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Novation Remote SL61 Reviews
I was in the market for a new controller keyboard after finding the M-Audio 88ES a little too big for everyday use and my Edirol PCR-30 a little too small and finally breaking after years of abuse.
To be honest the SL61 had been top of my list for sometime and it\\\'s not hard to understand why when it\\\'s set up and working correctly. I had some initial problems with driver installation on XP running through Bootcamp but Novation were very helpful and I quickly managed to successfully managed to install on Mac OSX which seemed to right the problems on the XP side.
The keyboard itself feel beautifully sprung and weighted and the whole unit has the look of a far more expensive synth which it\\\'s LCD and bank of controls.
I\\\'ve always been keen to try out the Automap keyboards for myself and I\\\'ve always found MIDI mapping a bit tedious thus far and I\\\'m certainly not the best at playing a melody while trying to weak the sound using a mouse. To it\\\'s credit, the Automap software quickly recognised all my plugins and it\\\'s real joy to see all the dials mapped to the different plugin parameters at just a click of a mouse. The LCD is a huge bonus here as it allows you to check the status of your chosen parameter without having to look at your computer screen.
Transport controls are also a handy feature rather than leaning across for a keyboard shortcut or mouse click.
The sliders don\\\'t have the greatest accuracy but they\\\'re still fine for basic mixing tasks such as adjusting track and group volumes to get the balance of. If you wanted full DAW control, you\\\'d be buying something like a Euphonix MC Control anyway.
I thoroughly recommend the SL61 as a replacement keyboard controller. It\\\'s not the cheapest around but it\\\'s certainly worth the extra pennies if you can stretch to it.
I'm an experienced Pro keyboard player who was looking for a good quality controller keyboard to fit into a medum sized project studio to primarilly control soft synths, but also to act as a master, as required, for other midi synths and equipment in the studio. I like fully weighted keys (ie Kurzweil PC88), but don't have a problem using a good quality touch sensitive keyboard (eg Virus KB or a K5000), so that'll give you an idea of what I personally class as 'good' and feel comfortable playing. The other criteria for my master controller was "space", in particular, width.
I'd used a couple of cheaper controllers in the past, and hated the awful keyboard action, so looking though the Novation product blurb on line, this keyboard was certainly being hailed as "the bees knees'" in controllers, and it fitted my criteria, so, I decided to give it go. I should add that I'd never used any Novation gear in the past, so I was quite unfamiliar with the company as a user.
When the parcel arrived, my first thought was, "This is very light". Out of the box, the SL's black and silver design looks very nice. The buttons and knobs have a good quality appearance and are laid out well, with the two LCD displays along the top. The knobs, sliders and buttons don't have the rugged feel of more expensive synths and keyboards, but then, that didn't surprise me. The important thing is that they are of reasonably solid construction and certainly don't feel cheap and nasty. I actually think they would have appeared even "better' and given a more "quality" appeal and appearance if they'd been black instead of grey, but hey, I'm just being picky.
Setting up was easy, just plugged in the USB cable, switched on and starting playing hardware and software synths. My first hint of a problem was here, because the USB socket on the keyboard felt "odd" and of poor quality.
The semi-weighted keyboard action is actually surprisingly good - I say that because I wasn't expecting much, but it's certainly better than Korg, Roland and Yamaha synths in my studio. Compared to better quality touch sensitive synths, I'd say it was slightly better than a K5000 but not quite as good as an Access Virus KB, but in my book, that makes it pretty good! I like the spring loaded mod wheel too.
Once I'd updated the OS via the Novation website, I had a quick browse through the templates and found Logic 7 Pro. It's all seems quite intuitive and the accompanying DVD tutorial goes through everything in a pretty basic way for those in need of instruction in the controllers use.
Unfortunately I can't go into any more details about the controllers many functions, because it stopped working after a week - and I have to say very little use!! The problem is the USB connector...............so a call to Dolphin is imminent!!
Let me introduce myself. I'm a 24-year old music student, pop/jazz-piano as my main instrument. Lately I've come to the conclusion, that I will be a composer instead of a solo player. I still like playing in bands and in some short projects. My current projects involve making music for a short movie, in other words, composing on a video. I also have a cover band, that plays "the latest party hits".
I have currently made gig with a nearly 50kg Kawai MP-9500 and it's a bit too heavy to carry around. I've been looking for a replacement and my goal is to gig with a sole midi controller and laptop. The gigging I do doesn't require fancy piano feel keyboard (as my Kawai), but big sounds that fill the hall. That's why a midi controller is what I ended up with. Perfect for playing pads, organ, rhodes and some pads and occationally some piano stuff too.
I wanted a controller that would have it all. Enough knobs, touchpad, pitch bend and modwheel, trigger pads and sliders. I had checked out some keyboards from CME, but I had no need for "piano-like feel" with hammer action or stuff like that. CME's latest models also included too much buttons ment for splitting keyboards, bank switches etc etc. Neither Edirol's nor CME's keyboards convinced me. I wanted to do all the settings on my laptop and just play with the controller. That's when I found Novation's Remote SL -series by accident.
PRE-SALE STUDIES AND SPECS
The official page of ReMOTE SL:
The ReMOTE SL -series is available in 0, 25, 27 and 61 keys versions) which have the following controls onboard:
Rotary Encoders: 8 - Infinite Rotation
Rotary Potentiometers: 8 - Rotation 0 to 270 Degrees
Trigger pads: 8
Transport Controls: Rewind/Fast Forward/Stop/Start/Record/Loop (assignable buttons)
TAP TEMPO Button: 1
General Operation: Play/Edit/Template/Global/Write buttons
Data select: 1 x rotary encoder, press to change function
Keyboard Octave: Octave up/down buttons
Pitch and Mod Wheel Mechanism (25, 37 and 61 models only)
Pitch wheel lever: Rubberised - spring loaded, centre return left to right motion
Mod/control lever: Rubberised - spring loaded, bottom return or free running, front to back motion
In addition, all the SL-series keyboards that have keys, include a touchpad, that can send 4 midi parameters (2 per x-axis, 2 per y-axis).
Picture of ReMOTE SL 25
I had never heard from Novation, but I started to read reviews from the internet and watched the tutorial videos on Novation's web-site (www.notationmusic.com). I was quite convinced. In addition to the good controls, reviews wrote, that the key-feel is very good too for a semi-weighted keyboard. I didn't have much idea what a semi-weighted keyboard feels like, since I hadn't owned anything else but a wooden-key-hammer-action keyboard, but I imagined it was quite much like Roland's VK-7 -organ. And I wasn't totally wrong.
In addition to all the knobs, key feel, nice outlook, this specific controller had something unique: a technology called Automap by Novation. The idea is simple: after installing the stuff from the resources dvd and setting up the program you intend to use, the keyboard recognizes the program it's connected to and automatically maps the knobs and buttons in a smart way. If you select a track containing a ie. vst-instrument, the instrument is automatically mapped to the keyboard knobs and buttons. In addition, there are big LCD screens above the controls telling what is mapped to the specific control and what value it currently contains. The Current programs supported by automapping are Propellerheads Reason, Ableton Live, Apple Logic (Express and Pro), Cubase and Protools.
TIME TO BUY
I bought the unit from a nearby music store. They ordered it for testing and after testing it for few hours, I decided to take.
The keyboard feel turned out to be quite good for a "sloppy" keyboard and I felt I can play quite many things expressively with it, even though it doesn't provide the same feedback as a real or hammer-actioned or some other full-weighted instrument. The buttons felt nice to press and firm enough. Definitely not like a toy. Only the encoders (the knobs with infinite rotary) felt a little plastic, but it doesn't bother me too much. There are 8 trigger pads to trigger samples or sketch drums patterns. These pads are also velocity sensitive and you can even calibrate them to respond more or less. There are also sequencer controls under the sliders. Sadly, the sliders don't have fur in them to prevent dust from going in the keyboard. I can also forgive this. In the middle row, between the sliders at the right side and the knobs and trigger pads at the left side, there is a row of necessary buttons to program the controls and the midi messages they send (you can define each control separately and build your own templates for any application with the included template editor or directly on the keyboard). At the bottom, there is a tap tempo button with a tempo light blinking and below that a multi-purpose knob to change tempo, templates, banks and other stuff.
I have to admit, that installation wasn't as plug'n play as I had hoped. This is mostly because the included resources dvd was from late 2005 and didn't contain automapping instructions for the programs I use (those were available for download from the Novation site). I had installed the updates in a hurry when testing in the shop and failed to notice, that the instructions for the programs I use were withing those update installers. It took me many hours to figure this out, since the instructions weren't anywhere else. Novation should update their site to match the currently supported products.
After the not-so-smooth start, I got testing the keyboard. Note: before trying out the automapping feature with any of the supported programs, install the latest updates, check the program settings (especially the midi controller ports and learn here how the controller is mapped and how the controller is supposed to function with your program. This will save you from lots of trouble:
They say the integration is most tight in Reason, since it's a closed enviroment and there are no plugins from outside. I haven't tried Reason too much, but as far as I did, everything worked nicely and the control names appeared to the LCD screens after selecting the device in Reason. In the programs supporting vst- and au-instruments, the instrument parameters are still mapped automatically even if your plugin doesn't happen to be pre-programmed for automapping. In this case, the order of the mapped parameters is more or less random, but it's always the same, so you'll quickly learn how your favourite soft synth is being mapped.
The application I DID use, is Ableton Live. The way the controls are mapped in Live is very intuitive: the right side of the keyboard is reserved for controlling the Live mixer, arming tracks for recording, muting tracks etc. All the channels names update automatically above the sliders, so you know which channel you're controlling. If there are more channels than sliders, you can flip pages from the arrow buttons next to the LCD-screen. At the left side, the encoders are reserved for the selected instrument and mapped automatically. The buttons in front of each row have their automapped functions too, selecting and playing scenes and stuff like that. All the other controls are mappaple and you can choose how you want to use them yourself. The sequencer controls play and record as you would assume.
The only problem with Ableton Live is currently with the Tap tempo button, which isn't yet functional with Live 6, but an OS update for the SL will be released before the end of 2006 to fix this problem. You can download the updates from Novation's download page and update everything yourself so no need for service visits.
Novation's customer service seems to respond withing 2 days (in case you need to contact them by e-mail) and their support has been very thorough and good.
After the slight minor problems I came up with, I really like this controller. It allows me to do music and create instead of eternal problems and programming. By creating the Automap technology, Novation has indeed created something revolutional and it works the way things should've always been. I couldn't have chosen my first midi controller better. I will use my 61-keys SL in studio, on the gigs and in the rehearsals: even the 61-keys model it light enough to carry around in a gig bag with a shoulder strap. If you really want to move your studio and gigging to your computer, I deeply recommend this product.
STUFF TO CHECK OUT
A series of tutorial videos at novationmusic.com to see, how everything works in practise:
Some reviews of the ReMOTE SL:
Novation Remote SL61 News
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