Nektar Technologies’ Panorama P4 is designed from the ground up to let
Reason operate a lot more like a workstation keyboard or even a mixing
desk. It communicates bi-directionally with Reason, has several
operating modes for different Reason tasks, and has a motorized fader,
which may come in handy when you’re massaging your final mix. (Click for larger image.)
The P4 packs a lot of functionality into a lightweight and
attractive package. The luxury item is the motorized long-throw fader.
Next to the fader are mute and solo buttons for the selected mixer
The keyboard, which senses channel aftertouch, can be
split or layered into four zones, with the usual choices for what types
of data can be transmitted from each zone. Around the back are 1/4"
jacks for a sustain pedal and an expression pedal, and a MIDI out jack
should you want to drive hardware sound modules. The white keys have a
snappy, springy feel, but I found the black keys a bit spongy.
Power is supplied strictly via USB. The motorized fader is
powered separately, so two USB ports are provided—one normal and one
mini—along with two matching USB cables. Most of my computer’s USB ports
are in use, so I got the extra power from the charger that came with my
iPhone. This worked perfectly.
The P4 comes with a 25-page CD-sized Quick Start guide,
which wasn’t completely up to date at the time of this writing, as the
P4 software was still being fine-tuned. At present there’s no
downloadable PDF manual, just a bunch of FAQ pages in the support
section Nektar’s website—and you have to register to access.
Above the LCD are four backlit mode buttons: Mixer,
Instrument, Transport, and Internal. Internal mode is for when you’re
using the P4 as a standard MIDI controller. The other three are for
Reason. (See “MIDI Master Functions” on page XX for more on the generic
In Instrument mode, the P4 is linked directly to the synth
module whose track you’ve selected in the Reason sequencer. Turning the
data encoder knob dials through the presets within the currently active
browser folder for the selected module. For example, if Malström is in
its Bass folder, the P4’s knob will dial through the bass sounds, but no
others. Naturally, you’ll see the name of the preset in the Nektar
panel. By setting up a Favorites folder for each module, you can select
patches from the P4 at a gig without having to touch the computer.
Beneath the LCD are five function buttons, M1 through M5.
In many situations, M5 opens up a menu. In Instrument mode, you can
scroll up and down in the menu with the data knob, hit M5 again, and the
LCD will change to show a new set of instrument parameters, such as the
At this point, the eight knobs to the right of the LCD are
your instrument control panel, and the LCD shows both the functions of
the knobs and the current values of their parameters. This system is
very easy to work with, provided you have a decent idea of how the
Reason modules work. With a module as complex as Thor, the M1 through M4
buttons will also be active, allowing you to do things like step from
one oscillator to another.
In Instrument mode, the first eight sliders to the left of
the LCD control a couple of ADSR envelopes (assuming the instrument has
two ADSRs). The ninth slider is always the master level for the
instrument. Again, this is a nice touch for live performance, because
these are often-used controls.
The ten Transport buttons operate Reason’s transport no
matter what mode the P4 is in—record, stop, rewind, loop on/off, and
other commands are always available. Put the P4 into Transport mode
proper, and you can move the loop start and end markers, change the
tempo or the click volume level, add a new MIDI lane to the currently
selected track (with or without muting an existing lane), and more. The
dedicated Track+ and Track- buttons, available in every mode, step
through the tracks in the sequence, and the LCD shows the name of the
Mixer Mode and the Motorized Fader
Mixer mode is more complex than Instrument mode or
Transport mode. In Mixer mode you can assign the P4 to Reason’s main
SSL-style mixer console, to a 14:2 or 6:2 mixer module, or to the
When controlling the SSL mixer, the eight sliders to the
left of the LCD control the levels of eight mixer channels. The knobs
above the sliders control pan or send levels, and the buttons below the
sliders can mute or solo a channel or select it for editing. When you’ve
selected a given channel, you can edit many of its parameters using the
knobs to the right of the LCD. The mixer’s EQ knobs, sends, dynamics
processing, and settings can all be edited directly from the P4’s knobs
If your project has more than eight mixer channels, you
can step left or right through eight channels at a time using a pair of
bank left/right buttons. The (non-motorized) sliders operate in “do
nothing until you cross the current value” mode, and I’m told other
slider response modes might be added in a future update.
The motorized fader will jump to a different physical
value when you assign it to a different channel. The trick is to know
where to do the assignments. The motorized fader does not show
the fader level of the channel you’ve selected using the P4’s mixer
channel select buttons. By default, it reflects the mixer channel that
corresponds to the currently selected track in Reason’s sequencer. If
you click on an SSL mixer channel on the computer screen, it’s
highlighted visually, but that has nothing to do with the motorized
Presumably, the active sequencer track will be assigned to
some Reason rack module, whose output will be connected to a mixer
channel. And indeed, when you move the motorized fader, the mixer
channel that corresponds to the instrument that corresponds to the
sequencer track moves in response. Using a Lock button, you can prevent
the motorized fader from switching mixer channels when you switch
sequencer tracks, which is very handy.
Before any of this can happen, you have to use the Surface
Locking dialog box in Reason to lock the P4 Mixer mode to a Reason
mixer. You’ll want to save this to your default song template to avoid
having to make this setting each time you start a new project. It would
be more convenient if this assignment happened automatically, but there
are quite a few Reason “surfaces” that you might want to lock the P4’s
mixer mode to, so this system may make sense.
MIDI Master Keyboard Functions
The Panorama P4 has some very nice features for use as a
master keyboard with any DAW, not just Reason. My favorite may be the
QWERTY key macro function. You can assign any of the panel buttons to
transmit up to eight computer keyboard strokes in a series for
one-button access to some fairly complex commands, depending on what
your DAW assigns to keystrokes.
In addition to user-defined macros, the P4 stores sets of
function key maps. The 11 function keys are reached by holding the F-key
button while pressing one of the transport buttons. The unit ships with
ten different F-key maps containing definitions for F-keys that will
work well with popular DAWs, including Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Sonar,
Logic, Cubase, and FL Studio.
The internal memory of the P4 is structured as three types
of maps: keyboard maps, percussion pad maps, and F-key maps. When you
save a preset, what you’re saving is, first, the assignments of the
knobs and sliders; second, pointers to three of the maps. The maps
themselves have to be saved separately (although this can be done
quickly using a Save All command). While potentially you might forget to
save your edits to one of the maps, this arrangement gives you great
There are 20 pad maps in memory, but only five keyboard
maps and ten F-key maps. A keyboard map contains four split/layer zones.
It defines MIDI channel, transposition, an on/off switch, and program
change and bank select for each zone, plus switches for whether to
transmit pitch-bend, mod wheel, sustain, and other performance controls.
Zones within the active map can be switched on or off at a gig. I would
like to see more than five keyboard maps for live use, but if you’re
gigging on virtual instruments hosted in something like Apple MainStage
or a Muse Receptor, you’ll have a lot of control over zoning and MIDI CC
response on the receiving end anyway.
Percussion pads have become a quasi-standard feature on
well-equipped controller keyboards. The 12 pads on the P4 have some
sweet features that can be set up through the operating system, such as
the ability to play pentatonic scales.
I had trouble with light touches producing no MIDI note,
and with double-triggering. I later realized this was due to my
classical piano technique: I immediately release most of the finger
pressure on a key after striking it, while still holding the key down.
At that point, the P4 pad thinks my finger has lifted, so a slight
follow-up pressure, due to natural arm weight, is sensed as a new
strike. I found the same tendency for the pads to double-trigger on my
original-model M-Audio Axiom 61.
The way to play drum pads (on the P4, an Akai MPC, or
anything else) is to strike firmly and then immediately jerk the arm
away. Each pad can also translate after-pressure into various MIDI
messages. For this, tap firmly, hold firmly, and add pressure.
If you’re hunting for a handsome keyboard controller with a
ton of functionality at a reasonable price, the Panorama P4 is worth a
very serious look. If you’re using Reason, its dedicated features will
let you do quite a lot of recording work without ever touching the
computer. Learning the workflow will take some time, and there will
always be a few tasks for which you’ll need to go back to the computer
screen and mouse.
The major negative is the need for a thorough and
organized instruction manual, and I’m hoping that Nektar will address
that soon. Nonetheless, it’s inspiring to see a new hardware maker enter
the fray with a solid product, and the Panorama proves that Nektar is a
force to be reckoned with.
PROS Works beautifully with Reason. Lots of physical controls,
including a motorized fader. Four split/layer key zones. QWERTY keyboard
macros for DAW control. Handsome LCD screen.
CONS Minor setup difficulties in initial release. No cursor
diamond or dedicated data increment buttons. Online-only documentation
is not well organized.
Bottom Line: The most tightly integrated keyboard controller if you’re
using reason—and still a very nice set of keys and controls if you’re
$599 list | $499 street | nektartech.com