inexpensive MPE controller for VCV Rack (and others) on Linux ?

I’ve had a few students recently who want to get into modern music production techniques, which means I need to get up to speed regarding MPE. I’m running Linux here, Ubuntu 18.04. Can any fellow Linux users recommend an inexpensive controller for use with VCV Rack, Bitwig, and/or Reaper ? TIA!

Best regards,

dp

Hi! Welcome to MPE! It’s transformative, and occasionally maddening. You’ll want to check out PolyExpression if you haven’t.

I’m not on Linux for music, but that shouldn’t matter when it comes to controllers, since MPE (as you probably know already) is just a convention for MIDI–so anything that sends or receives MIDI can work with MPE. The questions are whether a device can transmit it and whether a synth can interpret it correctly.

Regarding lower-cost controllers:

  • The Sensel Morph is probably the standard choice for low-cost MPE. Very flexible (with lots of other uses), widely available, and lots of information available, including some VCV-specific information (I know @Omri_Cohen has some great videos on it). I’ve never used it, in part due to reported problems with velocity sensitivity. I also don’t know if it has the (least-used) fifth dimension (release speed).
  • The Joué is a lot like the Sensel: flexible (but limited to music applications–no video editing, gamepad, or keyboard options that I know of). I don’t know much about it. I guess there are two product levels now?
  • The Seaboard Block is a little more expensive, and more keyboard-like (but weird-feeling). I think it’s pretty hard to find at the moment.
  • Out-there choice for percussion: the Keith McMillen BopPad. Very powerful, kind of hard to use. (There’s also the KMM QuNexus Portable, but people don’t seem to like it very much, and I don’t know if it has true MPE or just some expressive features).
  • Out-there indie choice for isomorphic control: The Joyst! They’re now shipping their Kickstarter units, but I don’t know if/when they’ll start shipping retail units.

Honestly, your main options at around $250-$500 are probably the Sensel and the Joué–both have their issues, they offer true MPE support over a keyboard layout with options to use them as drum pads or device controllers as well. I’d defer to people who’ve touched both of them regarding which is better.

The next price bracket up (around $700-$1500) includes Seaboard Rise, Linnstrument, KMM K-Board Pro, and some exciting upcoming controllers like the Erae Touch and the Osmose, but that’s probably prohibitive if you want something that early-career students could buy.

You asked about devices, but two quick words on software:

  • Heads up on Bitwig–If you and your students are just capturing MPE, Bitwig will work really well. The last time I checked, editing MPE in Bitwig was a horrible experience (a shame, since it’s nice in lots of ways and MPE is part of its core branding).
  • Getting MPE set up in VCV Rack is well worth it, but if you’re in a DAW you need a good softsynth to test with. Surge (if you don’t already know) is great, free, has Linux as a first-class citizen, and has good MPE features. It also doesn’t tie you or your students to Bitwig (as Bitwig’s native devices would). Plus there’s some nice crossover with Rack via @baconpaul!

It doesn’t have release speed. My playing is not good enough for me to make any sensible observations on velocity sensitivity. The software that comes with it is pretty good and makes editing setups easy. I think it would be fair to say though that the developer has been more passionate about selling the product than bugfixing or improving it (though I have heard the same said about Roli and its products).

One other new entrant is this, which is both a controller and a pedagogical device: https://roli.com/products/blocks/lumi-keys-studio-edition

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Thank you for your suggestions ! The Sensel Morph looks promising, ditto the Lumi Keys. I admit that I’m looking for something less expensive but I can work with these prices. It also gives me a better idea what to talk about when I start discussing the $$$ required to get into this stuff. :slight_smile:

Best regards,

dp

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