A customizable MPE MIDI controller for your soft synths and analog gear

The original Erae Touch was one of the more interesting MPE controllers to come out in the last few years. But it’s been on the market for less than three years. So it was something of a surprise when Embodme showed up to NAMM 2024 with Erae II, the next iteration of its customizable controller with significant upgrades and one unexpected new feature.

Now, it’s important to note that the version of the Erae II I was able to test out was very early prototype. There were a few bugs, the construction definitely had some rough edges. But the company has plenty of time to iron those out. The Kickstarter campaign opens on February 15 with an expect ship date sometime in June.

The Embodme Erae II at NAMM 2024.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

But the vision is already clear. The main surface is largely the same, a singular smooth expanse with RGB lights underneath it. Those are used to illustrate various layouts that can be customized. It can be a standard keyboard, a grid, faders, a step sequencer, et cetera. The design is definitely more refined, even at this early stage. It also acknowledges that while the customizability of the controller was a big draw, it perhaps relied too much on the desktop app and the playing surface for handling settings.

The updated version has a number of buttons across the top for quickly swapping layouts, controlling the new MIDI looper and accessing other settings. There’s also a small, but high resolution screen tucked in the top righthand corner next to a jog wheel. The viewing angles on the screen were solid and it’s plenty sharp, but its size could pose some challenges. I’m not going to judge it by this very early version of the firmware, but I had to squint pretty hard to make out the tiny text laying out all the MIDI assignments.

The controller itself was very responsive, though. The new sensors (16,000 of them to be specific) were able to track my glides and subtle shifts in pressure with incredible accuracy. The company claims the playing surface has sub-millimeter accuracy. Obviously there’s no way I could truly put that to the test on the show floor but, suffice it to say, it was accurate.

Close up of the screen and jog wheen on the Embodme Erae II at NAMM 2024.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

I can already tell that the Erae requires quite a bit of nuance, though, to get truly expressive results from the aftertouch. The surface doesn’t have a lot of give, so tiny changes in pressure can result in big changes to the sound.

One of the surprising things is that the Erae II will have swappable skins, kind of like the Sensel Morph (RIP) or the Joué Play, but also, not. The unit I played had a silicone cover like the original that the company says is meant for those who want to play the Erae II with drum stick. It will will ship with a white fabric one though, which was specifically meant to improve the feel and responsiveness for those playing with their fingers.

Changing the skins is a little involved, however. Because Embodme sees the Erae not simply as a tool for the studio, but as a live performance device it wanted to make sure the covers would be secure and standup to abuse. So you actually have to unscrew the frame to pop on a new skin. And since the display on the Erae is already customizable, it’s not bothering to have skins with particular layouts, just different materials.

Close up of the shortcut buttons on the Embodme Erae II at NAMM 2024.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Embodme also added a ton of new connectivity options. The original simply had a USB-C port and a TRS MIDI out. But the Erae II will have two MIDI out ports, a MIDI in jack, two USB ports, with the ability to be either a host or a device, and 24 configurable analog outs that can send gate, trigger and CV to external gear.

Obviously it’s way to early to know for sure how well the Erae II will standup to real world use. But it’s got a promising feature set and an intriguing design. If you want to be among the first to get your hands on one you’ll be able to back it on Kickstarter starting February 15 with early bird prices of $549 or $649, depending on how early you hop on. When it reaches retail later in the year, however, it will be going for $799.

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