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Doepfer Pocket Control

MIDI Control Surface By Paul Ward
Published July 2000

Doepfer Pocket Control

One drawback of soundcardsand soft synthsis their lack of physical controllers, but Doepfer aim to bridge the gap with their diminutive PocketC. Paul Ward tries his hand...

Doepfer's Drehbank, which Paul Nagle reviewed in SOS July '99, was a fully programmable controller surface, with 64 programmable knobs. This has proved to be a very successful product, but clearly offered more features (and knobs!) than many users would ever use. Doepfer's new PocketC, therefore, represents a 'mini‑Drehbank' aimed at those requiring a simple real‑time hardware interface for their soundcards, software synths, or knob‑less hardware synths. The concept is simple: supply a box with knobs and allow the user to determine the MIDI messages generated by those knobs. This idea is certainly not new, but the PocketC does the job at a new price level.

The PocketC is small. Not so small that I'd like to actually try to get one into my own pocket, but if you own a trenchcoat then the title certainly makes sense. Since this device's physical size is one of its major selling points, I ought to quantify this a little by saying that its footprint is approximately 17cm by 7.5cm, and it's 5cm high. I'd say that this makes the PocketC ideally suited to sit at the end of a synth's top panel, or perch to one side of a computer keyboard. It's a chunky little box made of strong metal and appears well‑suited to life in a gig bag. Sixteen knobs are provided, each of which allows travel over a 270 degree arc. A centre point for each knob is marked on the panel legending, but there is no centre detent in the control's travel.

Other than the 16 knobs, the PocketC is low on physical features. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will largely depend on the use you may envisage for it. On the left, above the knobs, is a small, red button marked 'Snapshot', and an LED. The button actually performs various tasks, including the sending of a snapshot of the current position of all control knobs, setting the MIDI master channel, and initiating a reset of the PocketC following a MIDI overload. The LED indicates various useful information, such as whether a preset has been changed and also provides a useful indication that MIDI data is both arriving at and leaving the PocketC.

Dipping In And Out

Doepfer Pocket Control

The rear panel hosts the MIDI In and Out sockets, a bank of DIP switches and the power‑supply connector. On the premise that many people have power supplies kicking around which are adequate for the job, Doepfer have made the external power supply an optional item. Power requirements are relatively unfussy — any DC supply of 9‑12 Volts, positive inner and at least 100mA of current will do — a Yamaha is ideal for the job, and one was supplied with the review model. The PocketC will protect itself from reversed polarity if you get it wrong.

The bank of DIP switches is for selecting controller presets. Yes, you read that correctly: presets of controller configurations are selected by rear‑panel DIP switches! In theory, eight switches would allow for a maximum of 256 different presets. One of the switches is reserved for future updates, leaving a current limit of 128. The switches are programmed in binary, so it could well be time to dig out those school maths books! Even if you are a binary whizz, the need to adjust seven DIP switches in order to change presets means you won't want to do it very often.

Presets 1‑64 come pre‑programmed with a variety of useful 'vanilla' combinations, including banks of volume, pan, filter cut‑off and such, in addition to a range of banks dedicated to specific hardware and software, such as GM/XG/GS soundcards, Rebirth, Waldorf Pulse and others. If your particular use is not covered by the factory presets, then don't worry. Any of the 128 presets may be re‑programmed using SysEx commands; Doepfer supply a PC editor to make the job easier. The editor is simple, but it certainly does the job. If anyone has a real problem with creating their presets then EMIS will be happy to write them for you — jolly decent of them, I'd say. Unfortunately there are no plans for a Mac editor; a Sound Diver profile is apparently likely to appear, but I doubt that this will win friends with those, like myself, who use Galaxy! Doepfer provide 128 preset events which can be assigned to any of the 16 knobs. These cover a range of useful events including any controller number, GS/XG control, NRPN, pitch‑bend and aftertouch.

MIDI arriving at the MIDI input is merged with the PocketC's own data before being passed onto the MIDI output. This is specifically designed to allow the PocketC and your master keyboard to share a sequencer, or computer's single MIDI input. It also allows multiple PocketCs to be chained together in series. The device happily coped with anything I threw at it, including large SysEx dumps, although Doepfer reasonably warn against moving any of the PocketC's controls whilst such a bulk transmission is taking place.


That there is a market for a device such as the PocketC is without doubt, and the price is certainly appealing. What it does, it does well. As to whether it does what you want of it is, perhaps, another matter. If you would like to switch between controller configurations on the fly then you will be disappointed, thanks to the use of DIP switches to select presets. One alternative might be to buy two or more PocketCs and chain them together, but then you have to ask whether another single device might be better suited to your needs — and the thought of all those wall‑warts side by side along a power strip fills me with dismay. If, on the other hand, you tend to stick with a single controller configuration and only need the flexibility to change to another setup from time to time, then the PocketC may be the answer to your prayers. I, personally, would be happier to pay a little more and see a numeric preset display with a pair of Up/Down buttons for selection. I would also like the ability to change presets using MIDI program change messages.

As it is, the PocketC is the simple answer to a simple requirement. It is small enough to perch somewhere unobtrusively and has enough flexibility to perform a host of useful tasks. Its programmability is uncomplicated, providing that you have a reasonable understanding of what you are trying to achieve, and this kind of power is very welcome at the asking price. However, the thought of jabbing around with a pen at those DIP switches to access all the parameters of a soundcard leaves me very cold indeed! If you can live with this, or are happy to buy multiple units to avoid such issues, then the PocketC comes heartily recommended.


  • Price.
  • Programmability.
  • MIDI merge facility to allow connection of master keyboard, or chaining multiple PocketCs.


  • Preset selection by DIP switches.
  • No Macintosh editor available or planned.


A useful device that performs its task with the minimum of fuss, though preset selection by DIP switches could be a pain for some users.