Electronic musicians and controller freaks beware! The ReMOTE 25SL, one of the most tricked-out portable MIDI controllers, just hit the streets. This puppy sure packs a punch by cramming a ton of features and controllers into an amazingly small space. For starters, the 25SL offers up a two- octave, 25-note keyboard that's full-sized, semi-weighted, and is responsive as most high-end controllers. To the left of this, you'll find both an X/Y pitch/modulation joystick and an X/Y touchpad. The L/R motion of the "pitch-stick" is spring- loaded, while the Up/Down motion of the "mod-stick" can be hardware-switched to either free-float or spring-down to the zero position. Resting above the keyboard is a controller section that'll make even the most jaded techno-geek drool. For starters, I'm happy to say that someone finally put a transport control section onto a portable MIDI controller. Adjacent to this is a pair of octave up/down and bank selector buttons, as well as a controller/mixer section that includes eight sliders with solo and mute buttons (that can be used for mixing or controller changes, depending upon the target application). To the right of these is a whole other array of controllers that includes eight continuous encoder knobs, eight pots, sixteen buttons, and even a bank of eight touch- sensitive trigger pads. That's a total of 56 distinctive controllers! Now, let's top this all off with two backlit LCD readout "scribble strips" that span the top of the entire unit, and you can begin to see why I'm so excited. Oh yeah, all of this can be powered from the USB plug!
The center of the controller section offers up a number of functional modes, which can be controlled from six buttons (Write, Template, Edit, Play, Global, and Tap Tempo), as well as a push-and-scroll data selector. The overall premise of this section revolves around the device's ability to be mapped to software controllers on any number of MIDI instruments or devices using any of 40 software templates. Templates 1-36 can be programmed by the user, while templates 37-40 are reserved as Automapping templates. Automapping was developed by Novation as a way of making it easier to navigate the vast number of parameter controls within a program by auto-assigning the parameter of the controllers to match those of the currently selected target application (instrument, mixer, plug-in, etc.). Here's how it works. Let's say that we're working within Propellerhead's Reason. Selecting the Mixer within the sequence window will turn the SL25 into a handy-dandy mixing surface-with the rightmost sliders and solo/mute buttons doing their thing and the leftmost controllers working pan, EQ, etc. Now, make an instrument or VST plug-in active, and the controllers now become dedicated to a wide range of parameters within that device. It's all pretty straightforward. Before moving on, it should be noted that Automapping works with Reason v1.03.04 and above, Cubase 3, Nuendo 3, and Logic 7.1.
Stating that the 25SL has 56 controllers isn't quite true... there's actually a lot more than that! Pressing the parameter toggle buttons next to their respective controller row can toggle between any number of parameters on the fly. In fact, there are so many possibilities that navigating through them can be a bit daunting at first. As with anything, it simply takes practice.
OK... Last but not least, the rear panel. Like I said, the unit is USB-powered. However, it can also be run as a standalone device via a 9 VDC wall wart or batteries. Two 1/4'' jacks are provided for sustain (self polarity-sensing) and expression pedals. But my fave part is the fact that it has full MIDI in, out, and thru ports, plus a second MIDI out port. As far as I know, that's another first for a portable controller. This power-packin' puppy was really well thought out!
My two cents... For starters, it's impossible to overlook the fact that it's almost a work of art. It really "pops" out on my studio desk. I love the fact that the device instantly powered up and self-loaded on both the PC and the Mac. Loading the templates for Automapping took a bit of time but wasn't too much trouble (although a reference to loading the template software on the Getting Started Guide would've been helpful). The feel and functionality are way cool. In fact, for Reason users, the 25SL is almost a must! Even with the extensive LCD display, getting around this controller takes a bit of getting used to (mostly because of the huge number of parameter toggle and control options). My only rag is that I really wish that the folks at Novation would've put a 15 degree or so slant angle on the readout. The controller sits on my desktop, and sometimes I literally have to stand up to comfortably read the display. Other'n that, this box totally, totally rocks! ($599 MSRP; www.novationmusic.com)