I had long wanted to integrate drum pads of some sort into my studio, but for the longest time, I just couldn't find anything that suited my needs. A full drumset type kit was too big for my studio, and the more compact new Roland 'octapad' type sets all included onboard sounds I didn't want, and were a bit more than I was wanting to spend. I was extremely happy, then, when Alesis announced the release of the ControlPad: an 8 pad MIDI controller with no built-in sounds, and a very reasonable price (around $200 most places). So, after doing a ton of touring into the beginning of this year, I picked one up. Now that I've had some time to use it on a practical level, I thought I'd share my thoughts.
Construction and build quality are very solid. It has a good weight to it and feels like it could stand up to touring very well. It is also small enough to fit in an overhead bin on a plane for traveling musicians. Power is provided by USB or an optional AC adaptor. In addition to MIDI in and outs (MIDI info is transmitted over USB as well), there are two additional trigger inputs for additional pads if you need them, as well as foot switches for the kick and hihat and to increase or decrease the selected program number (all of which are optional). There are no audio outs, as this is just a controller and has no onboard sounds.
There are 21 internal memory locations for mapping out your own drum sets. The one thing that threw me off a little at first is that any changes you make to a set-up (which includes not only the MIDI note numbers each pad triggers, but individual velocity sensitivity, curve, and threshold settings, as well as individual MIDI channels per pad, if you like), are automatically written in whatever program number you are editing. There is no 'write' or 'save' switch. This is actually quite convenient and fast, but is something to keep in mind so you don't end up overwriting something you mean to keep.
In practical use, it really couldn't be simpler. You just plug in the USB cable to your computer and you are ready to go. There are no drivers or additional software to install (although it does come with a 'lite' version of FXpansion's BFD drum plug-in). I am not a 'real' drummer, so I can't speak to how the pads are to play on a very technical level, but the pads are solid with a nice 'bounce' to them that feels natural to play and isn't hard on the wrists like some drum pads I've tried in the past. My one criticism is that even with customized settings, the threshold level seems a bit high. You really need to wack it pretty hard even for low velocity hits. I suppose this is to prevent accidental triggers from stage monitors or other vibrations that can wreak havoc with drum pads in live settings. Honestly, though, this just takes a bit of adjustment to get used to.
Overall, I've been really happy with the ControlPad and would definitely buy it again. The price is about as cheap as you are going to find a drum pad controller for these days, and despite it being inexpensive, it feels well built and dependable. Is anyone else out there using on of these?