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Nektar Impact LX Mini

Nektar Impact LX Mini

Nektar’s LX Mini controller keyboard ticks all the right boxes.

The Impact LX Mini from Nektar is one of those ‘mini‑controller plus’ designs that can be so useful to so many people. It’s barely larger than most serious laptops, but packs in a lot of functionality. Alongside the two‑octave, velocity‑sensitive mini‑keyboard there’s a four‑way joystick, eight knobs, eight pads, a larger knob and various buttons. There’s traditional, programmable MIDI control functionality, surprisingly sophisticated ready‑rolled DAW control features, and an onboard arpeggiator. Unusually for this form factor there’s even a footswitch input, via a supplied breakout cable. To cap it all, it’s amazingly affordable. Could this new product represent the perfect balance of features for a portable controller, at a come‑and‑buy‑me price?

Several Halves

One thing is for sure: visually the LX Mini is a hive of activity. As you’d expect the construction is plastic, and the whole unit weighs almost exactly 1kg. But it’s nicely put together: all the controls are smooth, the knobs don’t wobble, and the pads are beautifully responsive from edge to edge. The mini‑keys, with a 136mm octave span, are arguably the least confidence‑inspiring part of the package: if you look for slight unevenness in spacing and height you’ll most probably find it. But in practice they work out great, with a chunky (relatively speaking) 7mm white key dip and a nice quick, springy response. Few competing products do any better anyway. One specific quirk to be aware of is that the minimum velocity value the keys generate is not zero but 10 (for the standard response curve, anyway), but that probably won’t make a blind bit of difference most of the time.

Connections to the outside world are limited: a USB micro B socket for data and power, a 3.5mm socket for the footswitch breakout, and a Kensington security slot. It’s rather a shame there’s no DIN MIDI breakout. But there is a power switch, which can be worth its weight in laptop set‑ups to avoid battery drain.

Then the control surface positively bristles with labelling. There are two layers of it next to the knobs, and for some of the buttons. The printing above the keys reveals that they’re involved in certain aspects of programming too, similar to classic MIDI controllers dating back to the dawn of the protocol itself nearly 40 years ago (my gosh, I feel old...).

We could get lost in the detail of it all here if I’m not careful, but suffice to say everything makes sense in practice. First off, simple programmable MIDI control. I’m talking here about using the knobs and buttons (or indeed the footswitch) to send continuous controller messages or program changes. You might need the (good, and thorough) PDF manual to hand to begin with, but then it’s a case of going into a setup mode, twiddling your control, using a key to choose the message type, and then the black keys to ‘type in’ a value. Button pushes always generate a momentary full/zero value toggle, and similarly the CC values generated from knobs are very much what‑you‑see‑is‑what‑you‑get, with no way to constrain, scale or invert values. In most normal contexts though the simplicity is welcome; particularly so because there’s no screen to confirm settings, nor a software editor.

The pads can generate both note messages (via a convenient keyboard‑driven ‘learn’ function) and CC messages, and there are no fewer than four ‘Pad Map’ layers, so a drum kit with 32 different instruments (for example) can be triggered, even if not all at once. Unlike some more expensive controllers there’s no aftertouch response on the pads: they’re triggers pure and simple.

The LX Mini’s arpeggiator is of an entertaining ‘tweakable’ type in that it has virtually all its main parameters mapped to seven knobs. That means you can work its five modes (repeat, up, up/down, down, zig‑zag), octave range and rhythmic swing in real time, as well as play with accent patterns and the accent/velocity relationship. Triplet time values are an option, along with having velocity controlled by an upward press of the joystick. Totally unexpected, but wonderful, is that keys and pads effectively have their own separate arpeggiators, which can be individually enabled. So you might run two arpeggiators in parallel, or a key‑driven arpeggiator alongside a drum‑oriented repeater/pulser on the pads. There’s an internal clock source and a tap‑tempo option, or clock can be derived from your DAW.

Computer Says Yes

Hardware DAW control can mean a lot of different things to different people. Here it’s all about transport controls and other environment and track‑level commands (from the group of eight buttons to the left of the keyboard), track level control from the large knob, plus control of DAW ‘factory’ synths and many other plug‑in parameters of your choice from the knobs.

The key to the system’s success is the control surface and configuration files that Nektar provide for 11 leading DAWs: Bitwig, Cakewalk, Cubase/Nuendo, DP, FL Studio, GarageBand, Live, Logic, Reason and Studio One. Pro Tools is also supported via a different set up method.

Once you’ve installed them, and consulted the individual PDF that Nektar supply for your chosen DAW, it’s pretty much plug‑and‑play: when you launch your DAW the LX Mini communicates with it and goes into a special DAW mode that overrides (but doesn’t erase) any generic button and knob mappings you’ve already set up.

That group of labelled DAW buttons: they get multiple functions according to whether you’ve latched on or are actively holding the white Shift button. Easily accessible are all the basic transport commands, extending often (it varies a bit from DAW to DAW) to defining and enabling loop regions, turning the click on and off and undoing. You can also shuttle up and down through your tracks and, on virtual instrument track, patches.

The single larger knob, which had previously transmitted MIDI CC7 by default, now ties into the selected DAW track’s level. There’s a soft takeover scheme which helps overcome the issue of the non‑motorised knob’s position not matching on‑screen track level as you work in your DAW project: two red/green LEDs either side of it prompt which way and how far to turn it to re‑establish the hardware/software link. It’s not completely foolproof, in that you if you overshoot you’ll alter fader values a little beyond their saved levels, but it’s entirely workable. And for this money almost miraculously sophisticated.

Even more impressive in some ways is how the eight knobs can automatically take charge of DAW instruments. In Studio One (which I used for most of my testing) and many other DAWs, the blue‑labelled parameters link into the factory instruments effortlessly. There’s benign soft takeover once again, though not, this time, with those useful ‘landing lights’. Knob labelling is somewhat generic, as you might expect, and doesn’t always tally exactly with instrument parameters, but the assignments are always sensible. Part of the Studio One integration is a seemingly magical ability to make custom knob assignments from the LX Mini itself: hold a button, twiddle a hardware knob, touch an on‑screen parameter, and the link is made. Other DAWs enjoy similar mod cons, and in Logic, for example, you can set up the pads to perform various marker functions. Meanwhile in Live the pads can trigger individual track clips or scenes, and there are even dedicated buttons to switch between the two modes.

LXury Living

I’ve got to say it: the Impact LX Mini is a little cracker! It’s got an extensive feature set, covering lots of different ways of working, and everything is well considered and robust. There’s that great little arpeggiator. DAW integration is first class: more extensive than you’d ever guess at first, reliable, and genuinely useful. It’s also well documented, which counts for a great deal. Some other controllers I’ve used in recent years over‑promise and under‑deliver in this area, and can feel fundamentally flaky. On a more basic level, the keys and pads are good, and the overall build quality reassuring.

Downsides are few. As I mentioned, a hardware MIDI output could have extended the usefulness even further, and made more sense of the generic MIDI control features. The lack of a display or software editor sometimes feels like a bother too: there will probably come a time in all LX Mini owners’ lives when you’ve completely forgotten what you’ve set up and how, and a sledgehammer factory reset is the only option. It’s also quite ‘buttony’: it took me a while before the ins and outs of Internal, DAW, Instrument and Setup modes sank in. One tiny additional thing: the joystick can’t quite generate maximum pitch bend and CC values concurrently from diagonal pushes, though it’s hardly an issue in practice.

A great bit of kit, and an absolute bargain, offering value in all respects.

By any standards, the LX Mini is a huge success. At the asking price it’s laughably good. With one of these, a laptop and a pair of headphones there’s little impediment to achieving anything you might want to, short of playing really complicated two‑hand keyboard parts. A great bit of kit, and an absolute bargain, offering value in all respects.

Part 2

With a faint overtone of dodgy Hollywood sequels, the Part 2 feature with its dedicated pair of buttons above the joystick is actually very useful. When you hold one of the buttons the LX Mini momentarily transposes (by octaves, or smaller intervals, or a combination) or transmits on another MIDI channel. That provides a quick way to overcome the limited two‑octave keyboard compass, or to address another virtual MIDI device, in addition to the normal latching octave buttons and programming system. However, Part 2 can also be made to layer on top of the normal MIDI output, allowing you to easily play octave stacks, chord clusters in fifths, or two instruments on different channels concurrently.

I won’t lie: I hadn’t previously clamoured for a feature like this. In use though I found it to be not only helpful but creatively fruitful. A recent firmware update also makes it possible to engage Part 2 with the footswitch, for even more flexibility.


A pint‑sized powerhouse of a controller, at an affordable price. Superbly portable, robust, and unexpectedly refined, it’s useful on its own terms, but it’d also make for a nice desk‑friendly addition to a full‑size controller or hardware synth.


£99 including VAT.