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NOVATION IMPULSE CONTROLLER KEYBOARD REVIEW

Posted on November 7, 2011 by Joe Stachowiak There have been 30 comment(s)

Novation Impulse 25Novation have a new controller keyboard on the block and it’s called ‘Impulse’! Now, my keyboard of choice for my home studio is currently a Novation 61 SL MkII, so I’m very curious to find out how this new model shapes up. Will it convince me to upgrade from a keyboard that I am already very happy with? Does it improve on the SL MkII or is it simply a different range of keyboard to complement this series? I’m going to find out!

NOVATION IMPULSE – WHAT IS IT?

Put simply, the Novation Impulse is a MIDI controller. This means that it doesn’t feature any built-in sounds of its own, but when combined with a MIDI instrument/device (hardware or software), it becomes an in-depth controller for that particular device. So, for example, you may have a hardware synthesiser module that doesn’t feature a keyboard of its own (e.g. the Waldorf Blofeld Module). You could connect the Impulse to the synth module and trigger its sounds using the Impulse controller’s keyboard. Or, you could hook it up to your computer and use it to play your MIDI instrument's and control other parameters in your program. Because of their versatile control features, MIDI controller keyboards are often an important part of any modern studio.

Novation Impulse 61

Now, the Impulse comes in 25, 49 and 61 key versions. For this particular review I will be looking at the 49 key version, although all three versions are more or less the same. In fact, the 49 and 61 key versions are identical apart from their size. The smaller, more portable 25 key version cannot cram in as many controls as the other versions (due to the limited space on the front panel), and so it features less assignable controls. However, we have an Impulse 25 set up on demo in our Bournemouth store, so it is extremely easy for me to make comparisons, and I will make sure that I explain any differences between models during the course of this review.

NOVATION IMPULSE – DESIGN & BUILD

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the Impulse was, ‘It looks like an M-Audio Axiom controller!’ As well as employing semi-weighted keys and a similar shape, the layout of the controls is practically identical! The Impulse even gives you that trademark Axiom blue screen right in the centre of the front panel! Yes, there are slightly different control and button designs, but to the untrained eye, the only difference between them are those red side-panels of the Impulse! In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Novation decided to release the Impulse with the sole purpose of stealing potential Axiom customers!

This similarity injects some added competition into the mix as I now have the Axiom's and the SL MkII's to compare the Impulse to… but which comes out on top?

Firstly I will talk about the design, and in my opinion, I actually slightly prefer the executive look of the Axioms. Their simplistic black design against the white of the keys and that glowing blue screen just gives them a plain yet professional appearance. However, this is most definitely a personal opinion and as with any audio equipment, how it looks should be the least of your worries…

Moving onto the controls and again, for me, the Axiom comes out on top! I remember being fairly disappointed with the feel of the dials when I first splashed out on my Novation SL MkII approximately 3 years ago – they had a fairly loose, cheap, plastic feel to them and this was something that I was definitely not expecting. Unfortunately, the Impulse has been built with many of the same flaws. I’m sure it has no doubt contributed to a reduced retail price, but again, the controls do not feel as sturdy as I would have ideally liked. The Axiom certainly has more solid-feeling dials, and they also have what feels like a rubber coating, making them nicer to play with. However, the ‘cheap’ knobs of my Novation SL 61 MkII are still going strong on my unit, despite heavy use, so I would assume that the Impulse will also have deceptively rugged controls!

In terms of the faders and buttons, the Axiom's and the Novation's are fairly evenly matched. The faders on all of the keyboards feel solid enough and the buttons have a nice rubber feel to them. In fact, the buttons on the Axiom's and the Impulse's are a little chunkier than those of the SL MkII, making them nicer to work with.

Novation Impulse 25

With regards to the pads (without actually using them to play anything), the Axiom and the Impulse win hands down over the SL MkII. The pads on the SL MkII are very small and despite being called ‘pads’, they have a really solid feel to them, making it difficult to judge how much pressure you are applying. In contrast, the pads on both the Impulses and the Axioms are nice and chunky and have an excellent firm rubber feel to them.

In terms of the screen, the SL MkII definitely gets a point here. I prefer the positioning of the screen on this controller (up the top and out the way, although still being very visible), as it does not intrude on any of the main control space. Its elongated design also means that it can display information relating to numerous controls at once, which is very useful for quick-reference purposes.

Finally and most importantly, the keyboard. Unfortunately for the Axiom, and not wanting to knock it as it is still a very popular keyboard, this is where it falls down in comparison to the Novations. The Impulse and SL MkII keyboards are both semi-weighted just like the Axiom’s, but they both have a slightly different feel. To me, the SL MkII's keyboard feels a little more springy, like a classic synth, whereas the chunkier keys of the Impulse give it slightly more of an acoustic feel. In my opinion, both are excellent though and ideal for studio work and exactly which one you prefer will be down to personal taste.

Having played around with both the Axiom and Impulse keyboards, I just felt that the Impulse had a nicer keyboard response. The keys on the Impulse have a more solid feel compared to the Axiom’s, making expressive playing a little easier. I’m guessing that there will be some people out there that will prefer the feel of the Axiom, but I imagine that the majority of players will agree that the Impulse comes out on top here.

In the next parts of my review I will incorporate the Novation Impulse in with my Logic set-up and explain each of its features in a little more depth…

NOVATION IMPULSE – ASSIGNABLE CONTROLS

All models of the Impulse controller feature 8 endless rotary encoders, meaning that they do not have physical start or end points, but instead can represent any value of any software parameter at any given time. This is brilliant for when you are switching between using the Impulse to control different software parameters as it means that the hardware controls will instantly take control of any parameter from the position that it is currently set at, without causing any sudden jumps. The knobs on the Impulse come with a special ‘Plug-In/MIDI’ button, which you can use to quickly switch them between controlling specific plug-in/mixer parameters and acting as general-purpose MIDI controllers. What’s more is that each dial is sensitive to how quickly you move it, meaning that if you turn it sharply, it will produce a wide value change, and if you turn it slowly it will adjust a parameter with finer resolution steps - a very handy feature I am sure you will agree.

In addition to the dials, the Impulse keyboards also have 9 assignable faders and 9 buttons… apart from the Impulse 25 model, which only has one fader and no assignable buttons. The faders of the Impulse can be assigned to control whatever you want within a software application, although they are especially useful for controlling the fader’s on your DAW’s mixer. The fact that you have 9 of them means that you can have 8 faders assigned to individual channel strips and 1 assigned to a master level fader. Again, the control faders of the Impulse function in combination with two buttons: Mixer and MIDI (49 and 61 key versions only), meaning you can quickly switch them between controlling the levels of individual tracks in your mixer and acting as general MIDI controllers. The buttons can also be used in combination with the shift key to switch between fader banks – e.g. if you have more than 8 tracks in your project (which is more than likely in this day and age), you can quickly switch the faders so that instead of controlling channels 1-8, they are controlling tracks 9-16, etc. This is an extremely handy feature that really helps unite the software and the hardware controller as one. Just bare in mind that the faders aren’t motorised so their physical position may not actually represent the position of the software fader that they are controlling. The Impulse 25 features a single button that toggles between Mixer and MIDI modes.

The buttons underneath each fader also help the integration of the Impulse with a modern DAW. They can either be assigned to control the mute or the solo state of their associated track, and a built-in LED will indicate their solo or mute status. It's extremely quick to switch between Solo and Mute modes - simply press one button to toggle!

In addition to all these controls, you also get a full set of transport buttons (back, forwards, stop, play, loop, record), which should automatically work with your DAW, a number of general settings buttons and a value dial and value buttons (for editing specific controls in the Impulse’s screen). Plus, of course you get the standard Octave Transpose buttons and separate Pitch and Modulation wheels.

All-in-all, I was extremely impressed with the overall design of the Impulse keyboard, especially with how it integrated so closely with a modern DAW. Novation have obviously put a lot of thought into how they can make the average home-studio users life as simple as possible and using the Impulse really did help to speed up my workflow! Everything just made sense and I can honestly say that I’ve never used a MIDI controller like it!

In terms of control flexibility, the Impulse really does outperform the Axiom. In fact, in many ways, I even found it more flexible than my SL MkII! The only disadvantages to the Impulse are that the SL MkII has more assignable controls (including 8 endless rotaty encoders, 8 dials and a host more buttons) and the SL MkII has that extremely handy ‘Speed Dial’. In fact, I was rather disappointed that the Impulse didn’t have this because this one simple addition would have elevated it to a whole new level in my opinion.

The ‘Speed Dial’ (as featured on Novation SL MkII keyboards) allows you to quickly control any software parameter that you wish, whether it is assigned to a specific hardware control on your keyboard or not. Simply position your mouse over any parameter in your software and the Speed Dial instantly takes control of it! This is a brilliant feature that really helps improve the hands-on experience when working on a track. I use this a fair bit on my SL 61 MkII keyboard, especially for recording automation changes for single controls.

But, like I said, the Speed Dial is not featured on the Impulse keyboards. It’s a shame, but luckily there are a lot of other things that I can shout about!

NOVATION IMPULSE – DRUM PADS

Novation Impulse keyboards have some great feeling drum pads. The pads are all velocity sensitive and can also respond to aftertouch if you so wish. What’s more is that all the drum pads are backlit with tri-colour LEDs, which means that they can do things that other drum pads can’t – e.g. act as a mini-Launchpad to trigger Ableton clips (it comes with Ableton Lite Live). This means that the Novation Impulse keyboard is also a brilliant option for live performance puropses.

The pads turn yellow to show that a clip is loaded, green to show that a clip is playing and red to show that it is recording. Of course, you can control the status of clips by pressing the pads, making Impulse by far the best keyboard for Ableton Live users!

NOVATION IMPULSE – ARPEGGIATOR & DRUM ROLL

I’ve often thought that it would be useful if controller keyboards featured built-in arpeggiators and Novation were obviously thinking the same thing because they have implemented one in the Impulse range!

Novation Impulse 49

 

There is a single ‘Arp’ button underneath the main pads to activate the Arpeggiator mode, but there are also a number of more in-depth arpeggiator controls in the ‘Arp Settings’ menu. I was extremely impressed with how complete the arpeggiator controls were – the Impulse arpeggiator gave me everything that I would expect from the arpeggiator of a professional synthesiser: a number of patterns, gate (for setting how long the notes sound), swing, arpeggiation mode (Up, Down, Up Down 2, Chord, Up Down, Random, Key Order), octaves, and arpeggiation length. You can also set the tempo of the arpeggiation in the global tempo settings menu (which can also be synced to the tempo of a host application).

However, the Novation Impulse doesn’t just give you an excellent standard arpeggiator – it also takes things a step further by allowing you to customise each pattern! In arpeggiation mode all the pads light up green and when you begin the arpeggiation, each pad lights up in sequence at a more prominent intensity, to visually demonstrate how the arpeggiation sequence is progressing. However, by pressing each pad, you can also choose to remove that particular step from the pattern (causing the pad to light up red). Therefore you can warp arpeggiation patterns in real-time, muting and activating different parts of a pattern as you choose! This is both an excellent feature for live performance and for studio use.

What’s also rather cool (although it can be a bit of a pain to set-up exactly how you want) is that each step in the arpeggiation will sound at the velocity that that you used to activate the pad. By default, each step will be triggered with the same velocity, but you can quickly change this if you want to add a more natural characteristic to the sequence. I’m glad that this feature is here, although as I said, it can be a little fiddly if you take out an arpeggiation step and then need to re-activate it at exactly the same velocity for continuity purposes.

The Impulse pads also come with a feature called ‘Beat Roll’, which can be used to create roll effects by holding a pad down for as long as you require the note to roll for. This is a brilliant feature to use with percussive parts and because the pads are pressure sensitive, you can also create rolls that have a moving characteristic, sweeping in and out of a mix as you vary your finger pressure on the pad. You can even tap the tempo of the roll yourself and the pads flash in time with it!

Looking through the main Impulse menu, there is a load more that you can do as well. You can adjust the velocity response of the pads (between three different velocity tables) for different playing styles, specify a clock source, define MIDI channels, adjust the keyboard velocity response (between four different velocity tables), and loads more.

NOVATION IMPULSE – AUTOMAP & INCLUDED SOFTWARE

For a long time, Automap has been the feature that has set Novation controllers apart from their rivals. Yes, M-Audio do feature their own version of this software (DirectLink) for their Axiom keyboards, but I have always found Automap easier to work with.

Impulse keyboards come with the brand new version of Automap, featuring an improved graphical interface and a number of other little tweaks. When Automap mode is enabled you can view an Automap screen, which looks very similar to the interface of the Impulse controller itself. Whenever you open a new plug-in, the software will intelligently map the controls of the software to controls on the hardware and a label will appear next to each software control (within the Automap screen) to signal which hardware control will affect it. In the new Automap software you can also select a drop-down menu for each control and assign it to a new parameter, and you can also quickly set defined ranges that the hardware controls cannot go beyond. This is brilliant if you are playing live or recording automation changes. For example, you may want to adjust a filter cut-off manually, but never want to go beyond the limits of 40-60%. Instead of having to be really careful with your controller movements, simply define the limits of the control in the software and go crazy, safe in the knowledge that even if you crank the the dial to its extreme settings, you will still never exceed these limits. You can even save and recall Automap templates using the Impulse keyboard, meaning that you only need to create your custom mappings once.

This new Automap software is a fantastic improvement on the old software. In all honesty, I actually prefer to create completely custom mappings for all my most used plug-ins, as this means that I am in complete control and can decide how best to organise my controls. This also means that I find it easier to remember what each control on the hardware does for each plug-in, as it was me that set it. However, I still find the automatic mapping features of Automap very useful for my less commonly used plug-ins.

As well as Automap, the Novation Impulse keyboards come with Ableton Lite Live, Novation Bass Station, a 1GB Loopmasters Sample Library (royalty free) and a 512MB Mike the Drummer percussive loops library.

Ableton Lite Live is an excellent piece of software with a number of included software effects and instruments. However, for projects or live performances that extend to anything beyond the very basics, it isn’t really powerful enough, as it only allows you to run up to a maximum of 8 audio and 8 MIDI tracks simultaneously. However, it does also give you £50 (at the time of writing) off the full version of Ableton Live 8, so it gives you a very tempting path to upgrade.

As for the samples that come with the Impulse keyboards, they are all very good. Additional samples are always welcome in my studio and although I wouldn’t be too keen on ripping some of those loops straight from the packs for use in my projects, they are great to chop up and manipulate into something more unique.

As for the Bass Station, this is a software emulation of a classic Novation hardware synth. Now, it doesn’t have all that analogue warmth of the original, but it is an amazing little plug-in instrument to be included for free and it sounds brilliant!

NOVATION IMPULSE – SUMMARY

I predict that these products are going to make a huge impact on the home-studio market. The Impulse keyboards seem to pull together so many aspects of modern studio (and live performance) life into one compact unit. First and foremost it is a MIDI controller keyboard with a great feel and response when playing, but then it is also a DAW controller, a plug-in controller, a Lauchpad, an arpeggiator and a set of drum pads all in one! Plus, it comes with an impressive bunch of free software to top it all off!

I think that M-Audio need to do some work to bring their Axiom range up to this standard because at the moment I think that the Impulse keyboards are superior in so many ways. Compared to Novation’s SL MkII range, I would say that the Impulse keyboards have a lot of advantages, despite being cheaper. If you don’t have the budget for additional DAW controllers, or you want some basic means of launching clips in Ableton, then the Impulse is the keyboard for you! Also, if you prefer a more acoustic semi-weighted keybed (with the chunkier keys), then you will want to get your hands on one of these. However, I haven’t been persuaded to sell my current SL MkII just yet. Having become accustomed to the way that it fits in with my home-studio with its additional assignable controls, I think that I currently have the best keyboard for my needs. Plus, I am currently saving up for a DAW controller, so soon I will not need this functionality of the Impulse.

I’ve seen a few people moaning on the internet that the Impulse brings nothing new to the table and that it has just been introduced to compete with the Axiom range. Whilst I’m sure that this last statement is true, I think that these people need to do a bit more research before they jump to such conclusions based on looks alone. Novation’s range of Impulse keyboards are about as unique as you can get in todays market and an amazing all-in-one solution for any bedroom producer. As they say, looks can often be deceiving…

For more information on Novation’s Impulse range of keyboards or to buy one click the relevant link below:

Novation Impulse 25 – More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation Impulse 25

Novation Impulse 49 – More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation Impulse 49

Novation Impulse 61 – More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation Impulse 61

For more information on the Novation SL MkII range or to buy one, click the relevant lin below:

Novation SL 25 MkII - More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation 25 SL MkII

Novation SL 49 MkII - More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation 49 SL MkII

Novation SL 61 MkII - More Info/Buy

Click Here To Buy Novation 61 SL MkII

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This post was posted in Blog entries, Computer Music, In-Depth Reviews, Keyboards & Synths and was tagged with axiom, controller, impulse, keyboard, midi, Novation

30 Responses to NOVATION IMPULSE CONTROLLER KEYBOARD REVIEW

  • says:

    Soulcall;bt400 wrote: Thanks for posting this! I hope I'll make the right decision after reading your informative article!

    I was thinking and searching the best midi controller for me and decided to get the impulse 25. Biggest competitor was the A300 from Roland, but the great compatibility and design make me to get the impulse. Really happy with my choice..

    Posted on December 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm

  • Nice! Glad you are enjoying the Impulse :)

    Posted on December 15, 2011 at 12:05 pm

  • Robin says:

    Nicely written and very 'real world'. Interesting to compare the Impulse with the SL MkII - As usual it's a matter of choosing horses for courses and for me I prefer the simplicity of the Impulse. The fact is that iPad Apps such as V-Control Pro do a lot of what keyboard controllers do. I like to use both side by side.

    Posted on January 21, 2012 at 11:15 pm

  • Thanks ,I can Now see clearly and order my Impulse with confidence.

    Posted on February 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

  • Tom says:

    What I remember hating about the sl range is that automap assign parameters automatically to the fixed encoders and faders, where I actually preferred the automap to happen only with regards to the endless encoders.

    On one hand I like to have all the controls for when I do my own midi mapping/learn, but I want to have the option to tell Automap to assign automapping only to a specific set of controls, without the need to go through every automapped instruments and "fix" everything.
    Hope I'm clear about it.

    If the other set of encoders were endless as well and the faders were motorized then sure, I'd like autopmapping to all of them, but since they are fixed it kinda seem pointless.

    That's one of the main reasons why I'm leaning towards the impulse, having only 8 endless encoders will force automap to map everything to them.

    Your insight?

    Thank you so much!
    Tom

    Posted on February 12, 2012 at 12:25 am

  • Hi Tom and thanks for taking the time to read my review and leave a comment. I get what you are saying about Autmapping to controls with a fixed position, but I have to say that it has never been something that has bothered me. Personally, I like having the range of different controls on the SL MkII, although I do agree that the endless encoders are generally the most useful in this type of situation.

    The Impulse actually has the same number of endless encoders as the SL MkII, so I guess that the only advantage of the Impulse in this case (like you say) is that the Impulse won't spread the mappings over a greater number of less useful controls. Don't forget though that the Impulse also has fader, so Autmapping won't only be restricted to the endless encoders. I'm not actually too sure if there is a way to restrict Automapping to a selection of hardware controls - it's not something that I've looked into before but it is a good point and one that would be good to have implemented in the future (if it doesn't already exist).

    I guess that the best way to get around this would be for Novation to bring out a specific 'endless controller' control surface, and of course, an Automap update that would allow you to restrict parameter Automapping to specific controls, unless otherwise stated.

    However, not having all parameters mapped to endless controllers shouldn't be a deal breaker as I think that there are more important things to consider in a MIDI controller, such as keyboard feel and reliability. The situation that you are talking about can be slightly annoying at times, but Novation have done their best to make everything as smooth as possible, e.g. by including the software graphical overview of the control positions and by not forcing the parameters to jump to the position of the physical fixed controls until the control has reached the stored position. Plus, you can always manually map things for your most used instruments - yes, it takes a while, but if the situation annoys you that much then it is probably worth investing the time in it.

    If you're thinking about getting an Impulse then they are a great keyboard, but just be aware of those fixed position faders, because they will also get Automapped as well... although I'm not sure of a MIDI controller that only has endless encoders anyway, so it does unfortunately, look like something that you are going to have to learn to work with for now :(

    Posted on February 13, 2012 at 10:37 am

  • Scott says:

    A great review, came across on Google and has certainly helped me make my decision :)

    Posted on February 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm

  • Jason says:

    Joe,

    Just the review I was looking for! It helped answer a lot of questions, but let me put a few more out there:

    I am just setting up a home studio after many years of dreaming about it. I will be using Komplete 8 and am really interested in the Vintage Keys library that comes with it, i.e. Rhodes, Wurly, B3, etc. Having said that, I am sure I will get into all the stuff it has eventually as I have a wide range of musical interests/influences.

    So, I was all set to go for a SL MKII 61 until I read your review and now I am giving the Impulse a hard look. One thing that you said that surprised me was that the SL doesn't have semi-weighted keys as I have read on a number of sites that it does. I would say a nice, responsive keyboard is crucial to me as I want to do a lot of EP & Organ work up front. Which keybed would be best for this in your opinion, i.e. SL vs. Impulse? Another question worth asking is which would be the most versatile in the long run?

    Also, I have a Maschine so some of the stuff on the Impulse does overlap with it, so that is a consideration as well.

    I suppose the big question is, based on what I have said here, which controller would suit my needs best at this time? I have the money to get either so I want to go with quality and functionality above all else.

    Maybe a better question is to ask if you didn't already have a controller and got to choose between the SL and Impulse with what you know now, which one would you go with and why? Again, this will be my first keyboard controller and be something that will get used a lot. I think given your thoughtful and excellent review, your response will go a long way with me.

    Thank you for your time,

    Jason

    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm

  • Hi Jason, thanks for the comment. Firstly, I have no idea why I put that the SL MkII isn't semi-weighted, because it most certainly is! Thanks for pointing that out! I'm feeling pretty embarrassed about that one, especially as I own an SL MkII! Anyway, I've changed it now to reflect the truth! What I actually meant was that although they both have semi-weighted keybeds, the feel of each is different. I think that the Impulse has a more traditional semi-weighted feel to it, with its chunkier keys, which gives it a slightly more acoustic feel (still nothing like a proper weighted hammer-action feel though!), whereas the SL MkII feels a bit more springy, with a faster response, more like a traditional synth keyboard.

    Having said that, both the SL MkII and Impulse would do for what you have in mind, although the slightly sharper response of the SL MkII may work slightly better with instruments such as organs... you do still get a decent springy response from the Impulse though, so it's not like it wouldn't do the job!

    As for which keybed will be more versatile in the long-run, that's a difficult one. I would probably say that the Impulse is slightly more versatile because of its slightly more acoustic feel, making it a little more satisfying for playing instruments like piano. However, I think that both keyboards have been designed with versatility in mind, so again, both will do the job.

    I really like working with the SL MkII keyboard as I've always been used to working with synths rather than proper acoustic instruments, but my customers that have more traditional backgrounds usually seem to prefer the feel of the Impulse if that helps. I've asked them why before and I seem to always get the same answer, that they can't quite put their finger on exactly why they prefer it, but they just do!

    Ok, so the big question - if I didn't already have a controller, which one would I go for? There are things that I really like about about both of them but I think that if I was pushed I would actually go for another SL MkII, just because for me, the extra assignable controls and buttons are very useful and I love the Speed Dial!

    However, I do much prefer the pads on the Impulse, I prefer the way that the modulation and pitch wheels are separated into two controls, I like the built-in arpeggiator and I think that it is laid out in a more friendly way for working with your DAW.

    As you are working with plug-ins and already have some excellent pads on Maschine, I would recommend going for an SL MkII as well though, just because of those extra assignable controls. In all honesty, I really don't think that you would be disappointed with either though, they really are both excellent keyboards.

    Posted on February 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm

  • Great review ... I have a small recording setup, and need to de-mystify MIDI - it wasn't part of the weaponery when I started recording songs on an reel to reel Akai with a home made mixer in the 70's! Hopefully I can get better results these days with digital recording techniques. This keyboard should provide the sounds I need - thank you!

    Posted on March 18, 2012 at 3:39 am

  • No problems! Just be aware that the Impulse doesn't actually create any sounds on its own - it needs to be connected to something with a sound engine (e.g. a synth) in order t create something that you can hear :)

    Posted on March 19, 2012 at 10:55 am

  • Phil says:

    Hi Joe! Thanks a lot for your review, I spend the whole evening looking for Impulse reviews and this is the most complete I read. After purchasing a controller and my Rokit speakers, my little home studio will be nearly set up but I'd like to ask you one question which is a bit off-topic. I don't plan to work with "real" instruments but still I'd like to use a microphone for my music production, so I guess I need an audio interface. Could you recommend a good option for me? I was leaning towards the Komplete Audio 6 or maybe a Presonus interface, but maybe it's a bit too much just for plugging a mic. Again, sorry if this is a bit off-topic but I enjoy reading your reviews and though you would have soe useful advice ;) Cheers

    Posted on May 5, 2012 at 2:55 am

  • Hi Phil, thanks for the kind words and I'm glad that you found my review useful. Your set-up is sounding very similar to what I started out with - a Novation keyboard and a pair of KRK speakers - great pieces of kit! :D

    You are right that it would be a good idea to get an audio interface if you are thinking of working with microphones. It will certainly give you much better quality and more flexibility compared to working with the standard input on your computer, although you can also get USB microphones, which are pretty decent quality.

    E.g:

    • http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/recording-47/microphones-471/usb-mics-4714/shure-pg27usb-condenser-microphone-with-usb-output-3774

    • http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/recording-47/microphones-471/usb-mics-4714/blue-microphones-yeti-pro-usb-microphone-44591

    • http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/recording-47/microphones-471/usb-mics-4714/shure-pg42usb-condenser-microphone-with-usb-output-includes-suspension-3775

    To give you the best home-studio quality recordings when working with vocals and instruments, you will want to use a condenser microphone, which means that if you are using an interface, you will want something that can supply phantom power. Do you need anything on the interface other than a microphone input? If you don't need MIDI inputs and outputs then the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a great shout as it offers very good quality preamps for the price: http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/computer-music-46/hardware-4612/usb-interfaces-46123/focusrite-scarlett-2i2-usb-audio-interface-46074

    Focurite and Presonus are both very good options for the small home studio on a budget. If you have any more questions then feel free to ask and I will be happy to help :)

    Posted on May 8, 2012 at 10:45 am

  • Phil says:

    Joe, thank you very much for your insightful reply. Actually I have an old Shure SM58 I brought from a friend so I will follow your advice and go for the Focusrite to be able to take advantage of the quality of the mic. The Scarlett looks like a solid audio interface, and seems to be perfect for my needs (only a mic to plug plus both speakers via the TRS outs). I guess it doesn't make a difference if the Novation is plugged in via USB directly into the computer -- without going through the audio interface -- as it's just a controller?

    I'm glad my setup is similar to the one you had when you started, I feel more confident I'm on the right path for building my little home studio now ;)

    Thanks again!

    Posted on May 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm

  • No worries Phil. The SM58 isn't actually a condenser mic, so although you will be taking advantage of the quality Focusrite preamps, there will be no need to use the phantom power. In the future you may want to think about upgrading to a condenser mic - you can get fairly cheap ones that are still of a very good quality, such as the sE Electronics sE X1: http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/recording-47/microphones-471/condenser-mics-4711/se-electronics-se-x1-condenser-microphone-with-free-se-metal-popshield-4437

    In fact, you can also get that in a good little bundle with a different Focusrite interface and some acoustic treatment: http://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/computer-music-46/hardware-4612/usb-interfaces-46123/focusrite-saffire-6-usb-se-electronics-se-x1-project-rf-popshield-45804

    Whilst the SM58 is an excellent mic, it is mainly designed for live performance, and so doesn't offer the detail of a condenser mic - you will notice a huge difference in quality between them. Maybe something to think about for the future though :)

    Also, yes, as long as you have the available USB ports, you can just put your controller directly into your computer as well. Thanks again for the questions and you know where I am if you have any other music-related questions in future! :D

    Posted on May 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

  • Lennart says:

    Well i was going for the Impulse, after i read your review i am ordering it today.

    I was also going for the Scarlett 2i2, seeing you recommend it makes me order it today.

    But, well, i am also going for the "blue sky exo 2" monitoring system.

    Is that a good choice? Reviews have stated it is, would be great if you could give me a quick comparison to krks.

    Anyway, this is a great review man, helped to clear up a lot.

    I love the internet. :D

    Posted on May 23, 2012 at 11:51 pm

  • Hi Lennart, unfortunately I've never heard the Blue Sky Exo's before as it's not something that we stock. Therefore I can't really compare them. The KRK's are excellent speakers for the price though and I can highly recommend them for the home studio owner on a budget. If the Blue Sky Exo is anything like the KRKs, then it will be a good choice, but like I say, I have no idea what they actually sound like so I can't give you any tips on this one I'm afraid. Sorry about that.

    Posted on May 24, 2012 at 9:49 am

  • Hi Joe,

    First of all, thank you very much for this review, i was struggling deciding between the Impulse 49 and the 25 SL MKii, I need it for production so I really need those 9 faders, but I will also need it to play with drumpads live, I read this other review before reading yours and someone said:
    "Pads frequently don’t respond when you strike their edges or corners. Taking a two-fingered approach generally gets round that, but it’s not ideal. In Roll mode, I wanted to be able to hold down one pad (to get a repeated hi-hat pattern, for example) while playing other pads normally to trigger conventional drum hits. But that never really worked: the short hits only triggered intermittently. Still, I’d much rather have the pads than not. They’re a useful inclusion overall. "

    I was hoping you can share more in deep your experience working with these drum pads, I have seen videos of Maschine and I know how quick they respond and how the velocity is well achieved, but I have never seen someone playing a hard tempo with Impulse's drum pads

    Thank you again and sorry for my bad english!

    Posted on July 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

  • Hi Charlie, thanks for the questions and don't worry, your English is very good! In fact, if you hadn't mentioned it I don't think that I would even have noticed that English wasn't your first language!

    So, starting with the Impulse vs SL MkII debate, it definitely seems like the Impulse is more suited to you, with its 9th fader and larger pads - the pads on the SL MkII are way too small for playing properly and so I only really use them as additional hot key buttons.

    In terms of the Impulse pads, I never had any problems with them. In fact, I'd rate them as being very good pads! I've also just gone and had a talk to our returns and service department and asked them if they have ever had anyone complain about the pads on an Impulse keyboard and it's not something that has ever been brought to their attention. Maybe the person that compiled that review had a faulty unit?

    Saying that, you should ideally strike a pad as close to the centre as possible. If the person is not very accurate and is playing fairly lightly and only hits the very edge of the pad, I guess that it may not respond as well. As I said though, I didn't notice anything like this when I used the Impulse. You can always change the velocity curve of the pads to make them more suitable to your playing style as well.

    I hope that helps. In terms of the pads I really can't think of a MIDI controller that jumps out as having much better ones - I think that the Impulse is up there with the best of them in terms of MIDI controller pads!

    If you end up buying one then feel free to pop back on here and share your experience with our readers :) I'd also be interested to know what you make of it.

    Posted on July 25, 2012 at 10:57 am

  • Tom says:

    HI Joe,
    Thanks for the review which answered many questions that i was pondering.
    I read thru the remote sl mk2 user manual also but there were a few other queries, if you don't mind that is
    - do you find the Xpression Pad useful?
    - is the expression pedal just a TRS type?
    - do those little trigger pads have aftertouch?
    - 49 vs 61 keys - would you miss that extra octave? eg for Kontakt instrument sample switching
    - semi-weighted keyboards seem to bounce a bit when trying to play rapidly. Does the remote sl have this issue? (You mentioned that it was more springy)
    - the MIDI 1 in/out - can this function as a midi mixer eg output from another MIDI keyboard ?
    Thanks again, Tom

    Posted on August 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm

  • Hi Tom, thanks for the questions! When you say the Xpression pad, do you mean the X-Y pad or an expression pedal? Let me know and I'll answer all your questions in one hit :)

    Posted on August 2, 2012 at 10:03 am

  • Tom says:

    Yes, the X-Y pad. I have not seen it on any other device so wondering if it was useful/practical?
    Cheers, Tom

    Posted on August 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

  • I'm going to check to see if the pads have aftertouch tonight as in all honesty, I've only ever used them to trigger key commands - I'll get back to you tomorrow morning and answer all your questions together :)

    Posted on August 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm

  • Hi Tom, you know what, I completely forgot to check! I've left a message with Novation tech support and am waiting for a call back and if I don't hear back today, I'll test for myself tonight and let you know! I don't think that the pads do have aftertouch but I've never used them in a situation where I would require to use aftertouch so I can't be 100% sure.

    Anyway, I may as well answer your other questions for now.

    • In all honesty I don't really use the XY pad. I can see how it would be useful as it is really quick and easy to assign different parameters to the X and Y axes, but I've only ever messed around with it - so far I've not used it for anything serious. I think that it's a really creative tool though and if you start assigning unusual parameters to each axis, I think that you could get some really interesting and unexpected results. It just depends whether you think it's useful or not as I think that some people will find it more handy than others.

    • Yes, the SL MkII just has a 1/4 inch TRS jack input for the expression pedal.

    • Again, whether you want the extra octave is completely down to the individual. I personally would miss it if it wasn't there and as you say, it's very useful for sample switching. It just depends whether you would find it useful or not.

    • I think that the SL MkII has a really good feel to it and I wouldn't describe it as 'bouncy', it's more that the keys move back up into place faster and more firmly than the Impulse when you release a key - that's what I meant by 'springy'. What keyboards have you used before that seem to 'bounce'?

    • Are you just wanting the SL MkII to pass data from another connected keyboard? If so, you can just use the Thru port for this.

    Posted on August 6, 2012 at 9:54 am

  • Just heard back from Novation and they confirmed that while the pads on the SL MkII are velocity sensitive, the do not transmit aftertouch data.

    Posted on August 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

  • Tom says:

    Ah many thanks for clearing up a few uncertainties.
    My bouncy weighted k/b is a Yamaha Portable Grand dxg-640, pretty close to an upright accoustic piano feel, but for hard fast stacattos it bounces around too much. The SL MkII appears better in that area.
    Regarding the MIDI thing, i sorted this (rtfm!).
    Aftertouch is on the keys so that's Ok then.

    Posted on August 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

  • Haha, glad to hear you're all sorted! I know what you mean now about bouncy keys and the SL MkII is definitely much better for staccato type playing because the keys spring back into place much faster than piano keys and once they have 'sprung' back, they stay in position! It has a completely different feel to weighted keys, which suits the style that you are talking about and it's also great for working with synth and organ sounds. I love my SL MkII and I'm sure you will as well if you want something with loads of assignable controls and a nice tight key response!

    Posted on August 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  • Hey, great review! My Impulse 61 is in transit to me right now! I'm very excited-- there's just one thing I must ask.

    I have a Focusrite 18i6 interface, connected via USB to my MacBook. Will I have to plug my impulse in via USB to my computer too? Or can I just plug the MIDI into my interface? I only have two USB ports!

    Thanks!

    Posted on August 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

  • Hi James, I'm sure that you'll love the Impulse when it gets to you! You can plug the Impulse into your interface using MIDI cables if you want to use it as a basic MIDI controller, but if you want to make use of Automap, you'll need to plug in via USB - you can always purchase a little USB hub if you want to expand your number of USB connections on your computer. Hope that helps!

    Posted on August 22, 2012 at 11:59 am

  • Den says:

    Hello, Joe. It is a great review of the keyboard. I've been searching for something as informative to understand the differences between the impulse and the SL MkII. Although I have one question. Do the knobs and faders come out of the MIDI out as well? Let's say I won't be using automap and I want to use a hardware synth or module, can I use the knobs and faders to control the module? Do they have an assignable or assigned CC? Thank you in advance.

    Posted on October 31, 2013 at 9:41 pm

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