Novation Nocturn 49 by kojak
Novation's Nocturn MIDI controller is available in 25 and 49 key versions, and for the purposes of this review I'll treat them as basically identical.
The Nocturn comes packaged with Automap, Novation's controller assignment software. This will interface with all major DAW software (ie. ProTools, SONAR, Logic, etc) and is fairly easy to set up (although not quite as simple as "click a control, touch the encoder, it's assigned! as the manual states). There are transport controls that are laid out in a recognizable way, as well as 8 V-pot style encoders along the top with an LED ring around them, assignable to whatever parameter you like. There are also several "pages" of encoders, allowing eash encoder to have several functions depending on your individual workflow.
Keys are semi-weighted and feel good and robust. In my particular situation, I actually them more for recording drum tracks in BFD than anything, and they registered a very useable range of velocity, making the performances seem much more realistic than a simple loop...it also required much less editing after the fact (typically I'll go in and randomize the velocities of say, the hi-hat hits to make them sound a little more human, but this was largely not required with the Nocturn).
This seems a little counterintuitive, being that the keyboard actually has drum pads, but I found the pads to be a little less forgiving in terms of velocity range if you want an acoustic drum performance. Those using the pads in an electronic drum setting where most (if not all) the hits are the same velocity will probably be just fine with the pads. (It should also be noted that the velocity range of the pads is easily adjustable with the Automap software.) They are well built and look like they could take a solid beating.
Other than that, it features the usual host of features one is used to seeing in a MIDI controller; pitch and mod wheels on the left (these are very solid feeling, and have a nice rubbery outside rather than the slick plastic some of the cheaper controllers have), several programmable buttons along the top, under the encoders, programmable to either a latch on/off or a momentary function, as well as a "quick control" single knob on the far left, which takes control of whatever parameter you've selected onscreen. Also, like many of its competitors, it requires no external power source, as the USB bus is enough to power it, which is handy if you plan to use this live or if you travel with it at all.
Overall, a solid contender and an easy to use controller, with keys and pads that will last and give you years of reliable use.
(As as aside, please disregard the "sound quality" score at the top...the controller has no sounds of its own, but for whatever reason the page wouldn't let me leave it as n/a.)