Edirol PCR1 Controller Keyboard Review

edirol pcr1The Edirol PCR1 is an interesting addition to the world of USB MIDI controllers. It is one of a new breed of controllers optimized for mobile music making.

The PCR1 is designed to be very lightweight, and features a supermodel-thin profile. It includes a basic set of MIDI controllers, standard-width piano keys and audio I/O.

With the PCR1, Edirol has focused on satisfying the most common needs of a mobile computer-based musician, providing controls for playing sounds, modifying settings and getting sound in and out of the computer.

The PCR1

Edirol has put a lot of thought into portability with the PCR-1, and it shows. It’s amazingly small and lightweight, but has keys and knobs that won’t cramp your hands.

Several features of the PCR1 are unique. The keyboard is shallow, about half the depth of standard piano keys. Edirol refers to this as Short-stroke Low-profile Impact Mechanism (SLIM), which makes it sound rather official. In reality, the keys are just not as tall as regular keys, reducing the overall height of the keyboard significantly. It’s important to note that the keys are the standard width and depth, unlike controllers like Korg’s MicroKontrol. This makes it easier to play for musicians used to standard keyboards.

Edirol PCR1

In addition to the SLIM keyboard, Edirol provides a good selection of knobs and buttons. These are also optimized for portability. For example, the knobs are inset slightly into the controller, and are not as tall as typical controller knobs. This, combined with the SLIM keys, helps keep the overall height of the controller to just over 1 inch!

The knobs have a solid feel to them, and the spacing and positioning seems to be ideal. Eight knob controllers are provided along the top, and these can be used in combination with the Shift key to double the number available. A dedicated volume knob is also provided, something missing on many control keyboards.

The three-digit LED readout is no-frills, but is readable in rooms dark and bright. Its position, right in the center, is good, because your hands won’t obscure it when you’re using the controllers.

Some pianists may be frustrated by the SLIM action. Because the PCR1’s keys only travel about half the range of traditional keys, it is harder to control velocity when you play. This means that it’s tougher to control the volume of your playing in an expressive fashion with the PCR1 than with full-depth keyboards. This was mainly noticeable when using the PCR1 to control traditional sounds, like piano.

If there’s one place that Edirol’s optimization for portability feels like a real compromise, it’s the Pitch and Mod controllers. Instead of the wheels that you find on most controllers, the PCR1 uses a thin metal bar for the Mod control, and a toggle button for the Pitch controller.

These buttons work like switches, turning pitch-bend or modulation on and off. Unfortunately, they don’t offer any subtlety of control or gradation. For the Jan Hammers of this world, the PCR1’s Pitch and Mod controls will feel kludgy. For players that only make occasional use of them, they get the job done. It would be great to see a pressure-sensitive ribbon controller, like that found on Kurzweil keyboards, on the PCR1. That would offer better control, but keep the size down.

Bottom line? The PCR1 is optimized for portability, rather than playability, so users should compare the PCR1’s action and features to other portable computer music keyboard controllers, rather than traditional keyboards. Compared to other portable controllers, the PCR1 offers excellent portability while retaining the most important features of larger, heavier controllers.

In addition to the keyboard controller, Edirol provides sets of plastic overlays that can be used to label the controls. A printed set of overlays is provided for controlling GM2 synths. The second set has blank fields that can be filled in with an erasable marker. It would have been better to provide two blank sets; few users will use the GM2 set, and what’s the point of labeling on removable overlays, if you don’t have other overlays to put on?

Edirol also provides a gig-bag for the PCR1. This is a nice touch, and should meet the needs of users that want to keep their controller from getting crusty in the back of their car. For tougher travel, a heavy-duty bag would be recommended.

Connections

Edirol has kept the PCR1 simple and portable by limiting the connection options. It has stereo analog RCA inputs and outputs, a headphone output and a USB connection. Interestingly, the headphone jack doubles as a digital output jack. The connections provided give you everything you need to record and play back audio, play virtual instruments and control software settings, while keeping the weight down by leaving out more esoteric options.

Edirol PCR1

The PCR1 gets its power from the host computer, eliminating the need for power cables or wall-warts. This, combined with its light weight and portability, mean that you can use it to make music anywhere you can take a laptop.

The audio I/O is through RCA connectors, so you may need adapters for some uses. The 24-bit/96kHz audio interface compares favorably to most typical sound cards, but is not a replacement for a dedicated audio interface. The interface is designed for line-levels, so if you want to record from mics or bass/guitar, you’ll need additional gear. The audio interface should be very handy for mobile users that want to get sound into the computer, but don’t want to lug around more gear.

Testing

Edirol supplies drivers to ensure compatibility with the most common operating systems, even going back to Mac OS 9 and Windows 98! We tested the PCR1 on Mac OS X and Windows 2000. We had no problems getting either system to recognize the device. The PCR1 worked well with all the virtual instruments we tested it with.

The PCR1 is flexible when it comes to MIDI control. Templates are provided for some of the most popular music applications, including Sonar, Pro Tools and Cubase.

You can also create and store custom settings for other MIDI programs. Programming MIDI controllers can be a little confusing, but the manual does a good job of laying out the process. Most users will probably use MIDI Learn within their application, but it’s good to know that the PCR1 gives you complete flexibility in assigning controls to each knob, in case you need this.

It’s easy to get up and running with the PCR1, but consulting the manual is needed to take advantage of its advanced features. Edirol provides an excellent 126-page manual that is profusely illustrated, well-written and explains everything you need to know.

Edirol also provides software for editing PCR1 configurations. The utility lets you assign MIDI controls to a graphic representation of the controller and then transfer the settings to the PCR1. For users that prefer to make assignment changes on their controller, this will come in handy.

We encountered no bugs or quirks when using the PCR1.

Summary

The PCR1 USB Audio Interface and MIDI Keyboard Controller is one of a new breed of controllers designed for mobile computer music making. The PCR1 is inexpensive, yet it offers everything musicians typically need for mobile music making. In addition to being a capable MIDI controller, the PCR1 adds a useful audio interface and a headphone jack.

Edirol has done an excellent job of considering the needs of laptop musicians. Because the PCR1 is optimized for portability, it should be compared to other mobile keyboard controllers, rather than traditional master keyboard controllers. The PCR1 is ideal for musicians, dj’s and other users that want a portable controller to use with virtual synths and sequencers.

Features

  • Compact and light-weight design
  • 25 full-width, velocity-sensitive keys
  • 25 assignable controllers
  • 16 control-map locations
  • 24-bit/96kHz RCA input & outputs
  • USB Buss-Powered
  • 1/8″ Headphone/ S/P DIF Optical output

Specifications

Audio Record & Playback Channels

  • Record: 1 pair of stereo
  • Playback: 1 pair of stereo
  • Full duplex (except for 96 kHz setting)

Signal Processing

  • AD/DA Conversion: 24 bits
  • PC interface: 24 bits

Sampling Rate

  • 44.1/48/96 kHz

Nominal Input Level

  • -10 dBu

Input Impedance

  • 27 k ohms

Nominal Output Level

  • -10 dBu

Output Impedance

  • 1 k ohms

Connectors

  • USB connector:Type B
  • Line Input jacks (L, R): RCA phono type
  • Line Output jacks (L, R): RCA phono type
  • Headphones jack: Stereo miniature phone type
  • Digital Output connector: Optical type

Keyboard

  • 25 Keys (with velocity)

Controllers

  • Master Volume Knob
  • Memory Button
  • MIDI Channel Button
  • Shift Button
  • Octave Shift Buttons (+/-)
  • Transpose Button
  • Assignable Buttons (B1–6)
  • Pitch Bend Switch
  • Modulation Switch
  • Assignable Rotary Volume Knobs (R1–8)

Display

  • 7 segments, 3 characters (LED)

Rear Panel

  • Input Level Knob
  • Power Supply
  • USB Bus Power

Current Draw

  • 400 mA

Dimensions

  • 450(W) x 220(D) x 28(H) mm
  • 17-3/4 (W) x 8-11/16 (D) x 1-1/8 (H) inches

Weight

  • 1.5 kg / 3 lbs 5 oz

Accessories

  • CD-ROM
  • USB Cable
  • Owner’s Manual
  • Template Sheets (GM2, BLANK)

System Requirements

Macintosh

  • Operating System: MacOS 9.x, and OS X
  • Computer: USB ready Apple Macintosh
  • CPU/clock: PowerPC G3/233 MHz or higher
  • Memory (RAM): 64 MB or more
  • OMS 2.3.3 or later. FreeMIDI 1.35 or later
  • For MacOS 8.5, 8.6, 9.x. Plug and play on MacOS X.

Windows

  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows Me/98/98SE/2000/XP
  • Computer: Windows compatible equipped with a USB port *
  • CPU/clock: CPU/clock: Intel Pentium Cerelon or Intel compatible Processor/600 MHz or higher
  • Memory (RAM): 64 MB or more
  • USB Chipset: Intel’s USB chipset is recommended

* Must have a compatible USB host controller.

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