The Best MPE Controllers: The Future of Music and MIDI
Updated: May 10, 2022
The future is here. MIDI technology is becoming stronger than ever before with the introduction of MPE. Electronic producers are now able to produce with a live, organic feel thanks to this technology, and the sky's the limit.
Below, we’ll dive into some of our favorite MPE controllers below so that you can find the perfect tool to take your beatmaking to the next level. We’ll also share the basics of MPE so that you can better understand this futuristic technology.
What is MPE?
MPE or MIDI Polyphonic Expression is a more specialized type of MIDI, allowing producers to control digital instruments in a more organic way. MPE controllers take in information from each note, rather than the controller as a whole, allowing producers to control precise parameters like pitch, vibrato, amplitude, and timbre simultaneously.
This undoubtedly makes it easier for beatmakers to pull off a live sound in a digital production since MPE is capable of taking in more nuanced information. There’s no need to program variations in amplitude when you strike different chords for example, as MPE-compatible controllers and DAWs record this information automatically.
While there are currently only a handful of instruments that support this technology, it’s becoming increasingly popular due to its ease of use and flexibility for creating truly lively recordings.
The History of MPE
It’s important to note that MPE is an extremely new technology. Developers first began discussing the creation of MPE in 2015, which was first showcased under the acronym MDC, or “multidimensional controllers”.
ROLI has been the leader within this space, with ROLI Seaboard inventors Roland Lamb and Roger Linn pushing extensively for MPE’s development. In 2018, the MIDI Manufactuer’s Association officially approved a standard for MPE making it easier for new devices and programs to adopt the cutting edge technology.
Take a look at the ROLI seaboard in action to get a sense of the power of this futuristic instrument:
How Does MPE Work?
MPE is able to capture more expression than traditional MIDI technology on its own since it dedicates a channel to individual notes and voices, rather than a single channel. You have up to 15 channels that can be used simultaneously, each with their own data set.
Do All DAWs Work With MPE?
Unfortunately, not all DAWs currently work seamlessly with MPE since it is a relatively new technology. According to ROLI, the current list extends to Ableton Live 11, Bitwig 8-Track & Studio, Cakewalk, GarageBand, Logic Pro X, Cubase, Reaper, Tracktion, Mainstage, and Stagelight.
That being said, DAWs are constantly in development, so it’s likely that we’ll see MPE-compatible technology roll out for all software in the coming years. It’s worth noting that you can use plugin workarounds to utilize MPE products with DAWs like Ableton 10 Live, Pro Tools, Studio One, and FL Studio.
Best MPE Controllers For Music Producers
Without further ado, here are some of the best controllers leading the charge in futuristic MPE production.
ROLI Seaboard Block: $350
ROLI’s entry-level keyboard is certainly worth exploring since it’s from the pioneers of MPE themselves. With 5 dimensions of touch per note, you’ll have full control over your creation process all within a compact board. The controller can be played on its own, or connected with other ROLI blocks for the ultimate production setup. This controller also comes with 100s MPE sounds to experiment with in your DAW. It’s easy to see why this tiny beast is frequently sold out.
See the ROLI Block in action:
Joue Board Pro: $300
The light and compact Joue Board in a portable MPE controller that can be swapped out with Joue’s different pad add-ons to customize your playing experience. The PRO version comes with its own software, allowing you to cater your MIDI mappings to your liking, without the need of an external DAW. Play starter packs start at $300, and then pad add ons are fairly affordable once you have the starter board.
Watch the Joue Pro in use:
Instrument 1: $299
For those who appreciate controllers with more interfaces than a traditional keyboard or drum pad set up, the Instrument 1 by Atriphon makes a whole lot of sense. This futuristic controller allows beatmakers to strum, slide, tap, and drum using its unique interface. The flexible controller is compatible with mobile apps, MPE-compatible DAWs, and has the option to play directly through the instrument with the embedded speakers.
Check out the Instrument 1 here:
The Linnstrument is for serious audio enthusiasts, created by Roger Linn himself. With its unique interface, this controller is appealing to a wide variety of beatmakers. Each pad takes in pressure, velocity, release, front to back, and left to right information, giving you an ultra-detailed production experience.
While the pads are set up like any other traditional string instrument (separated by consecutive semitones), you can easily tune the Linnstrument to your liking, allowing for a myriad of playing possibilities. You can also split the full Linnstrument to play multiple sounds at once, or use the interface as a powerful step sequencer. Other goodies include an arpeggiator and modulation mappings all built into the controller.
Watch the Linnstrument work its magic:
Controlla XYZ: Free
If you’re not ready to commit to one of these futuristic yet admittedly pricey controllers, it’s certainly worth trying out Controlla XYZ to elevate your beats. Our iOS app allows you to turn your phone into a controller, leveraging the gear you already have. Controlla lets you map any parameter in your DAW to 3 dimensions in 3D space.
Once you’ve mapped Controlla to effects or VST of your choosing, simply move your phone to expressively modulate in real time. It’s a great way to give you that desired, organic sound without requiring excessive programming or a hefty pricetag.
One thing is for sure-- the future of music is bright. Enjoy using these futuristic music production tools to elevate your sound to the next level.
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