Musicians are spoilt for choice when it comes to MIDI controllers, but the QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller from Keith McMillen offers a new take on a familiar form, boasting a mix of pressure-sensitive touch sliders, velocity-sensitive pads, and 251 programmable LED lights – all in a package that's the same size as an iPad. Gizmag puts it through its paces.

The QuNeo can connect to a computer via USB, through which it draws power, or it can be plugged directly into a synthesizer with the addition of the optional MIDI Expander box. The device will also work with an iPad using a Camera Connection Kit, but the companion software is Windows or Mac only.

For the purposes of this review, I used a Mac and the QuNeo alongside the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Ableton Live, a popular choice with DJs, and electronic or experimental musicians.

Getting Started

The QuNeo is made from black plastic, and is both light and small, but still feels perfectly stable when placed on a flat surface. It's a nice piece of kit, and the sole minor gripe I could level at the workmanship is that the pads felt just a little too squishy for my taste. Still, they responded just fine and I didn't experience any significant latency.

The full specs are as follows:

  • 16 pads with velocity, pressure, and location (x/y) sensitivity
  • 8 pressure-sensitive touch sliders
  • 1 long pressure-sensitive multi-touch slider
  • 2 pressure-sensitive rotary encoders
  • 17 pressure-sensitive buttons
  • 251 programmable LEDs with 16 levels of brightness
  • Measurements: 9.5 x 7.3 x 0.3 in (24.1 x 18.5 x 0.9 cm)
  • Weight: 14 oz (0.4 kg)

There isn't a paper manual included in the packaging, just some brief instructions directing you to the company website to download the QuNeo companion software (this does contain a user manual in PDF form). Installation is simple, and the software walks the user through choosing which DAWs that the QuNeo will be used with.

On plugging the QuNeo into a computer via the supplied USB lead, the device lights up with a satisfying series of colored lights, and then it's a case of firing up your DAW of choice. My personal preference is Ableton Live, and this review will reflect that, but the QuNeo is also compatible with Logic, Reason, Traktor and more (a full rundown is available on the company's website).

Launching Ableton Live, I headed to the preferences panel, and selected the QuNeo Launchpad as a MIDI controller. Nothing worked, but a quick look at the QuNeo support documentation confirmed that the correct preset needs to be selected for it to function properly.

Using QuNeo

As my own music output tends to lean toward beatless experimental ambient fare, my use of the QuNeo reflected this, and I found myself using the device in conjunction with a guitar to launch clips in Ableton Live's Session View, enabling me to make playback more of a "performance" – exactly what Ableton Live is good at. But the QuNeo made it a more interesting and tactile experience than usual.

Other than the simple launching of clips in Live's Session View, the QuNeo responds both to the velocity with which you hit one of the central pads, and the position of the hit on the pad's surface (hence the "3D" part of the device's moniker). The many LEDs within the QuNeo also provide visual feedback, and helps make the process more fun.

Indeed, the one main point that set the QuNeo apart from the other MIDI controllers I've tried is the sheer sense of fun one gets from using it, and the level of intuitiveness that, once mastered, it offers when interacting with your computer while making music. It goes some way to increasing the feeling that the computer is an instrument, rather than – you know – a computer.

Another plus in the QuNeo's favor is that there's a real sense of flexibility when using it. DJs will enjoy mixing and launching tracks live, while Electronica and Hip-Hop artists can make use of the velocity-sensitive pads for making beats.

For those more adventurous than me, the downloadable QuNeo software includes a MIDI editor that allows one to map MIDI functions manually, and though I found the presets more than adequate for getting to grips with the device, I'd probably end up delving in given enough time.

Conclusion

Following some initial work configuring the QuNeo, it soon fit snugly into my usual writing and performing setup, and I'd always take it along for the ride if recording or performing.

Before taking the plunge, it's worth researching the competition, and Novation's mighty Launchpad or the Akai MPD32 might fit your own needs better. Still, with the disclaimer that my experience with those devices is admittedly limited, I feel that the QuNeo beats them in terms of flexibility, and fun in use. Highly recommended for musicians, artists and DJs looking for a new MIDI controller.

QuNeo is available for approximately US$200, depending on vendor.

The promo video below is worth a look to see what can be done with the QuNeo in more talented and experienced hands.

Product Page: Keith McMillen's QuNeo