Arturia BeatStep reviewed

July 11, 2014

For a company that made its name creating top-notch soft synths, Arturia’s relatively recent plunge into analog waters is quickly becoming a deep-sea dive. Case in point, their new BeatStep control surface. On the surface, the BeatStep looks like a slimline drum pad controller that bears a passing resemblance to the Korg NanoPad, but swim a little further and you’ll discover that it’s also a fantastic addition to a modern analog rig, thanks to its gate and CV outputs.

The BeatStep’s small form factor and sturdy construction makes it a shoo-in for laptop performers. With space at a premium in a typical gig bag, the BeatStep’s combination of price and functionality (topped off with tons of multi-colored LEDs) will be fairly irresistible for DJs of all shapes and sizes.

As a pad controller, BeatStep’s MIDI features are remarkably robust, thanks in a large part to its companion software that delivers a high degree of customization in a clean, intuitive interface. In addition to the expected MIDI controller mapping options, users can easily edit performance details like whether the knobs respond in absolute or relative modes, how quickly they respond to fast or slow knob twists (think of it as rotational velocity), and the velocity response of the pads (including exponential, linear, logarithmic and maximum velocity). Each of these configurations can be saved as a preset. This is a lovely touch, as bangin’ tracks often result in overly enthusiastic playing, while chill tracks tend to require a bit less performance bombast.

Between these controller features and the overall construction, the BeatStep is already a solid value, but Arturia also included a remarkably capable step sequencer that works for both MIDI and analog CV/gate applications. As a producer with a fair amount of analog gear, this really got my juices flowing.

You can edit the sequences either directly from the knobs or via the software editor, so live performance tweaks are part and parcel of the BeatStep experience. What’s more, you can save specific key and scale information as part of any of its 16 presets, so flubbed notes are only an option if you’re feeling bold. 

The sequencer’s clock is strictly USB, so you can’t sync the BeatStep from other analog gear, but for 99 percent of users this won’t be a problem. On the other hand, the swing parameter can only be edited from the software, which is a bit of a drag after becoming addicted to the Roland Aira TR-8’s continuously variable swing in a performance context.

While the step sequencer can be used traditionally for musical material, in conjunction with synths like Arturia’s own MiniBrute and MicroBrute or my trusty Roland SH-101, I had even more fun using it to modulate parameters on my Tom Oberheim and Doepfer analog gear. Being able to sync the tempo to my DAW via USB, then use the CV out to modulate the filters in my rig while tweaking the sequences in real time felt a lot like magic in the context of a studio session. Things got even more interesting when I applied the BeatStep’s nifty pattern direction functions, which include forward, backward, back-and-forth, and random.

All in all, the BeatStep Is another awesome product from Arturia—a company that's clearly on a roll when it comes to delivering what the modern market wants, at a price that real musicians can actually afford. That’s why we’re awarding it a Key Buy.

PROS: Sixteen pads with customizable velocity curves plus 16 endless knobs. CV and Gate outputs. Software editor offers extensive customization and sequence editing.

CONS: Sequencer clock is strictly USB. Non-realtime swing parameter can only be edited via software. 

Bottom Line: Affordable Swiss Army Knife sequencer and controller for both analog and digital rigs.

$129.99 list | $99 street

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