The PreSonus ATOM is the manufacturer’s first pad controller, an essential piece of gear for anyone who uses virtual instruments. Along with having 16 velocity-sensitive and pressure-sensitive pads, it allows you to control your whole session without even touching your computer. The ATOM includes PreSonus Studio One Artist production software and recording DAW and is fully integrated right out of the box, which makes for an easier workflow. At a $149 price point, you’re getting a serious “bang” for your buck. Few pad controllers in this price range gives you the light up pads, the flexibility, or the quality of the pads themselves that are found in the ATOM.
I’d highly recommend this unit to the singer-songwriter that needs to make quality demos, yet doesn’t have the space or means to record a full drum kit. The pads are sensitive enough to capture your ghost-notes, which is important to program a realistic, natural drum sound from either the included drum sounds in Studio One or your own virtual instruments. The ATOM is by default set to Native mode, so the pads are already mapped out of the box to be compatible with Studio One. While using the included Studio One software, the transport controls and edit functionalities are intuitive and fast as soon as you plug it into your computer, so you can make music right away. If you are more of an electronic songwriter or producer, this unit has got you covered as well. The note-repeat function is a must for creating your “trap” hi-hat rolls and snare builds. Studio One has some quality electric drum samples as well, but you can easily control your third-party virtual instruments as well with the ATOM.
You can also switch the ATOM into MIDI Keyboard Mode, where the pads on your ATOM will illuminate, following the pattern of a piano keyboard. The piano white keys are indicated by yellow while black keys are indicated by blue in a one-octave span, and you can easily adjust to different octaves. This is great if you want to program synth and keyboard patterns on the go, without the need of an external MIDI keyboard.
The transport control on the bottom right further brings this pad to the controller realm, with controls set to record, play, stop and toggle your click track within Studio One. The ATOM can also control your transport section, create new tracks, browse and control virtual instruments and plug-ins, change tempos, control your step-editor, and set loops. Once you take the time to learn how to get to each of these functions, the ATOM becomes a tool to streamline your workflow. While the unit is intuitive and streamlined, not all the functionalities are obvious on first glance, so do take the time to read the manual. The transport isn’t automatically mapped in Pro Tools, which is the primary DAW that I work in, so some setup time is needed to make it fully functional.
While the four rotary knobs on top of the ATOM aren’t automatically setup to your virtual instruments out of the gate, it’s really easy to assign them to any parameter you’d like. I personally prefer the rotary knobs not to be mapped to set functions from the get-go, as I tend to need to control different parameters depending on what the song or mix calls for each time. The rotary knobs can also be assigned to control parameters inside each of your plug-ins, which you have to map manually as well. This makes it achievable to mix hands-on without the need for another expensive control surface.
ATOM is even more than a drum controller and keyboard emulator with navigation features. It integrates very well with Impact XT in Studio One but it also integrates tightly with Sample One XT and other VIs in Studio One, and with that you can trigger any type of sample or loop you want, including some pretty cool combinations and layers of sounds.
The length of the included USB cable is long enough to keep your workflow clean and spacious. Or, if you have a buddy over helping you program, they won’t have to be right on top of you during a session. The ATOM is furthermore bus-powered and compact enough to be able to store in a backpack to produce on the go. This portability makes the ATOM perfect for the spontaneous grab and go moments when your songwriting partner calls you up with a new idea and you need to run over to their space. Or maybe you’re looking for inspiration outside. Pack your computer, instrument, cables and the ATOM in a bag and head outdoors.
Street price: $149.95