Ableton Controller Part 2: Microcontrollers

The brains behind the operation, a good microcontroller is the place to start for a custom build. Out of all my options and hours of research, ive narrowed it down to three, which ive reviewed here for those looking to build their own MIDI controllers:

  1. Hale Microsystems – UMC32 USB MIDI Microcontroller

ADVANTAGES: Easy to use, virtually no experience required as long as you can solder and have a basic understanding of electronics. 32 analog/digital IOs. No programming required, a dream microcontroller.

DISADVANTAGES: Very few. If you’re happy to pay around £90 for one, this is probably the easiest way to build your own MIDI controllers. You’ll probably want to get the pin connector pack too to make it a bit more worth your while. There’s no reason why you couldnt build several custom MIDI controllers and then swap the microcontroller from box to box depending on which controller you fancied using.

  1. Arduino

ADVANTAGES: Very flexible if you fancy learning the Arduino programming language. Also very cheap, theres a lot that you can do with the Arduino. The online community provides a lot of support too.

DISADVANTAGES: Not for the amateurs. You’ll need to learn the language, theres no getting around that unless you’re planning on building an Arduinome, theres plenty of places to steal code from. You’ll also need to run software to convert the arduino’s output into MIDI.

  1. Leo Bodnar BU0836X or the BU0836

ADVANTAGES: Cheap, flexible. No programming required and its really small. REALLY small. The perfect device to start building on a budget.

DISADVANTAGES: Its a HID board. That’s Human Interface Device, for the non-nerds. The same kind of thing your computer keyboard and mouse uses. It does input data to your computer and is universally recognised. However, just like the arduino, you’ll need to run software to convert the signals from HID to MIDI format.

So theres my three routes to building a custom MIDI controller. Go buy one, start building. Im considering ordering my BU0836 now, along with some perspex and some pots and getting started next week. Hmm…

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