Lifting the lid on M-Audio’s long awaited MIDI controller update
The original M-Audio Trigger Finger, launched in the mid-2000’s, was among the first mainstream controllers which delivered proper control of computer based music production software via your computers USB. It wasn’t the first on the market to have such a level of connectivity, but it did bring a heap of different, but related, functionality and opened the eyes of many a bedroom producer to what could be done with a simple, relatively inexpensive bit of kit.
With its four-by-four bank of pads and assignable buttons and faders, the Trigger Finger brought intuitive MIDI control to software systems everywhere. The benefits were clear; simple and standardised connectivity with computers, easy mapping with standard DAWs and a small enough footprint that meant it didn’t take up tonnes of room in your studio.
Fast forward to 2014, and M-Audio has ushered in the Trigger Finger Pro (TFP) to take up the mantle. Times have changed though, and USB MIDI is far more prevalent than it ever was. The market for multifunctional USB controllers is crowded. You can get controllers of all shapes and sizes these days, from basic 25-key keyboard controllers, through to more adventurous hardware which can interact with your sound generator of choice in ways which would blow your mind. Heck, there’s an entire movement online of people buying cheap controllers, breaking them down and rebuilding them to suit their needs. Check out Moldover for a great example of this.
The theory here is that no longer do musicians want to be restricted in what they can do. Flexibility is king for the modern producer, who wants to control more sounds, equipment and software using less amounts of bulky hardware. And it is in this niche where TFP excels…
Options in abundance
First thing to point out with our Trigger Finger Pro review is that the learning curve will be brutal to newcomers to the genre. The sheer amount of routing, control and mapping options on offer are pretty daunting, and you’re under no illusions that this is indeed a professional studio item. The ‘Pro’ in the name isn’t just a marketing gimmick to make it sound good; this is a serious bit of kit.
It’s engineered in such a way that it can interact with various MIDI protocols, including Mackie, HUI, USB and standard MIDI which is accessed via the lone DIN connector to the rear of the unit. This is great for producers who already have established setups, as you can be assured that TFP will play nicely with whatever gear you have.
That’s just the start of it though. Pretty much every knob, fader, pad and button can be programmed to control pretty much anything you like, in any language.
Physically, Trigger Finger Pro can effectively be split into three parts; control, which includes four faders, four buttons and four infinity rotary knobs; pads, which includes 16 well built, not-too-squishy backlit pads; and sequence, which is a 16 step sequencer that runs along the bottom of the unit and features slightly more clicky buttons. Not too clicky, mind. Sitting at the top is a large display interface so you can keep track of where you are as you cycle around the unit’s near-infinite menu screens.
There’s actually more to it too; the are four banks of drum pads, so you can load four kits and cycle between them during performance, while the sequencer can run to 64 steps if required. Same goes for the controller element, which can also hold four banks worth of settings.
Bundled with Trigger Finger Pro is M-Audio’s Arsenal software, which combines Air Drums (which is based on the Transfuser plugin from Avid Pro Tools 7), the Hybrid 3 synth and a heap of added sounds and loops from Tool Room and Primeloops. The software can be used in standalone mode or as a VST (or AU) through your DAW of choice.
Once again, the Trigger Finger’s flexibility proves its trump card here as the level of DAW integration is staggering, and staggeringly simple to set up. In-built mapping solutions mean you can control parameters aplenty with just a few clicks. None of the headaches associated with the usual initial mapping process; here you’ll be up and running in no time. Providing you know your way around your DAW, of course…
For transparency, it must be said that this author is a long-time fan and user of Trigger Finger Pro’s most obvious competitor, Maschine, by Native Instruments. Both units feature similar workflows, have near identical functionality, and will appeal to the same audience.
TFP, it must be said, loses out to Maschine in the ease of use stakes. With NI’s flagship groovebox, any noob can start making music within an hour of opening the box, whereas TFP does feature a steeper learning curve. Where TFP wins out however is in its ability to do pretty much anything you could ever reasonably expect a full-formed controller to do, with facets to spare.
It also benefits from not being tied to its accompanying software. Sure, Maschine can be moulded to control other software, but it’s clearly designed to operate the plugins around which it was engineered. Same goes for another heavyweight at a similar price point, Ableton’s Push 2 unit.
Trigger Finger Pro’s accompanying software is solid, if a little dubstep heavy, but not in the league of Maschine. However to rule it out because of the software is missing the point. Trigger Finger Pro is far better suited to slotting in to an existing setup, and making your life easier by being able to act as all things to all men. Or women, obviously.
To use an analogy, think of your studio as Cybertron, and your Trigger Finger Pro as Megatron. The brushed metal fascia and backlit blue pads certainly give the impression of a nefarious Decepticon. If your studio already boasts an army of software, hardware, plugins and MIDI gear awaiting your every command, Trigger Finger Pro can be the missing piece of the jigsaw which brings true controller potential to your fingertips.
If, on the other hand, you’re just starting out on the road to computer-based production, don’t be alarmed by the myriad options and parameters on offer, just make sure you’re in a comfy chair when you start reading the manual. Good things do come to those who wait though, so if you’re in it for the long haul, TFP might just be the best controller tool around.
Check out a full range of USB and MIDI controllers over at the Dawsons website.