QuNeo was the first Kickstarter project I ever funded and I just got mine in the mail a couple of weeks ago. Â I’ve only had a few hours to spend with it, but that’s been enough to get a feel for what it’s capable of and what it will do for my setup.
I play live laptop/keyboards/synths/drum machine in a rock-tronic band called Thrillouette in San Francisco. Â The setup is primarily Ableton Live on a laptop with some midi controllers plugged into it for live control. Â The controllers include a Softstep from Keith McMillen, the people who make the QuNeo, as well as an Akai MPD32. Â The QuNeo is expected to replace the MPD32 so I’m going to do a quick comparison of the two.
The first thing I noticed when I unpacked the QuNeo is that it’s quite small. Â It’s way smaller than the MPD32, which is actually pretty big with generous spacing between all the controls. Â That makes it very easy to get used to but I’ve always thought it could be smaller. Â The QuNeo is closer in size to a Novation Launchpad, which is a clear competitor to it. Â I like to keep my setup compact so this is a big win for me.
The QuNeo uses a very complex programming system for it’s various presets so it’s hugely powerful and capable of a wide variety of interactions with MIDI software if you put some time into it. Â Ableton Live is also very flexible if you put in the time to program your own control surface definition for it in Python. Â Fortunately, the QuNeo people have included a nice set of presets including a couple aimed directly at use with Ableton Live. Â There were some quirks with getting up and going with it but after restarting the software a couple of times it ironed itself out.
The biggest difference between using an Akai MPD32 with Live and a QuNeo is the QuNeo acts as a full two-way control surface and it changes to reflect what’s going on in Live itself. Â The MPD32 is only a one-way MIDI controller (though a quite capable one), and that limitation has always bugged me about it. Â That alone is enough to make me want to practice with the QuNeo until I feel very comfortable with it. Â The MPD32 is set up within Live as a control surface but it’s functionality just doesn’t extend as far as I’d like. Â I’ve customized my setup in Live to make it work for me, but I’ve always felt like I had to adapt to it rather than the other way around.
Another great thing about the QuNeo is the fact that the 4×4 grid of pads can detect taps on each corner so it can also act like an 8×8 grid Launchpad-style. Â In a single controller it’s both a clip launcher and a drum pad trigger. Â Very cool! Â Unfortunately, it’s going to take me some practice to get used to the amount of pressure needed to successfully trigger the corners. Â It takes more pressure than I expected with the default setup so it’s not something I feel comfortable using live right out of the box. Â It’s going to take some time.
To act like a control surface, the QuNeo uses a crapload of multi-colored LEDs under the various touch surfaces. Â It’s a clever system but the virtual touch faders don’t have nearly the responsiveness of real faders like the MPD32 has. Â The real knobs on the MPD32 are also very nice to use. Â I rely on those real controls for my live performance now so that’s going to take some getting used to. Â Having 8 physical faders right in front of me as a mixer for my various parts is great for me. Â The QuNeo had to make obvious trade-offs for physical size and flexibility and I think it’s worth it, but I will miss it. Â For some types of controllerists, the MPD32 will be a much better choice. Â The MPD32 also gives you 4 banks of the pads with very quick switching between them (just a dedicated button push) and I have gotten used to that. Â I’ll probably end up customizing the presets on the QuNeo to get that same sort of behavior. Â That’s easy, but it’s tedious.
Overall, for the size and price I think the QuNeo is unbeatable for controlling Ableton Live with such tight integration. Â It’s more physical of controls than a fully touchscreen system, but it still gives you a lot of the flexibility of one. Â I think they were trying to design a controller that would give you the best of both worlds and they’ve definitely gotten the closest yet that I’ve seen.
A commenter mentioned that I may have been too biased towards the QuNeo so here’s some more detail to help balance it…
The QuNeo is the new toy so Iâ€™m obviously enthusiastic about it but itâ€™s not a clear choice over an MPD. The MPD32 has almost no learning curve and has nicely spaced and well labeled controls. The QuNeo has a steep learning curve and no labeling at all. If you put in the time (which could be considerable), youâ€™ll be able to do more with a QuNeo than you can ever do with an MPD32. Akaiâ€™s MPD line is targeted very much at people who want a quick MPC like interface for their music software and I think it does quite a nice job at that. Â It’s a very flexible MIDI controller with an intuitive layout.