Novation has unveiled their newest product, a line of USB MIDI keyboards called Impulse. Shipping in September, they’ll run street/dealer prices of US$249.99 for the 25-key, $349.99 for 49 keys, and $399.99 for 61 keys.

This pits Novation squarely against some similar MIDI keyboards, including the M-Audio Axiom to which I gave the nod in a Keyboard Magazine round-up I wrote. (It even has a similar control surface layout.) The Novation picks up on some of the issues I noted, and adds some unique features:

  • Aftertouch. Keybed quality is paramount for obvious reasons. What’s typically missing, for those who like it, is aftertouch support, available here.
  • Full DAW control. Available on the Axiom but previously missing on Novation’s offering, you get 8 knobs, 9 faders and buttons, and an LCD for controlling your DAW. (Only one fader on the 25-key model, since all of that wouldn’t fit.
  • Automap. It wouldn’t be a Novation keyboard without the company’s Automap feature. Whether that’s good or not depends on whether you like the functionality; I’ve tended to find it a bit fiddly at times, though the implementation with Propellerheads’ Reason is fantastic. (Hosts are a big part of the variable here.)
  • Pads that do more. This one’s rather interesting: you get drum pads set up to do arpeggios, rolls, and Ableton Live clip launching. You could do that with any pads, but neat to see it on the keyboard, and I’m curious to learn more about the specific implementation.

My only regrets? The basic keyboard still fits into more or less the same category as what we’ve seen – possibly a worthy choice if you’re new, but probably not if you already have a controller keyboard. That may be what sells and what people want, so I don’t begrudge these companies making keyboards like this, and the cost is pretty incredible. I just long for some variety – which may mean looking to higher-end custom jobs rather than mass keyboards.

And I can’t really say I’m in love with the styling, either, to say the least. I’ll have to see it in person, and your taste may absolutely vary (you don’t need me to tell you what you like); I just would love to see something that’s both conservative and modern, not either bland or tending to be garish. (This just looks sporty in the way those gaming PCs do to me.) Again, custom keyboards may be the only route; watch for some coverage of that soon. (But seriously, Novation — a lot of folks I know really liked your previous styling.)

The product:
http://www.novationmusic.com/products/midi_controllers/impulse/

Video and more pics:

  • http://soundcloud.com/virtualflannel V-F!

    Looks like an Axiom to me. 

  • http://ghmetcalfe.com/MyMusic.htm Graham

    Looks nice. I like the aftertouch on the pads and the additional backlighting. Hopefully they will feel better than the pads on my Compact SL 49 which are really stiff. Not enough newness to get me to shell out money, and I would miss the lcd running underneath the controls.

  • Brian

    Obvious axiom competition 

  • Peter Kirn

    Indeed, but I have to say, other than aftertouch (which not everyone uses, frankly), the Axiom gives you pretty much the same keyboard, and I like the way it looks better. I also like the Axiom's textured keys, so I'm eager to see how this feels. Beyond that, it comes down to whether you like Automap (in which case, get this), or don't much care (in which case, the Axiom is perfectly fine).

  • gusDW

    I checked out the pad functionality.  There's an arpeggiator button built in – the pads offer a way of 'warping' the arpeggiator pattern whilst it's running.  How exactly it warps it I'm not sure – I'd love it if it was implemented in a similar way to that in Akai's APK series – switching between 16th and 32nd note resolution etc.  Not that much of a huge deal for everyone – but personally I do love arpeggiators :)  

    The whole problem with Automap is it fails to solve the old problem of having your head glued to a laptop screen.  Plus there's software to install – and a window hovering over your DAW which can clutter things up. It should be more of an 'instant' experience – similar to M-Audio's HyperControl or DirectLink.

    Better still, even just have a readout of parameters in an LCD screen below the actual controls – the keyboard becomes more of an instrument this way. 

  • Peter Kirn

    @gusDW: Yeah, agreed, having arp on the pads as on the Akai is a lot of fun. It's actually most useful with hardware, because it's not as easy as with software to just insert an arp.

    LCD readout of parameters — well, that's what they did on some of the previous ReMOTE line. 

  • http://maakdigitalemuziek.nl Ruud

    Hopefully the pads play much better than on my Remote 25 SL Compact, which feel way too stiff indeed. If the keys play the same as on the Remote 25 SL Compact, this will definitely be a nice keyboard, despite the pads!

  • Peter Kirn

    I believe these are more conventional, Akai-style pads.

  • Stij

    The one thing that really surprised me about these is the price! $400.00 for a 61-keyboard with that many controls is excellent, especially when you compare it with Novation's previous SL series. Sure, the screen's smaller, and you miss the joystick, but that's a small price when you consider that the thing is literally less than half the price of the equivalent SL. (I got lucky and got my SL during an excellent sale)

    If I ever need to replace my SL, or find myself needing another MIDI keyboard for whatever reason, I'll definitely consider one of these.

  • Stij

    Oh yeah, the SL has an X+Y pad too, but that's fairly minor.

  • 3 phase

    novation-junk

  • http://www.praxworld.com Will

    It does look like an Axiom! I agree that it's probably worthy if you're new but not compelling enough to replace an existing keyboard.

    On a side note, if you are getting a blue screen of death on your Axiom there is hope. I was getting ready to junk my Axiom 61, when I realized that I could order a replacement mainboard and revitalize it for the next 100 years of my music playing:&nbsp ;http://praxworld.com/2011/02/20/m-audio-axiom-61-mainboard-replacement/

  • Leslie

    Am I the only one here that loves the design..? 

    I've been waiting for the proper update to my old and trusty SL37 MK1 and it looks like my wishes finally became true. SL MK2 was not compelling enough.

  • Walter Sear

    Totally not newsworthy. Definitely not Create Digital Music worthy.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Walter: I just report the news; I generally don't actually make it. Covering this area is absolutely dead-center to CDM's interests. The fact that all the keyboards are becoming alike is itself a news story – and a challenge to, well, indeed try to make some of the news by seeing if we can hack together something different.

  • ideletemyself

    Frankly, the price did get my attention… Also, personally since this would probably never leave my bedroom I don't really give a lick about whether or not it looks tits-money. As someone who recently had to get rid of some music equipment to pay some bills, when I do go to replace said gear I know I'll at least be considering this thing…

  • Peter Kirn

    Yep, I think the price is right on. And seeing aftertouch back is great, as I said, for those who use it. (heck, if it's there, I'm one of those people!)

  • http://error-success.com/ Suva

    Looks really nice to me. Would like to try it before buying though: On some shots it looks a little bit plastic, on others it looks nice.

  • Random Chance

    More controller keyboards are always better. I'm quite happy with what I got but should there come a time that I have more space to fill with gear I might need a second master keyboard. Would probably not be this one, but I like choice when it comes to important things.

  • ALTZ

    Looks like CME product with Novation branding.

  • http://regend.com Regend

    Impulse also comes with a stack of free software and sounds:

    • Ableton Live Lite – powerful loop based music-making software

    • Novation Bass Station – legendary analogue bass synth as a software plug-in

    • Loopmasters sample library – over 1GB of royalty-free samples

    • Mike The Drummer – 502MB of live drum loops and breaks

  • http://fart.com beefmullet

    what the heck is the point of automap without the LCDs automatically showing parameter names and values above the rotaries/sliders when an instrument or effect is clicked on?.. so now you hit a button and then assign a parameter to a knob? how the shit is this any different from what you can do with ANY controller in ANY modern daw?

  • Les Cayes

    Why won't these manufacturers offer a 32/37 key version of their controllers?  I don't get it!  I once bought an Axion 25 and had to give it to a buddy because I could not get used to such short key bed.

  • Andrew

    The critics should give it a rest. This is an entry level keyboard. It's their decision to go to where they feel the market is. They offer much better controller/synths for not much more like X-Station. Why do people dismiss keyboards as if it is a personal assault on their personalities. You want something better buy a Kronos and stop looking at entry level keyboards like they are supposed to be workstations.

  • youngcircle

    Thank you, Andrew!!!! Lol, that kind of tech elitism, which Peter had to answer to constantly, partly has to do with peoples' idea that what they own defines them. If they own a garish keyboard, they too could be described as garish! Whereas as a monome makes them instantly cool! Haha ahem bullshit. It's a means to an end: music 

  • Elliot

    As someone looking for a controller keyboard I *do* appreciate CDM covering this, so thanks guys. As for no X+Y pad I say great, I thought it sucked on the SL-series. (But I wish they'd kept the long LCD strip linked to touch-sensitive knobs.) I would like to know what other differences there are from the slightly more expensive SL. I especially would like confirmation that the Impulse keyboards are from Fatar like the SL. Finally I wish there was a place to show or list side-by-side differences with the Axiom Pro (which it closely resembles) and the MPK.

  • Elliot

    Andrew FYI the X-Station was discontinued more than a year ago and it wasn't really a much better controller — it was the same as the SL1 series without pads but with a basic monotimbral VA engine in it. You can't find it new and places like Musician's Friend have a bunch of 'can be brought back into working order' units which suggests a lack of long-term sturdiness.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, beauty in design is in the eye of the beholder. I don't think anyone is necessarily saying the aesthetics of the hardware determine whether the user is cool or not. I certainly have not had that as my intent. So, @young circle, if you're accusing me of elitism, I don't think that's fair. I believe both that I'm entitled to have opinions, and that others are, too.

  • Lee Faulkner

    Re: the25 key model…

    Seems underwhelming to me… The old model had cadets, pads,buttons and knobs…and an XY pad. This one has aftertouch… Buy hey, as a controoller it's a bit thin on controls!

    No displays for each row either?

    Skip it…..

  • Lee Faulkner

    LOL!,,,

    My iPad turned 'faders' into 'Cadets' …wow.

  • Elliot

    Lee you might like this site: 

    http://damnyouautocorrect.com/

  • Rymf

    Aftertouch on an entry level board is nice, but I couldn't imagine spending 4x what you'd spend on a Yamaha KX-series (with the nifty Mackie Controller Ableton control surface workaround) on this ugly thing.

    Though I should note that as a former MPD32 and current Maschine/monome owner, pads on a keyboard aren't a huge selling point for me.

    (Although now that I'm selling the MPD I'm out a bunch of encoders and faders. Think we can convince Livid to make a Code+ with an added bank of faders?)

  • http://esem.name george

    Novation did make a great line of stripped down keyboards – the Remote LE. No idea why they stopped manufacturing it. Impulse tries to be everything but ends up looking ugly and I assume overly-reliant on Automap (which I still find a pain in the arse to use). In the meantime, finding a LE49 on Ebay takes ages. Probably for a reason.

    Maybe break this thing down into modules and hire an industrial designer?

  • Benny

    This is a big disappointment. I was hoping that they would come up with an SL MkIII:

    A keyboard with 8 LED ring knobs, 8 buttons, pads, the LED screen above the knobs, some extra buttons for DAW control, the joystick and aftertouch.

  • Elliot

    4x the price of a Yamaha KX? Not really. 1st the Yamaha controllers are discontinued, 2nd the only place left selling a KX25 is Bananas Music for $200, while the Impulse 25 sells for $250. Third, the Yamaha doesn't even have pads, let alone the varied things you can do with them that Akai & M-Audio's keyboards can't. Finally, the Yamha doesn't have aftertouch while every one of its competitors does … which helps explain why Yamaha dropped the product.

  • Elliot

    SL Mk II came out August 2009. Any update won't be too soon because they don't want to step on the feet of this product's introduction and reviews, so if you want an SL3 you might need to wait until Jan/Feb 2012.

  • http://soundcloud.com/nekst-musick Next Musick

    Where did the lcd's go??They look great but i don't know for sure!!