By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
The QuNeo, from Keith McMillen Instruments, and financed with a successful Kickstarter campaign, is a lightweight, flat surface about the size of an iPad, with white buttons of various shapes and sizes. The buttons are rubber, quite sensitive, and solidly-constructed. They light up.
Connect the QuNeo to a laptop, or even an iPad, and it becomes a brightly-colored little slice of touch-sensitive magic that lets you create music with a stunning degree of precision. This seems like what musical instruments look like in the future.
After testing the QuNeo as extensively as time would allow, we have determined the following:
1) The QuNeo + iPad is fun, but it’s not a full-fledged music studio. Before you entertain visions of producing the next Pet Sounds atop a mountain, note that the QuNeo + iPad combination must be plugged in to a wall with a special adapter kit called the QuNeo Remote Power Kit ($30) and Apple’s Camera Connector Kit ($29). Even then, iPad apps are not designed to facilitate touch-, pressure- and velocity-sensitive controllers (although you can reverse-engineer some of them — more on that below).
2) When it comes to heavy-duty music creation, we are not (yet) in a post-computer world.
3) For musicians with either patience or experience with wiring MIDI controllers to virtual instruments, the QuNeo is a dream come true.
4) The short story: If you know someone who makes electronic music on a computer, and you’re looking for a $200 gift for them, this is it — just keep the receipt. They might not have what it takes to get the most out of it. And if they’re only planning on using it with an iPad, it’s probably not worth it (yet).
The QuNeo feels as great to the finger as it looks, and it works with three iPad apps right out of the box: BeatMaker, BeatMaker 2 and Korg iMS-20. We’ve used it. If there’s any latency, even with the first-generation iPad we used for testing, we didn’t notice it.
It also works (in many more ways) with Mac- and PC-based music software including Ableton Live, Serato Scratch Live, Traktor, Apple Logic Pro, Mixxx, Reason, and Battery. Using the QuNeo editor on your computer, you can go into the device and assign sliders, buttons, and so on to just about anything in those programs.
That degree of customization is sort of available when dealing with iPad apps, but as Keith McMillen Instruments Specialist Adriano Clemente told us by phone, in some cases, that involves contacting the iOS app developer and finding out which MIDI channel the app wants to use for touch sensitivity, and so on. However, he added that there is also a MIDI learn mode for each instrument in BeatMaker 2 (and possibly other apps), which lets you “map your custom pressure, x/y, note [settings], etc. directly from the QuNeo when you are in CoMA mode.”
In other words, it works with the presets on all of these apps and software packages if you’re a mere mortal — but if you’re the type to dive under the hood and monkey around with your firmware settings, the QuNeo can be almost anything you want it to be, controller-wise, for Mac or PC, and to an extent on the iPad too (attention, Damon Albarn).
Where did such an oddball product come from? Why is it not totally dumbed-down for us app-heads?
Steven Fruhwirth of Keith McMillen Instruments told Evolver.fm that the QuNeo was “the most-funded music tech project in KickStarter history,” with backers that included John Paul Jones, Herbie Hancock, Richie Hawtin, and NinjaTune’s Matt Black (a.k.a. half of ColdCut, producer of one of my favorite songs).
We’ve tested it. It works as advertised. At this point, you should already know whether you (or people on your gift list) want QuNeo, so we’ll leave you with some stats, a feature comparison chart (.pdf), and some videos of the thing in action. Impressive.
- continuous pressure sensitivity (for more expressive musical performance)
- X-Y location sensitivity (for controlling filters/effects/etc.)
- color LED feedback (can indicate location and status of elements in the software; can indicate whether tracks are beat-matched, etc.)
- pads, sliders and rotary sensors (including a multi-touch slider which could be mapped to a sound filter, for example)
- size of an iPad 2, and weighing only 14 ounces (for true portability)
- Works with USB, MIDI or OSC
- totally hackable: has a development kit and API for creating custom code to respond to QuNeo’s sensor data
- ships with presets, templates and scripts for popular music software including: Ableton Live, Traktor, Apple Logic Pro, Serato Scratch Live, Mixxx, Reason, Battery, BeatMaker for iPad, and Korg iMS-20 for iPad.