With the growth of alternative controllers for musicians there are now a much wider range of instruments available for players.
The Numark Orbit was designed as a handheld controller for DJs, with its key feature being wireless MIDI by way of an included USB dongle. The unit has built-in batteries (rechargeable over USB) and can also be used wired for those worried about latency.
Across the surface are sixteen light up buttons, a large control knob and four bank selectors (for changing between pre-programmed MIDI templates). It also has accelerometers that respond to forward-backward and left-right movement. These need to be enabled by pressing and holding the trigger buttons on the top edge.
As it’s shipped as a MIDI controller it comes with no music software or pre-programmed setups. Configuration software can be downloaded from the Numark website (after a quick registration process). This enables you to set MIDI notes, channels and controllers as appropriate for all the elements of the Orbit. You can also change the colours of the buttons to help indicate different settings.
The editor software is very visual and pretty simple. You can load the current setup from the device itself into the software; edit it making all the required changes; save the configuration to your computer and finally send the changed setup back to the Orbit, which immediately updates to reflect the changes.
What you actually configure each pad to do depends entirely on (a) the software you’ll be triggering and (b) the nature of the musical activity. This might take a bit of head scratching at first, as you’ll need to ensue that the right messages are transmitted from the Orbit to produce the desired effect. However, once sorted you can save all the changes for immediate recall and, to be fair, it’s not a steep learning curve. Indeed, using the software we’ve quickly built up a library of different setups for use in differing settings in conjunction with different pieces of software.
The ability to change the colour of the pads is extremely useful. For example, one setup might have all the pads which trigger a sound set to green while those which stop playback are red.
For our testing we used the Apollo Ensemble software to link the controllers to various sounds and MIDI notes/chords.
Our first test with a group of young musicians showed up the problems of having multiple banks. It was far too easy to accidentally press a bank button thereby changing the function of all the pads. Obviously very confusing!
We overcame this by creating a template setup for our Orbit in which all four banks behaved identically. This meant that the device was consistent in its operation regardless of which bank was currently selected. This is something we would recommend to anyone using the Orbit in SEND settings – although it is good to know that even greater flexibility is available should you need to use all four banks.
The pads themselves are pleasantly tactile and easy to trigger. One of our first experiments with the Orbit was with a group young people with visual impairments. They took to it immediately – probably because of its tactile nature and the fact that it has so many similarities to a games console controller.
We’ve had a lot of fun using the Orbit. With older children we’ve used it (probably as Numark intended) to trigger loops in Ableton Live. Last December, whilst working with a younger group we used the Orbit in conjunction with Apollo Ensemble software to play “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. In this activity, each pad trigger triggered a different musical phrase of the song and projected an associated image to the whiteboard.
In use, the Orbit is very robust. It’s easy to charge and manage and the wireless MIDI has proved extremely reliable. Very occasionally, the Orbit has appeared to lose its colour coding and, on turning it on, all the pads have defaulted to their plain colour. This is very quickly rectified by plugging it into the computer via USB and re-sending the setup from the editor software. The unit itself is actually very well made and, thus far, has withstood some pretty “enthusiastic” treatment as well as a number of bumps and scrapes. In short – it’s dependable.
- A lot of triggers in a small, handheld unit.
- Appeals to teenagers due to its similarity to a games controller.
- Colour coding possible through light-up pads.
- Easy to link with MIDI controllable software.
- The accelerometers are of limited use as they require a high level of dexterity to use.
- Fairly heavy, requiring two handed use or suitable mounting.
- You need additional software on the PC to do anything with the controller.
Recent price drops have seen this hit £50 which is a fantastic price for a versatile piece of kit. Remember you still need some software for this to talk to and some time to do the initial setup.