QuNexus – Hands On

Earlier today I had the chance to meet the local Keith McMillen representative, and get an early preview of their new QuNexus controller.  I should stress that the unit I got to play with was an early prototype, and thus may not be identical to the production units.  It certainly felt like real product though, and has the same feel and response as the QuNeo controller they already produce.

Like the QuNeo before it, McMillen is using Kickstarter to raise funds for the productions of these units, and while there are currently 7 days left until the project funding ends, they have already met their goal.  You can sign up to be part of the Kickstarter funding and get one of the very first production units (at a nice discount) here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kmi/qunexus-smart-sensor-keyboard-controller

As I mentioned, the unit I saw was only a production prototype, but it felt a lot like the QuNeo.  The case is nice and thin, about the same thickness as the QuNeo, and the ‘keys’ on the controller are raised roughly 1/8 of an inch or so above the casing to make them easy to play.  While the case does have the same flex to it as the  QuNeo, it doesn’t feel cheap at all.  Quite the opposite in fact, the flexing almost makes it feel like it would stand up to more abuse than if it was made out of a rigid hard plastic.  I definitely would have no worries just tossing this into my laptop bag night after night after a gig.

The keys themselves are sort of a softer rubber like we’ve come to expect on drum pad controllers like Maschine or the Trigger Finger.  They have a nice solid feel and bounce to them when you play them like drum triggers, but are sensitive enough to velocity variations that they actually are quite responsive for playing keyboard parts too. And you can tailor the velocity to your playing with the included software editor if you need to.

To the left of the keys there are function buttons that let you bank octave up and down, set the keys to transmit note, pressure, or note and pressure data as you need.  While it doesn’t have a mod or pitch wheel per se, there is a modulation button that can serve the same duty.  The longer and harder you press it down, the more pitchbend you get, and the faster it comes on.  This functionality was still being worked on with the prototype, so I can’t comment on how it really worked in practice.

There’s also a cool function where rolling or pushing your finger forward on a key after you press it can send controller data (McMillen refers to this as Tilt).  So for example, you could press a key to trigger a note, then slide your finger forward to alter the cutoff frequency.  All while still having pressure to assign to another parameter.  Very nifty, and offers the chance for some really dynamic and expressive playing depending on how and what you map this extra level of control to.

In addition to sending MIDI data, the QuNexus can also transmit and receive CV and Gate information for controlling your analog gear.  Unfortunately I couldn’t try this aspect, so I can’t comment on that functionality. But it should be very welcome considering the resurgence of analog gear we’re seeing lately.
While there’s certainly no shortage of small and cheap portable controllers on the market now, the one thing that I really enjoyed about the QuNexus is just how responsive the keyboard felt considering the keys don’t have your typical travel mechanisms.  Unlike some of the small keyboard controllers from Korg or Akai, the QuNexus actually feels like something you can use to play very expressive pieces with.  The velocity response was very predictable and even, and having the option to use the keys as further controllers via the pressure and tilt options really opens up a lot of expression possibilities.  And most importantly, it doesn’t feel cheap.

One of the things I’m most excited to use the QuNexus for is playing iPad synths, which is perfect since it can be powered by an iPad using the Camera Connection Kit.  Not only does it feel like a lot more robust of a controller than the alternatives in this size, I won’t have to worry about breaking off one of the mini-keys the other controllers use while transporting it in a backpack on my bike.  Hoping to get my hands on one of the early production units to test this out, but I’ll have to wait for now just like everyone else unfortunately.  🙁

If you’re interested already, you only have 7 DAYS LEFT to help fund the Kickstarter project via the link above.  Doing so will get you a QuNexus for only $150, which is $49 cheaper than what the eventual street price of $199 will likely be. If you’re in the Seattle area and would like a one on one demo of the QuNexus, just let me know and I’ll get you the contact info of their local rep who would be happy to help you out.

Finally, Create Digital Music has a good interview with Keith McMillen on the specifics of the QuNexus development and using Kickstarter for a projects like this, definitely worth a read if you want to find out more about what went into starting this project.

I’ll post more info on this once I get my hands on my very own to spend more time putting it through it’s paces.  Until then, ask any questions you have and I’ll do my best to get the answers for you, thanks!

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(psst, new Tarekith album comes out Friday too)