We’ve all been there at some point. You need to program a drum part and all you have to hand is a MIDI keyboard - not the most suitable tool in the world for creating beats, especially if you’re more of a percussionist than a pianist.
A much more appealing proposition is to turn to the now-traditional format of trigger pads arranged in a 4x4 matrix, as originally popularised by the classic Akai MPC60. This layout allows you to place a standard kit of drum sounds in a more natural position under the fingers than a keyboard could ever manage, giving you a much more intuitive array of targets to aim at.
So while it won’t (and shouldn’t!) replace your conventional keyboard controller, adding a pad-based controller to your setup can reap significant rewards if you regularly need to program drums.
Not only that, but some controllers of this type take things further by including their own proprietary sound library and software instruments, while others are more like percussion instruments in their own right.
When selecting a pad-based controller, there are certain things to look out for. A large enough array of pads and controls is first and foremost, and the pads need to be playable and responsive enough to cope with the powerful, expressive, multilayered sampled instruments that are available to us today. Controllers should be easy to configure, so that you can customise the layout of the pads to trigger your chosen soundset, and the convenience of a single USB connector, handling both MIDI data and power, should not be overlooked. For the purposes of this round-up, onboard sounds aren’t really a factor, as our assumption is that you’ll be triggering sounds from software instruments in your DAW. With all this in mind, then, here’s our pick of the current pad controller crop.
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