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Novation Nocturn Keyboard + Automap standard Review

Novation Nocturn Keyboard

Features

  • 49 keys with Fatar “Fast Touch” keys
  • 8 Encoders (Infinite Rotation) with touch-sensitivity and 11 segment Led rings
  • Touch sensitive Speed Dial
  • 14 Buttons with integrated LEDs, 6 of which are lockable transport controls
  • 8 soft feel Trigger pads
  • Sprung pitch wheel
  • Modulation wheel
  • General Automap Operation Buttons (Learn, View, Browser Groups etc.)
  • Octave up/down buttons with LED indicator
  • Button to lock/unlock transport controls
  • Sustain Pedal: 1 x 1/4 Jack Input
  • Expression pedal: 1 x 1/4 Jack Input

Appearance, Design and Construction

The keyboard is made from a very dark grey, almost black plastic. In all the pictures (like the one above) I’ve seen of the [amazon_link id=”B002SA9NIK” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Nocturn 49[/amazon_link] there’s been a dark stripe at the top. In reality it’s a subtle blue-grey color. It is fairly compact and light but feels solid, I’m not afraid of anything breaking under normal use in the home studio.

Automap Standard

Inside the box is a CD to install the driver and Automap Standard software. Automap is the brains for all the knobs and buttons which automatically configures the controls for effects, instruments and even your DAW mixer using HUI. After installing the driver and Automap software, and checking for updates, the next step is to wrap some plugins using the Plug-in Manager. This is a very simple process. Find the plug-in you want and click the checkbox beside. Next time you open that instrument or effect you will have most of the controls already configured to the knobs and buttons.

Reconfiguring a mapping is simple, push the learn knob on the keyboard, move a parameter of the plug-in and then touch a control on the keyboard. Alternately select a control in the Automap HUD and choose a Parameter from the list available at the bottom.

Beyond simply assigning the knobs, buttons and pads, there are modes and minimum/maximum values. A knob or pad can be either normal or inverted, values from 0 to 127. A button can have 4 modes: Normal, Momentary, Toggle or Step. Each mode has different values to be configured. This simple function can really open things up for creative uses for interaction with your plug-ins.

Using the DAW setup guides I was able to easily configure both Pro Tools and Reaper on Mac and PC to work with the Nocturn using the HUI protocol. This lets you use the knobs and buttons to control transport functions, fader levels, pans, and other mixer functions without the mouse. Reaper’s HUI functions aren’t fully implemented yet and 3 of the transport buttons won’t work. Unfortunately HUI doesn’t get you away from looking at the computer screen as you’ll still need the Automap heads-up display (HUD) to see what each control is assigned to or which track you’re tweaking. You can call up the Automap HUD anytime by pushing the view button on the keyboard.

Automap Pro extras

Automap standard can do a lot but upgrading to Automap Pro gives you a few more cool features. The Keystroke assignment and Drag & Drop functions are what interest me the most.

Multiple device support – Automap 3 Pro supports multiple devices, so numerous Novation controllers can be used side by side.
Keystroke Assignments
– Automap 3 Pro can assign almost any computer keyboard shortcuts to hardware controls. For example arrow key functions can now be assigned to hardware controls, allowing you to flick between tracks using buttons on your SL/Nocturn. You could also zoom in and out, open windows or create and jump to markers in your DAW.
XY Pad Control
– Fully Auto-mappable XY Pad control, expression pedal, control pedal and drum pad control. The Automap server can now assign parameters to all these controllers using the ultra-quick learn facility. (Pedal/pad control not supported by SL Compact)
Drag and Drop
– You can now drag and drop control mappings and control map groups in the GUI, allowing you to re-assign knobs, faders and buttons by simply grabbing them with the mouse and dropping them on the new controller.
Autoview Mode
– Optional Autoview mode means that the GUI only becomes visible when a controller is touched, then it disappears again allowing you to get back to your DAW.

The Good

  • The keys feel pretty nice, I’m not a keyboardist by any stretch but they feel right.
  • Rotary encoders are smooth and touch sensitive. The LED around them shows the value. This is exactly how I would want encoders to work.
  • Compact and doesn’t take up any more space than necessary
  • Control layout is symmetrical, spaced right and uncluttered
  • Speed dial – I’m using this a lot for the plugins I don’t have mapped. It’s always nice to get away from using the mouse once in a while.

The Bad

  • No hardware MIDI Ports – Not an issue for me but I thought it was worth pointing out. I didn’t know this until I got it out of the box.
  • I don’t love the feel of the pads on it, even with the sensitivity turned way up I feel like I have to tap much harder than I want to.
  • The layout of the pads, I wish it was 3×3 or spread out slightly more.
  • The documentation – It’s good, once you can find it. (I’ll link below to the instructions) One pdf with all the instructions would be nice, or access to them in the help menu (currently no help links).
  • Pink back-lit buttons, I was hoping they’d be more red in real life and I really wish they’d gone with green LEDs instead.

Alternatives

The [amazon_link id=”B001RH9P2O” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]M-Audio Axiom Pro 49[/amazon_link] at $200 more is the closest competitive product that comes to mind, but Novation’s [amazon_link id=”B002BIM778″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Remote MkII[/amazon_link] line is a much closer match to that one. The Nocturn is more compact than the Axiom, and has similar features, nicer knobs but not as nice pads.

Another is the [amazon_link id=”B000Z20J2M” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Akai MPK49[/amazon_link] at $100 more and crams a ton of features into a small keyboard including real MPC pads and arpeggiator.

Overall

It’s been about a month since I bought the Novation Nocturn 49 keyboard. I haven’t fully mastered how to use it yet, digging into the features to write the review has made me know it a lot better. Overall I’m really happy with it. It’s been a good investment, it works well, and looks cool (besides the pink lights). I haven’t had any stability issues with it. With any new piece of equipment there is a learning curve, not being able to find instructions doesn’t make it any easier. I did have some trouble with some functions at first, but it was because of glitch with the installation and reinstalling took care of that. If you’re in the market for a new MIDI controller with great feel and advanced features, definitely check this one out.

Check out the [amazon_link id=”B002SA9NIK” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Novation Nocturn 49 USB MIDI Keyboard[/amazon_link]

If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask.

Links

As I said above the documentation was hard to track down and if anything, this was my largest complaint about the product.

Nocturn Keyboard User Guide English PDF

Automap User Guide 3.2 HTML (as of this writing the latest version of Automap is 3.4.1 and there is not an updated user guide)

Automap DAW Setup Guides (HUI setup)(also available through the button in Automap Server) These were the only easy to find instructions but again, one pdf for all DAWs would be my preference.

5 Comments

  1. ronnie
    ronnie May 12, 2010

    Nice review!
    I use a Remote SL 37 myself. It also has pads which disappointed. Even more since Maschine, which has awesome pads.

  2. Rupert Brown
    Rupert Brown May 13, 2010

    Im guessing price is the reason you would choose this over the SL Mk II you mentioned? To me the big draw of the automap stuff is getting an LCD showing the parameter each knob is controlling. As this will get your eyes off the computer screen a bit more. Also SL MKII has real midi ports, but as you said its not an issue for you.

    Thanks for the good review.

  3. Jon
    Jon May 13, 2010

    Price was definitely a factor, just couldn’t spend any more.
    That’s a good point Rupert, I forgot to mention that. With the Nocturn, unless you completely make and memorize your own maps for every plugin, you have to look at the computer.
    On the other hand, being hunched over a tiny LCD guess what the abbreviated labels mean isn’t a lot better.
    The Remote mkII line has nice features but is pretty cluttered and almost double the price here.

  4. Lau
    Lau November 26, 2010

    Got this one today. I’m amazed at the Nocturn’s bang to buck value, keybed is VERY nice. Definitely recommended for the non pro user!

  5. maa
    maa December 3, 2011

    E-MU Xboard 49 vs. Novation Nocturn 49 vs. M-Audio Axiom 49? what do you think? which is best? 🙂

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