I was in for a rough surprise when I first decided to start making beats. At first, I thought it was going to be easy — just torrent some cracked software, get yourself some sounds, click some melodies in and voila — you'll be making hot banging beats in no time!
Turns out it wasn't going to be that easy. As someone with zero musical training, I had absolutely no idea how to compose melodies that sound good. It's not just a matter of hitting random keys and something good comes out of your speakers — it takes a lot of trial and error to find out the right keys that sound good when played together.
And as someone who has never played an instrument and zero knowledge about music theory, trust me when I say that it's borderline impossible to do that while clicking on random notes on the piano roll with your mouse.
That's why I almost always recommend aspiring producers to invest in a MIDI keyboard controller. The ability to easily play different notes using your fingers will make it much, much quicker (and easier) to figure out the right notes that make a good melody.
I started out with a cheap, $60 compact MIDI keyboard since I wasn't sure if I had what it takes to make beats when I started (I've upgraded my equpiment since then). As soon as I started using it, the quality of my beats instantly got better. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't producing hits overnight; but thanks to being able to easily experiment with different melodies my beats actually started sounding like something someone would actually want to rap on.
If you're wanting to buy a MIDI keyboard yourself, it's pretty easy to get confused on which model you should buy. There are a lot of MIDI controllers out there, and chances are you don't know what makes each one special — and of course, you want to make sure that you're buying the right keyboard for you.
And in my personal opinion, the Nektar Impact LX25+ is one of the best choices you have when choosing a MIDI keyboard. I would recommend this for most producers out there, and this review will tell you why.
Let's get on with the review!
Back in 2012, Nektar made a lot of noise in the music equipment industry by releasing a line of keyboards called the Nektar Panorama. It came with either 49 or 61 keys, and was widely praised for being one of the best MIDI keyboards that integrated with DAW software. However, its $499 price point made it out of reach for most musicians on a budget (and let's face it, there's a lot of us out here).
Enter the Nektar LX25+, which is Nektar's answer to consumer feedback. This new model is a scaled-down, more affordable model of the Nektar Panorama — which offers a similar integration with your DAW as the Panorama, but takes away the full-color TFT display in order to be able to offer it at a much friendlier price point.
Despite being a 25-key controller, the Impact LX25+ isn't exactly a compact keyboard. It sits at about 18 inches long and 10 inches tall
Despite the look of the keys, the Impact LX25+ does not have semi-weighted keys. It's keys are synth-action with medium tension, meaning it's a little soft and doesn't have the same “bounce back” feel that a real piano would. This isn't exactly a bad thing — semi-weighted keys pretty much only matter to keyboardists, and unless you're a pianist. While I prefer using semi-weighted keys, I actually find that synth-action keys are easier to play with and don't tire out my hands as quickly — which means I can actually have longer sessions when making beats!
Luckily, Nektar included 7 different velocity curves you can choose from. For those unaware, the velocity curve determines how “hard” the key is pressed depending on the pressure you apply to it and sends that MIDI data to your DAW. It's also really easy to play around with the different settings so you can see which one you like best — once you decide on one, you can set it and never have to touch the settings again.
The Pads and Knobs
I'm not a huge synth tweaker or sound designer. When I'm making beats, I tend to cycle through presets for each instrument and, if necessary, make minor changes to the sound by twisting the knobs to improve on it if I wish. Not saying that's the “correct” way to make beats — it's just the way that I like to do things. So to me, knobs on a MIDI controller is an optional feature that I personally don't use so much.
The Impact LX25+ comes with 8 endless rotary knobs, as with plenty of other MIDI controllers out there. They feel like standard knobs — nothing standout about them. However, what's cool about the Impact LX25+ though is that the knobs are automapped depending on the instrument you have selected to the 8 knobs that are most often used. So even though I have no idea what each assigned knob does exactly, I could simply load up an instrument patch and twist random knobs to tweak the sound to see if I could get something that sounds good to my ears.
There are 8 pads on the Impact LX25+ that light up when you press them. They're a little stiff — while you can tell it's made of rubber when you hit it, there's not a lot of tactile feedback when you're tapping out rhythms. Once again though, they automatically map to drum instruments (such as Reason's Kong or Native Instruments' Battery) so there would be no need to map each pad individually.
Another advantage the LX25+ has is the ease of changing pad mappings. Since most drum machine instruments use more than 8 pads (the norm is somewhere between 16 and 32), you can easily switch between different “maps” by pressing the shift button and choosing one of the four available maps. Other keyboards don't make it this easy to switch the MIDI settings, which is another plus for the Impact LX25+.
As I mentioned before, the controls is where the Impact LX25+ really shines. I have never used a keyboard which is as intuitive as this when it comes to controlling your DAW from your fingertips without ever needing to reach for your mouse.
While I primarily tested this keyboard for use with Propellerhead Reason, have no worry: the Impact LX25+ integrates well with all major DAWs out there. So whether you're using FL Studio, Logic, Reaper, or even Garageband… The Impact LX25+ will allow you to operate the basic functions of your software (changing tracks, tweak knobs, switch between patches, and basic transport controls like play, record, stop, etc.) with simple buttons, eliminating the need to reach for your mouse for the controls that you use a majority of the time.
Another standout feature on the Impact LX25+ are the transpose buttons. While most MIDI keyboards allow you to change octaves to change the pitch of the notes, the Impact LX25+ will allow you to transpose the keys to shift the notes up or down. This is the perfect tool for someone who doesn't know a lot of music theory.
For example, if you haven't memorized the notes for the G major scale, all you have to do is to transpose your keyboard 7 notes down (or 5 notes up) and the scale will map itself to the C major keys. By playing only the white keys, you'll automatically be playing in the key of G major but using the same notes for C major scale. The only other keyboard I know that does this are M-Audio keyboards, and it's not as simple as pressing a button.
How Does It Compare Against Other Keyboards?
In my personal opinion and my personal use, the Nektar Impact LX25+ is the best 25-key MIDI controller you can buy for your money.
However, what's perfect for me may not necessarily be the right keyboard for you. Chances are we have different workflows and preferences, and it's highly possible that another keyboard would better suit your own needs.
Let's compare the Nektar Impact LX25+ to other popular 25-key MIDI controllers in the market today.
Nektar Impact LX25+ vs. Akai MPK Mini MK2
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is one of the most popular MIDI controllers among hip-hop producers today (possibly because of the Akai brand, manufacturers of the legendary MPC). While both units retail for exactly the same price, the two keyboards couldn't be more different from each other.
The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is a much smaller and more compact keyboard, which you can tell given the presence of “Mini” in its name. Instead of full-sized keys, it features small compact keys — while good for playing simple melodies, the size would make it pretty difficult to do any serious piano playing. It also doesn't have any pitch and modulation wheels — instead, it's replaced with a simple stick in order to make the unit more compact.
I would personally recommend the Akai MPK Mini MK2 for producers whose main priorities are paying a low price and conserving desk space. However, if you want full-sized keys (I personally prefer them as I find compact keyboards to be too small for my hands) and better integration with your DAW, the Impact LX25+ is a better choice.
Nektar Impact LX25+ vs. M-Audio Oxygen 25 MKIV
M-Audio is another one of the more popular brands when it comes to music equipment. The Oxygen line of MIDI keyboards has been present for a while, and they are now on their 4th generation with the Oxygen 25 MKIV.
The Oxygen 25 MKIV is eerily similar to the Impact LX25+. Both units have 25 full-sized keys with synth-action, come with 8 drum pads and 8 assignable rotary knobs. Both also have transport controls and a fader you can use to control your DAW's mixer depending on the track you've selected.
The Oxygen 25 MKIV, however, is slightly more expensive and retails for $20 more than the Impact LX25+. In my personal opinion, it's not as user-friendly to operate either. Transposing keys require pressing a series of buttons, whereas the Impact LX25+ has transpose up and down buttons in addition to the octave ones. DAW integration has never been the strong suit of M-Audio controllers either; the Oxygen 25 won't let you switch between windows or easily change instrument patches.
I also haven't had much luck with M-Audio controllers with regards to durability, but this is purely anecdotal. But because of these reasons, I would highly recommend the Impact LX25+ over the Oxygen 25 MKIV. While you don't get the established brand name with Nektar, their keyboard comes with a lot more features — and it doesn't hurt that you can save a few bucks to use for something else instead.
Nektar Impact LX25+ vs. Alesis V25
The Alesis V25 is another keyboard that's pretty similar to the Nektar Impact LX25+. The main differences would be the size — since the V25 puts the drum pads along the line of its keys, it's shorter in height but longer in width (something you'll need to consider when deciding how to fit your controller on your desk). The V25 also only comes with 4 rotary knobs instead of the LX25+'s eight, and its keys are semi-weighted as opposed to the LX25+'s synth action keys.
The Alesis V25 is pretty simple and bare bones, however. While it does come with software that allows you to assign MIDI signals to whatever you choose, that's about it — it doesn't have any special integrations with DAWs nor does it even have default transport controls. It's pretty much just good for playing melodies and tapping out drum rhythms.
Since it retails for just $10 cheaper than the Impact LX25+, I'd be hard pressed to recommend the Alesis V25 over the Impact LX25+. The latter simply comes with much more features that more than justifies the slightly higher price.
Nektar Impact LX25+ vs. Novation Launchkey 25 MK2
The strength of the Novation Launchkey is in how well it integrates with Ableton. As well as the Impact LX25+ integrates with most DAW software, at the end of the day it's still a “jack of all trades” unit (in terms of integration) while the Novation Launchkey feels like it was tailor made for Ableton itself.
If your primary DAW is Ableton Live, it's almost a no-brainer to use one of the keyboards from the Launchkey line as your MIDI controller. However, that integration comes at a slightly higher price as the Launchkey 25 is one of the more expensive 25-key MIDI controllers. There's also the Launchkey Mini MK2 if you're looking for something more compact (or don't necessarily care about the size of the keyboard as long as it's cheaper).
At the end of it all, the Nektar Impact LX25+ is most likely the best choice for most producers looking for a 25-key MIDI controller. When it comes to the features it has as well as the overall user-friendliness of the keyboard, this is probably the best keyboard you can get for under a hundred dollars.