Joué Play MIDI controller evaluate: Free your fingers and format

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Each MIDI controller is similar, proper? You’ve acquired some piano-style keys, a couple of buttons … perhaps some knobs. No surprises, proper? Properly, not each MIDI controller. Joué Music Devices is right here to sound the alarm that your management floor might be simply as creatively inspiring as any bodily instrument or musical software program.

What’s the Joué Play controller?

Joué Play is an ultra-portable, customizable MIDI controller with swappable and velocity-sensitive silicone mats representing different control surfaces: piano keys, drum pads, a 17-key chromatic keyboard-like module called Scaler, and a guitar fretboard (with aftertouch and pitch modulation). It’s available in multiple configurations, with either two ($245) or four pads ($295), and in two color schemes, Fire (tested) and Water. In the box you’ll also find a USB-C cable with a number of adapters for connecting to your computer (both macOS and Windows are supported) or an iPad. Don’t worry, it’s class-compliant so no additional power source is needed. This is a controller as convenient to pack in a backpack as it is a means to unpack the sounds in your head.

The Joué Play’s design

A musical instrument should be inspiring to touch and although Joué Play is essentially a controller, it certainly fits the bill. The base is made of beech (real wood!) and metal, and the rubber modules are smooth and surprisingly responsive. There’s a satisfying heft to the whole thing: it won’t go scooting away down the desk no matter how much you get into it. The overall design aesthetic is lovely as well. From the moment you first pick it up, you’re aware that this is something special, a real labor of love for the creators, a pair of French innovators considered one of whom beforehand developed Lemur, one of many first touch-based management surfaces for music-making (adopted by Björk, Daft Punk, and 9 Inch Nails, amongst others).

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The opposite half of Joué Play is the free bundled app (Mac/PC/iOS). With it, you possibly can load sounds to play from the controller and file brief passages of as much as 4 audio tracks and 32 bars. These can then be exported as audio or MIDI recordsdata.

The Joue Play MIDI controller on a carpet with an iPad and Scaler module
Joué Play simply works with macOS and Home windows PCs and iPads—it’s plug-and-play, no further energy required. Adam Douglas

Establishing the Joué Play

Establishing Joué Play is, as they are saying, baby’s play. Simply plug within the USB cable and it immediately works with the app or software program devices in your digital audio workstation of alternative (I usually use Apple’s Logic Professional X for my DAW, however the Play could be an important instrument for Ableton Dwell, Bitwig, and so forth.). Integration is very clean with the app. To vary to a brand new class of sound (piano, bass guitar, synthesizer, drums), simply swap out the rubber mat for one more; the bottom board makes use of RFID chips within the rubber mats to acknowledge when to alter app tracks and machines. Together with the principle musical enter a part of every Magic Module (as Joué Music Devices calls them), the mats have transport controls, arrows for shifting up and down octaves, a bubble button, and different options. Some are purposely obscure—Joué Music Devices desires you to discover their performance, which uniquely modifications with each new sound within the app.

A playful course of

Utilizing the Joué Play is a beautiful expertise. I’ve been making ambient and other forms of digital music for the higher a part of three many years now and I discovered myself developing with new expressions that I by no means would have earlier than, significantly when exploring the non-standard controls. As a keyboardist, I are inclined to favor primary piano-style notice enjoying however Joué Play inspired me to interrupt away from this. My regular controller, a classic Roland synthesizer from the ’80s, has a strong keybed however little in the best way of bizarre management features. My fingers hardly ever stray from the keys. With Joué Play, they had been way more cellular, exploring and experimenting. I discovered the guitar module significantly inspiring, coaxing out not solely enjoying types and notice combos that I wouldn’t usually give you however a smile on my face. Faucet out a beat, lay down some sweeping pads, bend some chords—all with out swapping out {hardware}.

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If Joué Play has a draw back, it’s the app. Whereas it’s spectacular sonically, it feels half-baked, with restricted modifying options. Whereas performance is similar, the iPad version is a barely higher expertise simply because it’s extra conducive to the touch. You’ve already in exploratory contact mode utilizing the controller. Instantly switching to a mouse looks like a betrayal to your fingers.

The Joue Play MIDI controller on a carpet with an iPad and guitar fretboard module
The rubber modules embrace piano keys, scalable keys, drum pads, and a guitar-style fretboard (pictured right here). Adam Douglas

So, who should purchase the Joué Play?

With its distinctive strategy, I’d suggest Joué Play to anybody seeking to widen their musical horizons. Newbies will take pleasure in exploring the intuitive modules and app, whereas execs will respect the best way it might probably disrupt habits and encourage out-of-the-box inventive considering. If you happen to discover the app limiting, as I did, and need to use Joué Play deeply with gentle synths in your DAW, Joué presents a Professional firmware improve ($50) that provides MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) and deep customization of the controllers’ Edit port. MPE is the present pinnacle of controller expression, with per-note modulation, one thing that I might solely dream of accessing earlier than with out shelling out a whole lot of {dollars}. Fifty {dollars} is an absolute steal. Whereas there are different distinctive controllers on the market at the same worth—Keith McMillen’s QnNeo ($199) involves thoughts—none of them provide a modular strategy like Joué Play. It seems good, feels good, and could have you serious about music composition in a complete new manner.