Thursday, 10 April 2014

Nektar Controllers

I recently had a chance to join the product manager for Nektar, the guys who make MIDI controllers with specialised, out-of-the-box control mappings for specific music DAWs (including all the usual suspects like Reason, Live, Cubase etc but also Reaper and Bigwig), for a hands on look at the Bigwig Studio software. Of course, one upshot on this little hour and a half run through was that the new Panorama and Impakt controllers did get promoted quite a bit, so I'd like to take a look into these new keyboards.

Korg's Triton - a Taktile with built in sounds
The emphasis on both the Panorama and to a lesser extent the Impact being the ability to more less play and create music without touching a keyboard or mouse while you're doing so. In a similar fashion to Korg and their Taktile keyboard, where the XY effects pad from a Mini KP2 Kaoss Pad also doubles up as a mouse pad, the panorama adds a number of mixing and track editing tools and a Mini display built into the keyboard. I can definitely see these sorts of products as being the next step in specific DAW control rather than trying to be an additional feature. When I think about it, I do appreciate the idea of being able to control what's going on on screen without breaking my workflow, but for certain things like editing automation it can sometimes be necessary to reach for the mouse to get pinpoint access to the parameters you need.

As for the action on the keys. these are definitely on par with those I have tried on Fatar keyboards and more expensive "hammer action" machines. It's definitely not as heavy as a proper piano but feel weighty to play and perfect for serious or light performing and jamming. Having access to a preset selection key for VST presets right on the keyboard helps it feel more like a keyboard synthesizer than just a controller and this is down to a more thorough understanding of their product and how it and the user will interact with the DAW.

While the Panorama had this screen and even a motorised Mackie slider for per-track volume control (nice to have but I'm not sure it justifies the much higher price tag), the Impact controller is much more an economy experience, but still offers the tight integration between hardware and software of its bigger brother.

Oddly enough I did have a new keyboard controller on my list of things to look into when upgrading to Bitwig, but I was looking at the 25 key version that was quietly announced at NAMM 14 earlier in the year. According to the guy I spoke to on the day, the 25 key version will be available in May/June for around £80-90, but as the 49key is only £30-40 more for double the keys and a whole bank of sliders for mixing with as well, it does seem to be a whole lot more value for money if you have the space. Suddenly my little LPK25 seems quite unsuited to DAW use.

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