While many MIDI controller manufacturers include support for a range of DAWs, this is often limited to relatively simple stuff like transport controls, trigger pads and so on. They can usually be customised but this requires work on your part. Nektar has always taken the opposite approach with its controllers, providing maps as comprehensive as you will find outside the DAW manufacturers’ own hardware controllers, where these exist.
Its latest series is the LX+ controllers which come in 25, 49, 61 and 88 key versions, with the middle two models being identical except for the number of keys they have. The smallest and largest models have slightly different feature sets owing to the space available. My review model was the 61, and the build quality is good, with a single USB cable handling power and MIDI and a MIDI-assignable footswitch input for more expressive playing. The keybed uses full size, synth-action keys with variable velocity settings and feels like a good general purpose keyboard for triggering.
Rather than list all the physical controls (you can get a full rundown here) I’m going to talk about what this controller does differently to many others. Namely, automatically sync up to control your DAW once you have installed the relevant support files from the website. The list is impressive: Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, GarageBand, Logic, Reaper, Reason, SONAR and Studio One are all directly supported. It’s also apparently the only certified third party Cubase controller so integration for Cubase is particularly deep.
The 9 faders, 9 buttons and 8 encoders are at the centre of the interface and these behave logically when you navigate around your DAW - in Mixer mode for example they adapt to control your software mixer and there are shortcuts for opening and closing the mixer window. The Instrument button maps the hardware to instrument parameters when an instrument is selected, and there’s a clever “grab” mode that lets you temporarily assign parameters to controls. Another cool feature available with some DAWs is “soft takeover”, whereby moving a control won’t cause a parameter to jump violently bur rather smoothly pick up once the original value is passed. It’s seemingly a small thing, but in practice very useful.
The pads are backlit and colour coded and great for finger drumming. They also have clever assignment features including Pad Learn and some specific to certain DAWs like the ability to trigger clips and scenes in Live and Bitwig. Although many things are assignable on the hardware, having permanent labels printed on the body actually makes things easier to keep track of. Since controls will by default always affect a specific target (transport, mixer and so on), this makes it easier to keep track of where you are and also switch between controlling DAWs without having to re-learn the mappings each time. There’s Bitwig 8-Track thrown in, as well as iOS compatibility if you add an optional Camera Connection Kit.
The LX+ is a very capable MIDI controller with a clever and effective take on controlling most of the leading DAWs. Setup is minimal and everything “just works” - where you want to make changes of your own you can store these using Nektar Maps. The range of mappings varies between DAWs since they are all different and I’d highly recommend you look yours up here. With the ones I tested (Cubase, Reason and Logic) it was really good to be able to get my hands off the computer and use the hardware controls not just for playing but also for DAW control. Overall, a solid and well designed controller with great auto mapping functionality.
Price: 25 key $99.99
49 key $159.99
61 key $199.99
88 key $319.99
Pros: Well designed and built. Great performance controls and keybed. Auto mapping for most leading DAWs. Especially deep integration with Cubase, Reason. Get great hands-off use of software from the hardware. Much more than a simple MIDI controller.
Cons: Some might find its looks a little generic.