Dynamic control is fantastic. The idea is this: when you switch to a new app or instrument or effect, the hardware controller automatically assigns parameters to controls. That means no messing around with templates, assignment editors, and configuration, and the ability to quickly gain control of your software when editing or performing. Novation’s MIDI-controlling keyboards and control surfaces are likely the best example of this with their “Automap” feature, as found on the ReMOTE line and the cute, DJ-friendly Nocturn.

But doing dynamic assignment also creates some challenges. You have to sort out which parameters get controlled. And most importantly, you need to be able to see what you’re actually controlling.

Automap was, frankly, pretty rocky when it first shipped – when I originally reviewed the ReMOTE SL, a lot of stuff didn’t work at all in some of the hosts. (I remember struggling with Logic, specifically.) But Novation has done a fantastic job of working with all the software you use, from Live and Reason to Logic and Pro Tools, and each release has gotten steadily better. Automap “Universal” 2.0 works exceptionally well with hosts, and plug-in support was starting to come together.

Now, Automap 3 Pro seeks to address those two remaining areas: assign parameters more easily, and see what you’re doing. And for the first time, you’ll be able to use multiple Novations side by side, which means I’m ready to pick up a Nocturn for myself. There’s just one catch, which may win the “Accountants Do the Darndest Things” award of this NAMM show. (Spoiler alert: would you give away or charge for the feature that encourages people to buy more of your gear?)

Heads-Up Display

Having a display on your hardware: good. Having a display on your hardware and being able to use your computer screen, too – without squinting: better.

The biggest news to me is the new heads-up display, which Novation calls “Autoview.”

If you are dynamically assigning controls, you need some feedback to know what the heck you’re actually controlling. That’s why I’m going to gripe endlessly about the lack of a screen on the new Akai APC40 for Ableton Live. Novation has always had lovely little screens built into their hardware. The problem is, an LED is a pretty small screen for people used to looking at 23” desktop displays all day. (I’m only 31 and I’m squinting at it already.)

Oddly enough, if you play with a laptop, you have a huge, gorgeous screen sitting right next to you. You can hunch over it and try to tell what’s happening, but that’s obviously no go.

So Novation has what I think is the ideal solution: a big heads-up display that activates when you grab a controller. (“Ah,” you say, “that is my grain length control,” and go on confidently with your set.)

We saw this basic feature demoed with the Nocturn controller at last year’s NAMM, but now it’s standard on Automap 3 across the whole Novation line. Having both the screen on my device and on my computer screen seems fantastic to me.

Assign Controllers Flexibly

The other main shortcoming of Automap in the past is how to deal with plug-ins with lots of parameters. In Ableton Live, at least, you can throw instruments and effects into Live’s Device Racks, which conveniently have eight macro knobs. That way, the eight encoders on your Novation gear map nicely. But invariably, even in Live I’ll find some plug-in I didn’t put into a rack, and this doesn’t work in all other hosts.

With Automap 3, you can drag and drop parameters onto controls. If you don’t like the arrangement, drag and drop again to swap parameters from one controller to another. (“Yep, grain length really belongs on the bottom right,” says you, and it is so.) That complements the “learn mode” added in Automap 2: click the on-screen parameter and then touch the hardware controller. (That’s very similar to the way Kore’s feature works, by the way.)

Finally, Automap supports assigning the X/Y pad control dynamically. That’s huge for SL owners – and makes me almost wish I hadn’t switch to the SL Compact.

Multiple Devices, New Start-Up Screen

The other big feature is long-awaited support for multiple devices and integrated Mackie HUI support, and there’s a new screen to organize all the new stuff.

Multiple controllers: You can now use more than one Novation controller at once and have Automap working with both of them at the same time. This is really fantastic, especially given that the ReMOTE Zero and Nocturn are both quite compact.

Mackie HUI: This means you get instant control over any DAW that supports Mackie HUI, without specific drivers.

New screen: There’s also a new startup screen for managing multiple devices and the plug-in assignment features. It also brings up links for updating your software and learning how to use all this functionality, with online guides for your software of choice, tutorials, and help.

Now, get ready for some cognitive dissonance:

Pro Pricing that Makes No Sense

I wondered why Automap was suddenly called “Automap Pro.” The answer seems to be that some jittery accountants (or someone else, in a weak moment) decided to charge $30 for Automap 3 Pro. That might be a logical decision if Automap worked on any hardware other than Novation’s, but it doesn’t. It’s not much money – it just doesn’t make much sense.

Here’s where it gets really strange. You can get Automap “Standard” for free. So what did they take out to entice you to buy “Pro”? Multiple device support.

Yep, that’s right. You can use less Novation hardware for free, but if you want to buy more Novation hardware, they’ll charge you for the privilege of using it. (I’m hoping it at least comes free with new Novation controllers, but haven’t seen any announcement suggesting that.)

Also exclusive to the Pro mode:

  • XY pad control
  • Autoview
  • Drag and drop

So, in other words, Automap Standard doesn’t really give you any of the significant new features, except for HUI control and the new startup screen.

I know I’m naive and have terrible business sense, but wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage people to buy more of your stuff? I think Automap Pro is probably worth thirty bucks. I think Novation’s hardware is well worth buying – maybe even more than one unit. But I can’t make this make any sense at all.

Good will from your users is more valuable, Novation – and in the long run, could have a bigger impact on your bottom line. Make Automap Pro free, and encourage users to snap up more of these terrific controllers instead.

I hope at the very least Novation has the sense to do a free bundle of Automap Pro 3 with new controllers. (How many of you would find a bundled copy of Pro enough to put you over the top on buying a new Nocturn, even if you already have something like the ReMOTE SL? I know it’d convince me.)

Still Want It

That said, I still want this update – to me, it finally delivers on all the promise of the whole Automap concept.

And my message to Ableton: I’d love to
see a heads-up display integrated into Live, too, especially since the Akai APC lacks a screen of its own.

Stay tuned for an Automap 3 hands-on coming soon. As I write this, the downloads still cover only Automap Universal 2, and the Buy Now page is blank.

Automap Product Page