Review & Video: QuNeo 3D Multitouch Pad Controller

Review Summary:

In pretty much every way, the QuNeo is an irresistibly cool device. The most impressive thing about it is the quality of the LED feedback; this on its own lifts the unit way above the ordinary. It's not for beginners, and it's also not perfect (in particular, I wish the LEDs were brighter; they're fine in subdued lighting, but pretty useless in daylight). But overall it represents a leap forward in Midi controller technology.

3D Multitouch Pad Controller
QuNeo Review

With tactile pads, sliders, rotary sensors and switches, the touch-sensitive QuNeo offers a depth of Midi control never before seen in such a small, light controller.

Want a controller with a difference? They don’t get much more different than the QuNeo 3D Multitouch Pad Controller. The same size as an iPad and weighing just 14oz, this beautifully made Midi controller can give you a wide degree hardware control over your DJ software on your laptop or iPad (via USB or OSC), with LED feedback that’s so good it makes the unit all but irresistible.

Review: QuNeo 3D Multitouch Pad Controller

The QuNeo comes complete with out-of-the-box mappings for Traktor, Serato Scratch Live, Mixxx and Ableton Live (as well as drum machine, sampler and synthesiser software), but you won’t be surprised to hear that it has its own editor for coming up with your own mappings too.

It’s not just a touch controller, though; the pads, sliders and buttons are variously pressure, velocity and location sensitive, with X-Y location and continuous pressure both measurable too. And with the aforementioned multi-coloured, sometimes multiple LEDs inside each of the controls, the unit delivers an unprecedented amount of visual feedback too.

In this DJ-focused review, we test it with the supplied Traktor Pro mapping. In addition, we talk about using it with Serato Scratch Live. Finally, we explore the possibilities for using it with an iPad, which could give you a neat and compact DJ set up that’s more capable than anything the iPad has seen to date.

An introduction to the QuNeo

From Keith McMillen Instruments, the QuNeo was first spotted at the NAMM Show 2012, and is notable for the fact that it was funded via Kickstarter, a website where potential users of a new product pay upfront for it at a discounted price before it’s actually been made.

(If you’re a budding equipment designer interested in researching more about how the product came to market, there an exhaustive article about it over on DJTechTools.) Only now is the QuNeo finally shipping, and we’ve had one here in the Digital DJ Tips workshop for a weekend to get to know it.

QuNeo Kickstarter

The QuNeo was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, where it raised 11 times the funds it initially set out to obtain.

It’s a Midi controller. That means it is designed to offer control over any software that uses Midi to communicate with hardware. That could mean anything from drum machines to samplers, synthesisers to club lighting software, video DJing packages to sequencers.

Of course, here at Digital DJ Tips, we’re most interested in how it can be used to control DJ software, and we’re going to focus on its use with Traktor. Bear in mind you could map it to Virtual DJ, djay, Cross DJ… any package that supports Midi controller mappings.

If you’re a beginner reading this though, it’s worth pointing out that it’s just a Midi controller, not a fully-fledged DJ controller. As DJing needs two independent outputs – one to go to your speakers, one to your headphones – most modern DJ controllers have a built-in audio interface to provides this for you.

The QuNeo 3D Multitouch Pad Controller, alongside many other boutique Midi controllers, doesn’t; it purely handles the Midi aspect. That means you still need to have a way of achieving this, which in practise either means using a standalone DJ audio interface (laptops), or a mono splitter cable (laptops or, currently necessarily, iOS devices).

First impressions and setting up

The QuNeo comes in small cardboard pack with a USB-to-mini USB connector (the new-style mini connector, like for Blackberry or Kindle) and a slip of paper containing four steps necessary to get it to work, all of which involve being online. You register the unit on the website, downloading and running the QuNeo Software Installer, in which you tick the software applications you’d like to use it with (the available options are Traktor, Serato Scratch Live, Mixxx, Battery, Reason and various production iPad apps and Logic).

Then, on plugging in the unit and launching the QuNeo Editors, the unit’s firmware is updated automatically if necessary, and you’re ready to go. The build quality is lovely; the unit is made from lightweight rubberised black plastic, with white controls, also rubberised, which are raised, indented or flush depending upon their intended function. It has four sturdy rubber feet, and the mini USB socket is the only I/O.

QuNeo editor

The QuNeo’s editor software, which you use to check and if necessary update the firmware when you first plug your unit in.

It feels like a design classic already, and I think it’s a smart move having it the same size as an iPad; for this reason alone the QuNeo begs to be used with an iPad, and also it means you can use it with iPad cases, stands and other such accessories. More later on this.

So back to set-up. Having initialised the unit, we have to get it to work with Traktor, and this is as simple as installing a mapping, just like with any other Midi controller; a Traktor .tsi file is provided, and you import it via the Traktor controller preferences panel. You need to select the Traktor preset mapping on the unit, and you do that by pressing the top left button to enter mapping select mode, and pressing the pad key corresponding to the correct unit mapping, a list of which appears in the supplied instruction PDF.

In use

Nowhere near every control of Traktor is mapped here; rather, there’s enough to get you going. You will definitely want to roll your sleeves up and start coming up with your own mappings as time goes on; that’s part of the fun of such controller.

Also, the layout of the unit doesn’t scream “DJ controller”. While it has a crossfader, there are no obvious line channels, and the 16 pads that dominate the unit seem much more fitting for use as sample triggers for drum machines and so on. But that’s OK; you’ll just have to use your imagination and adapt things to suit both your chosen software, your chosen style of DJing, and the controls that are available.

The fact is that there are such a variety of controls here, it is possible to use it for just about anything. And because you can program layers (as well as use the shift button within layers), the possibilities are manifold. You could even use two units – one per deck! – or alternatively use it alongside your existing controller.

QuNeo Traktor mapping

For QuNeo Traktor mapping, you just install a .tsi file, as you would any other mapping for more conventional controllers.

In the supplied Traktor mapping, though, it’s set up as a two-deck basic controller, with the addition of loops, cues, basic FX control (including filters) and control over the loop recorder. There’s no sample deck control, and no library functions either. The first thing I noticed is that you have to press the controls quite firmly for then to register your touch. Of course the unit is velocity sensitive, so you can make alterations to suit your style here.

Once I’d moved the unit indoors (I was reviewing it in the morning sunshine here in Spain – not a good idea with an LED controller, because I could hardly see whether the LEDs were on or off), the second thing that struck me was just how cool having (mainly) multiple multi-coloured LEDs in each pad is. They’re mainly red, yellow, orange and green, with a few blues thrown in too, and some controls have as many as eight in them.

The amount of potential feedback you can get from these LEDs is huge, and when mapped properly will make for an extremely visually rich DJing experience. For instance, on the supplied Traktor mapping, the two vertical volume faders for the decks have VU meters built in that flash through green, yellow and red; the “decks” (read: the two round controls mid-left) “rotate” clockwise when playing; the pads flash to highlight the kick drums; and the crossfader shows you where it’s set using a particularly cute selection of every colour the unit can throw at you!

I expect users will start with this mapping and then start editing things to suit the way they DJ; the comprehensive editor manual that’s provided talks you through the process, which is quite involved because a good mapping is going to have to be two way (ie the controller will talk to your software, but your software will also send back information to allow the controller’s LEDs to react accordingly).

One thing to note is that the hardware automatically “locally” lights the LEDs for each control to show where it’s set, and there are override rules for determining how incoming signals are handled, so there’s lots of flexibility to map it exact how you want – once you’re past the initial steeper section of the learning curve, of course.

Using with other DJ software

This could prove to be a particularly useful controller for Serato Scratch Live (“SSL”). For the uninitiated, SSL is a digital vinyl system. That means it lets you use traditional DJ gear (turntables CDJs, mixers) with your laptop and special “control vinyl (or CDs) to manipulate your digital music files. The issue with such software is that you rely on the laptop keyboard for all the extra controls like loops, cues and so on. Therefore users of “scratch” software tend to look for small Midi controllers to fulfil this need. It’s the size and weight of the QuNeo that I think would appeal to SSL DJs the most.

DJPlayer on the iPad

DJ Player on the iPad Midi mapped to the Vestax VCI-400. Imagine the huge Vestax controller replaced by the QuNeo, and mapped exactly how you want it to be…

The supplied mappings for Serato Scratch Live are rather unnecessarily spread across three presets (unnecessarily because there are many controls unused in each preset), and they don’t really dent the surface of the controller’s capability, but the possibility of tweaking mappings to suit the controls you most use means that this is – again – just going to be your starting point.

Another system that the controller seems particularly suited for is Ableton Live, the layout obviously suiting clip launching, and the customisation options within both Ableton Live and QuNeo mean that building your own DJ system based around this with Ableton as your software could prove to be a creatively fruitful endeavour.

Last but definitely not least, remember that the unit works with OSC too, meaning you can use it with your iPad. Now if you’re one of those people who thinks the iPad as a potential DJ device is an exciting proposition, the QuNeo without doubt makes it more so.

Never mind the fact that it’s exactly the same size as the iPad (meaning the units can easily be transported and set up together), to me the combination of an iPad and a QuNeo looks like a potentially mighty capable, completely portable DJ system.

The DJ Player app for iPad already has Midi mapping in its latest beta, and assuming there turn out to be no insurmountable hurdles in doing so, making a custom mapping for that or similar software would give you one seriously cool, compact and modern DJ set-up that you could adapt to suit whatever control layout is in your imagination. For completion’s sake, let me mention too that there’s a mapping for open-source DJ program Mixxx, which is along the same lines as the Traktor mapping, attempting to be at least a semi-complete all-in-one DJ surface.

Conclusion

In pretty much every way, the QuNeo is an irresistibly cool device. The most impressive thing about it is the quality of the LED feedback; this on its own lifts the unit way above the ordinary. The touch sensitivity of the pads is great for drummers and other musicians, but the jury’s out on whether it really matters a great deal in DJing; none of the supplied DJ software mappings actually make use of it. Nonetheless, it’s there if you need it.

QuNeo top shot

While the layout may not be everyone’s idea of how a DJ controller should be arranged, there are certainly more than enough controls and control types for whatever is in your imagination to be approximated on its surface.

Of course, while this is an infinitely mappable unit, you’re still tied to the types and layout of the controls offered; and as mentioned above, while it’s certainly good for DJing, it’s not at first glance perfect for “two decks and a mixer” purposes. But then again, it’s not 100% suitable for any purpose; that’s the trade-off with a unit designed to work with all software software and to do whatever is in your imagination.

True, it’s not for beginners, and it’s also not perfect (in particular, I wish the LEDs were brighter; they’re fine in subdued lighting, but pretty useless in daylight). But overall it represents a leap forward in Midi controller technology.

Its crowd-funded roots, the ecosystem which will no doubt build around mapping it, and the fact that it is a desirable device in itself, mean its cult status is already assured. Whether it can do the numbers to become a major commercial success remains to be seen. I, for one, will follow its progress with great interest.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

In pretty much every way, the QuNeo is an irresistibly cool device. The most impressive thing about it is the quality of the LED feedback; this on its own lifts the unit way above the ordinary. It's not for beginners, and it's also not perfect (in particular, I wish the LEDs were brighter; they're fine in subdued lighting, but pretty useless in daylight). But overall it represents a leap forward in Midi controller technology.

3D Multitouch Pad Controller

Video Review

Coolest little Midi controller out there? Or impractical for DJ use? How would you consider using one of these? Any queries about it we haven’t answered? Please feel free to post away in the comments.

Comments

  1. The LEDs give you feedback, but it’s not tactile.

  2. Jumping on a tangent…

    You look thinner Phil. New baby working you hard?

  3. What does the pressure sensitivity, velocity and aftertouch, correspond to on these mappings? I had to go through a huge process to get my aftertouch to work in traktor to control the dry/wet and parameters. It would be too long to fit the process in a post but suffice it to say that the benefit was huge and it should be a standard in any controller with the aftertouch capability rather than a hacker’s workaround

  4. This thing is great! I have had it for a little over 3 weeks now and am completely amazed by the total control and manipulation it allows you to achieve. I have already worked it into my live set. Nice work! Looking forward to future products by KMI.

  5. To be honest I’m not seeing anything here that you can’t live without/the Launchpad can’t do.

    I can empathize with how cool this is, I just feel it has a small target audience.

  6. Klaus Mogensen says:

    Has anybody tried using it with an iPad and DJ Player (or any other midi enabled DJ app, if any exists)?

    I can’t seem to find any demos on the net…

    Best regards
    Klaus

  7. sounds like quinoa…(beard food some of us eat).

    this looks like a great tool for me as it has much more options and is cheaper then the midifighter 3d… i would replace my old and rusty trigger finger which works so well even in sandy desert raves !!! (was using it for throwing in effects with traktor)

    IMO combing it with the zone k2 should be a realy good setup !

    thanks for the review and video !

  8. Hello! I am struggling to decide between the Electrix Tweaker and the Quneo. With this last one: do you have any experience mapping line channels?

    Best regards,

  9. Great Article…! I have had it for a little over 3 weeks now and am completely amazed by the total control and manipulation it allows you to achieve. I have already worked it into my live set. Nice work! Looking forward to future products by KMI.

  10. Hey phil, just one question, do you think this would be a good choice to extend my dj setup. to use it together with the s2 with traktor pro 2.6 ?
    I thought about buying the F1 but this seems to be even better.

    what do you think?
    thanks

  11. I’m a bit late with my comments but here they are:

    I agree in general with your review Phil with a couple of major caveats. I bought the QuNeo and gave it a thorough work out for 3 months. I use Ableton Live for DJing and I was hoping that the QuNeo would serve as light, single self contained and very portable controller for more casual gigs and as a supplement to other controllers that I use for DJ and studio production.

    It was fun to use for sure and the support from QuNeo was excellent. I received prompt, well informed responses to email support inquiries. Also, when I requested that they publicly release the Python source code that’s used for the QuNeo Ableton Live controller mappings, they responded by doing so within 3 weeks! Major kudos to Keith McMillen for supporting hackers and developers.

    Ultimately though, there was a major drawback that turned out to be a deal breaker for me: the sliders were simply not sensitive or accurate enough to reliably control important parameters in Live. The biggest problem surfaced (pun intended) with the track volume sliders. For example, if one of those slider was set at -1 db it was very difficult to accurately touch at the precise point to seamlessly pick up that setting and adjust it. As a result, most often the touch point would land far enough above or below the current spot an cause an audible jump. I tried every possible setting and scaling but the relatively short length of the sliders and the relatively hard pressure required for a response made it impossible for me to execute reliably smooth fader control, esp in the heat of a DJ gig. I had to give up on the QuNeo.

    I should add that the above critique is simply my own subjective experience based on my particular use with Ableton Live, etc. Everyone uses controllers differently and this is particularly true for touch based devices and other may not experience the same problems.

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