Novation has unveiled their revised SL line of controllers, dubbed the SL Mk II. The changes are subtle, but significant.

Looks awesome:

  • Fatar semi-weight “fast touch” keyboard action
  • Touch-sensitive controls for immediate feedback on the LED screen
  • Buttons are now backlit
  • Encoders are ringed with red LEDs
  • Dedicated buttons for enabling Automap and switching modes (effects, mixing, etc.)
  • Speed Dial!
  • Bundled with Automap 3 PRO software, which now features keystroke assignment and a heads-up display (and PRO is free with a new keyboard, as expected, though there’s still an upgrade fee if you’re a current owner)
  • The ZeRO now has a crossfader
  • Lovely new silver-colored knob and fader caps – and a prettier-looking design, in general
  • The pads may be flatter on top (the old model has odd, stiff raised pads – I’m hoping that’s improved here)
  • It’s the tried-and-trusted SL – with all the software support that entails

Looks less awesome:

  • The pads are still tiny
  • The X/Y joystick for pitch/mod can be an acquired taste
  • Novation has dropped the second LED screen strip above the faders, leaving only the one above the encoders. (not a deal killer, probably, because you can look at the physical position of the faders)
  • No crossfader on the keyboard models (Edirol is the one keyboard maker I know of who have done this)
  • The transport controls have been relocated to the buttons under the faders, which looks like they’ll be a little tougher to access
  • Apparently in the interest of cost savings, the SL mk II will still have the same controller layout on the bigger keyboards – meaning if you have a 49-key or 61-key model, there’s a big blank space instead of more room for controllers (just as on the original SL). Put your iPod touch / iPhone there for extra controls, perhaps. This time, it’s centered, instead of all at one end.

All in all, though, I’d say this is a pretty big step forward. The SL really did set the bar for controller integration and providing a really solid feel. It has always been pricey, but it’s nice to feel a keyboard maker takes computer musicians seriously, instead of giving us the bottom-of-the-barrel “budget” stuff.

I also have to say, too, there’s nothing out there that really can compete with the keyboard-less ZeRO. For quick controller access to your computer software in a layout that fits on your desk (angled with the optional stand), it’s just about perfect. And since M-Audio no longer makes their former Evolution UC-33e, this category is entirely Novation’s.

I’m still concerned about the things I don’t love on the original SL – namely, the drum pads and the tendency of the X/Y pitch/mod joystick to stick. I still quite like the SL Compact: it has bigger pads and traditional pitch and mod, and it’s also cheaper.

On the other hand, you get some additional feedback from the LED rings around the encoders and the backlit buttons, which is a good thing. And the Automap Pro 3 software looks powerful – heads-up displays are, I believe, the future.

The competition between Novation’s refreshed SL and M-Audio’s new Axiom Pro should be very interesting, indeed. The details on each are almost exactly opposite, especially considering they’re basically the same product concept. The Axiom Pro integrates directly with software without the need for a helper app running, as Novation’s, and its controls are just a little more traditional. Novation is adding lights, but M-Audio is mainly leaving them off. For the screen, M-Audio opted for a single, higher-resolution rectangular display instead of the low-res strips on the top of the Novation.

Also, the Novation I believe is still not MIDI class-compliant, meaning the M-Audio piece works on Linux and Novation doesn’t.

M-Audio’s higher-end keyboards (ignoring some of their poorer-quality cheap models) and Novation’s keyboard line have both been extremely competitive. Seeing them square off directly sounds great to me.

Most important to me: just how these things feel, and how well the integration and customization works. Both start shipping in April. Stay tuned.



(any hopes of MOre norMAL CAPitalizaTION in the nEW RElease, obviously not happening…)


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Pricing looks slightly steeper than on the original models. DV247 (street) prices:

GBP299.99 ZERO (no keyboard) MK2

GBP329.99 SL25 MK2

GBP399.99 SL49 MK2

That’d be US$575 at the going exchange rate for the 49-key model, though pricing often doesn’t exactly adhere to conversion rates for currency.

Of course, you can expect discounted pricing on the older models. (Thanks, RCUS!)