Trigger Finger Pro by M-Audio Reviewed
The Trigger Finger Pro from M-Audio is a pad controller that one would immediately associate with gear such as Native Instruments’ Maschine, Ableton’s Push, Akai Pro’s MPC Studio and Novation’s Launchpad. They all have one glaringly obvious thing in common; pads designed to be used for triggering samples and/or in the case of the Push specifically, what Ableton calls ‘clips.’
Out of all the aforementioned products I’d say that the Maschine or MPC are the most similar to the Trigger Finger Pro as these all come armed with their own proprietary software and a massive sample library, albeit with their own notable differences too.
This is perhaps the most significant change in controllers today as opposed to 10 years ago when the original Trigger Finger was released; back then a controller had a universal purpose. In other words they did not necessarily come boxed with specific software (other than a few obligatory ‘lite’ or demo versions from 3rd party applications) which may have made them seem more flexible but it also often left one with a lot of work to do to get full use out of their features with plenty manual mapping to do.
Notwithstanding the similarities the Trigger Finger Pro also has some of its own tricks up its sleeve…
What does it actually do?
The first thing to understand about the Trigger Finger Pro is that it has no audio outputs. In other words it does not host any sound samples on the device itself. It is a midi-compliant pad controller. What it does have though is a built in step sequencer but more about that later.
As you can see from the images what you get is the obligatory 16 pads (4x), 4 sliders with matching rotary knobs above and selection buttons below, a transport section, backlit LCD display and browser rotary, a host of other buttons all of which are quite critical to the flexibility of the pad controller and then perhaps the real deal-clincher – the built-in 64 step sequencer and a sort of hybrid mouse ‘DAW Control.’
The back simply hosts a USB connection, Midi Out and a DC in. The unit is USB powered so you don’t get an actual power adapter in the box which is a bit of a pity as I’ll explain shortly since the Trigger Finger Pro makes a great controller for hardware too.
So what does the Pad controller actually do? Well other than act as a very useful and comprehensive midi controller, when combined with the supplied software, it is a very good beat making and performance tool.
It’s all in the software
Using the Trigger Finger Pro
As I mentioned the Trigger Finger Pro does nothing on its own; which is where the 5 gigabytes of software comes in. The bundled software is called Arsenal and it is VST, AU and AX compliant so it’ll fit straight into your DAW. One thing though; there is no disc included so be ready to leave it downloading overnight unless you have a super high speed line. Arsenal also supports third party VSTs and you also get a massive range of sounds and loops from Anomaly, Primeloops and my favourite selection, Toolroom Records. Each selection of sound samples offers something different (e.g. Anomaly has some awesome hip hop stuff) and the real winner here for dance music producers is the Toolroom selection which boasts three hundred drum kits and a similar amount of synth presets from both Mark Night and D. Ramirez. These sounds are really good and should get your creative juices flowing for sure.
The Trigger Finer Pro is divided into three sections; the pads, the controller and the sequencer. With both the pad and control sections you have up to four banks which means a total of 64 pads at your disposal. This also means that the 4 sliders and accompanying rotaries and buttons in that section serve up a total of 16 controls too.
But here is where things get smart. You are able to send different midi info to each of the four banks! What does this mean? It means you can control up to four different devices across 4 banks and with the simple press of the ‘Control Bank’ button for the slider/fader section and the ‘Pad Bank’ button for the pads you can jump between different plugins or hardware synths that you may have connected. Notice also that the fader control section is separate to the pad section so you could actually be controlling a volume slider (and other parameters) on one device while triggering pads on another device or app. When it comes to midi assignment you can also assign individual midi outputs to individual pads.
So we’ve established the flexibility of the 64 pads and 16 control surface controls at your disposal. Now throw in a 64-step sequencer and it becomes apparent that you can really get your groove going. Since each bank is like a different track, or part, and you can sequence them all separately with up to 4 bars of 16 steps that gives you a total of 64 steps per pad. Using the ‘Next Seq’ button you can simply select any on of the 16 sequence variations that can be sorted. These sequences can also be saved separately so they can be used with any presets you may have stored.
The build quality is pretty top notch as are the aesthetics. It comes with a metal bar attached at the back to lift it up into a suitable playing position. The bar is removable if you’d prefer to put it on stand like the UDG Creator for example.
The pads are on par with those found on Maschine or Push in my opinion and the layout is makes sense once you get going. All buttons, the faders and the step sequencer feel robust i.e. they should stand up to the rigours of perpetual bashing.
You will need to read the manual to fully get to grips with the controller and all the software. Arsenal is more of a library browser and acts as the central software hub for the Trigger Finger Pro but it does work seamlessly inside the DAW (tested with Cubase 7 this side). The software as a whole is pretty comprehensive and useful too; the two synths are certainly not just window dressing. Hybrid 3 is a powerful synth-plugin and AIR Drums serves up in-depth control of your drums such as multi-stage envelopes, three insert effects per pad and many, many more controls of each individual drum sample.
At R 6,499 it’d be easy to think that the M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro is not on par with the other pad controllers / music making devices it competes with. Nothing could be further from the truth to be honest. I love how well it integrated with Cubase and whilst I’d probably not be the guy using for live performance, in the studio it opens up some wonderful doors of creativity.
My suggestion: do not buy a pad controller without checking out the Trigger Finger Pro. It offers immense value for money.