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Novation Impulse 49

USB Midi Keyboard Controller

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Best Midi Keyboard Controller

Novation Impulse 49

  • Don Makoviney
  • Last Updated: April 5, 2016

After 20 plus hours of testing and recording, we like the Novation Impulse. It has a track record of reliability, works with both Mac and Windows, and a long list of happy customers. We like the feel of the control knobs, as well as the pads. If you want a great midi keyboard controller at a reasonable price, the Novation Impulse (available in 25, 49, and 61 key versions) is the one to get.


The midi controller market is exploding, here are a variety of options which can fit in with pretty much any style of music you are playing.

Who Should Buy This Controller?

If you want to be able to play sampled sounds and virtual instruments with a keyboard, then you should buy this controller. It has enough features to do most anything you want, and the keys (dubbed semi-weighted) are sensitive enough to play live.

Midi controllers are great for songwriters as well. Having the ability to plug in instruments that sound live for demo recordings and sketching out ideas saves a lot of time, as you don’t have to schedule a horn section, a string quartet, bass player, drummer, or of course, a pianist. 🙂

What Makes A Good Midi Keyboard Controller?

Generally, we want our midi controller to have the ability to faithfully play samples and trigger effects as needed with no latency (latency means – no delay between pressing the key and hearing the sound. Sometimes this is a computer issue, but with some of the cheaply made controllers, it can be the drivers which powers the controller, or some sort of incompatibility between both.)

The controller should also have the ability to map controls from your DAW to the knobs on the controller.

At the time of writing, the most popular size of midi keyboard controllers are:

  • 25-key
    • These are generally used for portability and live performance. They are also great for just banging out beats in a home studio.
  • 49-key (and 61-key)
    • These are the most popular sizes for most people, because they are small enough to carry around but large enough you can play with two hands, should you need to play a full on piano part or whatever.
  • 88-key
    • This is basically a full-sized keyboard. If you find you need that much range, or play a lot of piano pieces with your controller, you’ll probably want all the keys. However, if you are pretty much only playing piano, you might just want to go ahead and get an digital piano or higher-end keyboard.

Our two favorites, the Novation Impulse and the Akai MPC MK2 have what is essentially the same brain in a different sized keyboard options.

For instance, my daughter takes our Akai MPC MK2 back and forth between my house and her mom’s house. She uses it to create drums and synth bass lines. When she’s at my house, she uses our 49-key midi controller. So each controller can serve a different purpose.

Our Pick

If I could only have one midi keyboard controller, I would get the Novation Impulse 49. From a size perspective, it’s large enough to play two hand piano parts, and portable enough to take with you.

The semi-weighted keys feel real nice, and the onboard knobs work with pretty much any DAW – including Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, and more. You can see all the capabilities with each type here.

Here’s a video using the Novation with plugins:

 

The Ultra Portable Pick

There are so many great keyboard controllers in this category, we will probably break this out into it’s own guide one day. There’s a couple great ones we’d recommend based on our personal experience and testing.

The Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII gives you the best of both worlds. You get the 25 piano keys, which will allow you to play chords and riffs as needed. It also has two rows of velocity sensitive pads, which mean you can sequence and bang out drum beats or bass lines.

It also works great with most all DAWs, and music making software. One Amazon reviewer noted:

I’ve never used anything like this before, and am relatively new to making music. This thing is great! I just downloaded Fl Studio, plugged it in, and it was ready to go. I watched a few videos on youtube to learn how to use it, and now I am off and away sampling, making beats, and music!

This is my experience with the MPK, and for this reason it meets our criteria for a great midi keyboard controller.

We also like the Novation Launchkey. You can read more about it in the sidebar.

If You Want Full 88-Keys

If you want the full 88 keys like a piano, then you will also probably want it to have weighted keys for a lifelike piano feel. I’d get the Alesis Q88. It has several years of reliable reviews.

 

What About Pad Controllers?

Instead of keys, pad controllers are popular with DJs and electronic musicians.

We will have a pad controller guide up shortly.

Conclusion

Over at Sound on Sound Magazine, Paul Sellars says, “there’s a lot to choose from in this marketplace at the moment, and time spent researching what’s right for your needs will pay off.”

So, if you know what you need, or have a specific need, just take our recommendations and move up or down the scale and get one that’s right for you. If you don’t know what you need, or have never really used one before, go with our pick, as it will handle most anything you throw and it and will be a great starting place to begin your controller adventures. 🙂

Whatever controller you ultimately choose, spend some time getting familiar with the controls, and how it works with your digital audio workstation. It’s really the only way you get your moneys worth.

Your controller will work best when you have a computer powerful enough to operate it, as well as the audio interface you will invariably need. We love MacBooks for audio production, but there are plenty of great Windows laptops for recording. If price is an issue, we’ve recently updated our picks for budget computers for music production.

Is there something we missed? Have you found great success with another midi keyboard model that we should take into consideration in our next update? If so, let us know in the comments below!


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Best Midi Keyboard Controller

Novation Impulse 49

Best Midi Keyboard Controller

Important Specs

Number of Keys 25, 49, or 61
Type of Keys Synth Weighted
Number of Pads 16
Number of Encoders/Pots 8
Number of Sliders/Faders 9
Dedicated Transport Control Yes
Other Controllers Pitch bend, mod wheel, 9 buttons
Pedals 1 sustain
Height 4.8"
Width 32.7"
Depth 13"
more specs

Synopsis:

After 20 plus hours of testing and recording, we like the Novation Impulse. It has a track record of reliability, works with both Mac and Windows, and a long list of happy customers. We like the feel of the control knobs, as well as the pads. If you want a great midi keyboard controller at a reasonable price, the Novation Impulse (available in 25, 49, and 61 key versions) is the one to get.

Novation Launchkey

The budget option

Novation Launchkey

If you are on a budget, get this. You'll also get Ableton's Live Lite 8, and a free pack of samples (600GB!) from Loopmasters. All you need to play drums, launch loops, control basic DAW functions and tweak virtual instruments — and the price is right. Also available in 49 and 61 key versions.

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

Portable plus pads

Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII

Seriously minimal and seriously powerful, you get keys for playing and pads for sequencing. I have this model and love it.

Alesis Q88

The full 88 keys

Alesis Q88

Semi-weighted keys make for a full piano experience. Also include: Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition software so you can perform, record and sequence music right out of the box.

- M

Sources

  1. Paul Nagel, Sound on Sound, 20131010
    Novation Launchkey: Controller Keyboard
  2. Paul Sellars, Sound on Sound, 20080201
    Akai MPK49: USB Keyboard Controller
Originally published: March 9th, 2015

Important Specs

Number of Keys 25, 49, or 61
Type of Keys Synth Weighted
Number of Pads 16
Number of Encoders/Pots 8
Number of Sliders/Faders 9
Dedicated Transport Control Yes
Other Controllers Pitch bend, mod wheel, 9 buttons
Pedals 1 sustain
Height 4.8"
Width 32.7"
Depth 13"
more specs



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