It’s review time again and today we review the Novation Impulse series looking to understand if it is still a good purchase even though it was released back in 2011.
The Novation Impulse is no newcomer to the midi keyboard controller market, and even to this day hold a price premium over many other competitors! Released back in 2011 this was a beast of a keyboard, but not in the sense that it is overly large, but rather because of the huge amount of features it boasted.
So then, fast-forward to end of 2018 and how does this keyboard stack up against newer competitors?
Well, what has changed in the last 7 or so years, in the Midi keyboard controller market? We have better manufacturing practices (one hopes) and we see greater software and hardware integration like in the Komplete Kontrol S series. There is the new technology from Roli that we reviewed a few weeks back that you can check out here, and don’t’ forget we now have RGB LEDs!!!
But to be honest with you, not a hole lot has changed. You might think that we would get more faders and more encoders because more is better etc, but no. So then, perhaps that means a 7-year-old controller could still be a worthwhile investment today!
Let’s get into it then!
The Novation Impulse Series offer a full range of controls from Velocity sensitive Drum Pads, Encoders and Faders along with the usual modulation and pitch bend wheels. There is also a display right in the middle of the keyboard showing you in real time what is going on and allows you to set various parameters like the Arpeggiator speed, Roll frequency and tempo. Before we go into how the Automap 4 software unlocks the functionality of the hardware, let’s take a closer look at the Impulse hardware.
The Novation Impulse 61’s keys are full size (including the 49 and 25 key models) measuring around 22 mm across and 137 mm in length. The keys are not hammer action for any of the Impulse line up with Novation opting for a very reasonable semi -weighted key. The velocity sensitivity is however, great, allowing for greater expressive playing whether it is in the studio recording, or playing out live.
The keys do not support Polyphonic Aftertouch, but they are Aftertouch enabled. If you are interested to learn more about the difference between Polyphonic and non-Polyphonic Aftertouch then stay tuned as we have an article explaining this coming soon!
The Novation Impulse 61 and 49 key models each have 9 faders with 9 LED buttons underneath them. The faders are low profile which may look a little odd, but, this is for a reason. This low profile design prevents any accidental knocking of faders. This is easily done in live performances when this keyboard is setup in a cascading formation with other keyboards/synthesizers and you are constantly reaching around the various instruments. This design also makes it harder for you to accidentally knock the other faders since they are quite close together.
The faders have a nice grove indentation where the tip of your finger fits, and the travel is smooth, making fine-tuning adjustments easy.
The faders are also accompanied by two function buttons ‘Mixer’ and ‘Midi’. When the Midi button is illuminated, the faders act as usual midi controllers, and when the Mixer button is illuminated, the faders will control the Mixer volume controls in your DAW. This is configured through the Automap 4 software we will discuss later.
It should be noted that the 25 key model has just a single fader and accompanying button.
All models come with 8 endless rotary encoders which have been covered in a layer of rubber making them easy to grab and manipulate. The encoders, like the faders have different modes ‘Plugin’, ‘Midi’ and ‘Mixer’ which are select able from the buttons along the side.
Plugin mode, allows you to control plugins in your DAW that have been setup in the Automap 4 software. Midi mode, again allows the encoders to act as normal midi controls and the Mixer mode allows you to control various parameters in your DAW mixer like pan. The Mixer mode is accessible by selecting both the Midi and the Plugin buttons at the same time.
All models also come with 8 velocity sensitive Drum Pads that can be setup to control drum samples and trigger other instruments. The pads also allow control over the arpeggiator function. You can set the triggering of notes on and off just like in a step sequencer and what is really cool, is that when you hit a pad to turn the note back on, the arpeggiator will remember the velocity you hit the pad with and play that note with the appropriate amount of volume.
There is also a ‘Roll’ function which means, when enabled, you can hold a pad down and it will replay the sample/sound at the specified frequency shown on the display. Also if you are an Ableton Live user pressing both buttons at the saem time will allow you to trigger clips.
Along the back we have a pretty standard array of I/O with the USB connector, Sustain and Expression input jacks, Midi in and out ports and Kensington lock port. It is nice to see this keyboard with the expression pedal jack included, it is not so common to see this on most midi keyboards so thumbs up for that.
The Novation Impulse is only powered by the USB port so if you are planning to use it without a computer you will likely need some adapters. One suggested setup is to power the keyboard by plugging in the USB cable that would normally be in your computer into a phone charger (check charger compatibility with keyboard before doing so) and then the Midi In and Out ports to send your midi data to a synth of iPad. Note that for iPad you will need the Camera Connector adapter.
In my opinion the Novation Impulse is not a very good-looking keyboard, especially when you compare it to some of the current competition. However, I don’t think this is a flaw in their marketing department or anything of the sort, instead It appears to be mostly driven by Novation ensuring that play ability and ergonomics are first and foremost, the most important part when it comes to the design. The buttons are big and well spaced apart. This is the same for the Faders, encoders and the Pads are solid feeling like they can really take a beating. It is also this attention to detail that has allowed them to squeeze so much hardware in.
In case you are unfamiliar with what Automap 4 is (and I have to assume you are unfamiliar with it since you are reading this part) then the best way I can think of summing it up for you is this. Automap 4 helps integrate your hardware and software ‘automatically’, it is not just another midi editing software (well it can do that) but a tool that Novation has built to allow its customers to get up and running with their product quickly.
What Novation has done is taken the major DAWs and pre-mapped all the controls on the Impulse keyboards directly to the software, so all you need do is install the software, tell Automap 4 what DAW you want to use and what controller you have and it will do the rest for you!
More good news is that Novation is still updating this software so you can be confident it will work with your DAW even if the Impulse was released some time back. Looking at the Novation website today, the last time this software was updated was just back in August 2018. Very reassuring since it is not uncommon for companies to drop support for software like this as soon as they bring out new hardware.
Below is a list of currently supported DAWs, and if yours is not on this list then, yes you will not get the benefits of the Automap software however, you will still be able to create customer mappings for your DAW and save them to the Impulse hardware in one of its twenty template slots.
- Cubase (For Cubase 9 support please see this article)
- Pro Tools (using HUI)
- Reaper (using HUI)
- Studio One
Studio/Live Performance Integration
Thanks to the great features we have covered i.e. spacious and playable ergonomics and hardware and software integration with the Automap 4 software the Novation Impulse integrates easily with your studio setup AND live setup. Rather than me rambling on here about how great it does this, here are a few videos of artist and how they use it for music production and Live performances.
Nick Hook – Studio
First up is Brooklyn based producer Nick Hook talking to us about how he uses the Novation Impulse in his studio to control software and hardware instruments and effects.
Computer Magic – Studio & Live
Next is Computer Magic talking to us about how the Novation Impulse integrates into their production workflow and live performance.
Well then, we have covered off what the Novation Impulse offers in terms of hardware and software but how does it compare to other similarly priced options, what it lacks in features does it make up in price since it has been over 6 years since it was released?
Price is probably one of the most important factors when it comes to buying anything, and so here is a comparison graph of prices as at the time of writing this review.
So how does it hold up? Well if we ignore the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61 for a moment, it is still in the upper price bracket for similar products and even more expensive than the newer Novation Launchkey and almost $100 more than the M-Audio Oxygen!
OK so how about features then? Well at this price point, unfortunately for the Novation Impulse, you are going to be able to find other offering with Faders, encoders and drum pads, even arpeggiators and worse. But anyway here is a comparison table for you!
So now that we have all of this information in our heads, its conclusion time. Should you buy either one of the Novation Impulse keyboards?
Well, it depends. If you are after a fully featured midi keyboard for your studio or to take out with you for live performances, then yes, it will do the job and it will do it well! If you after the latest and greatest or if you are after something a little more aesthetically pleasing (this may not be an issue for you) then maybe you are better of with looking elsewhere.
When you compare it to the other keyboards that are similar in features and functionality, it does command somewhat of a premium. But when you look at it next to the very comparable Akai MPKS61, the price actually isn’t that bad and it could be a very appealing option!
For me, I am not drawn to it. Meaning when I see it, I don’t feel a need to play it which I know from experience will mean the keyboard will end up sitting in the studio collecting dust. That’s not to say there is something wrong with it. It’s just not for me.
So if you liked this review then hit the like button below and if you didn’t, let us know how we can improve in the comments section below. Don’t forget too that we are always keen to hear about your experiences so let us know what you think in the comments section!
Thanks for reading!