Novation has unveiled their newest product, a line of USB MIDI keyboards called Impulse. Shipping in September, they’ll run street/dealer prices of US$249.99 for the 25-key, $349.99 for 49 keys, and $399.99 for 61 keys.

This pits Novation squarely against some similar MIDI keyboards, including the M-Audio Axiom to which I gave the nod in a Keyboard Magazine round-up I wrote. (It even has a similar control surface layout.) The Novation picks up on some of the issues I noted, and adds some unique features:

  • Aftertouch. Keybed quality is paramount for obvious reasons. What’s typically missing, for those who like it, is aftertouch support, available here.
  • Full DAW control. Available on the Axiom but previously missing on Novation’s offering, you get 8 knobs, 9 faders and buttons, and an LCD for controlling your DAW. (Only one fader on the 25-key model, since all of that wouldn’t fit.
  • Automap. It wouldn’t be a Novation keyboard without the company’s Automap feature. Whether that’s good or not depends on whether you like the functionality; I’ve tended to find it a bit fiddly at times, though the implementation with Propellerheads’ Reason is fantastic. (Hosts are a big part of the variable here.)
  • Pads that do more. This one’s rather interesting: you get drum pads set up to do arpeggios, rolls, and Ableton Live clip launching. You could do that with any pads, but neat to see it on the keyboard, and I’m curious to learn more about the specific implementation.

My only regrets? The basic keyboard still fits into more or less the same category as what we’ve seen – possibly a worthy choice if you’re new, but probably not if you already have a controller keyboard. That may be what sells and what people want, so I don’t begrudge these companies making keyboards like this, and the cost is pretty incredible. I just long for some variety – which may mean looking to higher-end custom jobs rather than mass keyboards.

And I can’t really say I’m in love with the styling, either, to say the least. I’ll have to see it in person, and your taste may absolutely vary (you don’t need me to tell you what you like); I just would love to see something that’s both conservative and modern, not either bland or tending to be garish. (This just looks sporty in the way those gaming PCs do to me.) Again, custom keyboards may be the only route; watch for some coverage of that soon. (But seriously, Novation — a lot of folks I know really liked your previous styling.)

The product:

Video and more pics: