Novation’s SL MkIII wants to control your hardware and your DAW all at once
The next-gen controller keyboard combines digital control with CV
Novation have updated their SL line of keyboard controllers, with a MkIII offering that significantly expands on the scope and connectivity of its predecessor.
Like version 2, this latest SL is, at its core, a MIDI keyboard equipped with an array of multifunction controls for use with any DAW or plugin. This latest iteration, however, also adds a clutch of powerful new features aimed at controlling not only digital/ MIDI-equipped instruments, but also analogue hardware.
The most exciting of these is a multichannel sequencer derived from the excellent pad-based interface found on Novation’s Circuit and Circuit Mono Station. Here we get eight sequencing channels, each of which can contain up to eight 16-step patterns, which can be chained or triggered independently. This can also host up to eight channels of automation, recorded using the SL MkIII’s faders, rotaries, pads and other controls.
To make the most of these sequencing channels, the controller has plenty of output options, including the expected MIDI and USB MIDI, but also two CV channels, two gate and two analogue modulation outputs. Sequencer channels can be routed independently, for sequencing multiple instruments at once. Each pattern can have individual step length, direction and clock settings too, opening up plenty of polyrhythmic sequencing possibilities. There’s also an onboard arpeggiator, which can be used independently of the sequencer.
Aside from the sequencer, there’s plenty in the way of hands-on control, which can be put to use for a variety of purposes. The keybed itself is semi-weight and aftertouch-equipped, and comes complete with pitch and mod wheels. The keyboard can be split into zones for playing multiple instruments at once. There’s also a scale mode, for assisting those with less music theory knowledge – or who are simply in need of a little inspiration. A system of LEDs above each key – not entirely dissimilar to those found on NI’s S-series range – help identify both scales and keyboard zone assignments.
On the main control panel, meanwhile, the SL MkIII packs four screens, eight faders, eight rotaries, 16 velocity-sensitive pads, and an assortment of other parameter buttons and transport controls. All of these are, as you’d expect, freely assignable, using Novation’s sleek Components system (which will be familiar to Circuit and Peak users). The company are also creating a growing library of hardware templates though, for simple interaction with instruments including the Roland TR-8S, Korg Minilogue, Elektron’s grooveboxes and, naturally, Novation’s own Circuit range and Peak polysynth.
It’s not just hardware that gets pre-configured control though, as most major DAWs have some form of pre-mapped control on offer. Live users come off best here, as Novation have worked closely with Ableton to offer tight control of their DAW. There are, however, also comprehensive setups for Logic, Reason, Pro Tools, Cubase and Reaper.
We’ve got our hands on one of the controllers already, and we’re quietly quite excited by the range of features and connectivity options. Look out for a full review in the next issue.
The SL MkIII is due to arrive by the end of October, and will come in 49 and 61 key versions, priced at $599 and $699 respectively.