar, with an additional delay stage at the start for
evolving textures. Three of the LFOs include phase control for
fine-tuning their behavior, while the fourth is configured for
tempo-synced pumping effects. As for effects, each part includes two
time-based inserts that do all of the standard reverb and delay tricks
with minimum fuss. There’s also a global chorus/flanger for making
Arsenal is the nerve center of TFP, serving to integrate
its AIR Drums and Hybrid soft synths (from the mad scientists who
formerly did Avid/Digidesign’s branded virtual instruments, and who
prior to that were known as Wizoo), as well as configure the hardware’s
knobs, faders, and buttons (see Figure 1 at left). The full installation
includes both plug-in and standalone versions, which is a nice touch as
it lets you use the TFP independently of a DAW. Also, you could be not
near the TFP hardware and use Arsenal as a “mega plug-in” within your
At the most basic level, you can call up any of Arsenal’s
thousands of presets via five data filters: instrument, style,
articulation, timbre, and plug-in. You can also leave the filters off
and just use the search field.
Once you’ve loaded a preset, you can accept the default
controller parameters (which vary depending on the preset) for the knobs
and faders, or you can reassign your own favored parameters, such as
filter cutoff and so on. If you want to edit the patch directly, you can
double-click on it and open the plug-in directly within Arsenal.
What’s more, you can drag and drop any VST synth right
onto Arsenal and it will read the presets—along with any metadata—then
integrate that instrument into Arsenal’s overall system. For example, I
dropped Korg’s M1 plug-in (specifically, the VST file from my plug-ins
folder) onto Arsenal and it scanned all the presets and allowed me to
quickly assign the TFP’s controls to various M1 parameters.
AIR Drums is Trigger Finger’s environment for both drum
and effect samples (see Figure 2 at left). Since it’s optimized for percussion,
you won’t find a lot of exotic synthesis here, but what is present is
nicely integrated with the whole system.
Reflecting the hardware, there are four banks of 16 sounds
and switching between banks changes the color scheme. Each pad includes
a fairly deep array of options for transforming the sample assigned to
The obvious tools are present, including pitch, decay,
sample start/stop, multimode filtering, velocity sensitivity, and
panning. Digging a bit deeper, things get more complex, with multi-stage
envelopes for pitch, cutoff, and amp, sample switching, and up to three
insert effects per pad. These effects focus mainly on compression,
limiting, EQ, and distortion, as well as phasing and auto-panning. Three
master effects can be applied to the entire kit: Hype, Reverb, and
Compressor. Hype functions like an exciter, with a lot more character
than a standard shelving EQ, which makes it great for adding gloss to a
When a package like this includes so many interlocking
parts, kicking the tires can be challenging. I did have some initial
setup problems, as it’s not clear in the documentation that the TFP will
not work with a USB hub. Once I plugged directly into my computer,
everything was groovy.
Of course, you can rely on the TFP for classic controller
applications. Everything works consistently, CCs can be assigned
anywhere the MIDI spec allows, and there’s full compliance with the
Mackie Control and HUI standards. If you just want to use the TFP for
live performance and studio programming, it’s all there and then some.
Fire up the included software and dig deeper into
Arsenal’s integration, and the experience gets amazing. The software
does a terrific job of keeping everything organized, and once you get
the hang of the hardware sequencer, whipping up grooves is a totally
There are some wonderful methods of performing REX loop
material in conjunction with the pads and step sequencer. Using a few
easy interactive gestures (e.g., pressing and holding multiple steps with your fingers,) you can effectively “play” the loop material live.
However, when it came time to record my grooviest of
grooves, I ran into some MIDI timing turbulence. The symptom? When the
Trigger Finger Pro is synced via USB MIDI to a host DAW (I was using
Ableton Live), recording the output of its sequencer into a track
resulted in extremely small but consistent delays ranging between a
128th-note and a 64th-note. In a live DJ or EDM set, this is almost
imperceptible, especially given that even the best turntablists will
have these issues when beat-matching. If you’re recording sequenced
material for later studio use without the TFP, it’s a bit hairy. After
further testing, it became clear that the problem wasn’t with the
Trigger Finger Pro at all, but inherent to MIDI timing: If you tinker
with your DAW’s delay compensation during the setup process, the problem
disappears. Alternately, you can record the grooves, then re-quantize
in your DAW. From there, assign the resulting sequence to the Arsenal
plug-in and you’re back in business.
For $399, the Trigger Finger Pro package is a fantastic
value. You get a thoroughly modern and supercharged version of a
legendary controller, a flexible hardware sequencer that can also
control five-pin MIDI synths, two extremely capable soft synths, and a
world-class collection of electronica soundware from top producers. For
sheer bang for buck, the TFP suite wins our Key Buy award.
Flexible pad-based MIDI control. Deep and powerful
hardware drum sequencing. TR-808-style step sequencer. Solid integration
via Arsenal software. Two powerful soft synths included, as is huge
soundware collection from top producers.
Required software is download-only, despite being over
3GB. Due to inherent delays in MIDI, tight sync requires adjusting
latency compensation in your DAW.Bottom Line
Pad controller, hardware sequencer, powerful host
environment, and huge soundware collection combine to form a powerful
groove-creation machine for a seemingly impossible price.
$449 list | $399 street | m-audio.com