An excellent MIDI keyboard/controller for your DAW: the Nektar Impact GX49

It integrates with Logic Pro X, Reason, Cubase and many other DAWs and offers an excellent keyboard experience It’s Nektar Technology’s just released Impact GX49 MIDI keyboard/controller.

Out of the Nektar box came a quality built keyboard/controller. The Impact GX49’s looks built like a tank. Its keys are solid, not like those on the iRig Keys Pro I recently reviewed. Those are carved out at the front and the create a “clack” sound when you hit them at high velocity. The Impact GX49’s look like those of a real piano keyboard and are silent even when you hit them hard. The plastics the keyboard is made from is thick and in general, the device looks and is robust. Better yet, the buttons and potentiometer are slightly rubberised, giving a comfy and luxurious feel.

Impact GX49 MIDI keyboard

Nektar supplies downloadable MIDI control setups for Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, GarageBand, Logic, Nuendo, Reaper, Reason, Sonar and Studio One and a free Bitwig 8-Track licence. I concentrated on the keyboard experience and not on Bitwig 8-Track, so I can’t tell much about it. From the brief encounter with this full-scale DAW, I can say I like the interfaces of Reason and Logic Pro X better. Still, it’s rare to see a hardware vendor include a full version of a professional app with their product.

The Impact GX49 MIDI buttons

The Impact GX49 is a keyboard first, offering 14 assignable MIDI buttons. At the left hand side is a button group with Transport/Navigation buttons, a Setup button and a Shift button that activates a secondary level of button assignments. A potentiometer can be assigned its own MIDI message as well. Here you’ll also find the Modulation and Pitch Bend wheels. With the downloadable MIDI control setup for Logic Pro X and Reason, I was controlling these apps within seconds after unpacking the keyboard.

About 22 commands are pre-defined in the set and I tried them all. For those who would rather experiment with creating controls themselves, the Setup button will be first on their list of priorities. The Setup menu gives access to functions such as Transpose button functions, control assign, selecting velocity curves, etc. These functions are organised under menus that are accessed from the keyboard itself. The function menus are printed on the keyboard so you don’t have to consult the user guide to find them. They are separated in two groups — general functions and transpose button assignment options.

I lack the knowledge of MIDI commands to delve deeper into creating my own functions, but it isn’t necessary to control most DAWs either, as Nektar has done all the hard work for you. The only thing I definitely wanted to try out in this domain was to change the velocity curve of the Impact GX49 and see what happens. Changing that curve was easy as pie.

Nektar Impact GX49 MIDI keyboard

To get some idea of what the GX49 is capable of in that area, I used a copy of Pianoteq 5 and its velocity calibration module. The softest touch resulted in a velocity of 15, the fortissimo touch in a velocity of 114. To change the velocity curve to one of the four you can choose between, I had to:

  • Press the Setup button
  • Press the G#1 key on the keyboard
  • Enter the value corresponding to the velocity curve I chose from the table in the user guide using the white number keys spanning G3-B4
  • Press the Enter key, which on the GX49 is C5.

This set the velocity curve immediately and exited Setup. In case you would mess this up, you can always restore the keyboard’s factory settings.

A perfect marriage between Logic Pro X and the Nektar Impact GX49

GX49 MIDI

As you may have guessed, I tested the Impact GX49 with Logic Pro X mainly. However, I also tried out the device and its integration with Propellerhead’s Reason. The experience was very much alike the Logic Pro X experience. Audiofile Engineering’s Triumph sound editor also lets you set a MIDI controller, but it doesn’t allow you to do much more than change pitch and start the playhead.

For this type of app, you’ll need to know how to program the GX49. The same goes for iZotope’s Iris 2 synthesiser, which due to my limited knowledge of MIDI I only managed to associate ModWheel and PitchBend commands with LFO settings.

However, with its dedicated MIDI setup installed, Reason and Logic Pro X recognised the keyboard immediately. In Logic Pro X I could control Click, Mixer open/close, Cycle on/off and effects like Arpeggiator enable/disable using the buttons. The potentiometer gave me additional functionality. Turning the knob by itself let me control the volume of the active track. Turning the knob while holding down the Shift button allowed me to change the master volume.

As everything on this keyboard has a nice tactile feel and feedback, it was a joy to control Logic Pro X without having to reach to my typing keyboard, just as was controlling effects with the slightly rubberised and solid-feel Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheels.

The Nektar Impact GX49 is a keyboard with a great quality of build and nice feature set. It can be used with your computer as well as with an iPad using Apple’s USB camera connection kit. It costs around €110, depending on the store you buy it from.

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