Novation Impulse 49 review

Novation Impulse 49

In this article, I’m going to review the Novation Impulse 49 MIDI keyboard by going over its build, key features, and even comparing this machine to other noteworthy MIDI keyboards on the market.

Now, I actually own the Novation Launchkey 49, and I also own a Launchpad. So, when I demoed the Novation Impulse 49 (which was connected to a computer at the time), I was pretty familiar with the features included and I was able to understand everything on the keyboard.

However, for those of you that may be new to MIDI keyboards (which are certainly a little different than your average digital piano,) you might not know the nuances between the Launchkey 49 and the Impulse 49.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain all of the differences and together we’ll find out which one is better (and perhaps whether I could have done a better job in my own purchase).

But I’ll also tell you about the Impulse 49 as a stand alone, and how it can help you with some (or all) of your keyboard needs. After that, we’ll look at some other MIDI keyboards and see how they compare to one another.  We’ll also see whether their prices are worth your hard-earned money.

Below, please view our interactive table and take a moment to compare the Novation Impulse 49 to other MIDI keyboards that are worthy of your attention.

Akai MPK249Akai MPK249
arturia-keylab-49Arturia KeyLab 49 MKII
roland-a88Roland A-88
Novation Launchkey 61 MK3
Roland A49

Let’s Talk About MIDI

Before I dive into the features of the Impulse 49, I’d like to talk about MIDI keyboards.

What is MIDI, you might ask?

Honestly, if you’re not sure what MIDI is, don’t worry, because I didn’t know what it was for a long time either. In fact, all the keyboards I had played before I got into MIDI keyboards were either synthesizers or digital piano keyboards.

First, MIDI stands for musical instrument digital interface. But what does that mean? Well, it basically means that it’s a type of connection used to input information from a musical instrument into a computer.

MIDI used to have its own special type of connection, but now MIDI is typically referred to as USB to Host. Essentially, you connect the computer to your keyboard using a USB cable that the computer recognizes and can receive information from.

Does this mean you must own a computer that can receive MIDI information in order to get a MIDI keyboard to work? Yes, unfortunately it does. However, nearly all Windows and Mac keyboards can receive MIDI, and you can use MIDI with a desktop or a laptop.

I use a MacBook for all of my MIDI keyboard needs, but I used to use a desktop. The only reason I switched to the laptop was because I needed more portability. MIDI keyboards are great for live performance but you can’t use a desktop computer on a stage.

It just doesn’t work.

So that’s why I use a laptop. I have also found that Mac’s usually integrate MIDI immediately, while some Windows computers require drivers. Mac’s are usually more plug and play with music, so if you’re looking to get a computer for music, I’d recommend an Apple.

And below, please take a moment to view some of the best selling MIDI keyboards currently available online:

1) M-Audio Hammer 88
2) Arturia KeyStep Pro
3) Arturia KeyLab 49 MkII

Digital Audio Workstations

So now you know (basically) how MIDI works. But, once you connect to the computer, what are you supposed to do?

Well, you’ll need a sound source.

This is where the DAW comes in. The DAW is the Digital Audio Workstation.  It’s basically a production, live performance, or mixing tool that compiles any digital audio into one place for you to do whatever you want. This can include recording, playing, mixing, and mastering.

Now, the DAW can be used without a MIDI keyboard, but if you want to record something with ease, you’ll need a keyboard to play the part in real-time while recording.

Impulse 49 Overview

Now that you know how the process works, let’s talk about the features of the Impulse 49 and how it works. It’s a 49 key MIDI keyboard, and it is semi-weight or synth-weighted. The keys respond to touch sensitivity very well, and your velocity will respond to how hard you press each key. I love MIDI keyboards, but sometimes the keys feel too light. This keyboard does a good job giving the keys enough weight to make it feel good.

Novation works closely with Ableton. That means that if you’re using Ableton, a lot of the physical features, like the sliders, knobs, and pads, will automatically map over to Ableton’s interface.

However, you can also customize the mapping by selecting the key map button in Ableton (or in your DAW) and tell the computer what each button, slider, knob, or pad should do.

For instance, I told the Impulse 49’s bottom left pad to become a tempo tapper so that I could control the tempo of the arpeggiated sound I had selected in the first track. Once you get the hang of the assignments, the possibilities are endless. The great thing about MIDI is that it’s meant to be used how you want to use it.

Knobs, Sliders & More

The sliders (or faders as they’re also called) feel great. They can be assigned to individual tracks for quick volume leveling on the fly. But they can also be mapped to stuff like filters, layer volumes, or whatever you want.

The knobs can do the same, and it’s a lot of fun to mess with them.

When I turned the knobs, they felt sturdy to me, with just a little bit of wiggle. So as long as you aren’t being too aggressive, they won’t break. Below the faders is a series of buttons that can be used for muting or soloing tracks.

Now, in the middle of the keyboard’s face is a screen with some buttons below it. This screen does not display the sound or the preset, or anything like you’d expect to find on a Yamaha digital piano keyboard for instance.

Instead, it displays specific information relating to the keyboard’s controls themselves. This includes octave, transposition, what mix you’re on, and the rate at which your knob or fader of selection is turned. Because knobs and faders are assigned a total of 127 values each, the screen will display the position of your control.

This can be useful if you’re assigning different sounds to each value on one knob, allowing you to scroll through them quickly. I actually tried this when I demoed it. It works pretty well, but my only complaint was that the knob is so sensitive that you can blow past 40 values with a slight turn, so you have to be really precise.

The pads are extremely useful, and really fun to play with. You can assign them to a drum plugin or a sampler to trigger really great sounds. These specific pads feel really good. They’re sensitive to velocity and touch, and they can light up when you assign things to them.

Novation is great with pads, probably because of their Launchpad series, which is just pad controllers with no keys at all. Near the pads are the recording and clip launching buttons. These are geared more toward Ableton users, but you can assign them to whatever you want. I set it up quickly when I demoed the Impulse 49 and I thought it felt smooth enough to work well.

Two other things I like about this keyboard are the pitch and mod wheels. The pitch wheel allows you to bend any note, so long as the sound you’re playing has the capability. Most synth and piano plugins are made to handle pitch wheels. The mod wheel is great for modifying your sound, although some plugins require manual mapping of this feature. I set up a sound in Kontakt while I was demoing this keyboard, but it wasn’t automatically using the mod wheel so I had to map it. It’s not a big deal, but it can be a pain if you’re doing it all the time.

To summarize, the Impulse 49 includes:

  • 49 keys
  • Wheels for Pitch and Mod
  • Faders
  • Knobs
  • Pads
  • LCD Screen
  • Buttons for Launching Clips and Recording
  • Buttons for Muting and Soloing Tracks

How it Compares to Other Midi Keyboards

I love my Novation Launchkey 49. But the Impulse has a lot of great features as well.

Novation Impulse 49 vs Launchkey

First, I like that the screen is in the center. On my Launchkey, it’s off to the side and can be a pain to look at. The Impulse has a few more buttons to map, which is an advantage for MIDI enthusiasts.

Novation Launchkey

However, I do like the look and feel of my Launchkey a little better. I could be biased (probably so), but at a slightly cheaper price, I’d pick the Launchkey.

Novation Impulse 49 vs Akai MPK249

What about the Akai MPK249? I’ve played this one, as well.

Akai MPK249

I think because I use Ableton, I like Novation’s ability to integrate with it seamlessly. But the Akai does well too. Akai is great for production, which means its keyboards usually have more options. For instance, it has more pads than the Impulse 49, and its user interface in the middle of the keyboard is easy to use and quite useful. However, it looks and feels a little cheaper.

I’d probably stick with the Impulse 49 over this guy, although it’s still solid.

Novation Impulse 49 vs Alesis VI 49

Next, let’s try an Alesis.

Alesis VI 49

Alesis is best known for really nice stuff and really bad stuff simultaneously. You can expect to either love their gear or hate it quickly.

My friend actually owns a VI 49 by Alesis. I’ve played it a few times, and the keys actually feel quite amazing.

Better than the Impulse, in my opinion.

However, there are huge sensitivity issues with this MIDI keyboard. It can accidentally trigger notes at full volume even though you’re playing softly. I also have an Alesis drumpad that does the same thing. It’s a huge buzz kill.

For that reason, you’re probably better off with the Novation Impulse.

Novation Impulse 49 vs 61

If you like the Novation Impulse but you want a few more keys, they have a 61 key option. It’s the same keyboard, but it’s of course a little bigger. The extra keys will cost you a more, but you might find them useful in the long run.

Ultimately, these two keyboards are the same in my mind, and the preference comes down to you.

Final Thoughts

The Novation Impulse 49 is great for people looking for a solid MIDI keyboard. It’s not really a good keyboard for beginners or people without computers, but for those who want to get serious about using a computer for music like the pros do, a MIDI keyboard is a must-have.

Are there better MIDI keyboards out there? Yes, there are. However, it’s extremely good for the price and you won’t find much better at this range.

If you’re using Ableton or you’d like to, I’d recommend getting a Novation keyboard. They’re the best for Ableton, and pretty good for other DAW’s as well.

  • GRADE: 3.9 / 5 stars

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