Novation has unveiled their revised SL line of controllers, dubbed the SL Mk II. The changes are subtle, but significant.

Looks awesome:

  • Fatar semi-weight “fast touch” keyboard action
  • Touch-sensitive controls for immediate feedback on the LED screen
  • Buttons are now backlit
  • Encoders are ringed with red LEDs
  • Dedicated buttons for enabling Automap and switching modes (effects, mixing, etc.)
  • Speed Dial!
  • Bundled with Automap 3 PRO software, which now features keystroke assignment and a heads-up display (and PRO is free with a new keyboard, as expected, though there’s still an upgrade fee if you’re a current owner)
  • The ZeRO now has a crossfader
  • Lovely new silver-colored knob and fader caps – and a prettier-looking design, in general
  • The pads may be flatter on top (the old model has odd, stiff raised pads – I’m hoping that’s improved here)
  • It’s the tried-and-trusted SL – with all the software support that entails

Looks less awesome:

  • The pads are still tiny
  • The X/Y joystick for pitch/mod can be an acquired taste
  • Novation has dropped the second LED screen strip above the faders, leaving only the one above the encoders. (not a deal killer, probably, because you can look at the physical position of the faders)
  • No crossfader on the keyboard models (Edirol is the one keyboard maker I know of who have done this)
  • The transport controls have been relocated to the buttons under the faders, which looks like they’ll be a little tougher to access
  • Apparently in the interest of cost savings, the SL mk II will still have the same controller layout on the bigger keyboards – meaning if you have a 49-key or 61-key model, there’s a big blank space instead of more room for controllers (just as on the original SL). Put your iPod touch / iPhone there for extra controls, perhaps. This time, it’s centered, instead of all at one end.

All in all, though, I’d say this is a pretty big step forward. The SL really did set the bar for controller integration and providing a really solid feel. It has always been pricey, but it’s nice to feel a keyboard maker takes computer musicians seriously, instead of giving us the bottom-of-the-barrel “budget” stuff.

I also have to say, too, there’s nothing out there that really can compete with the keyboard-less ZeRO. For quick controller access to your computer software in a layout that fits on your desk (angled with the optional stand), it’s just about perfect. And since M-Audio no longer makes their former Evolution UC-33e, this category is entirely Novation’s.

I’m still concerned about the things I don’t love on the original SL – namely, the drum pads and the tendency of the X/Y pitch/mod joystick to stick. I still quite like the SL Compact: it has bigger pads and traditional pitch and mod, and it’s also cheaper.

On the other hand, you get some additional feedback from the LED rings around the encoders and the backlit buttons, which is a good thing. And the Automap Pro 3 software looks powerful – heads-up displays are, I believe, the future.

The competition between Novation’s refreshed SL and M-Audio’s new Axiom Pro should be very interesting, indeed. The details on each are almost exactly opposite, especially considering they’re basically the same product concept. The Axiom Pro integrates directly with software without the need for a helper app running, as Novation’s, and its controls are just a little more traditional. Novation is adding lights, but M-Audio is mainly leaving them off. For the screen, M-Audio opted for a single, higher-resolution rectangular display instead of the low-res strips on the top of the Novation.

Also, the Novation I believe is still not MIDI class-compliant, meaning the M-Audio piece works on Linux and Novation doesn’t.

M-Audio’s higher-end keyboards (ignoring some of their poorer-quality cheap models) and Novation’s keyboard line have both been extremely competitive. Seeing them square off directly sounds great to me.

Most important to me: just how these things feel, and how well the integration and customization works. Both start shipping in April. Stay tuned.

ReMOTE SL Mk II

ZeRO SL Mk II

(any hopes of MOre norMAL CAPitalizaTION in the nEW RElease, obviously not happening…)

Previously:

M-Audio Axiom Pro Offers Novation Automap Rival – If You’ve Got the Right DAW

Automap 3 Pro: New Heads-Up Display, More Flexibility for Dynamic Controllers

Grab the Automap 3 Beta from Novation; Use it with Reaper, More

Update:

Pricing looks slightly steeper than on the original models. DV247 (street) prices:

GBP299.99 ZERO (no keyboard) MK2

GBP329.99 SL25 MK2

GBP399.99 SL49 MK2

That’d be US$575 at the going exchange rate for the 49-key model, though pricing often doesn’t exactly adhere to conversion rates for currency.

Of course, you can expect discounted pricing on the older models. (Thanks, RCUS!)

  • CV!

    I hope they improved buil quality as well.

    I have a 37 SL and the silkscreening could be rubbed off like a lottery ticket.

    After a lot of complaining Novation agreed to change the front panel (the grey middle part).

    It came back with gaps between the new part and the black top and bottom parts.

    They couldn't reassemble it properly!!

    It was the second time Novation sent me a product back with reassembly issues.

    I'll never buy anything from them ever again!!

    YMMV :)

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

    Well, unfortunately I've seen scattered issues with pretty much all of the more-affordable, mass-market stuff. I haven't seen the particular issues you're describing, but then I do find these things aren't always totally consistent. I guess it raises a question: would consumers be willing to pay more for stuff that is better assembled? You hear people complaining about things like the monome, but that really is the point (and given that the monome keeps selling out, obviously someone sees the tradeoffs differently).

  • RCUS

    i second the "lottery ticket" comment. my ZERO SL has done the same thing.

    I must say however, the new ZERO SL is a SEXY BITCH! that crossfader does not look replaceable though. Hopefully i'm wrong

    But I do see Ableton goodness on the ZERO too if those pads are less stiff than the current versions. thats a very organized layout for track based clip launching

  • Honkey McGee

    RCUS, those angled shots with the dark background look to be computer generated images, so they may have just left out whatever details you would be looking for (as far as the ability to replace the crossfader)

    If they're getting rid of the LCD across the right top of the controller, why not use longer-throw faders? It looks like the ones on the ZERO are a bit taller, but I'd love to see something more substantial

  • RCUS

    so check it, novation has a tutorial video up already and I have to say the layout IS waaay better than the current models. check it out:

    http://www.novationmusic.com/products/sl_mkii?opt

    items of note:

    - dedicated buttons to get in and out of automap

    - the transport buttons can double as assignable buttons. so lets say you don't want to use them as transport controls…

    - additional Automap hard-wired buttons for: midi learn, GUI View, and all automap based templates: user, fx, instrument, and mixer.

    anyone got a price yet?

  • CV!

    I see what you mean Peter, but Novation does try to place itself on the upper-end of the market.

    I think the problem is that they find it easier to sell features than build quality.

    The buyer then finds himself using only a few features for his personal needs and stuck with inadequate build quality.

  • http://www.dynamicinterplay.com M.A.S.

    Looks fantastic. Of course it would have been nice to see aluminum casing, but not many have that these days.

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

    @RCUS: yeah, very cool. Well, so the layout itself is very similar, but they've made the functions more flexible – nice.

    Where are you seeing the video? I can't see it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/noou (noou)

    @Peter: you forgot to mention the Speed Dial knob!

    it's an old story: you always want more, so I ask myself "should I sell my "old" SL 61?" :?

  • RCUS

    Peter,

    You should be able to see 4 videos actually. Go to the link in my first post and once on that page, click "tutorials" and it should bring you to the vids.

    also, here's a hi-res pic of actual gear from harmony central.

    http://www.harmony-central.com/ProductImages/Nova

    still looks sexy! OH and I definitely dig the speed dial too! and the long "double length" faders are a nice bonus.

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

    Ah, but here's what's nice about Automap 3 – it now supports more than one SL. So unless you need the cash from selling your old one, you could have more than one SL. ;)

  • Machines

    Is the floating hand an option or a feature?

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

    @Machines: Ah, yes. I forgot to mention that. The floating, disembodied hand does give you a lot more power for simultaneous manipulation, since you're no longer limited to ten fingers. (50% more control!)

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    I can also vouch for disappointing build quality – I've had the ReMote 25, the 25SL, and the 37SL. On all three, it felt like things could have been just a bit tighter overall.

    The new Zero does look nicer – like it could possibly compete with the likes of the newer Vestax, Akai, and NI controllers. That seems a pretty steep angle for the product, though. Wonder how that would be to use it standing over it, placed on a folding table.

    Any idea what the buttons on the upper-right of the keyboard will be used for? They were for Page Up/Down on the second LCD.

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    Never mind on the angle of the Zero – it's a stand. Not a bad idea, really.

    http://us.novationmusic.com/images/zero_sl_mk_ii?…

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

    I'm assuming the up/down buttons on the right-hand side do what they did before — toggle banks of mixer faders, etc. They just don't have a display any more; maybe you see which bank you're on on the left display?

  • RCUS

    lets try this again…why are my posts getting blocked WTF. must be my overlords at work

    http://www.dv247.com/invt/63779/

  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    Touch sensitive controls are nice, liked those a lot on the Kore 2. Otherwise, it doesn't make me want to trade my SL37 really.

    The Zero looks really slick though.

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

    I believe that is the real gear in our image. It's just been slicked up a little bit / retouched.

  • teej

    wanty.

  • Peter

    I wonder how well the led rings will function with macro controls in Live. Could be awesome.

  • kevin

    So specifically with logic, do y'all think the axiom pro or the novation is the way to go? The x/y pad and joystick seem like fun on the novation, but the hypercontrol on the axiom pro seems like it will work more smoothly with logic. Also removing the second LCD strip on the novation seems silly. How do you know which parameters the sliders are assigned to?

    How might the build qualities compare? Does anyone have one of the axiom pros yet? How do the drum triggers compare?

    Thoughts, anyone? In particular about the DAW auto-control features of each. Does automap work well with Logic? Hypercontrol?

  • teej

    on second thought after watching the vids, not sure if i wanty. seems there's so much button combo-ing required to navigate these things still. the touch sens is a cool feature and probably makes life easier but i don't know if my aging brain has enough working space left to remember all the hand breakdancing required to fly around on one of these. here's to hoping the Rascal old people scooter company gets into the MIDI controller business!

  • Kyran

    I can see why they removed the display above the sliders: as they are not motorized, it doesn't really make much sense to switch between banks often. If you've mapped these to volume sliders, moving a fader will result in volume spikes just after a bank change (and using pickup kind of sucks too, because you have to move the fader all the way down or up before something happens, it's just faster to get the mouse and adjust whatever it is you want to adjust).

    Probably most users just dedicate the faders to some function, which sort of makes the screen obsolete.

    I'd have prefered motorized faders instead of ditching the screen though (we can dream right?)

  • CV!

    in Ableton Live, the screen lets you know, in text, whichn track the fader and two buttons control, so you don't have to look at the computer screen to lower a particular instrument, if you move a track, the display updates, I'm surprised they took that one out, I use it way more than the left one on my setup, but that really depends on how you choose to work.

  • Lephrenic

    I do wish the touchpad could send note on when pressed and note off when released, as well as the X and Y values.

  • http://rhaig.com smilinggoat

    This looks nice and all, but for live playing, I'm not a fan of knobs at all. I don't have time to look down and see where a knob is set. With faders, I can feel where they are and instantly know.

    The Zero SL looks great, but I wish they had just replaced the rotary encoders with more faders. Yeah, rotary encoders are great for the studio, but not so much for live performance.

    Anyone know of a control surface that's just a ton of faders?

  • Polite

    Awww, yeah. Though I don't use my SL Zero nearly as much as I should, or thought I would. Though I moved away from software quite a bit in the last few years. Though on the other hand, I must have more toys. >_<

  • http://www.roninaudio.net R0NiN

    For more faders than knobs:
    http://www.defectiverecords.com/pc1600/pc1600.htm
    …or get on the DIY tip

    I personally love the original Remote25… yeah, the faders have lo-fidelity, get sticky and bits on mine I've broken off from years of being a bum and carrying it around in a rucksack. But still, it lives! and if it had some pads it would still be king of my world.

    BTW WTF is up with some controllers I see which on the outset look cool, but they have 12 pads (korg nano etc.)?

    8 isn't enough, but what are you supposed to do with 12?

  • http://www.document02.com Document 02

    There is the CME/waveidea bitstream 3x which is more or less the same, with a higher end finish:
    http://surface-de-controle-midi.cme.audiofanzine….

    http://www.waveidea.com/en/products/bitstream_3x/

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  • dyscode

    Seriously, I like the old style better!

    It´s way more cool!

    Even more the old (Zero) SL has TWO displays and a Battery compartment.

    I don´t care about the lights, less compounds to break. Even the 60mm Faders do not seem too much of an advantage.

    But that those new SL MKII suckers now include Automap PRO I do not forgive them!!!

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

    Well, LED lights have a really low failure rate; you're likely to have mechanical problems first. ;)

    But I agree to the extent that the one display is now on the same side as the encoders, which is a bit redundant — the fader side gets neither light nor display.

    Do you need a battery compartment, though? I've had no problem powering the SL off USB.

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  • Kyran

    The strange thing though is that there is still place for the second lcd. Their software supports it. Are they really so expensive? (and even then a lot of users won't mind an additional 30$ if it gives them the second lcd)

  • http://www.33tetragammon.com wasili

    and let's not forget the ABLETON MODE on the zero sl mk2:developed in collaboration with the awesome Abes……curious how that works.

    although i will probably choose the akai apc-40 instead of this,since i already have a remote sl 37 and a nocturn….

    now all i need is max for live……..

  • kj

    While this does appear to be a step up, it's surprising that no one seems to have a problem with the 25 key limit. That's the thing that makes this entire class of controllers a pain to me. I got a 25SL compact for live work because it will fit inside a standard rack. I'd buy one or two of the new ones if they'd move the wheels up and add another handful of keys while keeping the footprint the same.

  • matt

    A few key issues here to mention from witnessing a demo.

    1) Using the old ReMOTE SL25 you didn't know if a button was acutally ON/OFF without assigning it to the display. Now you can see ALL button states :-)

    2) There is a Dedicated Ableton live mode written BY Ableton themselves and is Massively improved in Live 8 to allow you to re-asign the plug- parameters and browse devices. Talk about freeign yourself from the screen for live use.

    3) The SLMkII lights up like a christmas tree and STILL can be powered by USB! …that's some deisgn challenge (APC40 is MAINS powered only)

    4) When you touch a fader the screen automatically flips and draws a highlight around the controls you are touching.

    5) This is STILL the only keyboard with a display like that (ie in line with the eight controls) unless I have missed something?

    M

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

    @matt / wasili: Hmmm, I do have to say, though, given a roughly equivalent control layout, I'll be really, really disappointed if the new Ableton mode features don't get back-ported to the original SL — even if there have to be some subtle compromises.

    #1 – yeah, absolutely, what you get here is generally more feedback which is *huge* playing live.

    #3 – uh, yes and no. The monome is also bus-powered.

    #4 – you mean the new Live 8 feedback, or the screen on the Novation?

    #5 – actually, the Korg microKONTROL / KONTROL 49 had in-line display with the controls *before* the Novation and I think is still available. The problem is, that keyboard and pads didn't feel as good as even the old Novation. ;)

  • lee

    Yeah yeah, this is all well and good, but Novation needs to stop dicking around and release the Remote SL Audio already, or an X-Station with automap.

  • http://mucca-pazza.org Andy

    If these had motorized faders they'd be nearly perfect.

  • ZERo

    Totally agree with Andy. I am happy with my MCU and 003 for a long time to come. :)

  • matt

    I'm pretty sure ALL Ableton features *ARE* backward compatible. (apart from LEDS of course ;-)

    #3: a quick count of SLMkII adds up to about 150 LEDs AND a really big display. The monome as 64 LEDS only ;-) I think the Axiom pro has about 15 user LEDS? ..hmmmm

    #4 The touch sense shows the Last control you touch highlighted on the Novation LCD screen.

    #5 The Korg displays are RRrraaaaabbiisssh ;-)

  • Stiltskin

    They removed one display!? Great, just when I had decided to switch my Korg KONTROL49 for a 61SL they redesign it for the worse. The two displays were the whole point. I use the KONTROL49 for Reason where I can see all parameter names in the displays, but the faders and rotaries share displays which is annoying so I was looking forward to having separate displays for faders/rotaries. IDIOTS! Bye bye Novation, don't let the door hit you on the way out of my wallet from which you return empty handed.

  • Aj

    Exactly Stiltskin. The whole beauty of these keyboards is that they automatically label the knobs for you – electronically. No more little sticky labels, or hastily-made, software dependent cardboard "templates."

    Let's face it – if you don't know what a knob does, most users don't USE that knob. The display fixed that. But now… they neutered it. Weird thinking.

    Boggles the mind.

  • richtie hautrein

    remote sl 25 vs. remote sl 25 mkII:

    just bought the old remote sl 37, last peace, but some buttons stick (typical for the 37 model), so i have to give it back for another one.

    they only have one last remote sl 25 in stock, so i have to decide if i take it or change it for the new mkII.

    i see all the advantages of the new mkII, especially the leds are good, as i always thought this is missing on the old sl.

    but i really don´t understand why they removed the second display. it seems they only cutted it out of the design, instead of making longer faders e.g.

    so i tried the mkII 25 in a store. it feels quite good.

    the problem is, now i have some kind of "brain fuck" again, as i have to touch the fader, then take a look at the left display, see what i am controlling, then go back to the fader and count the number of the faders to control a specific fader, great solution!

    if there still would be the second display i wouldn´t have any doubts. i tend to change the sl 37 to the old remote sl 25, anybody can convince me not to do this and get the new one?

    cheers and thanks