Nektar bucks the trend for do-it-all controllers with a 49-key offering that puts your playing front and centre
To say that the MIDI controller market is overcrowded is an understatement to say the least: there are so many around I'm surprised no one's yet complained they're "taking our jobs, innit?". It seems that every week a new piece of MIDI gear is released, whether it’s Live’s Push 2 or Arturia’s Beatstep Pro. Both of which are pretty damn amazing, FYI.
Yet, as the industry moves forward, the demand for complex controllers continues to grow. Whether it’s for automating the life out of a filter or triggering that dusty Ugandan funk loop you’ve been sitting on for months, controllers seem to be heading in a ‘one device for all solutions’ direction; it’s no longer about serving one particular purpose. While this can be a good thing, it’s not always necessary – and that’s why the Impact GX49 from Nektar is a welcome addition to the MIDI market.
Unsurprisingly, the GX49 weighs in with a 49-note (ie, four-octave) keyboard. Its sleek black design is very basic, so don’t expect any flashy frills with this controller; it’s as simple as it gets. Unlike many of its rivals, the GX49 doesn't offer 20 different knobs for twiddling or 10 touch pads for bashing; it’s a controller that is tailored to composition and performance, offering nothing more than pitch bend, a modulation wheel, and octave and transpose buttons, alongside useful transport buttons that allow you to control the transport menu within your DAW. Also, there’s a potentiometer that can be assigned to anything, so I guess there is one knob on board.
Now, you may think that, with all the other options out there, it wouldn’t be worth investing in Nektar’s GX49; that it's too basic for most producers' needs. Well, frankly, if you do think that then you’re being too close-minded, because the GX49 is perfect for what it’s designed for: composition.
I hooked it up to my Moog Minitaur and it was a match made in heaven. If you work with a lot of outboard synths that do not have onboard keyboards, such as the Minotaur, the Erebus Dreadbox or even the petite Korg Volcas, the GX49 is perfect for you. It has enough on there to stop you from reaching for the mouse and feels great to play. The keys are wonderfully responsive and the overall build is pretty solid for a controller; it feels like it could withstand the pressures of touring, too, if you’re looking for a performance controller to take on the road.
I must admit, at first I was apprehensive about whether I would be impressed by Nektar’s latest offering; I, too, thought I would need more flexibility in the controls department. Thankfully, I didn’t. This basic bit of kit fitted right into my studio, complimenting it instead of over-complicating things. This meant there were no conflicting MIDI messages, and no endless faffing about getting it synced up and working. The GX49 may not offer you the world at your fingertips, but it what it does offer is fantastic ease-of-use and solid quality that won’t let you down.
Words: George Butler
Review score: 4/5
More info: Nektartech.com