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Novation SL MkIII

Controller Keyboard
Published December 2018
By Simon Sherbourne

The smaller Novation 49SL MkIII.The smaller Novation 49SL MkIII.

Could Novation’s new keyboard be the ultimate command centre for your synth studio?

In recent years most new Novation MIDI controllers have been small and square. The Launch and Circuit series are brilliantly innovative; by comparison the company’s more traditional keyboard ranges, Impulse and SL, have begun to look dated. Now Novation have taken the features and workflows they’ve developed for Circuit and Launch, and reimagined what a control keyboard could be. The result is a unique blend of MIDI master keyboard, DAW controller, and stand‑alone sequencer.

The marketing imagery is bang on trend: less DAW‑focused, and showing the keyboard at the heart of a hardware synth studio. While the high‑end competition are relying more on plug‑in hosts to orchestrate their controllers’ features, Novation have taken a step away toward self‑contained functionality. The SL MkIII features a stand‑alone eight‑track polyphonic sequencer, based on the Circuit sequencer engine. It has CV outputs. It can manage zones and layers, arpeggiation and template juggling in hardware. And the Automap plug‑in mapping software is gone.

Back To Black

Unpacking the SL MkIII, I couldn’t help but note some contemporary influences, starting with an Elektron‑style braided USB cable. The keyboard itself bears more than a passing resemblance to NI’s S‑series controllers, and not just because the previous generation’s greys and silvers are replaced with matte black. Inset above the keys is a strip of LEDs, the first time I’ve seen this since the NI keyboards.

The primary row of eight encoders and buttons are accompanied by full‑colour displays. There’s a transport section, various mode and function buttons, and a bank of eight...

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Published December 2018