NEKTAR PANORAMA P6
Studio or performance, Panorama is bristling with MIDI control. Reason users (in particular): feel the love.
Review: Christopher Holder
Reason users have plenty of cause to feel smug. We’re producers of music from first principles. We have a grasp of the dots on a stave; we’re not afraid to dig into synth parameters and indeed flip them around for re-patching; we’re engineers, producers and musicians and we’re proud. [Pause a moment for high fives and fist bumps.]
But we’re not feeling the love from those who make hardware controllers.
Meanwhile, those trumped-up DJ wannabes, throwing loops together, not knowing their rituendo from their Nintendo, have a smorgasbord of possible external control.
Novation, Akai, Ableton themselves, Tenori and others have been indulging the Live community with arrays of buttons and pots that provide these pseudo-musical dolts with hands-on control.
Frustrating? It’s enough to make me smash one of my Stradavarii.
But, fear not, fellow Reason scholars, help is at hand. A new and enlightened company called Nektar out of the US has clarity where others don’t. Nektar is a friend of Reason, and, as such, is your friend too.
I’ve had the Panorama P6 over the Christmas break and it’s been a delight. Like an early Santa present, I plucked the P6 out of the box, popped the USB cable into the back of my Mac, booted up Reason, and with very little ado, was immediately cueing up new sounds, tapping away at the drum pads, and tweaking levels like the natural extension of Reason I hoped it would be.
Did I audition the Panorama with other DAWs? No. And I’m unapologetic.
Not to say you can’t. Nektar can be adopted by other DAW tribes. The Nektar literature outlines compatibility with Logic, Cubase/Nuendo, ProTools, [gag] Live, or even as a generic MIDI controller, but the real juice is in its deep Reason control.
INSPIRATION FROM CONTROL
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but Reason’s sound banks run deep. I’m endlessly impressed by Propellerhead’s synths, and, okay, always lusting after the next Rack Extension. But I’m sure I speak for others here when I talk about cueing up sounds. Got a groove happening and auditioning leads? Often it’s not the original preset that screams ‘use me’, it’s how it responds to modulation, to how it sounds with extreme resonance, or a different LFO shape/depth. With the P6 I found myself, not only cueing up a new synth patch from the keyboard but instantly grabbing the P6 parameter pots to hear how the patch responded. Nektar makes this easy by automatically mapping parameters and providing you with different parameter combinations. Adjust to taste. The 3.5-inch TFT is bright and easy enough to read and the naming of the parameters pleasantly non-cryptic. It’s a joy to riffle the Reason sound ‘deck’ with the P6 and find what you need or a good place to start your own sound creation.
Meanwhile, when you’re deep into editing a synth patch, for example, you might find a more arcane parameter (dunno, maybe the resonance on your Malström’s comb filter) is really driving the sound. It’s easy to map that control to the Panorama pots via the Control Edit menu. Ditto on/off toggle switches. Like that particular map? Save it as a preset.
That’s touching on the main compositional meat and spuds of the P6 but undoubtedly the show stealer is the long-throw ALPS motorised fader. For the fader to function you need more than PC bus power. But when you do plug the P6 into the mains it comes alive, literally — giving a little startup waggle to let you know it’s reporting for duty.
Once a channel is selected in your Mixer section the motorised fader is all yours. I don’t know anyone who likes performing real-time fader riding with a mouse — either they’ve never used a genuine high-quality fader before or they’re too young to feel the first signs of mouse-hand RSI. The P6 fader feels great and any former, too-much-bother, reticence to ride my levels have evaporated. I’ll happily do channel-by-channel passes, fine-tuning my levels, enjoying the extra feel and resolution of the ALPS unit.
When I first clapped eyes on the Panorama P6 I knew I wanted one. It’s a sexy-looking keyboard with its high-gloss livery, and I like how the bottom note sits proud of the mod and pitch bend wheel section. In the same way that I feel a deep affinity to Reason, I knew Nektar understood my demands.
Which is all a bunch of heart-over-head baloney really, given Nektar was untried, and programming deep, reliable DAW compatibility is a tough gig.
Fortunately, Nektar has come through with the goods. Am I blown away by every aspect? Of course not. You only have to head to the Nektar forum to see the niggles any product (so dependent on software) like this experiences. And sure, it’s built to a price and the pots/pads/generic faders aren’t always the height of luxury, but crucially, the important stuff is all there — it’s responsive, the semi-weighted keyboard manual has a pleasant playability, and the Reason integration is all-but faultless.
Are you, like I was, working with a generic MIDI controller, relying on your qwerty/mouse as much as your keyboard? Stop it! I urge all Reason users to rally behind Nektar and buy a Panorama.
As for other DAW users? Well, if you must, but I rather like the fact we’ve got something all to ourselves for a change.