Most computer musicians are aware of the benefits of purchasing a controller keyboard, but many don't do so because of the cost and added complexity involved. The Novation ReMOTE 49SL Compact aims to address both of these issues, being essentially a more affordable relation of the ReMOTE 61SL.
The Compact is the first product to launch with Automap Universal, the new generation of system software that makes the entire ReMOTE series of controllers even easier to use.
The Compact is quite similar in design to its more expensive cousin, but lacks the X/Y touchpad, the second LCD display and the fader bank (the original's faders were a bit on the short side anyway). It also has fewer assignable knobs and buttons - eight of each - and only offers a single pair of MIDI in/out connections.
The combined pitch and modulation joystick has been replaced by two conventional wheels, but the overall build quality is still every bit as good. The keyboard itself seems identical to that of the SL, which is a good thing, as we really rated its keys.
Buyers of the original SL had a choice of 25-, 37- and 61-key versions, as well as the key-less ZeRO model. The Compact comes in 25- and 49-key variants that are similar to their Novation X-Station equivalents in physical size.
The addition of a 49-key version to the SL family is especially welcome, as many musicians find that this offers the best trade-off between playability and portability. Another change that we appreciate is an increase in the size of the eight drum pads found on the front panel, making tapping out rhythms easier than ever.
Initial installation and setup is quick and straightforward. The DVD installer must be run first, prompting the user to make the USB connection to the Compact at the appropriate stage in the process.
A bit more effort is required to correctly configure your sequencing package, and the detailed instructions provided in the PDF manual do need to be followed to the letter for trouble-free operation. However, we understand that Novation are taking steps to streamline this process in the future.
We found the Compact to be a little less intuitive to use than the rest of the SL series, mostly due to having fewer front panel controls. In some modes of operation, various unlabelled buttons take on special roles, which can be confusing first time round.
Once the initial learning curve is out of the way, though, the Compact is generally quick and easy to use. The informative videos found on the driver DVD and the printed Getting Started guide certainly provide a head start here.
SL in action
The LCD display is the crux of the 'Soft Label' system that the SL tag stands for. In typical operation, the system automatically maps the parameters of whatever plug-in you're currently using in your DAW onto the display, for tweaking via its controls, so you don't have to manually remap them yourself all the time.
You can create custom templates, should you wish, but thanks to Automap, most users will never need to.
The Compact also has handy transport buttons for controlling your DAW. As with the other members of the SL product family, the Compact offers an impressive level of integration with Propellerhead's Reason. Cubase (SX3 and 4), Logic Pro, Ableton Live 6 and Sonar are supported via the Automap Universal Server, which is loaded automatically as part of the install process.
Currently, Cubase and Sonar seem to offer the best levels of integration, but improvements for Logic Pro users are on the horizon.
Despite its competitive price, the Compact still ships with the standard Novation Xcite Pack software bundle, consisting of a cutdown version of Ableton Live 5, the Bass Station synth plug-in, a selection of Loopmasters audio samples and a few other demos.
The ReMOTE SL Compact will appeal most to those buying their first controller keyboard or looking to upgrade from an entry-level device. As the Compact lacks any slider controls, it would complement a mix-optimised controller like the Behringer BCF2000 quite nicely.
However, advanced users will almost certainly benefit from the extra functionality provided by the other members of the SL product family (it is worth noting that Automap Universal is available as a free download upgrade for existing owners of the ReMOTE SL series).
Overall, some sensible compromises have been made in the process of deriving a more affordable product from the ReMOTE SL, and - despite some issues still needing to be ironed out in the Automap Universal software - the Compact offers a combination of features and value for money that's currently hard to beat.
Novation have a good track record of ongoing improvement and development of their products following release, so we expect that they'll put paid to any teething troubles with their new system before long. This should allow the ReMOTE 49SL Compact to reach its full potential in the not-too-distant future.