Review: Keith McMillen Instruments QuNexus

With the same solid feeling and durability as the QuNeo controller, the Keith McMillen Instruments QuNexus keypad controller throws a little KMI flavor into your portable music production fantasies. See what its innovative new layers of playability can do for your DJing, Ableton Live performances, and music creation.

Reviewed: Keith McMillen Instruments QuNexus
Price: $199.95 (MSRP), $149 (on Amazon)
Communication: CV, MIDI over USB (USB powered)
Ships with: 1-meter USB A-to-Micro cable, Software editor, OSC Bridge, Ableton Live scripts
Weight: 0.76 lb. (345 g)
Dimensions: 12.8 x 3.3 x 0.43 inches (325 x 84 x 11mm)

The Good: Expressive playability with velocity, pressure, and Tilt sensitivity on each keypad. Small and light, yet durably built. Out-of-the-box integration with Live 8/9 and Reason.

The Bad: Pricey if all you’re looking for is a basic compact keyboard or controller. Keypads feel a bit strange compared to playing traditional keys.

The Bottom Line: From creating a tiny studio by pairing it with an iPad to making it a hub for connecting hardware MIDI and CV gear to a computer, the QuNexus is a tiny key that unlocks a vault of possibilities. Its innovative playability and next-level durability also make it a jewel of compact keyboard controllers.


Keith McMillen has 30+ years creating innovative instruments, including helping to develop the precursor to OSC. His small-but-growing Berkeley-based company (Keith McMillen Instruments)  amassed a runaway train’s worth of momentum from a successful QuNeo Kickstarter campaign about two years ago. With that controller and now the QuNexus, KMI seems hell-bent on reinventing and redefining the standards for durability, flexibility, and playability in portable controllers.

QuNexus works with an iPad – or a Moog Minitaur

The QuNexus 25-keypad compact MIDI and CV controller/converter can go anywhere and control just about anything. With iOS 7 compatibility just announced, it’s plug-and-play with the latest iPads and iPhones (Camera Connection Kit required), as well as any other system that supports MIDI, including properly equipped Android devices.

Naturally, the QuNexus plugs into computers using USB power, but it also can control CV devices such as vintage synths or certain modern units from Analogue Solutions and others. It can do so without the use of a computer, powered from a USB AC adapter or via the optional KMI MIDI Expander ($49.95), which connects the QuNexus to hardware MIDI gear. CV enthusiasts may also want the QuNexus CV Cable Kit ($29.95), to cover the options of connecting CV devices and expression pedals to the unit’s three 1/8-inch CV ports.

The control layout of the QuNexus (click to zoom)


The keypads of the QuNexus pack a triple-threat of velocity, pressure, and Tilt response into their inviting rubber buttons. The Tilt feature comes from KMI’s Smart Sensor technology; it’s the up-and-back movement of your finger on the key—imagine the action of a violinist’s fingers on the neck. You can map velocity, pressure and Tilt to any MIDI CC, making very expressive play possible. A Bend button to the left provides pitch bend, and you can set its range in the software editor.

Experienced keyboard players may find it weird trying to play the QuNexus with the same ease with which they tickle keys with traditional keyboard action. The spacing and feel of trying to play melodies and chords with keypads without a doubt takes some getting used to, but it’s the price of having four-in-one control—note, velocity, pressure, and Tilt—from a single button.

QuNexus key pads

When judged in and of themselves, the QuNexus’ keypads feel great. In this day and age, many producers have been weened on playing buttons anyway, and they should approve of the QuNexus pads’ feel and response. Neither squishy nor hard, the pads sit somewhere in between, with a little more give to them than the main drum pads of the QuNeo.

You can adjust the velocity, pressure and Tilt sensitivities in the QuNexus Editor (even setting values for each key if you want to). At their default settings, you don’t need extreme variations to get the range of velocity, pressure and Tilt. When playing presets that for instance have the pressure set to note modulation, and Tilt to filter cutoff, you can really ride a single note for a while, adding the Bend button for further effect.

The pads also work well for drums – plenty of size and response for two-finger tapping, and the keyboard-style layout can be a nice change of pace for laying out sounds compared to the common 4-by-4 square layout.

The left side controls on the QuNexus

Left-side buttons include octave up and down arrows, which double as cursors in Live Edit mode (see Programmability section), and four preset buttons that double as function keys for turning on or off the Toggle, velocity, pressure, and Tilt responses. When Toggle is active, pressing a key will keep the note on until you press it again – good for letting notes play, building chords, or other on/off functions like turning on FX decks, muting tracks, etc.


QuNexus comes loaded with four presets, which you can edit and swap out with the editor if you like:

  • The basic Preset A turns off pressure and Tilt for a straightforward keyboard playing style.
  • Preset B adds pressure set to modulation and Tilt set to pitch bend, which is more fun for playing synthesizers.
  • Preset C adds Channel Rotation, another unusual QuNexus feature that cycles through MIDI channels for each key pressed. The first key sends to Channel 1, the second to Channel 2, and so on up to 16 channels. When the keys are released, the cycle begins again. This lets you get different pressure, velocity, and Tilt for each note.
  • Preset D deems itself the drums & clips preset. It’s the one to use for a synth or drum machine mapped to the general MIDI channel 10 standard for drums. It’s also the one you use in conjunction with KMI’s Ableton Live Remote script for playing drum sounds/samples and launching clips.

More interesting to DJTT readers will be the Ableton Live Control Surface script that provides a control scheme to scroll through and launch as many scenes and track clips as you have. It gives you 8 clip launch pads per track, clip browsers, track browsers and 6 pressure-sensitive FX controls to the right. This script helps make the QuNexus one of the smallest effective Ableton Live performance controllers you’ll find.

The QuNexus Ableton Live Control Surface layout

Propellerheads Reason 7 also includes a mapping for the QuNexus which centers on playing Reason instruments and devices. Depending on the active device the Reason script makes full use of the pressure and Tilt functions, controlling filter cutoff, LFO rate, oscillator mix, etc. For better using the MIDI Learn features of software such as Live and Apple Logic, KMI includes a CoMA (Controller Mapping Assistant) mode. This will allow you to set MIDI Learn functions for all the different layers of control on the QuNexus pads.

So far, the available QuNexus mappings are biased toward production programs and the live performance features of Ableton Live, but that shouldn’t stop DJs from checking it out as a very capable compact controller.


The QuNexus Editor lets you program three layers of input and output: the Keyboard, Controller, and CV layers. The Keyboard layer lets you set values that effect the entire Keyboard, such as turning on Channel Rotation, or assigning pitch bend, channel pressure, polyphonic aftertouch and up to three MIDI CCs to key pressure, key tilt, or to the expression pedal. For each setting, you can choose the gain (which multiplies the input value), offset, an effect curve, and the range—for example, the pitch bend range or the range of a filter sweep assigned to pressure. You can set message output to USB MIDI, the optional MIDI Expander, or both. Incoming MIDI can control the LEDs, and you can set the MIDI channel for controlling the LEDs in the editor.

In the Controller layer, you can assign an additional MIDI note, toggle CC, pressure CC, and tilt CC to individual QuNexus keys. You can also set whether each key applies to the Keyboard layer, Controller layer, or both. What that does is to let you create QuNexus keys that do not play sounds but rather act as hardware controller for specific controls.

The CV layer lets you setup how the QuNexus keys send and receive control voltae from the four possible CV outputs and two possible CV inputs.

The QuNexus Editor is laid out well, and with its companion PDF manual, it takes some of the mystery out of MIDI editing. It could be a good first step for a beginner to try MIDI editing, and at the same time, its comprehensive options and CV-to-MIDI options should satisfy serious MIDI heads.

However, you don’t necessarily have to use the QuNexus Editor to make changes – Live Edit mode lets you make quick edits to the QuNexus on the fly. These changes are not saved if you change presets or power off the device.


Since there are compact keyboard controllers that cost $50, it can be hard to find immediate need for the $149 QuNexus. There’s no doubt that buying a QuNexus will be an investment in build quality, compatibility, and unique performance features. If any one of those factors means something to you, it could be worth plucking down the extra dough for a piece of equipment that really does provide extra value.

When Mad Zach threw the QuNeo out of the window and into legendary status, he helped establish a legacy of robustness for KMI products. No, we didn’t spill a case of Modelo on the QuNexus to try to one-up the Mad one, but the QuNexus bears all the hallmarks of road-worthiness as the QuNeo: an impenetrable surface, and a bend-but-don’t-break structure that belies is tiny size and weight. KMI actually did their own impact test of the QuNexus (above) by strapping it onto a 30lb watermelon.

Markkus Rovito is the DJTT Tech Editor. Leave your thoughts, and find out what Markkus is reviewing or send questions to him in the comments or on Twitter.

ableton liveCVKeith McMillenKMIOSCpad controllerportablequneoQuNexusreason
Comments (39)
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  • sleeex

    don’t fuck with Muscians Institute in hollywood. Trust me, i’ve worked there. terrible school. not the teachers or anything they’re great. Administration is terrible.

  • Ryan

    Also, it’s not particularly in line with what this site is about, but here’s an idea for a fun spinoff article from this: write one about the different computer music/sound art/new media programs, undergraduate and graduate, around the country.
    MEME (Multimedia and Electronic Music Experiments) program at Brown University (I’m currently an undergrad in this program and I LOVE it!)
    CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technologies) at UC Berkeley
    Masters program in Digital Musics at Dartmouth

  • Ryan

    NINETY THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS?!?!?! I just…I don’t…I can’t….

  • luistd6v

    HEELLL YEAH !!! BEEN in the top 2 .. Berklee and Full Sail =]


    Literally everything you will learn in these schools is online for free. Why go into debt?

  • David De Garie-Lamanque

    for those of you in the US wanting to check out audio engineering schools, you can always come to Canada for your studies. Tuition is must cheaper, especially in Montreal and you get top quality education! 😀

    check out the the Recording Arts Canada school, in Montreal and Toronto:

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    I see a lot of B*tchin on this post. If you went to these schools and can’t hack it afterward, YOU are the problem not the school. I went to Berklee. If you think interning will get you farther ahead, good luck with that. A lot of schools are about the networking you do. So many outstanding artists, engineers, etc. went to Berklee. Learning from them and making connections with them is priceless.

    Google doesn’t give you all the answer or the equipment these schools have. I don’t care how much you search, these teachers have experience that can’t be learned on the internet. It’s easy to learn about a program or learn theories, but these course teach proven methods, tips, and inside tips that you can’t get anywhere else. Each teacher has their own curriculum.

    Thought I knew a lot after doing 10 years in the business and working with the largest music store retailer, but I’ll take my Berklee degree any day.

    • Ezmyrelda

      Indeed. I have a friend who went to Full Sail and now works at Disney.

  • Cube

    Biggest waste of money, giant fucking period.

  • Eliot Leigh

    It would be worth mentioning that there are many very high quality programs at the state-level at schools like Indiana University (among many others). These programs cost very little if you are in-state, and not nearly as much as competing Audio-only programs that frankly don’t give you as much of a musical education. In my mind, the value of a bachelor’s degree in music as a whole (with an emphasis on audio engineering) serves students much better in the long term. In today’s audio market, the winners are those who can wear many different hats, not just operate protools and record vocals. As the casualty of a big studio closing 7 years ago, I can attest to this fact. Since then, my composition skills, as well as my overall education in music arrangement have served me better than my actual audio engineering skills – not that I couldn’t be doing what I am doing without those skills. Long story short, get a real education. If you wanna know how to record people, you can get learn that in most schools one way or another. One thing is for sure – after school, you have at least a year of free labor ahead of you one way or another, followed by a few more years of absolutely terrible pay (unless you get really lucky). This is where having a full-on bachelor’s degree helps. It allows you to work in many fields in the meantime while you figure out how to turn your passion for music production into a living,


  • Mark

    I went to SAE and I have not done anything with my degree. The internship kills you and if you can’t make the cut, you’re basically useless… Like what weezy said, save your money, learn it by yourself and get an internship in a studio and learn from there.

  • antifm

    i did my time at the IAR (institute of Audio Research) i even took adult classes at some annex in another town well after IAR so i can learn more about the science behind music and sound reproduction. Taking that secondary learning course was the best choice i could have made. It gave me a learned approach from a completely NEW perspective in the audio field instead of just what i would get from the staff at IAR.

  • Posting by the pool

    I stopped reading when I hit Full Sail. I live in Winter Park, and know a lot of people who attend and work there. Please, save your time and money and don’t go.

    • Kutmaster TeeOh

      Berklee up in here!!

  • Nikhil Mehta

    How’s Point Blank London ? They have a one year music production + audio Engineering diploma course, is it worth ? I ll really appreciate If you guys at DJ tech tools could help me with some insights on that

  • Rugburn215

    Another great recording program is at Fredonia State University in New York. I’m currently a junior in the program. The Sound Recording Technology department is a part of the music school, so it deeply emphasizes the idea that audio engineers are just as much musicians as the guys holding guitars. Part of being in the program is what helped lead to want to try Djing as well. Best part is it’s the price of a state school!

    • name

      Engineers are not at all musicians haha they’re technicians who contribute to the crafting of a piece of music and they need to have good musical sensibilities and probably experience to do their jobs well but they aren’t musicians. Musicians play an instrument or otherwise make the music from nothing, engineers record and mix and arrange and treat the sound made by musicians.

      • Rugburn215

        I completely disagree. And you could probably piss off a lot of professionals by saying that. But this is a very philosophical debate so to each their own I guess. The point is the recording studio can be viewed as a musical instrument just as much as a guitar can if you are willing to realize that music is not simply notes written on a page by someone.

  • weezy

    save your money and buy some gear and get an internship somewhere! the recording and film industry is saturated with graduates from these programs. it is pretty sad how commercialized learning has become, how do you expect someone to shell out 100k for a job whos base salary when you graduate is either $0/hr up to minimum wage.

    i work as a sound mixer in the film and tv industry and i graduated from an audio engineering program and i wish i never had gone. i learned everything that i paid to learn in school for 2 years in 6 months for free at my first internship. i am still paying my student loan off now and am making a decent living mixing tv shows.

    if you’re getting ready to sign up for these schools make sure being in the audio industry is right for you! the audio industry will eat the weak to pieces and keep on moving!!! you will be working long nights! you will be getting little or no pay!!!! you will be away from your loved ones!!! you will struggle!!! you will want to quit!!! if you can hack it, join the rest of us 🙂

    • leavesremix

      Well said! I started going to school for film and media production. Right away I realized my first year was only teaching me stuff I already knew by means of the internet and self tought. And everything that was to come after I could could learn on the job through hands-on.
      I promptly chose a different major.
      The degree of course would make it easier to land an internship or entry level position.

    • Brett Patterson Lehrman

      Check out the 1 year course in “popular music and sound technology” at the Liverpool Institute for Preforming Arts in Liverpool England. for the 2009-2010 school year tuition was somewhere around £7,000 or $11,000. I think the price has gone up since then but found it to be a good value for classes in Protools, Reason, Logic, studio recording, live audio, music composition, music theory, the role of a record producer & and an instrument of my choosing. There were various opportunities for performance and every friday a touring musician or industry insider would come and give a “master class” where we could ask questions until we lost our voices. Another interesting thing about the school is that the different majors covered the entirety of the modern entertainment industry so that I now have friends from school that are successful dancers, producers, managers, actors & audio engineers.

      The building itself is where John Lennon and Paul McCartney went to high school and is smack dab in the middle of downtown Liverpool. There, we had plenty of opportunities for any kind of involvement in the modern music industry, including engineering. There is a great creative community there, between the school and the city, and if you’re good at networking you can really gain a lot from being there.

      Check out the link I’ve posted below if you’re interested in more information. There is also an audio engineering BA offered at the school in which you get to utilize their George Martin Studio…

      I tend to agree with those who don’t think it’s work over $100K for an education that pays very little upon graduation. Seems like the industry is less concerned with a degree, and more concerned with weather you can actually do the job. It also seems like no matter what route you choose, you will most likely start your career with a non-paid internship, so you might as well save your money and go the rout suggested by weezy.

      If you’re not exactly sure what you want to do and want to learn more and gain some experience, then I recommend the same course I took as it’s not as big of a commitment or investment to do so!

    • calgarc

      go to school, there are jobs waiting, trust us its not a scam… lol i went through a similar experience

    • Lexor

      Depends what you want to do…mixing TV shows maybe. Other areas of the entertainment industry, not so much. Plus, going to school provides a lot of networking and gives you a place to start in the industry you don’t have if you just start calling studios trying to find an internship.

  • Erik Airrik Dale

    Hey another great college with a music industry program especially if you’re in the midwest is Minnesota State University Moorhead. We have a very rigorous music industry program. We spend time on music theory, piano, instruments and ensembles, audio production, and music business. It’s really thorough and we’ve had a lot of successful students come out of our program.

  • calgarc

    lol all college really does these days is teach you how to use google…

    “now class please click on the link i found today, then download the required files from the website i found”

    but the perks of college is the fact that you get access to some cool toys. but is it really worth 150k to rent some audio gear for 4 years

    • O

      This right here, Spent 3 years in Multimedia Technology and I learned everything I know from Google and Youtube, all you are paying for is that little piece of paper at the end of it

      • calgarc

        i did the same thing for 7 years… 3 years of multimedia and 4 years of art (fine, photo, video, animation, graphic design).

        funny thing is, i signed a record deal and make my money teaching, yet i did not study such things in school

  • O

    Wow I always knew education in the states was expensive but seeing the numbers written down makes it real. Education is a right not a privilege. The fees for my degree came to just over £9,000 but if I chose to go to uni in my home country I would not have had to pay any fees. $157,000 for a degree is scandalous.

  • Chaser720

    I don’t know if its just me but I’m posting on the “Become An Audio Engineer: Top Recording Schools” Disqus and seeing the comments from the QuNexus page…???

    • BrainOfSweden

      I don’t think it’s just you. I’m reading the QuNexus review and seeing the Engineer comments. No wait, now that I scroll down, I see the QuNexus comments too. They have somehow morphed.

      • Dan White

        Indeed. something very odd is happening here. We’ve contacted Disqus to figure out what the heck is happening..

  • Oddie O'Phyle

    love it!!! will you be stocking them?

  • Jamie

    anyone used one of these with a Roland SH101? How do these compare to a Kenton Midi/CV converter?

  • Tarekith

    Very happy with my QuNexus, I use it all the time for iPad music making.

  • Junk Rhythm

    Have they fixed the slew issue on the CV outputs?

  • Unreallystic

    I’ve had one of these since they did the initial shipments. I use it with Reason 7.0. It’s super expressive, to a fault at times, I find myself turning off tilt and going with my modified Preset A – frequently when producing. On the flipside, with proper patience to line values up with what you need it is ridiculously nice for solo performances, and added effects. Similar to the QuNexus, the USB port (I think its a micro) is on the left hand side – I wish it was in the back, all the 90 degree USB cables I’ve purchased, bend the wire towards me, a slight annoyance, and a normal micro-USB will just stick out – a space killer/annoynace with small setups.

    From a production perspective, this was able to replace my Akai MPK49 (I have the QuNexus and a couple MIDI Fighters for drum pad purposes). I HIGHLY recommend this one – especially for portable and small setups.

  • dadouthett05

    You r right. Nothing u really want will come easily. Wise words for life. Thanx.