- Outstanding Design, Visual Feedback, and Operation.
- Almost Exhaustive, Total Control Over External Devices.
- Excellent Arpeggiator and Polyphonic Sequencer.
From Novation comes a new MIDI Controller Keyboard, in both 49- and 61- key models. Aside from the number of keys, both are identical.
Regarding controller functionality, as a MIDI keyboard it's a new type of model, with far more than enough control functions. Moreover, its design, visual feedback and operation are outstanding.
Colorful LEDs & Design
The unit comes equipped with colorful LED buttons, PADS, and five volume controls each with its own mini-TFT display. The color of the LEDs that illuminate the keyboard itself can be changed (and do change to indicate position of played notes). As far as things that could have an LED slapped on, we think they've pretty much totally loaded the thing as full as it could get, and maybe even gone a bit overboard.
But, when playing in a dark, not all that well-lit environment, this kind of visual feedback is really useful, very inspiring, and it makes you just want to play and get down to business.
As you can see in the photo, we used a 49-key SL Mk III with a Circuit Mono Station and a Circuit.
Recently, Novation has been consistently releasing colorful, visual products that are gorgeously designed and really make an impact with live performance.
Practicality as a Controller
With the SL Mk III series, of course it's not only about the good design, they controller features are also quite impressive.
Controller Function Settings
Settings which can be controlled are mostly handled by a group of buttons on the left side of the panel.
There are literally too many things to completely list here, so we've chosen some highlights:
・8 Track Polyphonic Sequencer
Also, there is a SHIFT key, which allows for other functions to be called up, or lets you switch between modes and such.
Of course, you can do program changes, and load controller templates, change the scaling, or reset the thing and build a template from scratch, so it's ready to go straight out of the box.
Central Left Side Control Section
At the central left side we have:
・Two rows of 8 (16 in all) RGB backlit velocity-sensitive drum pads
・Eight rotary encoders
・Five mini-TFT displays that show data related to the encoder settings
・Eight grid buttons
Each pad has a button for volume switching up and down, which can be used to scroll through pages and thus control a variety of parameters, with the data being displayed on the mini-TFT displays. It's super easy to see what is going on.
With a controller of this level of complexity, they've managed to keep it simple to contro a number of parameters simultaneously, thanks to the aforementioned buttons. There have been numerous controllers until now that have been equipped with just a 3-digit display, or a single LCD, and those were anything but easy to use. This new model is simply in a different league altogether.
Of course, having this many displays and buttons doesn't help out in the cost-performance department, but the drastically increased ease of use more than makes up for any compromise.
Having said that, it isn't the cheapest controller out there, but it's equipped with very sturdy, backlit pitch bend and modulation wheels, as well as having an excellent semi-weighted keyboard which responds so well to touch and is very easy to play. Because no corners have been cut with this series, we think it'll be one that you can use for a really long time, and really get your money's worth out of in the long run.
The display under the rotary encoders shows the edited parameter and value, as well as indicating the position of the knob graphically and in real time. Once again, ease of use is a highlight here.
Central Controller Section
In the center, we have two rows of eight assignable buttons, which can also be used to control two pages of data.
Below these, there are eight sliders, which can control the volume of tracks on your DAW, or software synthesizer envelopes, or just about anything really. Having visual feedback in addition to the control function makes for a very useful controller section here.
They really have decked the thing out with just about as many controller elements as you could think up, which we think you'll easily understand once you just take a look at the thing yourself.
Right Controller Section
On the right side we have controls mainly for use with a DAW.
The standard set of PLAY, REC, STOP, PAUSE, RWD, and FWD are all indicated by different colors which makes it very simple to see and use.
Standard DAW templates are included for:
As you can see, almost all of the current DAWs are covered, and it's really as simple as selecting the template that matches your DAW and then controlling it from the keyboard. The simplicity of the design translates into a production experience in which you can take your eyes away from the screen and concentrate on making music. Also, you are free to build your own custom templates for other DAWs with the SL Mk III.
Just as with controlling a soft synth, all you have to do is call up the template on the keyboard and then you've got complete control over your DAW.
Arpeggiator and Polyphonic Sequencer
The SL Mk III series arpeggiator allows for some very detailed parameter control, which can send note, gate time, velocity and length data to whatever you have it connected to.
As long as the receiving synth can handle the data, this is an arpeggiator that can provide you with very rich expressive arpeggio patterns.
The SL Mk III has something you don't see very often on other similar devices, in its polyphonic sequencer. If you are using the unit to control a DAW during recording, you might not make much use of this feature, but for live and/or real time performance (or just noodling around), we think it's a very effective feature to have at hand. Moreover, we think the the sequencer can be quite useful for controlling backing patterns on external sound modules, instead of on the synth you may have right in front of you.
You can do real time recording, and step recording, and have control over eight separate tracks in all.
・64 Sections can be made
・1 Session can have up to 8 tracks
・Realtime controller movement can be recorded
Please be sure to check out our Demo & Review Video to see the sequencer in action.
Other Control Interfacing
The SL Mk III series has a slim, beautiful rear panel, on which we find a number of jacks, which makes it a very unique controller keyboard.
From right to left we see:
・MIDI IN-1 / OUT-1 / OUT-2・THRU
・Sustain Pedal SW
・Expression Pedal SW
・Footswitch Pedal SW
The above are pretty standard, but here comes the special stuff, starting with two channels of CV/Gate and a Clock Out!
CV-Gate allows for control over vintage and eurorack synths, as well as more recent analog synths which have such control interfaces built-in.
So you're not limited to just MIDI signal data, but can use electrical signal data as well, which adds a very high-speed transmission interface to the game. And since it can control modulation too, we think it makes a good match with eurorack systems.
The Clock Out sends clock data for interfacing with devices such as the Novation Circuit Mono Station or the KORG volca series, and is as simple as just connecting a cable to the SYNC ports of said devices. VERY convenient!
Once connected to your DAW, you can use the DAW as a master clock, slaving the SL Mk III, and controlling external devices through it.
Demo & Review Video
The Novation SL Mk III really sets a new standard for controllers. They've loaded it with just about every imaginable control feature, as well as giving it a very cool design.
Because it is a controller after all, there are things which are more effectively shown in a video than written about here, so please be sure to check out the video, which goes very in-depth and uses a couple Circuit machines as well.
Check it out!