remoteslmkII_25 The ReMOTE SL Mk II series is on its way, an improved version of a controller keyboard of which we’ve been big fans at CDM. In an ideal world, there would be a truly standardized specification for control of music production software – and I still dream of mainstream OpenSoundControl support as a way to start to develop such control. But in the meantime, Novation has done a pretty intelligent job of mapping lots of functions in popular software so that they can feel fairly transparent to control.

The whole “automatic mapping” area is getting juicier, too, with new entries like the Akai APC40 for Ableton Live, and a set of keyboards from Avid/M-Audio focused on smart tangible mappings for software (including, naturally, Avid’s Pro Tools). As it happens, M-Audio just started shipping its own Axiom Pro this week. I want to give the Axiom ample coverage, so look for that starting next week – the short version is, the two keyboards take a different approach to layout and integration, and as a result there are some good arguments for each.

The SL does have a very nice keybed from Fatar, though, and a layout to which a lot of us are accustomed. So I talked to Novation about what was new in the Mk II that wasn’t already in the new Automap Pro 3 software. The software is already available for existing SL owners. But what’s new to the hardware?

Simon Halstead from Novation has a thoughtful set of answers for CDM. Have a look, and judge for yourself how this stacks up against the previous SL – I’m curious to hear from current and prospective owners what you think.

The SLMkII has the top feature requests from our users:

1) Led feedback in Buttons

2) Led feedback or Encoders

3) Touch sense on all moving controls

This allows a user to see the status/feedback of the entire unit without having to press row select buttons like you used to.

Apart from the obvious hardware changes, the main differences are in ‘architecture’. It has a more intuitive menu structure which is much quicker and easier to navigate.

– The Mk II has a dedicated Automap button – easier to switch between Advanced mode and back into Automap mode. (Advanced mode includes e.g. Live and Reason templates, and standard MIDI templates for hardware control).

– New ‘Quick Menu’ – gives access to parameters that need to be changed quickly / temporarily:  e.g. transposing keyboard / drum pads / MIDI channel / Tempo

– Dedicated (hardware labelled) Automap buttons on MKII, rather than soft-labelled Automap buttons on original SL.

– Transport buttons can be switched in or out – use the second row of buttons for controlling a plug-in or transport. 

Automap Experience

Automap has come a long way since the first version. The user now experiences a much simplified way to get to the Automap functions

USB Power

All this and the until can STILL be powered by USB…that’s no simple challenge

Speed dial

this can be used to take over mouse control, or when pushed and rotated, plug-in presets.

Improved drumpads

New soft feel improved design drumpads give a much nicer feel when playing drums

Automap Pro

New functions include keystroke commands (assigning QWERTY/ASCII key commands/key combination commands to controllers), multiple devices, Autoview, drag and drop etc. The decision to charge for Automap3 PRO was a difficult one, taken reluctantly to recoup some of the unexpectedly large development costs. Happily AM3 PRO is shipping with all SL Mk II’s so users can have all the extra functions out of the box.



Long throw faders AND the long awaited crossfader.

Plus it no fits into a 19" rack!

Did that make sense? If you have follow up questions, I’ll make sure to pass them along.

All in all, it looks like a subtle but significant set of improvements for the SL.

None of these keyboards fulfills my deep, personal wish, which is for a high-end, durable-but-light controller keyboard you can beat up on the road and want to keep forever. These keyboards are fine values, but I know quite a few people wish for a real “Pro” keyboard, not only in name but in the extreme durability you’d want in an instrument – and would pay the necessary price premium for it. But that’s a discussion for another day.

In the meantime, for the practical, plug-and-play computer keyboard solution that still feels reasonably nice to play and use as a controller, I think both the M-Audio and Novation are in the running. I’ve already gotten a number of queries via Twitter from readers, and hope to report back on both new keyboards soon. I know this is a major area of interest.

Right now, the only keyboard that fits comfortably in my bag is the Korg nanoKEY, which is coming along for my coach flight back from Lisbon, Portugal to Newark, USA. Can a keyboard work on a six-hour transatlantic flight? Guess I’ll find out. (My initial impression is that I’m more fond of the faders on the nanoKONTROL, so we’ll see if I can fit both for a nano-off.)

More on all these keys soon.

  • Polite

    I'm actually looking forward to the new controllers. I already have a Remote SL Zero that i've been using alot more since the automap 3 came out, and linking either the new zero controller or possibly one of the smaller keyboards up and using it as my definitive softsynth controller would be awesome. It's actually funny how quickly you use up all the dials and buttons on a single Zero, and switching between pages is all well and good, but i'm lazy. 😛

  • kevin

    I got the Axiom Pro 49 a few weeks ago, and it is a great controller. The hypercontrol is quite awesome (I use it with Logic). It does take a little while to get used to the parameters on the left of the LCD correlating with the top row of knobs, and the right correlating to the bottom row. But it eventually clicked with my brain, as I expected it would. For more complicated synths like Sculpture, the hypercontrol isn't as awesome. Sculpture has 47 (IIRC) pages of parameters (eight to a page), and its just too cumbersome to be very useful. But overall, the hypercontrol works very well and I'm very impressed,

    The keyboard itself also seems much improved from the old Axiom. The keys feel much nicer than the Axiom 49, and those weren't bad keys. The sliders feel more quality, and the knobs are now the non-clicky kind (yay!). I really like it a lot.

    If anyone has any questions about it, I'll check back and answer.

  • Orubasarot

    You nerds sold me on the Remote SL long ago, and in the last 3 years I haven't even once used any goddamn automap feature. All that plugin management hogwash and actually caring about drivers and submenus on a tiny LCD just isn't my thing I guess, I'd rather just click stuff.

  • I almost picked up a Novation…glad I held off. Although I did pick up a new amp instead.

  • touchsens on the controllers seems like a good thing

    can that be automized in a sequenzer?

    like when i got my finger on a slider for 10 seconds for example the sequenzer recognizes this and writes automation?

    or how can this really be usefull when recording?

  • @Orubasarot – no, I hear you; the issue is, too, that the software isn't really designed around control, so sometimes it's indeed easier to point and click around. I think it depends on how you use the software, too, and how you use these layouts for performance.

  • one more question:

    are the pads really that good for playing drums?

    how are they compared to lets say a Akai MPK 49?

  • @Derrick:
    Linear pads are just no use. they have been changed from the rigid crap pads of the original SL, but they are still too small, and having them in a row instead of a 4×4 matrix is a real pain.
    I am very sceptic about the disapearance of on of the LCD screens though, as I really use both screens on my Zero.

  • Yeah, I'm also sorry about losing that second screen.

    I actually think a linear pad layout could work for something, though it's too bad they didn't find a way to, say, visually differentiate 1 + 5. It won't replace a dedicated pad controller, no.

  • Kyran

    The only thing I can think when I look at the new Zero SL is "where are the motorized faders?"

    I find it too awkward to use non motorised faders for mixing, both pickup and volume jumps really put me off using them.
    Other than that, I'd probably use the ZeroSL for the same things as I now use the nocturn.

    So if they put on motorised faders in the next version, I'm really sold. It would complement my other stuff wonderfully then.

  • Genjutsushi

    I agree wholeheartedly about the motorised faders. The whole automap concept would then become workable for me.
    Until then im going to keep rocking the KorgNanos! Best controllers ever!

  • thats a good point i would also buy a version with motorized faders

    the only controller keyboard which has motorized faders @ the moment is the CME VX8

    had this one for quite a while but the operating software really sucks and cme is really bad in programming drivers that work, so i sent it back to the dealer and bought the MPK49

  • vinayk

    What do you think of the nanoKey? Is it quite usable? Would it be a waste when one isn't on the road? I'd love to find a nice backpack size (and not a BIG backpack) keyboard – the nanoKey is the right size… just don't know if it's much better than a computer keyboard?

  • matthew

    Thanks for the review; look forward to seeing more about the Axiom soon!

    Do you have any other plug ins you've used it with? And if so, how has the response been? Any issues with the Mac at all?

    thanks guys!

  • Leslie

    … and they still haven't changed the totally unresponsive touchpad…!!!
    "Flashy" glowing controls are not a substitute for missing secondary screen either…
    I'll stick to my original SL for now.
    PS; I'm quite impressed by the latest M-Audio Axiom Pro at the moment and seriously considering a switch.

  • kj

    Probably will get a MkII as my SL25 has hit the floor one time too many. However, the SL25s are not the ideal solution for my (and I suspect many others') uses. Wish list:
    •More full sized keys that fit into a rackshelf mountable board –move the danged pitch/mod controllers and drop in another half octave's worth!!
    •How about some modular expandability? I'm DYING for a numeric keypad for program changes, etc. It seems no one makes one, why is that? Doesn't anyone send any kind of numeric control info? (If anyone knows of a simple *small* program change keypad PLEASE let me know )
    •How about a CC module (this could allow different options; standard mod/pitch configuration or trackpad/joystick, what have you) that plugs in with a cable that can be located wherever the player finds it most useful? I'd velco the CCs vertically to the side of my road case if I could.
    •Much better octave shift controls are needed with these little keyboards. The buttons should be a different shape/color/feel or located in their own row AND have a larger, preferably glowing, status display. People still do play out live, don't they?
    All that said, the MkII is an improvement. I especially like the LED encoders. Looking forward to the Lego-like extensibility of the MkIII or IV or…!

  • Will they also make a ReMOTE SL COMPACT Mk II ? I do not need the sliders, so a ReMOTE SL COMPACT looks ok for me, but it would be nice if the updated that controller with the new led feedback for buttons and encoders.

  • Jason Duerr

    Dear Novation,

    I've always loved you.

    That is all.

    Jason // Chicago

  • I got the Korg Nanokey and love it. I take it to work and on my breaks i can play keys. It takes a little getting used to but it is way way more useful than just the keyboard on the computer.

  • Tim

    I think the biggest drawback of the original SL remote series is that it only supports parameter feedback in automap mode. I like to use it as a standard controller with my own mappings and use the drumpads to switch to different presets/plugin-mappings. But I now switched back to 2 Behringer BCR2000. 1 for full control of the selected channelstrip (including the inserts and sends) in cubase and 1 for controlling my main synth (V-station).

    I'm curious to see if the new MK2 has parameter feedback in non-automap mode. I couldn't find a midi implementation chart of the mk2 on the novation website.

  • Birds Use Stars

    What's this? The knob freaks are staying quiet? Fine then, I'll say it.

    (knobs EVERYWERE)

  • there are a plethora of knob boxes out there. What i still fret over is the lack of a good quality set of upfaders in a portable usb package. Vestax's faderboard was such a neat idea, and id love to have a bank of faders to play with, i just cant justify yet another bank of buttons just to get a brace of faders a la the mpc40. Its the one thing i still miss about traditional external dj mixers…

  • Dvice

    I got my Remote 25 SL almost a year back, I use Reason. Even without the new version, it is still the most user friendly pretty straight forward yet affordable midi keyboard/controller around, I am really satisfied. Automap? Still can't figure out how to use it. 🙂

  • p2b

    Do the new pads allow sustained notes? I can't stand the fixed gate length style of the original. I want to play the damn things! Also, I find Automap to be completely useless. It never seems to map the parameters I want and the ones it maps are in odd locations. I've noticed it seems to be conflicting with some of my past set ups (causing the tempo in Live to suddenly jump to zero!) When I first downloaded Automap3 I couldn't figure it out so I checked a somewhat helpful albeit brief tutorial on the Novation site, got it working (pretty lame). It is really not intuitively laid out and no manual/pdf? So, I forgot how to use it and tried for weeks to see that darn tutorial again but they removed it! With no other info on the site…so does anyone really use it?…or know of any manual for it?
    Anyway, all that said I love my SL25 even it feels like it's going to crush under the weight of my finger.

  • Motion

    Hi Peter

    Maybe you know of these people but thought I would mention these guys at Infinite Response and hope maybe they plan to come up with something in a smaller mobile version with controller features (but with this mobile quality I might not
    care)…seems the build, weight, patch management and play dynamics are top (the blog talks about playing preferences amongst piano and synth players)…I guess we'll have to wait and see but 76 keys with this sort of durability at 25 pounds is pretty impressive.

  • Yah I never enjoyed using Automap in Logic. Turn a knob and you never know what parameter you just changed! Well, I m sure you can tell on the screen, but i could never wrap my head around it.

  • Is there a specific section on here that I should use to advertise my website? Just wanted to make sure I asked before posting about it …


  • wacht

    Yeah, why is it so hard to make a durable, professional USB MIDI keyboard? They built sturdy synths like Korg M1 for decades, why can't anyone build a controller keyboard to the same standards? Must it be third-rate cheapo plastic just because it doesn't have sound generation capabilities?

    There are dozens of these products but there's something fundamentally wrong with every one of them. If they're not made from flimsy plastic, they're ugly. If they're not ugly, they have the wrong set of controls. Or they're lacking in the LCD display department. Or the number of keys is wrong. Or they have those endless rotaries, like the ones from Korg (bloody useless).

    Novation, Korg, Yamaha, Akai, Fatar, Roland/Edirol, M-Audio, CME, how many more companies and products does it take before we can have the MIDI controller keyboard DONE RIGHT?

    I just want a 49- or 61-key keyboard with a rugged and tasteful enclosure, just plain brushed aluminium and black, not painted in any god awful colors or decorated with ugly print. Basically it should have the design sensibility of Euphonix MC Mix and build quality of a MacBook Pro. And every fader and rotary should have an LCD display. And it should have MPC-style drum pad buttons that are sturdy, not flimsy ones that feel like they will disappear into the device if you try to reach velocity 127.

    With the old Novation SL mk I series, they got it almost completely right. Black/silver. Displays on all faders and rotaries. No tasteless colors or ornamentation. But the build quality was shifty and the material was the usual flimsy plastic. Now they had a chance to get it right with mkII, and what did they do? They removed one of the displays, added garish ornamentation, kept the flimsy plastic, and jacked up the price. €579 for a stripped down 61SL mk I? What a joke. Try €250.

  • i can't live without my 25SL at home, or my Nocturn on the go.