Novation’s SL MkIII is the perfect controller for any situation, be it in the studio, on the stage, or for controlling software and hardware. I got a chance to put this nimble controller through its paces. 

AT FIRST OPEN

Upon opening the box, the SL MkIII’s extensive layout was the first thing that struck me. With 16 velocity sensitive pads, 8 knobs, 8 faders, and assignable buttons, this looks like a very powerful machine. It features a semi-weighted keyboard, which as a pianist-turned-keyboardist, I appreciate. The feel and aftertouch option make this a very useful gigging board as well as a staple in the studio. Novation describes the SL MkIII as a full blown sequencer with a keyboard, and after checking it out, it seems to be much more.

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UPON FURTHER EXPLORATION

The Novation SL MkIII has several main attractions - the sequencer, the ease of use with your DAW of choice, extensive zoning capabilities, and different ‘modes’ like Arpeggio mode and Scale mode.

The first thing I did was connect my DAW (Logic is what I’m using now) via USB to the SL MkIII. The DAW integration in this board is basically flawless, and connects in a smart, intuitive way. I barely had to make adjustments to use my Logic setup. There is a button called ‘In Control’ that is specifically made to switch back and forth from your DAW to your hardware.

The SL MkIII has the ability to control multiple boards (synths, keyboards, drum machines, MIDI controlled devices) with USB, two MIDI connections, as well as CV and Gate connectivity to integrate the modular world into the whole setup. There is the option of loading ’templates’ along with each connection made. For instance, I hooked up my Sequential Prophet-6, loaded the Prophet-6 Template within the SL MkIII and boom - it ‘morphed’ into the Prophet-6 while in the template that Novation had programmed. Of course, these templates can be tweaked and mapped via Novation Components software, and you can also create up to 64 of your own templates. This is great because in a studio, one can control a plethora of different boards, by only working from one main keyboard. Each instrument connected can also be calibrated via SL MkIII to be tuned up to match the other instruments being used. A lot of Analog keyboard instruments tend go out of tune after a time, so it's great to have this feature and not have to tune each instrument separately.

The built-in sequencer is a dream and is made up of 8 polyphonic sequencers. It has 16 velocity sensitive pads (16 steps), and each step can contain up to 8 notes. In Steps View, each note can be edited, whether that’s velocity, note length, gate, or effects. Multiple instruments can be accessed when sequencing music, making the possibilities virtually endless. Up to 64 ‘Sessions’ can be saved in the SL MkIII. There is also an onboard Analog clock to sync with the modular world.

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STAND OUT FEATURES

Zones: In each session, you can create zones across the keyboard with the ability to overlap zones. This is great for sound design and perfect for a live setting when you need to play a few different parts at one time.

Scale mode: You can essentially set up the board to be unable to hit ‘wrong’ notes while programming or recording.

Arpeggio Mode: A very hands on arpeggiator that can be tweaked in a live setting, or you can record to the SL MKIII as you tweak.

Within the Sequencer, one can program up to 64 sessions. This is incredibly useful. You can store all of your MIDI data on the controller and take it to a gig or another studio. There is a lot of flexibility in the fact that you can sequence in step mode or in real time. Also in the sequencer, all assignable controls can be automated within 8 maximum automation lanes.

SUMMING IT UP

Fantastic controller/sequencer that goes way beyond your basic assignable pads and sliders. Definitely a great way to streamline your studio or workspace. 

PROS

Intuitive DAW Integration. Great feel on semi-weighted keys. Option to load or program templates. Ability to control multiple keyboards from one place.

CONS

None to speak of!

Novation 61SL MkIII - $699.99 street

Novation 49SL MkIII - $599.99 street

www.novation.com