In a crowded world of budget MIDI controllers with limited
features and questionable build quality, it’s nice to have a
high-caliber controller that hits most of the marks for the demanding
professional. Nektar’s P-series aims at this mark, and it both sped my
workflow and felt great while doing it.
Professional build quality. Excellent feeling keyboard,
pads, and physical controls. Motorized fader. LED display gives
detailed, updated feedback. Extensive two-way integration with
Cubase/Nuendo, Reason, and Logic. Function keys can trigger complex DAW
macros. Custom mapping of editing parameters for hundreds of instruments
and plugins. USB-powerable. Looks great.
CONS: Having only 12 physical pads is a compromise for playing
16-pad virtual drum instruments. Keys are somewhat mechanically noisy,
especially on white key release.
Bottom Line: A sophisticated, feature-rich, and well-built MIDI controller designed for the discerning professional, yet still affordable.
P6 (61 keys): $650 list | $599 street
P4 (49 keys): $599 list | $499 street
The Panorama P6 (61-note) and P4 (49-note, reviewed Feb.
’13) have been out for around a year now. A lot of the basics of the
Panorama have already been covered, so we’ll focus mainly on what’s new.
At its most basic, the P6 is a universal MIDI controller
with nine sliders, 16 continuous rotary knobs, eight buttons, 12 drum
pads with pressure, transport controls, modulation and pitch wheels, and
a crisp color TFT screen. Additional buttons are dedicated to Undo,
Click, selecting among several operation modes (Mixer, Instrument,
Transport, Internal), octave shift, selecting tracks and patches, two
assignable “Performance Buttons,” and general navigation of the
interface and display. Up to four keyboard zones can be assigned, and 20
presets allow for multiple customized setups.
One of the standout features is a 100mm ALPS motorized
fader in the upper left corner, along with dedicated Mute and Solo
buttons for the selected track. The fader is touch-sensitive, allowing
the user to update moves on the fly when DAW automation is active.
I really like the feel of the keyboard. The semi-weighted
action strikes a good balance between having enough weight and
resistance for piano parts and being fast enough for synth and organ
riffs. My only complaints are minor: Organ smears require a lighter
touch positioned more on top of the keybed (since the keys aren’t the
waterfall kind but instead have a piano-like lip), and the keys are
mechanically a bit noisy, especially upon the release of the white keys.
The P-series really shines when paired with one of several
applications that have been thoroughly mapped. A lot of the original
P-Series integration focused on Propellerhead Reason, as during last
year’s review of the P4. In Reason, several improvements have been made
since then. Hitting a drum pad assigned to Kong, ReDrum, or Dr. OctoRex
now automatically pulls up that drum sound for editing. Transport
control is improved, and a new “Transport Looper” feature allows various
arrays of musical bars to be assigned to pads, making for interesting
and spontaneous loop combination experiments. The Panorama can also
randomize the parameters in the currently selected menu, a creative
touch that could be useful for sound design. Also, the Panorama
currently supports mapping for 94 Reason Rack Extensions.
Steinberg Cubase integration features Mixer control of EQ,
sends, inserts, and Quick Controls. You can view the eight insert slots
and which plug-ins are available for editing, including all page and
menu parameters. The same goes for Cubase instruments. As of this
writing, 347 VST plug-ins and instruments have been mapped, with more on
the way—see Nektar’s website for the full list.
I put the P6 to the test on a duet track I’d been working
on for Jill Scott and Dionne Warwick. Having just relocated studios,
most of my gear was still in cases, so I had to work “inside the box.”
The Panorama sports nine sliders instead of the usual eight, which will
make virtual organ players happy. With the P6 in Internal mode (acting
as a universal controller), I quickly mapped the sliders to the drawbars
in Logic’s Vintage B3. While I was at it, I assigned six of the buttons
and two rotary knobs for vibrato/chorus, distortion, and percussion
settings, and was recording five minutes later.
I was able to test out a beta version of Nektar’s new
Logic integration template, which should be released by the time you
read this. Though incomplete and still showing a few bugs at the time, I
was really impressed with how much my workflow immediately improved.
After performing the necessary firmware update and beta
Logic template install, things really opened up. Using my large MIDI
template for strings, it was a joy to record the numerous tracks on the
P6. I’m a big fan of pitch-bend and mod wheels as opposed to a joystick,
especially for modern sample libraries that rely heavily on MIDI CC 1
for dynamic control. The combination of the keyboard response, mod
wheel, and expression pedal felt great while recording delicate string
After getting all the string parts in, the individual
tracks needed to be balanced within each section and as a whole, which
is tedious if you use just a mouse. The P6 addressed the individual
tracks in banks of eight. The sliders have a smooth, controlled throw
with just enough firmness (there is some left-to-right wiggle, though).
The Toggle/Mute button cycles the buttons below through mute, solo, and
record-arm functions (all light up when engaged), while the top row of
knobs defaults to panning. Having all that control available at once
felt like having a small console at my fingertips and made balancing the
individual parts a breeze.
Once I’d achieved the initial balances between my string
tracks, I put the motorized fader to good use writing the automation of
the string bus against the rhythm track (the sliders can be used for
this task as well, they just don’t move automatically). Having a
dedicated set of Mute and Solo buttons next to the motorized fader is a
nice touch. The motorized fader is a bit noisy mechanically when
following busy fader moves and I wouldn’t say it rivals an SSL console
in feel, but it’s every bit as good as most of the standalone DAW
control surfaces that are out there.
The Panorama hits almost all of the marks I look for in a
MIDI controller: nine sliders instead of eight; a healthy supply of
knobs and buttons, useful drum pads with pressure sensitivity, wheels
instead of a joystick, dedicated transport and octave-shift controls,
sustain and expression pedal inputs, and a logical layout. The keyboard
feels great for most playing situations, and the build quality is
excellent for both studio use and touring.
Nektar has shown a dedication to expanding the tight
integration with the most popular DAWs, plug-ins, and virtual
instruments, which makes the Panorama all the more powerful. And for
those who like to customize their MIDI control setups, the P6 won’t
disappoint. The built-in motorized fader, time-saving function key
macros, and visual feedback about parameters go beyond most other MIDI
controllers and place the Panorama among the elite. The price at which
it delivers that performance makes it a Key Buy.