Korg nanoPAD makes drum programming fun and easy

wheat's picture



Price Paid:

Where purchased?:
Music Store

New or Used:

5 - Great

5 - Great

5 - Great

Overall Rating:
5 - Great


Christmas was good at the Wheatbread household. My lovely wife bought me a Korg nanoPAD MIDI controller, and I thought fellow BPing readers would enjoy a review, so here goes.

The nanoPAD is one of three new MIDI controllers from Korg, collectively known as the nanoSERIES. The series consists of three controllers: the nanoPAD (drum/pad controller), the nanoKEY (keyboard controller) and the nanoKONTROL (knob/fader controller). These are marketed at laptop-based musicians, commuters, and anyone else with limited desktop real estate. All are USB2-powered and relatively inexpensive.
They're programmable via Korg's free Korg Kontrol Editor software, which lets you map the pads to control the sounds (or whatever other thing you want to control) in your recording software, VST host, or whatever.

I've always hated trying to program drums with a keyboard controller. The problem is that keys on a keyboard have too long a trow: you have to press them down too far to send
the "note on" event that, via the magic of MIDI, is translated into a drum sound. They're
fine for playing keyboard parts, of course, and for controlling a good number of other
instrument sounds besides. But, for banging out drum tracks, they're no fun.

The other option, available in almost every Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software is
to enter the drum notes manually via a piano scroll editing interface. This is fine for
really metronomic drum tracks and is essential for editing existing grooves, but it
tends to remove all spontaneity. Most any musician with a good sense of rhythm can bang
out a beat on a table or a box, so why not use a MIDI controller that takes advantage
of that innate ability? That's where pad controllers come in.

The nanoPAD's older, more famous big brother is the
which boasts sixteen pads, thirty pre-set scenes and sixteen user-definable scenes,
as well as a lot of other nice features. But it's fairly big and will run you
about &200. The nanoPAD is, essentially, a smaller, more introductory version.
But, it doesn't sacrifice core functionality. It has twelve pads, arranged into
two rows of six. You can toggle through four scenes, via the Scene button, giving
you quick access to forty-eight controls. (You can define as many scenes as you like
with the editor software, but you can only switch on the fly between four.) There
are also buttons for roll, flam, and fill functions. And there's an X/Y pad that
can be assigned to control parameters as well.

So, after I got mine out of the box, downloaded the driver and patch editing software
from Korg's site, I plugged it into my USB hub and fired up
Ableton Live.
I use Live's built-in Impulse drum synth most of the time, so I programmed my first scene
to match the layout of the eight sounds that are part of each Impulse drum kit.
I found the Korg Kontrol Editor a little unintuitive, but a quick browse of the PDF
manual set me straight.

The nanoPAD made programming drums fun. The pads have a nice feel: they are neither
too firm nor two soft. They're also velocity sensitive, which means a light touch
translates into a quiet sound and a serious thump translates into a loud one, and there
are, of course, a number of gradations in-between. (The velocity value for any MIDI
note ranges from 0 to 127. And some sounds are programmed to change entirely at higher
velocities, in order to mimic the way real-world instruments respond. This trick is
called "velocity switching"). The unit itself has some heft and nice rubber feet, so
it doesn't slide around on your work surface. Once you have scenes set up for whatever
drum software you use, life is easy.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I decided to try using it for something other than
programming drums. I set up my second scene as a C major scale. And I set up a third
as the A minor scale. Then I tried it out with a variety of software instruments. As a
non-keyboardist, playing keyboard instruments via the nanoPAD was fun, and I found the
pads very expressive. In fact, tinkering with the nanoPAD helped me understand the
motivation behind the current rage for alternative MIDI controllers. For those of us
who didn't grow up playing keyboards, they always feel a little alien. And there's
no reason why keyboard-style controllers, while admittedly efficient, should be the
only game in town. There's more than one way to send MIDI.

While the nanoPAD is purely a controller (it only transmits MIDI messages. It doesn't
contain any sounds), the folks at Korg decided to throw in an extra incentive for people
who don't already have a set of drum sounds. The nanoPAD comes with a product key for a
copy of EZdrummer Lite, the dumbed-down but still usable version of their popular
EZdrummer drum
sampler software (I'll have a separate mini-review on that. But, I like it).

So, the verdict? For about $60 (today's price at Amazon is $59.99), the
is tough to beat. It gives you enough pads and scenes to bang out drum tracks and
even control other sorts of software instruments. Despite being inexpensive, it
doesn't come off as cheap. If your workspace is small or you like to travel a lot,
working from just a laptop, it's the perfect thing. If you've never felt good about
programming drum beats with a MIDI keyboard or, worse yet, drawing them in on a piano
scroll interface, definitely give it a shot.

[I gave it straight 5's, but "sound" isn't an applicable category for a MIDI controller. I'll need to revise the form a bit, looks like.]


oh thanks wheat...

just the thing to give a gear addict is a good review on an inexpensive product....now i gotta have one....


*and it harm none,do what thou will*

*and it harm none,do what thou will*

BoH's picture

Thanks for putting that up,

Thanks for putting that up, Wheat. I really should get one on these. The Dr. Rhythm is pretty cool, but jamming in real time is tricky . This unit looks like it might make things easier. The price is right too.


You don't love me, you just love my FINGERSTYLE!
Peavey T40; SX/Squier P-bass; Spector Legend 5
Roland Bass 30 Cube


You don't love me, you just love my FINGERSTYLE!
Peavey T40; SX/Squier P-bass; Spector Legend 5
Roland Bass 30 Cube