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Absolute Encoder vs. Endless Encoder vs. Fixed-Position Encoder

Have you ever heard the word Absolute Encoder thrown around when talking about a MIDI Keyboard’s knobs?

I want to quickly share with you the difference between Absolute Encoders, Endless Encoders, and Fixed-Position Knobs.

Simply put, they are the knobs on a MIDI Keyboard, but differ in how they rotate (when you turn them clockwise or counter-clockwise).

Below is a video from my M-Audio Oxygen Pro review where I talk about absolute encoders briefly..

You can view my full M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 review.

Absolute Rotary Encoders:

An absolute encoder has a beginning and end position. In addition, they usually have a white notch built onto the knob itself.

I like this knob because all the way left is off 0%, and all the way right is on 100%.

You can also feel that knob’s current position with the notch, which makes a great reference point (instead of having to always look down to see where the knob is at!)

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 - KNOBS AND DRUM PADS
Read my M-Audio Oxygen Pro Review which covers more about the Absolute Encoders, as well as how the piano keys feel on the MIDI Keyboard.

Endless Rotary Encoders

Endless Encoders do not have a beginning and end position on the physical knob itself. This means the knob can endlessly turn left or right. This is not bad, and it works well. (It’s just another approach of doing the same thing, which is turning up and down the knob!)

Absolute and Endless Encoders are great because they have no “fixed-position”. You can adjust parameters by even just 1% for fine-tuning, which makes them both great options.

Endless Encoder. It does not have the white notch like an absolute encoder, and can be moved left and right endlessly.. where as Absolute have a 0% full left minimum and 100% full right maximum.

Fixed-Position Knobs

I don’t think a Fixed-Position Knob would ever be found on a MIDI Keyboard, as we beatmakers need to have fine control, even if it is just 1% increments!

Fixed-Position Knobs lock into pre-determined positions by the manufacturer. It could be 0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%, but you are not able to fine-tune values in-between these fixed positions.

These Fixed-Position Knobs are often on analog-type gear when adjusting certain parameters. Below the image you will see a video of me turning the SAMPLE RATE knob. (This is a case where a fixed-position knob works perfectly!)

You can see above “SAMPLE RATE/DITHER” (the top knob), this can only switch between the sample rate values presented.. (44K/16, 48K/24, etc..) Contrary, the OUTPUT LEVEL knob below is an ENDLESS ENCODER, allowing you fine-tune the volume to your desired level.

Also.. I felt the picture didn’t do enough justice for fixed-position knob, so here’s a video.. just play it over a couple times if it’s too fast.

Soft-Takeover to the Rescue!

When it comes to Absolute Rotary Encoders and Endless Rotary Encoders, they need to use a technology called Soft-Takeover so you can use that same knob on a different parameter when you switch banks.

Soft-Takeover actually works really good, which allows both the absolute and endless encoders to perform without frustration!

Simply put, Soft-Takeover prevents the knob from instantly adjusting a parameter when you “switch banks”.

Because MIDI Keyboards often have “banks”, this knob becomes like an additional knob that is unique in itself, and can control a different parameter. For example, on bank 1 this knob may be CC 17, but on bank 2, this knob may become CC 18.

As such, the DAW considers this SAME KNOB different when you switch between banks.

When you switch to a new bank, Soft-Takeover kicks in, and will not allow the knob to send information UNTIL it reaches the value of that parameter when on that bank.

If on bank 1, maybe the value is at 25%, but on bank 2 the parameter may be at 60%.

If you switch from bank 2 to bank 1, you do not want the knob’s position in bank 2 to automatically switch Bank 1 knob to 60%. When you switch to bank 1, Soft-Takeover waits until you reach 25% on that knob, THEN you can turn the knob up and down to adjust the parameter.

This makes it so that you can switch between banks without it auto-adjusting parameters (and messing up your whole mix!).

And That’s How Rotary Encoders Work on a MIDI Keyboard!

I thought this article would be useful to anyone researching the difference between Absolute vs. Endless vs. Fixed-Position Encoders.

When buying a MIDI Keyboard different vendors will often say their knobs (encoders) are one of these options, and now you’ll know what you’re buying.

If you use FL Studio, definitely checkout my M-Audio Oxygen Pro 49 review. I really recommend it!

I also have lots of FL Studio beatmaking courses!

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