Gear Of The Year: Best controllers of 2019

There’s a lot to be said for a good controller, but what makes one worthy of our ultimate accolade? Read on.

WINNER: Nektar Panorama T4

We were surprised at just how revolutionary this controller turned out to be. Nektar’s T-range includes both a 61-note and 49-note controller keyboard, and we looked at the latter T4. It includes its own software shell called Nektarine – not unlike NI’s Komplete Kontrol and Akai’s VIP software – but adds deep DAW integration for a great price.

We tried the T4 with both Logic and Studio One, discovering that it can control everything from Transport controls to zooming; plug-in instruments to mixing. Nektarine is also a very capable application that will have you controlling any AU and VST within its easy environment.

Andy Jones concluded: “T4 is a bit of a surprise, if I’m honest. It takes that whole ‘turn away from the computer and use software as hardware’ thing I first experienced with Komplete Kontrol and shakes it up a bit. First up, you get great DAW integration and secondly, any AU or VST can run in Nektarine in your DAW whether previously compatible or not. Add the price in and it’s a very good buy. T4 can easily give the bigger boys of NI and Akai a run for their money. The deeper DAW integration is an absolute joy and Nektarine is genius. I thought it might end up being another layer to wrestle with, but it’s a lot more than that, and very intuitive, highly malleable and offers total control over any AU and VST plug-in in any DAW. Can you ask for more than that?”

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Read the full review here.

Highly commended: Native Instruments KK M32

Native Instruments KK M32

The M32 weighs in at just £99 which gets you one of the most portable keyboards around – it weighs nothing but is still pretty solidly built. It features 32 mini keys, touch strips for pitch and modulation plus the Komplete Kontrol experience. This is Native Instruments’s attempt to produce a pretty seamless hardware/software control experience where the important parameters of its software appear almost ‘inside’ the hardware so you spend less time on screen and more time playing and recording. And it works very well, particularly as you get a fantastic bundle of software with all KK keyboards.

“M32 is ridiculous in terms of bang for buck,” said reviewer Andy Jones. “The keyboard is perfectly usable – especially if you are not a player, as such – the software is great and it delivers the complete NKS experience. It probably just about wins it over the A-Series in the portability stakes, too – it really is very backpack-able. There isn’t any excuse for everyone not to be making music with technology and in that regard, Native Instruments’s M32 is a milestone product.”

Read the full review here.

Also nominated

zeroDebug touchAble Pro

zeroDebug touchAble Pro

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Launched eight years ago, touchAble has risen to the top of the touchy Ableton Live control app pile. The new touchAble Pro brings significant developments, including split-screen, full MIDI editing, a waveform view, automation drawing, icontrol of Live’s Devices, and customisable templates for non-standard devices.

It’s easy to configure, fast to use and engages with the software like nothing else. Also, it doesn’t exclude the use of hardware controllers alongside it. The Device control is outstanding, and the ability to view two modules together is the icing on the cake.

touchAble Pro is simply the best app controller for Live, and a solid rival for Ableton’s Push – though each has its unique advantages. Not cheap, as apps go, but a bargain for what it does.

Read the full review here.

Akai Pro Force

Akai Pro Force

Akai’s Force is a standalone sampler, sequencer and effects processor with a display, lots of tactility, and plenty of connections to the outside world. It also connects to a computer and acts as a controller for Ableton Live, which gives it a unique hybrid status – like a toaster that also makes coffee!

It’s great to use for song sketching, sampling, jamming and live sets. It’s a great prospect for anybody interested in creating or performing with music hardware. Even if you’re a software diehard, this is another way to think about presenting live music, especially if you experience the occasional option paralysis that comes bundled free with every DAW. An absolute blast!

Read the full review here.

StudioLogic Mixface

StudioLogic Mixface

Studiologic has come up with a great little product here which could easily enhance the user experience for many DAW users in a number of areas. The ability to control certain software instruments in real time to provide layers of expression and interest is a very tempting prospect, especially if you’re using packages that really take advantage of this sort of technology. The Mixface is a beautifully adaptable controller and if you find that DAW control is not what you need, we bet you’ll find plenty of other possibilities for use, and having a decent bank of faders to hand can be very useful. If you already have a Studiologic keyboard, you’ll want to at least give one of these a try.

Read the full review here.

Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid

Pioneer DJ Toraiz Squid

Joining an ever-expanding world of DAW-less jamming, live electronic-music performance and an eagerness for producers to close the laptop, the Squid fills a similar space to performance sequencers such as Arturia’s BeatStep Pro. Opening the box, you’re greeted by a familiar-looking layout of pads and controls on the surface, but unlike other hardware sequencers, the Squid packs in many more features and creative control options.

The Squid is a device that will grow alongside your gear in the studio and help inspire you for years, but take it to the stage and it’s a beast. For anyone looking to take their electronic music live, the Squid offers so much capability and connectivity it should certainly be on your list to check out.

Read the full review here.

Check out all the Gear Of The Year 2019 categories here.

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