When it comes to music production hardware, Novation are one of the best known names in the business. Their products have revolutionised how producers and songwriters create music and in this blog we’re going to take a close look at the Novation Impulse 25 and USB MIDI Controller and see how it works in the studio environment.
The Impulse 25 is a USB MIDI controller. It’s the 25-key version of the Novation Impulse range. The full range also includes 61 and 49 key models so the 25 is baby of the family, making it super portable. And when we say portable, we mean portable – the Novation Impulse 25 dimensions are just 525mm (20.6”) length x 332mm (13”) depth x 100mm (3.94”) height.
A MIDI controller is a device that connects to your computer (in this case via USB) and is used to trigger MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) signals. A MIDI signal is simply a digital message that MIDI devices can use to communicate – a pressed key could be used to trigger a sample, or it could be a snare drum hit, or it could be a trumpet note – and the great thing is that you can change the sound after the fact. So using MIDI can allow you record a line using an Electric Piano sound and later change it to a synth, or a flute.
MIDI can also be used for controlling parameters – for example a MIDI devices can control performance elements like volume and pan or filter settings for synths or they can even be used for playhead commands like start, stop and record.
So, MIDI can be used to control instruments like Synths on stage, it can be used live to control performance software like Mainstage or Ableton Live and it can be used in the Studio for production and building out beats and recordings.
So, is the Novation Impulse 25 any good?
Let’s take a look at the features:
The Notavion Impulse 25 USB MIDI Controller Keyboard features the Impulse keyboard present across the Impulse range. The keyboard is pretty special – it’s ultra-responsive so not only can it tell if you’ve hit the key hard or soft but there’s a subtle range of attack that can be communicated by each key stroke. The keyboard also includes After Touch – MIDI information sent after a key has been pressed which usually controls parameters like Vibrato.
The Keyboard also has semi-weighted full size keys which is really rare for a keyboard of this size – you’re usually stuck with mini keys which are fine but difficult to really play with any complexity or subtlety.
The most interesting bit of technology in the keyboard is the HRS (High Rate Scan) technology. This system scans the keyboard 10,000 times a second whilst you are playing to capture every nuance of your performance.
In addition to the keyboard, the Impulse Range also supports additional MIDI controls. There’s a blue backlit LED display, 2 wheels for pitch bend and modulation, 8 velocity sensitive drum pads, 8 endless encoders (knobs with infinite rotation), 1 slider (a fader that can be used to control functions like volume – one thing to note is that the 61 and 49 key versions of the Impulse have 9 sliders which can be useful but obviously has an impact on the portability of the unit), 6 function buttons and an arpeggiator with tap tempo and roll.
In addition to being USB compatible with a Mac or PC, the Notavion Impulse 25 also has MIDI Pin connections which can be really useful if you want to connect your Impulse 25 to another MIDI device such as a MIDI sound generator or even a Synth like the Moog MiniTaur.
The Novation Impulse 25 Software is really impressive. Included in the package you get Ableton Live Lite as well as licenses for Sound Collective (free versions of software instruments created by professionals), Addictive Keys (Super high quality virtual keys instruments that includes lovely acoustic grand piano and Fender Rhodes sounds), Bass Station VST (a virtual instrument of the iconic Novation Bass Station Synth that works really well and sounds great) and the Loopmasters sample library packed with royalty free Samples.
But more than the software is the DAW (digital audio workstation) integration that is baked in to the product. Out of the box, the Impulse 25 provides Mixer Control, Transport Control, Clip Launch, Scene Launch, Plug-in/Device Control with Ableton.
It also integrates perfectly with other major DAWs including:
Pro Tools: Mixer control (all channels), Transport control
Logic: Mixer control (all channels), Transport control, Plug-in instrument/effects control (instant control of Logic’s own plug-ins and 3rd party VST/AU plug-ins)
Cubase: Mixer control (all channels), Transport control, Plug-in instrument/effects control
Reason/Record: Mixer control, Transport control, Instant control of rack devices (Thor, Dr Octo Rex etc.)
Cakewalk/Sonar: Mixer control (all channels), Transport control, Plug-in VST instrument/effects control
The Akai MPK range is a big hitter in this market place and Akai actually go one model further in the portability arms race to have an even smaller model called the MPK Mini. The MPK Mini is a much scaled down version of this kind of controller with mini keys but is very useful and competitively priced. However, the real equivalents of the Impulse 25 is the Akai MPK 25 and the Akai MPK 225. Like the Impulse, the Akai MPK 25 has a backlit LED display, drum pads, MIDI compatibility, pitch bend and modulation wheels and lots of assignable buttons and knobs.
The Novation Impulse has the edge here – it has the fader control which can be useful and the knobs on the Impulse are infinite-rotation, meaning when you change performances in a software like Mainstage, the knobs automatically adjust to your settings, rather than you needing to reset them manually yourself between songs. Furthermore, although the Akai keys are semi-weighted and full size, they don’t have the ability to support after touch functionality and the keyboard is far less sensitive to the nuances of performance as the Novation.
The Akia MPK 225 is much closer to the features and functionality of the Novation Impulse 25. The knobs are infinite rotation and the keyboard much more advanced in terms of how it responds to the musician playing it and it supports those all-important after touch functions that you didn’t realize you needed until they were available to experiment with!
And in some ways the MPK 225 is more advanced than the Impulse – particularly when it comes to the software. The Akai MPC software is really advanced – it’s a cutting-edge production suite combining 128-track sequencing capability, real-time time stretching, clip- launch functionality, advanced MIDI editing capability, VST compatibility in controller mode, operation as a standalone application on Mac & PC, advanced sampling & audio editing/recording functionality, seamless DAW integration, a redesigned GUI, and Ableton Link Compatibility.
Having said that, the whole software package and the advanced hardware probably still gives the Novation Impulse 25 the advantage. Although the Akai MPC software is pretty powerful, the key thing is integration with the major DAWs that producers are using in their studio and Novation have really done well to make sure that Ableton, Pro-Tools, Logic and Cubase are well represented with seamless functionality that doesn’t need any configuration to work.
The Novation Impulse 25 USB MIDI controller keyboard is a super advanced bit of tech and we would recommend it for a lot of different use cases. At around £150 GBP / £200 US, it is really competitively priced – in fact, the software that is included in the bundle is probably worth more than that on its own. But beyond the cost and software, the keyboard itself is really functional. As we outlined above, Novation have worked really hard to make sure that the device captures the full spectrum of a performance and that allows you to create some really incredible sounds for your performances or recordings.
One thing to highlight is the size and portability vs the functionality. If you are performing live, it can be tempting to opt for the 25 note option because it is so compact and lightweight. However, the 61 and 49 key versions of the Novation Impulse not only have more faders that you can play with and assign, but they also have more than two octaves for you to play. For those musicians who create pieces of work where you layer your sounds, adding rhythm, bass, harmony and melody separately, this is probably not an issue.
You have the Octave Up and Octave Down buttons on the device so you can easily add in low and high parts – it’s just that doing both low and high simultaneously could be a slight challenge live. In a recording studio environment, it’s no problem to work on the bass and treble parts separately – however, if you want to be able to play full keys parts – having the ability to play across more octaves and having the additional 8 Faders at your fingertips might prove to be useful.
If you are looking for something to work on for a portable studio or small space or even something to allow you to put together performances with a software like Ableton Live or Mainstage – this is a fantastic product at a great price.
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