Nektar Impact GX49 49-key MIDI Controller Keyboard
Can one keyboard controller handle both your studio and mobile needs?
by Phil O'Keefe
One of MIDI's enduring features is being able to trigger the sound of one keyboard or module from a different keyboard, which eventually led to the development of dedicated MIDI controller keyboards. While these stripped-down keyboards don't make any sounds themselves, they offer various controls and capabilities for playing and controlling other MIDI devices. Today, we'll look at a new MIDI controller keyboard from Nektar that's specifically designed to work with modern DAW software and virtual MIDI instruments running on computers and tablets.
What You Need To Know
- The Nektar Impact GX is a synth-action keyboard available in 49- (GX49) and 61- (GX61) key versions. I tested the more compact GX49. Other than the number of keys and the overall dimensions, the two models are identical.
- Both models have velocity sensitive, full-sized keys. They're not quite waterfall keys since there's a small lip at the front of them, but the protrusion is very small, so playing organ-style smears and glisses is not too uncomfortable.
- The Impact GX series are USB class-compliant (iOS devices, Windows XP or later, Mac OS X 10.5 or later), so you don't need install drivers, and the bundled DAW Integration is compatible with Mac OS X 10.7 or higher and PCs running Windows Vista, 7 / 8, or higher. Linux is also supported as long as a USB MIDI driver package is installed.
- iOS use requires an Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter or Camera Connection Kit, which is not included.
- The Impact GX 49 is very light in weight, and about as small in size as you can get while still retaining full-sized, full-travel keys. It measures 31-5/8" L x 7-3/4" D x 2-3/4" H and weighs 4.8 pounds. The GX61 measures 38" long and weighs six pounds, and is the same height and depth as the 49-key model.
- There are only two connection ports on the Impact GX series keyboards. A single USB port provides MIDI out to your device. There's no power jack because the GX is bus-powered by the device to which it connects; a rear-panel power on/off switch is near the USB port. As there's no need for a separate power supply, the Impact GX49 is a very good traveling companion.
- The other connection is a jack for hooking up an optional footswitch. Typically this will be a sustain footswitch and it comes set for that function from the factory, but it's MIDI assignable so you can use it for other functions. I also appreciate that the Nektar Impact GX49 auto-detects the footswitch polarity at power-up and adjusts itself accordingly, so pretty much any momentary footswitch with a 1/4" plug should work.
- Most of the Impact GX's other controls - including a pair of Octave buttons that illuminate when activated, and a pair of similarly illuminated Transpose buttons - are located toward the left of the keyboard.
- The GX49 can be shifted up by up to four octaves, and the GX61 three. Both can shift down by up to three octaves, with the Oct ^/v buttons illuminating orange, green, red or yellow to indicate one, two, three or four octaves of shift.
- The transpose buttons have a range of +/-12 semitones. When transposed, pressing both buttons simultaneously returns to standard pitch instantly. The transpose buttons can also be assigned to other functions through the Setup menu.
- The Impact GX49 has a single MIDI assignable rotary control that comes pre-programmed to transmit MIDI CC 7 (volume).
- The modulation and pitch bend wheels are easy to reach, and while smaller than what you'll find on many other controllers, using them didn't pose any unusual challenges. The modulation wheel is also MIDI assignable, and the GX49 remembers the settings, so you don't have to reassign it the next time you plug it in and use it.
- The full complement of seven transport controls includes Play, Record, Stop, RW, FF, Click and Loop buttons. A Shift key provides access to an alternate function for each key, including patch and track selection buttons.
- The Impact GX series is designed for easy integration with several different DAW applications. The Nektar DAW integration files are available online by registering your Nektar GX and downloading them. Included are presets for GarageBand, Logic, Cubase / Nuendo, Bitwig Studio / Bitwig 8-Track, Digital Performer, SONAR, Reason, Studio One, FL Studio and Reaper. The functions available for each are shown in the chart below.
- When not being used with Nektar's DAW integration, the transport controls can serve as seven assignable MIDI buttons. These can provide two different MIDI messages each, via the Shift key.
- There are four pre-set velocity curves, and three fixed (64 / 100 / 127) velocity values. These can be selected with the Setup Menu, which is entered by pressing the dedicated Setup button, and then using various keys on the keyboard, which are marked to indicate their setup functions.
- The Setup button illuminates (blue) when active. In addition to the velocity curves you can also set the global MIDI channel, assign MIDI CC messages, program change commands and other functions.
- Bitwig 8-Track DAW software comes bundled with the Impact GX49. This is a "light" version of Bitwig Studio that gives up to eight audio and/or MIDI tracks in any combination, includes access to over 50 virtual instruments and effects, and also serves as a VST host.
- There's no numerical LED display to assist with programming or to show parameter values like program change numbers.
- The USB MIDI output and lack of standard MIDI 5-pin DIN connector ports means you can't use it as a controller for stand-alone MIDI devices without a USB to MIDI converter box.
- Nektar's DAW integration doesn't support Pro Tools transport control directly, but all of the basic keyboard functions will work right out of the box, and you can reassign the transport buttons as desired. Instructions on using the Impact GXs transport buttons to send MIDI Machine Control (MMC) commands to Pro Tools for basic transport control are described on page 11 of the Impact GX's manual.
Today there are so many virtual instruments available for your computer, tablet and even your phone that many players have turned away from more traditional keyboards with onboard sound generators in favor of controllers. There are definitely advantages to this approach. You're not limited to whatever sounds your keyboard includes, and controllers tend to be more compact, lighter, and not insignificantly, much less expensive. Many feature easy USB connectivity.
The Nektar Impact GX49 is an excellent example of this type of controller. I was rather surprised when I learned how low the price actually is. While it won'tbe able to go toe to toe with more complex controllers (such as Nektar's LX series), what you get for such a low price is still impressive. Most importantly, this is a very playable controller. The board doesn't move around when played from a tabletop, and the synth action is fast and responsive. A full-sized, four-octave keyboard is what many players consider as the smallest keyboard that allows true two-handed playing, and I tend to agree, but if you need a larger keyboard the GX61 is available for only a little bit more. For home studio and stage use, I'd probably opt for the 61-key model, while those who plan on more mobile uses will no doubt be more tempted by the GX49.
Speaking of mobile, being able to use the Impact GX49 with your iOS device without needing an external battery pack or wall outlet nearby really puts the "mobile" in mobility. But the GX49 is not just for use on the go. The Nektar DAW integration provides useful controls, is easy to use, and works with the majority of DAWs. Pro Tools users will need to do a bit more work to set their GX up for MMC transport control, but Nektar provides the instructions and it's a simple process. The keyboard is responsive and fun to play, and it can serve double duty on the road and in your home studio. If you're looking for very useful MIDI keyboard controller at a rock-bottom price, the Nektar Impact GX49 and GX61 need to be on your "check it out" list. -HC-
Nektar Technology Impact GX49 49-key MIDI Controller Keyboard ($109.99 MSRP, $99.99 "street" for the GX49, and $129.99 MSRP, $119.99 "street" for the 61-key GX61. )
Nektar's product web page
Bitwig 8-Track web page
The Nektar Impact GX49 49-key MIDI Controller Keyboard can be purchased from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.