Sunday, March 20, 2011

KORG nanoKONTROL2 Review

 KORG nanoKontrol 2 Review

The nanoKontrol2 BOX
Inside the box: USB cable, controller, and a paper instruction
Goes well with the Korg MicroKey (also pictured above)

I bought this little unit yesterday - one of the 3 new KORG NanoSeries 2 (supposedly revised hardware). I previously owned the first generation of nanoSeries and was pretty disappointed, the whole concept was awesome but KORG poorly executed it by an obvious design flaw and durability. I know many people (if not MOST) who bought the first generation nanoSeries (including me!) broke theirs pretty soon, I even have a friend who replaced his nanoPADs SIX TIMES in a year before the warranty expired!

I recently got the korg microkey and was pretty impressed with the quality, the keys feel great and i had no problem with it whatsoever, plus its cheap! so i decided to give KORG another chance and try the second generation of korg nanoKontrol, hoping they'd at least fixed the weak fragile USB port on the first one...

As a student in SAE studying Audio Engineering I spend a lot of time with DAW software like Protools, Logic, and ableton, and I must say one thing that i really hate is doing LEVELS / automations using the computer mouse... It just feels not right! So when I saw this controller I decided to pick it up just for making my life easier while doing automations

So here is a quick review...

  • Build quality improved than the first nanoKontrol, the buttons feel much nicer and doesnt get stuck in like the first series
  • Cheap price, for a low price you get 8 faders, 8 knobs, 24 buttons, plus more transport button! That's A LOT of control in one small price!
  • Built in Mackie emulation control for ableton live (TESTED - works well!) , plus a whole bunch of major DAW software support like Cubase, Protools etc.  this means using the "track previous/next" button you can control channels 1-8 on the first page, channels 9-16 on the second page and so on... and the good thing is when you switch back the layer it remembers the solo/mute/record that was applied in the previous page, not bad!
  • Faders still feel really cheap and feel like the fader knobs can come off anytime, but they do feel nice and smooth with a fair bit of resistance (which is what we want)
  • The Pots have no center click and is really hard to see where the center is, they should at least paint a white line in the middle of the pots no?? or at least a center click could help in this department so we know when its at neutral (middle) position
  • No program change?? If you wanna change the "mode" of which the nanoKontrol2 works (it does have some HUI emulation for Protools and Mackie emulation for Ableton Live) you have to switch off the unit by unplugging the usb cable and holding certain buttons before powering up - what a hassle!!
  • Poor support, so far it doesnt work well with Logic 9 yet, the manual said I should download the control surface driver from the KORG website, but they havent seem to have uploaded them yet? I spent hours looking for the plug-in with no luck, even emailed and contacted KORG about it but no response. Woooot???
  • NO ON/OFF button, this unit relies on turning it off and holding a series of buttons to change the "mode" that is in, this means the unit will be constantly need to be turned off/on to change between modes and we need to unplug the usb cable a lot to to that. Given the previous generation's weak usb connection im very worried about this! 
  • No Program change! The first gen nanoKontrol had FOUR program change modes in which you can freely assign, this version does NOT allow that, limiting the controls to just that one without xtra "pages"
The Verdict

The Korg nanoSeries gets an improved build quality (slightly) in exchange of losing some of its features (one set of fader and knob gone, in the first one we have 9 faders and knobs in the new one just 8... why not 9?? we could have used the ninth one as a master fader?)

For the price you still cant beat it for a whole bunch of fully assignable faders and knobs (which you can map to anything, eg. TRAKTOR?), if you really need faders or knobs to add to your setup these will be great, but keep in mind the knobs and faders arent that great for tactile live performance (more for home and on-the-go use) and there are better options out there if you can afford it, although you'd obviously have to pay a lot more for the same amount of kontrols provided by the nanoKontrol2

So yeah, these days there's always something that you can midi map to faders or knobs, be it DAW channel volumes, plug-in settings for automations, assigning effects for Serato/Traktor effects, so this gets the job done at a cheap price, for the low price (for me its SGD$76 ) you get transport buttons etc, 8 faders, 8 knobs and 24 buttons! thats plenty of things you can assign to, so if you ask me if i recommend this product i'd say yeah, sure, its cheeap and you can always find a use for it, especially if you are into audio production/djing, so keeping one handy is not a bad idea at all

To summarize the nanoKontrol2 in a sentence : 
It's always good to have extra pots/faders/buttons when you need them! 

With its low price (about $60USD, even less if you are lucky) and the amount of controls provided,  might as well get one! You cant really go wrong!

One  FLAW for Logic users! (as of today - March 20 2011)
THERE ARE NO SOFTWARE DOWNLOADS YET!! I was unable to download the files mentioned in the instruction manual (such as the ones required to control LOGIC 9), so i was unable to setup the nanoKontrol2 with logic 9 other than manually mapping all the controls myself (with cmd+L) , they should have at least supplied a CD or something so it would work well  with logic right out of the box?

And even worse - the kontrol editor that is currently on the korg website does not even detect the nanoKontrol2!!!

did this product get released before the drivers are even ready? maybe... I shall update the review when the kontrol editor is updated, i wonder if the kontrol editor unlocks more option for the nanoKontrol2?

i hope they upload the necessary files soon! Im sure they will, remember that KORG is a japanese product and with the recent tsunami/nuclear crisis (my condolences to them by the way, i love japan!) , i can sort of understand why they are a bit behind with the drivers and software etc

Korg has delayed the shipment for the nanoPAD2 (second generation nanoPad) until April, I should be getting this too when its out and a review is coming up soon!

Thanks for reading and I hope that helps anyone who is interested in the new nanoSeries2, this is probably the first ever review on the nanoKontrol2 (i tried to look for a review with no luck!)

Amazon Links:

KORG nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface - White

Korg nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface, Black