Review: Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo 3D Multi-Touch Pad Controller for iPad
The iPad has gone beyond inspiring new music performance accessories, also prompting computer-focused electronic instrument and MIDI controller developers to sell iPad versions of past products. Keith McMillen Instruments' QuNeo ($200) is one such example of this -- a USB multi-touch pad controller originally designed for Mac and Windows users that recently added an "iPad mode" via a free firmware update.
QuNeo is an advanced, highly customizable pad controller designed for a wide variety of digital music applications. Its most basic use can be as a simple drum pad, however the sophisticated set of pads provide velocity, pressure, and location sensitivity, and can be fully customized to send any MIDI command to the connected host device, allowing it to control everything from recording and sequencing apps to even lighting systems.
To provide a bit of background, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, more commonly known simply as MIDI, is a technical standard that allows electronic instruments and related devices to communicate by sending digital control messages specifying pitch, velocity, and other control signals referred to as Control Changes (CC). In most cases, MIDI keyboard and pad controllers are simply input devices that send the appropriate messages to digital music apps such as Apple’s GarageBand, which then interpret these messages to generate the appropriate sounds, or take other actions such as changing instrument banks, pitch, tempo, recording, and more.
What particularly distinguishes QuNeo from similar pad controllers is its ability to detect the position of touches along the X/Y axis of the 16 main pads. Combined with velocity and pressure sensitivity, this in essence provides a three-dimensional control range. Different control changes can be sent out based on where the user touches the pad as well as how much pressure is applied—each pad also supports 128 levels of velocity response as well as a continuous pressure mode. QuNeo also includes two pressure-sensitive rotary encoders that can also be configured for either direction or location, eight sliders that provide standard pressure and velocity sensitivity with location and direction along a single axis, and a long slider that can additional measure the distance of two simultaneous touch points from each other.
QuNeo incorporates 251 programmable LEDs with 16 levels of brightness to illuminate every pad, slider, and rotary controller. A Remote LED Control feature allows applications to send MIDI messages back to the QuNeo to turn any of the LEDs on or off or adjust their intensity.
The unit is also almost completely customizable through the QuNeo Editor application for Mac or PC; every controller and every different signal from every sensor can be read in and assigned to MIDI notes and control changes. Controller presets are already included for a wide variety of apps, although at this time the only iPad-specific apps on the list are and Korg’s iMS-20 and Intua’s BeatMaker 2.
QuNeo comes only with a single standard USB to micro-USB cable cable for connecting to a Mac or PC, requiring iPad users to purchase either the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter or the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit for an additional $30 expense. It’s also worth noting that QuNeo isn’t entirely independent of a computer—not only do firmware updates require a Mac or PC, including the v1.2.3 update adding iPad mode, but the QuNeo Editor configuration tool is not available in an iOS version, so you’ll need to connect the device to your Mac or PC if you want to customize your controllers or create new presets. This shouldn’t be something that users will need to do often, however, and features such as switching presets and accessing controller mappings can be done directly on the device itself.
While the QuNeo could technically have been used with an iPad in its earlier iterations, the key benefit that the new iPad mode offers is a lower power draw to illuminate the QuNeo LEDs, which have typically drawn more power than the iPad can provide by itself. For this reason, connecting an iPad previously required a separate $30 iPad Remote Connection Kit to supply AC power to the QuNeo while connected to an iPad. While this option remains available for users who want full LED brightness, users can put the QuNeo into “iPad mode” to power the unit solely from the connected iPad with slightly dimmer LEDs. Interestingly, the manual notes that the fourth-generation iPad provides more current to peripheral devices and will therefore enable more LEDs to be simultaneously illuminated. In testing, we found that this also appeared to be the case with the iPad mini as compared to a Dock Connector-based iPad 2.
The QuNeo works well in actual use and it’s clear that quite a bit of attention to detail has been put into the design of the controls. Each of the pads feels very responsive and is quite sensitive to even light taps, providing a finesse that we haven’t seen on other similarly-priced pad controllers. The further addition of sensors for directional and location touch make the QuNeo particularly stand out, providing the ability to do some very cool and interesting things, especially with the almost completely open customizability. The only real downside here is the lack of native iPad connectivity and apps. Although requiring users to purchase Apple’s Lightning adapter seemed like an acceptable solution a year ago, most products now include at least a Dock Connector or Lightning cable in the box, if not both. The lack of an iOS version of the QuNeo Editor app is also disappointing, although not a serious deficiency unless the user has very limited access to a Mac or PC. Regardless of these omissions, however, KMI has done a good job offering an extremely versatile and portable pad controller that can be used in a wide variety of music creation applications. QuNeo is worthy of our general recommendation; if it had come with the right iOS-ready cable and software, it would have rated higher.