As far as MIDI keyboards go, there doesn’t tend to be much variation in feature sets, but rather differences in styling, layout, build quality, and overall feel. With Novation’s Impulse series of keyboard controllers, all of the most popular DAW control methods are implemented in one keyboard that is a pleasure to use, feels great, and looks just plain sexy.

The Impulse is outfitted with five main areas of control: a semi-weighted keyboard (complete with pitch and modulation wheels), a transport section, faders for mixing, assignable rotaries to control plugins, and an array of pressure-sensitive drum pads. The keyboard section looks and feels just about as great as you could ask from a MIDI controller – the weight of the keys and capability for aftertouch help give you the sense that you’re playing the real thing rather than some flimsy piece of plastic. This solid feeling is reflective of the overall build quality of the Impulse, with its sturdy exterior, satisfying amount of heft, and rubberized rotaries and jog wheels which enhance the controller’s rugged feel. The red, black and grey styling on the controller’s side profile leave quite an impression as well.

The drum pads are also solid and demonstrate a great deal of sensitivity, especially when compared to many other keyboard/drum pad combos on the market today. The pads are impressively responsive even at low pressures, and do a great job at tracking velocity sensitivity. The drum section also includes a roll trigger and an 8-step arpeggiator.

One thing that makes the Impulse’s mixer, transport, and rotary sections great is the tight integration with Novation’s Automap software, which automatically links the Impulse’s controls to intuitive functions within most popular DAWs, including Reason, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Logic, and more, as well as plugins from companies like Native Instruments and Waves. Rather than having to sit down with the keyboard for a long session of mapping every function in Ableton, I was able to plug the keyboard in for the first time, run the Automap configuration, and begin making music without any of the usual tedious prep work. The keyboard also synced up nicely with Reason, allowing me instantaneous control over whatever rack device I decided to change. Automap also lets you see exactly what each knob and fader is controlling on a virtual graphical map of your controller which also allows for on-the-fly assignment swapping.

With its aggressive styling, exceptional build quality, and commanding heft (the Impulse 25 weighs almost 8 pounds, the Impulse 61 over 17!), the Impulse immediately asserts itself as a force to be reckoned with. After sitting down with the unit for a couple of hours and forgetting that you’re not actually playing a real piano, aren’t using a real mixer, and don’t own an MPC, the Impulse will have you convinced that you’ve made the right choice (an argument all the more reinforced by the power and ease of the Automap software). I have yet to see another MIDI keyboard pull off every aspect of this robust feature set so well.