Novation SL Mk II unboxing: Computer Music's first impressions

Novation launched their SL Mk II series of updated controllers at the recent Frankfurt Musikmesse show, describing them as the "biggest music-making product" of the entire event.

Luckily, we haven't had long to wait to get our hands on one of the new devices, as the 25-key SL Mk II 25 just popped through our letter box.

We haven't had chance to give it a serious trial yet, but that hasn't stopped us snapping a few pics, plonking a few keys, waggling the mod stick, bashing the drum pads, stroking the XY pad, jostling the faders, and giving our wrists a workout with the obligatory 'knob test'.

It all feels solid enough, and the new "soft feel" drum pads are definitely more tactile than the plastic-y grey ones of the original series.

After our initial fumble, we even went so far as to plug the thing in, and immediately marveled at the bright red 11-LED rings on the upper row of knobs. The older models had continuous rotary dials, but the new LED rings should make it a lot easier to get a handle on their current value. Oh, and all the knobs (except the central speed dial) now turn smoothly, with no clicks/detentes. Check 'em out:

As you'll note, there's only one LCD screen, as opposed to the dual displays of the original SL series. The idea is that the Automap 3 Pro software pop-up display (a semi-transparent control panel that appears on your computer screen) will be your primary source of visual feedback on control assignments and whatnot. This arrangement certainly worked well for the Nocturn - which has no built-in display at all - so hopefully setting up the SL Mk II devices will be easier than their predecessors.

Now steel yourself for another gratuitous pic of the SL Mk II 25 - note that all the buttons are now backlit! And the transport buttons are now freely assignable too…

One of the coolest improvements is that all dials and faders are now touch-sensitive. This allows for such features as Autoview, where the Automap display only appears while you're touching a control, and an "instant learn" function - "Simply click on the software parameter and touch a touch-sensitive control to assign it," explain Novation.

As well as losing an LCD display, the SL Mk II range has also ditched the option to power via batteries, though we can't imagine too many computer musicians grumbling about this, since the device can be powered via USB or a DC adapter.

How well it all works in practice remains to be seen, so watch out for the upcoming CM review! In the meantime, you can read more at

Novation's website

, and be sure to have a quick drool over the very sexy keyboard-less