We often feel that the humble controller (and this goes for some sequencers too), doesn't have as much of the limelight as your big-ticket items such as synths, drum machines or samplers? Sure, they're not designed to make a sound, but come on, without them most of our productions would be cactus. Right?!
MIDI controllers and sequencers come in all shapes and sizes and as such, would be a pain to divide them all up separately. So we'll leave the adulation contained to the first paragraph and just lump them together in one vote.
So whether you like to control your synths through the medium of keys, buttons, pads, or all of the above? Or perhaps you prefer to control your DAW rather than a synth, that's all good too, we're not ones to judge. Either way, it's all here with the results of our reader poll.
And in case you were wondering where all the Eurorack sequencers are? We've left them to their own devices, literally, which you can find in the Best new Eurorack modular gear of 2021 results.
- The ultimate guide to sequencing: step up your sequencing abilities with modulation, randomisation and more
1. Winner, Korg SQ-24
There’s something satisfyingly ’80s about Korg’s new SQ-64 sequencer. We're not sure if it’s the red LEDs that look part Cylon and part KITT, or the white-on-black paint job but it works. The SQ-64 manages to hark back to days long gone while assuming understated modernity. It’s a fine-looking piece of gear, with a sleek but confidence-inspiring heft. The best bit though, is that it's an intuitive and very musical bit of gear and one that we think will stand the test of time.
Read the full Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer review
2. Akai MPC Studio MKII
The MPC Studio is essentially the controller version of Akai's beat-centric production hardware devices. While the Live, One and X come with the MPC 2 software on board, you'll need to be tethered to a laptop with the Studio. This year, version two of the controller landed and brought all the design features and some of the functionality of its standalone siblings with it. Of course, it's all about those famous MPC pads, and while it doesn't quite give you the full experience enjoyed by die-hard MPC fans, Studio is a low impact way of adding the MPC flavour to your setup.
Read the full Akai MPC Studio MKII review
3. Torso Electronics T-1
2021 saw a new pretender in the hardware sequencing game enter the ring and it came in the form of the T-1 from Torso Electronics. Looking very similar to the original Beatstep from Arturia, the T-1 has more of the Beatstep Pro's feature-set up its sleeve. Weighing in with 16 banks, each containing 16 patterns, and each pattern has 16 polyphonic tracks, the T-1 does pack a fair old punch, but what puts other controllers on the ropes is the inclusion of Euclidean rhythms. It is very adaptable, working great with software, syncing via Ableton Link, and music hardware via MIDI or CV – it’ll be welcome in pretty much any rig.
Read the full Torso Electronics T-1 review
4. SSL UF8
Solid State Logic’s large format consoles are found in most high-end mixing and post-production facilities the world over, and they’re considered by many to be about the best that money can buy – although you should note that you’ll need an awful lot of the stuff if you want to buy one for your own studio! The nearest thing we mortals can get to with our modest budgets and home studio spaces is the UF8, designed to bring a slice of SSL's peerless expertise and enviable cachet to this particular area of studio technology. It's slick, attractive and a highly useable DAW controller that exudes SSL’s legendary quality and attention to detail.
Read the full SSL UF8 review
5. M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49
M-Audio's Oxygen brand of MIDI controllers is now on its fourth season and as such, has gotten a proper redesign to invigorate the brand. Non-more so than the inclusion of the Pro 49. The 'Pro' range now sits, obviously, at the top of M-Audio's controller tree. Featuring an entirely playable velocity and aftertouch sensitive keyboard, the Pro is also joined by some new performance functionality. You can take the keyboard out of a regular chromatic piano voicing, with the new Chord and Scale modes. You'll never hit a 'wrong' note again, but perhaps the best part is that M-Audio has managed to keep the cost down, so it won't break the bank.
Read the full M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 review