Dynamic control is fantastic. The idea is this: when you switch to a new app or instrument or effect, the hardware controller automatically assigns parameters to controls. That means no messing around with templates, assignment editors, and configuration, and the ability to quickly gain control of your software when editing or performing. Novation’s MIDI-controlling keyboards and control surfaces are likely the best example of this with their “Automap” feature, as found on the ReMOTE line and the cute, DJ-friendly Nocturn.

But doing dynamic assignment also creates some challenges. You have to sort out which parameters get controlled. And most importantly, you need to be able to see what you’re actually controlling.

Automap was, frankly, pretty rocky when it first shipped – when I originally reviewed the ReMOTE SL, a lot of stuff didn’t work at all in some of the hosts. (I remember struggling with Logic, specifically.) But Novation has done a fantastic job of working with all the software you use, from Live and Reason to Logic and Pro Tools, and each release has gotten steadily better. Automap “Universal” 2.0 works exceptionally well with hosts, and plug-in support was starting to come together.

Now, Automap 3 Pro seeks to address those two remaining areas: assign parameters more easily, and see what you’re doing. And for the first time, you’ll be able to use multiple Novations side by side, which means I’m ready to pick up a Nocturn for myself. There’s just one catch, which may win the “Accountants Do the Darndest Things” award of this NAMM show. (Spoiler alert: would you give away or charge for the feature that encourages people to buy more of your gear?)


Heads-Up Display

Having a display on your hardware: good. Having a display on your hardware and being able to use your computer screen, too – without squinting: better.

The biggest news to me is the new heads-up display, which Novation calls “Autoview.”

If you are dynamically assigning controls, you need some feedback to know what the heck you’re actually controlling. That’s why I’m going to gripe endlessly about the lack of a screen on the new Akai APC40 for Ableton Live. Novation has always had lovely little screens built into their hardware. The problem is, an LED is a pretty small screen for people used to looking at 23” desktop displays all day. (I’m only 31 and I’m squinting at it already.)

Oddly enough, if you play with a laptop, you have a huge, gorgeous screen sitting right next to you. You can hunch over it and try to tell what’s happening, but that’s obviously no go.

So Novation has what I think is the ideal solution: a big heads-up display that activates when you grab a controller. (“Ah,” you say, “that is my grain length control,” and go on confidently with your set.)

We saw this basic feature demoed with the Nocturn controller at last year’s NAMM, but now it’s standard on Automap 3 across the whole Novation line. Having both the screen on my device and on my computer screen seems fantastic to me.

Assign Controllers Flexibly

The other main shortcoming of Automap in the past is how to deal with plug-ins with lots of parameters. In Ableton Live, at least, you can throw instruments and effects into Live’s Device Racks, which conveniently have eight macro knobs. That way, the eight encoders on your Novation gear map nicely. But invariably, even in Live I’ll find some plug-in I didn’t put into a rack, and this doesn’t work in all other hosts.

With Automap 3, you can drag and drop parameters onto controls. If you don’t like the arrangement, drag and drop again to swap parameters from one controller to another. (“Yep, grain length really belongs on the bottom right,” says you, and it is so.) That complements the “learn mode” added in Automap 2: click the on-screen parameter and then touch the hardware controller. (That’s very similar to the way Kore’s feature works, by the way.)

Finally, Automap supports assigning the X/Y pad control dynamically. That’s huge for SL owners – and makes me almost wish I hadn’t switch to the SL Compact.

Multiple Devices, New Start-Up Screen

The other big feature is long-awaited support for multiple devices and integrated Mackie HUI support, and there’s a new screen to organize all the new stuff.

Multiple controllers: You can now use more than one Novation controller at once and have Automap working with both of them at the same time. This is really fantastic, especially given that the ReMOTE Zero and Nocturn are both quite compact.

Mackie HUI: This means you get instant control over any DAW that supports Mackie HUI, without specific drivers.

New screen: There’s also a new startup screen for managing multiple devices and the plug-in assignment features. It also brings up links for updating your software and learning how to use all this functionality, with online guides for your software of choice, tutorials, and help.

Now, get ready for some cognitive dissonance:

Pro Pricing that Makes No Sense

I wondered why Automap was suddenly called “Automap Pro.” The answer seems to be that some jittery accountants (or someone else, in a weak moment) decided to charge $30 for Automap 3 Pro. That might be a logical decision if Automap worked on any hardware other than Novation’s, but it doesn’t. It’s not much money – it just doesn’t make much sense.

Here’s where it gets really strange. You can get Automap “Standard” for free. So what did they take out to entice you to buy “Pro”? Multiple device support.

Yep, that’s right. You can use less Novation hardware for free, but if you want to buy more Novation hardware, they’ll charge you for the privilege of using it. (I’m hoping it at least comes free with new Novation controllers, but haven’t seen any announcement suggesting that.)

Also exclusive to the Pro mode:

  • XY pad control
  • Autoview
  • Drag and drop

So, in other words, Automap Standard doesn’t really give you any of the significant new features, except for HUI control and the new startup screen.

I know I’m naive and have terrible business sense, but wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage people to buy more of your stuff? I think Automap Pro is probably worth thirty bucks. I think Novation’s hardware is well worth buying – maybe even more than one unit. But I can’t make this make any sense at all.

Good will from your users is more valuable, Novation – and in the long run, could have a bigger impact on your bottom line. Make Automap Pro free, and encourage users to snap up more of these terrific controllers instead.

I hope at the very least Novation has the sense to do a free bundle of Automap Pro 3 with new controllers. (How many of you would find a bundled copy of Pro enough to put you over the top on buying a new Nocturn, even if you already have something like the ReMOTE SL? I know it’d convince me.)

Still Want It

That said, I still want this update – to me, it finally delivers on all the promise of the whole Automap concept.

And my message to Ableton: I’d love to see a heads-up display integrated into Live, too, especially since the Akai APC lacks a screen of its own.

Stay tuned for an Automap 3 hands-on coming soon. As I write this, the downloads still cover only Automap Universal 2, and the Buy Now page is blank.

Automap Product Page

  • http://thomaspiperjr.com thomas piper

    I Just Bought a Novation Sl Compact 49 and i love it. but why should i have to pay for a software upgrade like this one make no sense. To make things worse i got the Keyboard a week ago :(

    Check out my Blog
    http://www.thomaspiperjr.com

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, like I said: I hope Novation has some offers here to get people Pro.

    The point to me is not that software updates aren't worth money — I think, very often, they are. But what happens is you exchange a *free* upgrade for good will from your customers who buy more of your stuff and tell others to do the same. It becomes a built-in service that adds value to the purchase of the hardware. It's important precisely *because* people value it, because the free software can translate to real dollar figures on the company's bottom line.

    I don't think we're just going to see this from Novation, either. It's cause for concern. I'd rather see some faith that the market can continue to grow, even when the economy is sour. One of the best ways to lubricate those cogs is with extra good will, not nickle-and-dime upgrades.

  • Kyran

    I'd buy this instantly if it added support for my x-station.

    But as it is now, I just don't see the point: I only have one compatible device (a nocturn, which I love).

    I'd have mildly understood this if the multi controller support was in the standard version: after all those people have already shelved out cash for novation stuff at least twice!

    I think novation should know what it's business is, and that's selling hardware. They could take an example after apple, their business is selling hardware too, so they make the software free (itunes, safari, osx if you buy a mac) or cheap (logic). This actually encourages people to buy extra hardware, while novations deal will actually make them think twice (if I need some new keys, a novation SL keyboard is now effectively 30 dollars more expansive than it was before, because I already own a nocturn, how weird is that)

  • RCUS

    Here's the Focusrite/Novation beta page if you want to check it out AM3:

    http://mail.focusrite.com/beta/

    If you have questions about Automap I suggest joining the Novation RemoteSL yahoo groups, its really great! There's a guy named Mick from Novation who is really helpful.

    Oh and by the way, HUI support means Reaper too!! I was insane enough to create a 64 track mixer template for Reaper to work with the SL (and lost a week of my life in the process); but I was never happy with what I did. So i'm interested to see how it works now with HUI support! Can't wait to get this loaded up!

    Great NAMM coverage by the way Peter!

  • jerry

    hardware companies want to sell software

    and software companies want to sell hardware

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Kyran: My understanding is that it would be difficult to add Automap support to the X-Station firmware, even via a firmware update. (That was something I asked when Automap first debuted.) That said, I think — and maybe you've found this, as well — that there are some advantages to using the fixed controller assignments on the X-Station while using another device (the Nocturn in this case) as your dedicated Automap device.

    I would say you could get by with Automap 3 Standard, but actually, I think you'll really want the heads-up display on the Nocturn!

    So, I'd love to wind up finding out I'm wrong and there's some way to get Pro for free — even on a new device. Guess we'll find out. In the meantime, the announcement was pretty clear that it's $30.

    Of course, if Ableton were to build heads-up features into Live, then we'd get the advantages for multiple hardware. You could get heads-up feedback while using an APC and a Novation (say, the keyboard) simultaneously. The same would be true in, for instance, the implementation of similar features in Reason or Logic.

  • Barton

    I hope this works better than 1 or 2.

    Am I the only person that is baffled by this user friendly system, or it just because I am trying to use it with Logic? I'm not sure that I want to pay for v3 either: after having been so excited about the v2 upgrade, and then being rather disappointed by it.

    I won't elaborate, but I am fairly savvy when it comes to software/technology, yet automap doesn't seem to want to be very auto for me. Also the 'huge displays' on the hardware (remote SL marketing hyperbole) are hardly anything exciting — definitely not huge. They mostly display a string of meaningless abbreviations — especially laid out as they are, in a row.

    The sequence of up/down arrows either side of the displays used for navigating between track/mixer and effects/instruments is also quite tedious and hard to recall in the heat of the moment.

    Switching the unit on or off also tends to send out some voodoo signal that swaps all of my instruments/samplers to arbitrary settings?

    I was hoping that this thing would overcome the frustrating, arcane midi controller setup that Logic has.

  • bliss

    Excellent points, Peter and Kyran. As far as I know, Access Music Electronics (Virus TI, et al.) is not charging for the software that supports their hardware synths. Sounds like Novation is definitely listening to some bean counters who do not understand Novation's market. Why would they effectively increase the price of buying more of their hardware? $30 is a barrier for some people. And a major irritant for others who wouldn't even miss $30 otherwise. I mean, it's enough to look for another solution and forget about why you were interested in another Novation in the first place.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Barton, which version are you on with Logic?

    What do you mean by "don't work"? If you reset the Novation *while Logic is loaded*, yes, you should expect trouble – the SL will do a full firmware reboot, and who knows how Logic will respond.

    The thing is, this is all definitely limited by the host. My sense was with updates to Automap and Logic, you could get *some* of it working, though — at least in my testing.

    It functions really well when in apps like Reason and Live. And there, if you have some logical names, the screen can be useful – though that's why I like the heads-up display.

    Before I seem too polyanna-ish, what we *really* need is to have a better scheme for doing these things than what our existing MIDI + host combinations provide.

  • Barton

    I'm on the latest versions.

    Don't get me wrong: some of it works, I am disappointed by the gap between how easy they say (marketing says) it is to use, and the reality of how finicky it is. You're probably right about the limitations of the host though.

    I agree wholeheartedly as far as needing a better scheme. I don't think the usability concerning midi/control has kept up with the usability standards of modern computing. Live is great, choose parameter hands on, twist the knob, done. Logic: not so good. I can't comment on the other systems.

    I guess I believed the hype when v2 automap came along and thought it would address my needs, but it didn't.

  • Justin

    I think charging the $30 for AM Pro could be a huge PR mistake. Especially since Novation products are already at a premium price in the market. You would think with the top of the line controller or keyboard you would get the top of the line software along with it. Out of principal I will not update since I already dumped almost $600 on my SL61.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @mr. ed: Well, let's not get too crazy about this. I'm pretty happy with Automap 2. It's stable, it's working well for me (erm, at least in certain hosts, which as I said is largely based on what the host can do). So I don't know I'd dump the SL over this.

  • http://www.jameslauer.com JL

    as a ReMOTE owner since december i think so far it's a great controller (not perfect either though) and Automap does make life easier but considering that i paid $400 it literally a few weeks ago that they would have a bit more consideration… this just pisses me off. :)

  • http://www.myspace.com/elektrodouche mr. ed

    Bad move, they shouldn’t be adding $30 to your product in a depressed market. The software is just an enabler for the hardware. Silly indeed. Anybody want to buy a lightly used ZeroSL?

  • velocipede

    By the way, what about the new M-Audio Axiom Pro with "HyperControl(TM)"?

    Not sure how good it is, but Novation might suddenly have a big bear on its turf.

  • Simon Price

    Hi,

    The multi-controller support is definitely the big news.

    To be clear, AutoMap 2 already had the HUD, the only thing new with AutoView is that it can auto hide/show when you touch controls. Also, you could remap controls before, just not by drag and drop.

    My review of the Nocturn is at http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug08/articles/no
    Although I think it's on eSub for another couple of months.

    Cheers Peter, loving the NAMM coverage.

    Simon

  • frabo

    Automap 3 has still a lot of bugs and it is not ready to let it out ! I'll never give 30 bugs for that, when it is not a real "PRO" version !

    it sends midi masseges on the keyboard down from C1 !

    this works on Midi clients as well in plug in automap mode in Logic and Ableton Live !

    - in hui mode with logic:

    no toggle between mix- and plug in- mode !

    that means, you don’t have a plug-in or a instrument mode !

    Vol feedback only from 0 to 127, not in db !

    no feedback of the tracknames !

    no smpt or beat screening !

    it is static, not editable !

    is not useble !!

    it’s a shame .. :-( (

  • Kyran

    I bought the nocturn because I figured that automap would never make it to the x-station.

    And you're right, it is handy to have my master volume fader around all the time to keep the neigbours happy :)

    We'll see how all this turns out, i'm pretty happy with v2, and I'll probably keep using that version, because v3 would only add hui control for me and I don't have a hui compatible host

  • mackie

    Thanks for writing about this Peter!

    I own SL keyboard and (as others) love to use it, but I'm pretty pissed off about that pricing.

    When you buy the hardware they tell you that you'll get software updates for free. And now when for the first time I can get the update there are two versions introduced and I can get the standard version only which generally adds nothing new at all (new screen (lol) and HUI which i'm not using).

    Cheers!

  • John

    I've been gassing for a nocturn but have held off because I already have a an SL25 and can't use both together.

    Now I can use both but a nocturn is going to cost me £80…… Don 't think so.

    Wake up novation,you need to encourage people to buy your stuff not punish them for doing it!

  • joel

    Barton, I have to agree with you. Automap 2 was complete shit with Logic. I really hope they step it up a notch in terms of making it more compatible with Logic studio pro 8.

    Peter, I'm excited about automap 3, but I'm pretty uncertain how it will work with Logic, I"m sure you've done tests but I'm trying to run with it over the last month. I got some things working but everything is in a mix order. In terms of their current template for automap 2 and how they drew things out in their pdf, it doesn't really align together some of the solo or mute buttons are actually located in a different row.. etc.

    I don't think they spent enough time trying to make a correct template for Logic, in the previous versions… in regards to ableton or reason..

  • joel

    Oh and hey I don't mean to be a sap… it's just you pay this much for a hardware device to work and it just seems like they launched it without taking a lot of consideration for Logic and two years later they are still fixing the app and not really releasing any new midi controllers…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, as it happens, here's what I wrote in 2006:

    "In Logic, it’s easy to switch instruments using the arrow keys next to the SL’s display, something you can’t do in Live. But controls for Logic’s instruments and effects were placed in a non-linear fashion. Where Reason’s Automap kept envelope controls on the faders, Logic’s showed up on the rotaries, differently for each instrument. Also, Logic’s controls would sometimes momentarily fail to respond, and the sustain pedal wasn’t mapped correctly. You can adjust some of these settings using the included editor, and Novation has acknowledged these issues and promised a fix. Their documentation for the Live and Logic Automaps also needs to catch up to their excellent, extensive video tutorials and manual chapters on Cubase and Reason."

    I think part of the problem is really that you're constrained by what happens in the host.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn
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  • teej

    that pricing thing is really weird indeed. maybe they paid a 3rd party to do it this time around and are trying to recoop? makes absolutely no sense.

  • Franco

    Very well said Peter… I own some great Novation stuff so I'd like to buy a Nocturn to integrate with Logic, and still wishing it comes with Automap "Pro" 3 -not just a limited trial, but a full working version. The new features are definitely promising, but this pricing policy doesn't really make sense, especially compared to a new (and bundled) HyperControl.

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  • James Levine

    supply/demand? I guess a lot of people in their market already have more than one novation controller. Really, I don't get it either. I'm the first person to remind others not to moan over supporting an independent developer's shareware, but this is at best a utility which at best is functional and lets proprietary technologies work. You're paying for cut/paste and for multi-devise support.

    What they didn't bank on was that my Remote Zero plus my nocturn=Akai's new ableton controller.

  • joel

    hey Peter,

    thanks for responding and sending me to the url.

    I'm still having issues where I'm not able to control things with logic using the novation midi controller.. Even pressing the up and down arrow s near the display won't establish seleting different instruments in logic pro studio 8…

    do you know where I can get specific information to controlling plugins or logic's instruments using automap 2.0?

  • chetan

    ya its crazy that theyre charging 30 bucks for the "pro" version. When I bought the controller, I did so under the impression that it was a remarkably easy controller with which to assign controls to software instruments. This is not true, it is no easier, and in some cases a little more confusing, compared to more basic controllers, such as Novation's own X-station, which I also own.

    This, as many have pointed out, is the result of fallacious marketing, which projects this product as far easier to use and more useful than it actually is.

    However, to be fair, it does work well with some softwares, particularly Reason. This, along with updates on their website, led me to assume that there would be improvements to the Automap software, and it eventually would be able to do what it promised initially.

    Now, we learn that they will charge $ 30 for this "service". In other words, when I bought this product, I assumed I would be able to use it to easily map controls to various softwares, or it would do it automatically. However, it was disappointing in this regard, and I assumed it would eventually improve. But now, they want to charge you $ 30 for the "privilege" of using to its full ability a product that you've already paid $ 400-500+ for, and which you bought thinking that any future software improvements to this product would be provided free of charge.

    AND … which did not do what it promised initially, in any case. If you think about it, what you should now be able to do with Automap 3 PRO was implicitly implied in their marketing long before they announced this new version.

    I think this decision is madness, especially given that they now have some competition in the form of M-Audio's Hypercontrol technology.

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  • http://www.thinkfloydusa.com JamesBshamus

    As a Novation remote 35sl user I have to say the Automap works or should say worked fine for me. I tried the update with the new automap, but now Reason doesn't work the same. ie selecting devices is now replaced with selecting patches.

  • JamesBshamus

    I sent a email to support to solve my problem, but their reply was incorrect. I was told to look at the SL owner manual page 41 to select Instrument instead of mixer. Unfortunately, page 41 referse to a Logic set up. I have uninstalled the updated universal remote and reverted to 2.1. If it aint broke …..

    I am disapointed that they are charging for this Pro version of the upgrade since their controllers are already expensive. Since I dont use multiple novation products, I doubt I will ever upgrade now. Occationally I will run Live or Sonar, but until I upgrade my computer, I will leave well enough alone.