Could Intech Studio’s ingenious modular system help you build your perfect MIDI controller?
How often have you been on the lookout for the perfect MIDI controller only to find that you inevitably have to compromise? Either it doesn’t have enough knobs, or far too many, or if only the sliders were in a different place. Well, Grid from Intech Studio offers an interlocking system of MIDI control modules that’s completely configurable. Do you want more sliders? Snap‑on another bunch of four. Do you want more encoders over on the left? No problem, here’s a bank of 16...
There are currently five modules in the Grid system and more are in the pipeline. Can you find the perfect custom MIDI controller within these deeply dark and seriously smart modules?
The modules feel substantial in the hand. They are solid, slimline squares of hard matte‑black plastic festooned with knobs, encoders, sliders or buttons, depending on the unit. There’s a pair of four‑pronged spring‑loaded pogo pins on each side, and on either edge is a magnet. The magnets snap the modules together while the pogo pins match up with those on another module to pass power and data. You can snap them together in any orientation so that sliders become crossfaders, or the LED for an encoder is below it rather than above it. The system knows which way up everything is and copes with any change, although the USB‑C port on one side could be called the top, and the Mode button on the opposite side could reasonably be seen as the bottom; the controls appear to be orientated to reflect this.
As you construct your controller, the RGB LEDs flash and glow as connections are forged and understandings are come to between modules. You only need a single USB‑C connection to provide power and data to the whole Grid and it doesn’t matter which one you connect it to.
The encoders feel nice and solid; they turn with detents and are clickable when pushed.
The encoders feel nice and solid; they turn with detents and are clickable when pushed. The knobs are smooth, with a good amount of resistance and feel slightly more solid in place than the encoders. The sliders feel all right, and I like the very fingerable fader caps. Two of them on one of the review modules dragged a little bit on the front panel, although it’s hard to know if this was the fader cap or the edge. The buttons are perfectly fine and buttony. Each individual control has an LED, and for each element that has a maximum and minimum, they increase/decrease in brightness as you move from one extreme to another. The default is a rather pleasing blue, but you also get orange, green and purple to cover all four modes.
The five modules on review here represent the current product line. There’s the PO16, which has a 4x4 grid of 16 'potmeters' or potentiometers, and the EN16, which is the same but with endless encoders. There’s a 16‑button module called the BU16. The perhaps more interesting two have some combinations: the EF44 has four encoders and four long faders, whereas the PBF4 has four pots, four sliders and four buttons. One small irritation is that the name of the device isn’t written anywhere on the hardware. Of course, it only takes a moment to work it out, but as I come across them referred in the documentation, I’m forever having to stop and think about it.
On the whole, the Intech Studio Grid is gorgeous. Superbly clean lines, intensely dark controls and not‑too‑bright LEDs. I found myself endlessly rearranging them partly to enjoy the flashing LEDs of reconnection and partly because I could. And that’s the point: they don’t have to take on a permanent configuration. You can arrange and rearrange them to fit the device you’re controlling. And you probably wouldn’t have one of each as I have here; you’re more likely to choose the ones that are going to fulfil your own requirements.
I found myself endlessly rearranging them partly to enjoy the flashing LEDs of reconnection and partly because I could. And that’s the point: they don’t have to take on a permanent configuration.
The online documentation is good, and there’s plenty of it, although it could be a little bit more idiot‑proof. Being a Windows user, I have an expectation of drivers and installers, and there’s no mention of them on the Getting Started page. Am I supposed to believe that it just works? Well, funnily enough, it does, but it would be nice to be told that it will, to save me digging around for an installer. However, after you’ve had a root around, you will find there’s an editor and a firmware updater, and these would benefit from being displayed really large on the first page so that I can confirm that the Grid is indeed working correctly before I try controlling things.
I wanted to see how easy it would be to get going intuitively. So, without any reference to the manual or any editing software, I opened up Cherry Audio’s CA2600 and hit the MIDI Learn button. Every control mapped with a joyful ease. Except for the buttons which believed themselves to be notes and ones that didn’t latch. So...