Best Finger Drumming Controllers in 2017

Here are our top picks for the 3 best finger drumming controllers on the market today! Which piece of hardware to go for ultimately depends on your personal preferences. We hope this impartial guide can help clarify the best-suited equipment available for you.

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Each controller specializes in certain areas and all have received both critical acclaim and commercial success. We will split this impartial review into the following categories:

Hardware / Software / Portability / Cost / Conclusion

Hardware

Maschine Studio

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The Maschine Studio has two large, high-resolution 480×272 pixel color displays which are extremely crisp and very bright. These allow for an extremely smooth workflow – You can create whole tracks and finger drumming routines without ever looking to your laptop/computer. The option of using the screen of your workstation as a third display is also very useful. You could also use it as your primary display, depending on your work style.

Maschine Studio has 16 touchpads with a fantastic feel. These can be color coded in any formation you want. It also has 8 ‘infinite knobs’ which can be used to control anything within your project (via Maschine 2 software’s awesome ‘Macros’ feature).

On the back, there are 3 MIDI outputs, 1 MIDI input, and 2 footswitch inputs. Sadly, there are no audio interfacing features on any Maschine model to date. This means that the audio output is always done through your laptop/computer.

MPC X

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The MPC X has one epic (and flattenable for travel) high-resolution 10.1-inch touchscreen. This allows for a combination of touchscreen and traditional hardware inputs. Like the Maschine Studio, you never have to look at your laptop if you don’t want to (and unlike the Maschine Studio, all processing is done within the MPC X, so you don’t even need a laptop to use it).

MPC X also has 16 color codable drum pads (although these are marginally less flashy the Maschine Studio’s bright pads). Furthermore, the MPC X  features an array of 16 customizable infinite knobs, which allows for endless ways to tweak sounds and automation within a live performance.

There are 4 audio inputs (2x XLR / 2x RCA) and 8 audio outputs (including 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone outputs), as well as 2 MIDI inputs and 4 MIDI outputs. The huge array of inputs and outputs makes this controller the king of connectivity!

Launchpad Pro

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The Launchpad Pro has no built-in screen display, so users will have to constantly go back and forth between looking at the hardware and their laptop or computer screen.

The area where this model excels is its whopping array of 64 individual pads (each with fully customizable colors – you can even run the Launchpad Pro as a sort of interactive light show). The Launchpad series lack any knobs/dials, preferring a button and pad based user interface. Automation can still be achieved, but often is a few extra button presses away, which makes tweaking some synths and effects less smooth and intuitive than it should be for live performance.

It features a MIDI input and output, meaning you can use it standalone to play and control any MIDI equipped hardware (no laptop needed for this).

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on the hardware?

This really depends on the type of performance you want to achieve and your preferred music production workflow.

For performing fully pre-planned finger drumming routines with no need for automation, the Launchpad Pro may be the best option, due to its 64 pad matrix and customizable light show style visuals.

For a more improvised routine, we love the workflow of the Maschine Studio, and its ability to let you tweak effects in real time with knobs via Macros. MPC X also has this feature as a well as a huge array of inputs, outputs and MIDI ins and outs. But with the cost being over double the cost of the Maschine Studio, you could buy a Studio with a top end audio interface unit for much less than the cost of the MPC X. However, this all depends on your studio/performance setup needs. Many users wouldn’t even miss the lack of audio interfacing options in Maschine Studio.

If you also plan on using the hardware for music production, we much prefer the workflow of both the Maschine Studio and MPC X as these both have machines and enough buttons and dials to keep you away from ever needing to use the laptop screen, keyboard or mouse. However, this also comes down to a preference on software, which we will review next.

Software

Maschine 2

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Maschine 2 software is the included software with Native Instruments Maschine Studio. The software is incredibly powerful and features multi-core processor support.

The interface is very clean and intuitive. Any features you don’t know where to find are generally exactly where you would expect them to be. First-time users will find themselves creating music very easily. In fact, we think Maschine software has the fastest learning curve of any DAW we’ve seen!

Sadly, Maschine’s arrangement aspect is a little lacking – We would love a feature where certain channels could run alongside the arrangement without being restricted to being triggered within scenes. The lack of this feature makes it tricky to work with long pieces of audio such as acapella tracks. This means Maschine software may be best used in conjunction with other DAWs for certain projects.

Maschine 2 also lacks real-time time stretching of audio, and although time stretching is possible within the software, it may be a little fiddly for some when compared to DAWs like Ableton or Cubase.

Maschine software comes with a huge and impressive sound library, effects library and an incredible selection of VSTs (such as Komplete 11 Select which includes fan favorites such as Massive, Reaktor & Scarbee). As well as all this, there are consistent free software updates. These always add useful additions and new features to the software.

MPC2

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The new MPC 2 software is also a powerful beast and is included with the MPC X. In standalone mode (no laptop or computer connection required) it is limited to 8 audio tracks. In controller mode, this number goes up to a whopping 128 tracks.

The interface is very clean and similar in appearance to Maschine 2. It is also relatively intuitive, although Maschine software still wins for this.

The MPC software handles audio recording very well. It also features a new real-time time stretching and pitch shifting algorithm (which Maschine 2 lacks). As well as this, it features a Clip Program mode, similar to Ableton, for those who prefer a clip launching workflow.

MPC comes with a huge sound library and a selection of powerful synths and effects (totaling over 10GB).

Ableton Live Lite

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Novation’s Launchpad Pro includes the Ableton Live Lite software package. Live Lite is the entry level version of Ableton’s powerful Live software series.

Upgrades to fuller functioning Live Intro, Standard and Suite cost $799, $1148 and $1398 respectively. These software packages are much more complete and fully functional than Live Lite. The Lite package lacks many features but does the job as a basic DAW for audio processing. Live Lite features rudimentary built-in effects. The package is also limited to 8 audio channels and 8 midi channels.

We do not recommend the Lite package for users serious about music production. Ableton software is also not so beginner friendly as many other software packages and has a steep learning curve. However, the full Live packages are some of the most powerful and widely used DAWs in existence. If you are serious about music production, the upgrade might well be worth the money.

If you are more interested in using the launchpad solely for finger drumming performances, the software should do the job.

Which finger drumming controller to choose for software?

We recommend the Maschine Studio/Maschine 2 software if using alongside another DAW. This is due to its sheer intuitiveness, fast learning curve, and unparalleled workflow. If using as a standalone DAW, we would recommend the widely used Ableton Live. This is probably the closest thing to industry standard in music production these days. However, Novation Launchpad Pro only includes Ableton Live Lite. The full featured software is going to cost between 2.5 and 4.5x more than the hardware. This depends on which Live package you choose!

Portability

Native Instruments Maschine Studio weighs 7.1lbs (3.2kg) and its dimensions are 17.0″ x 13.8″ x 2.3″ / 43.2 x 35 x 5.85 cm (with the integrated leg stand set to flat). This makes it both lighter and marginally smaller than the MPC X. However, to use Maschine Studio, you will also need a laptop or computer, as well as a power socket.

The Akai MPC X weighs in at a hefty 12.57lbs (5.66kg) and measures in at 19.9” x 16.7” x 3.4” / 50.5 x 42.4 x 8.7 cm (with the display set to flat). However, it acts as a fully standalone unit (doesn’t require a laptop). You can use it anywhere with a power socket. With its huge size, it may be a bit of a squeeze to fit in some smaller DJ booths alongside other club equipment though.

The Novation Launchpad Pro is by far the smallest and lightest of the bunch weighing just 2.7lbs (1.22kg) and measuring 10.2″ x 10.2″ x 1.1″ / 26 x 26 x 2.9 cm. The Launchpad does require a laptop or computer for use. However, you can also power it solely through the USB port (the power supply is optional). Therefore, you can use this hardware anywhere you take your laptop (even where no plug socket is present – until your laptop runs out of batteries).

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on portability?

We recommend the Launchpad Pro for its size and weight if you don’t mind bringing your laptop around with you. However, if you just want to perform or produce with the controller and don’t want to bring a laptop along, the MPC X is the choice for you (providing you have access to a power socket).

* If portability is your main concern above all else, the most portable finger drumming and controllerism controller in the world is the new AKAI MPC Live, which doesn’t require a laptop or a power supply.

Cost

Maschine Studio RRP: $999 / MPC X RRP: $2199 / Launchpad Pro RRP: $299

Maschine Studio

The Maschine Studio has its production software suite (Maschine 2) included free with the hardware. Maschine Studio also comes with a huge amount of free virtual synths and effects. These include the hugely popular Massive and Reaktor VSTs). Furthermore, the Maschine software also has free updates coming out regularly, continually improving the user experience.

MPC X

The Akai MPC X cost is wildly more expensive than the other two options. However, like Maschine Studio, the full featured software suite (MPC 2.0) is included in the price.

Unlike the other two options, the MPC X can run in standalone mode. This means no laptop or desktop computer connection is required. The software for all three options can be CPU intensive when running large project files. Those who don’t already own a relatively new computer and do not want to shell out on a powerful laptop or desktop unit, but are serious about finger drumming and music production, may end up finding this option slightly cheaper overall.

Launchpad Pro

At first glance, there appears to be a clear hands down winner in terms of cost – the Novation Launchpad Pro. However, Launchpad Pro only comes in the box with Ableton Live Lite (the lightweight less fully featured version of Ableton Live).

To really get the most out of the hardware, you would need to upgrade one of three full Live packages (Live 9 Intro, Standard or Suite, and their RRPs are $799, $1148 and $1398 respectively). These Live packages are some of the most widely used production DAWs in the world, so there is still value for money here.

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on cost?

If you are interested in using this for music production and live performance or are looking to add a piece of hardware to a setup which already includes another DAW, we can recommend the Maschine Studio (RRP $999 with full software included). As a standalone production unit, it lacks in some areas, but as an addition to a studio setup, it excels.

For those looking to invest in a top of the range piece of finger drumming and music production gear who don’t own a relatively new laptop or desktop setup, the MPC X (RRP $2199) might be the best choice for you in terms of cost, as you can totally bypass spending money on the new computer to run the hardware/software.

If you want a top end controller for finger drumming, controllerism and rehearsed live performance, but are less interested in the music production side of things or tweaking effects live with improvised performances, we would certainly recommend the Launchpad Pro (RRP $299). For times when live performance is the main key, this can be achieved without upgrading to one of the costly Live 9 software packages.

If you are also serious about producing music with the controller, the Launchpad Pro and one of the software upgrades may be a good option for you. However, with no screen display built into the hardware, you may find yourself going back and forth between looking at your computer display and the hardware unit. This may have some affect on your workflow.

Conclusion

new-maschine-studioNative Instruments Maschine Studio – RRP $999
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PROS CONS
*Dual high-resolution, full-color displays *No audio interface, may require external unit for some users
*16 full-color touch pads and 8 customizable infinite knobs *Fairly large size, may be a squeeze for some DJ booths
 *Exceptional workflow, fast learning curve and highly intuitive  *No real-time time stretching functionality
 *Incredible amount of samples, effects, and VSTs included  *Not ideal for long pieces of audio e.g. acapellas

new-mpc-xAKAI MPC X – RRP $2199
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PROS CONS
*Huge 10.1 inch touchscreen display *Very expensive at $2199 RRP
*16 touch pads and 16 customizable infinite knobs * Very large size, will be a squeeze for some DJ booths
 *Standalone mode means no laptop needed for use  *Heavy weight makes this model less portable
 *Real-time sample stretching and pitch adjusting algorithm  *16 pad lighting is the dullest of the three models
 *Highly connective audio interface, many inputs/outputs *Lesser known AKAI range of VSTs included with software

new-novation-launchNovation Launchpad Pro – RRP $299
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PROS CONS
*Very cheap cost at $299 RRP *No audio interface
*64 full color touch pads *Only includes the limited Ableton Live Lite software
 *Small and compact, space efficient in tight DJ booths  *No knobs, only buttons and pads, making automation tricky
 *Beautiful customizable ‘light show style’ pad lighting  *Steep learning curve on Ableton Live software
 *Very lightweight, highly portable  *No built-in display, affects workflow

We hope you have found this guide to the top 3 finger drumming controllers of today useful. Still can’t decide which controller is best for you? Check out our Videos page to see these controllers in action. For more options (including budget and mid-range models, check out our Controllers page.

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