Today, Novation is unveiling its brand-new FL Studio keyboard controller. The new FLkey MIDI keyboards now join the rest of Novation’s controllers for music creators and beat makers with a series of dedicated features for Imagine Line’s popular FL Studio DAW. While specifically tailored for FL Studio hip-hip and EDM producers, it essentially allows anyone to get hands-on with their beats and sounds without having to rely on a mouse, much like its Launchpad grid controllers we explored after full Logic Pro support was rolled out. Designed to put FL Studio’s wonderful sequencer-based music creation ecosystem directly beneath your fingertips and to deliver an all-round MIDI keyboard experience for just about any DAW, we had a chance to go hands-on with the new FLkey ahead of release today to see what it was capable of. Head below for a closer look at our impressions of the new FL Studio keyboard controller in the latest Tested with 9to5Toys.
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Hands-on with Novation’s new FL Studio keyboard controller
Novation’s FLkey is a dedicated FL Studio keyboard controller that comes in two flavors: FLkey Mini and the FLkey 37 on display for this review. The main difference here is a set of 25 mini keys on the smaller model and a lighter set of onboard physical controls compared to the full-size keys and full range of options at your fingertips on the larger one alongside the respective price variance.
But the real heart of the operation here is the multi-function set of 16 pads and eight rotary pots front and center on the control panel. This is where you can take physical control over your projects, the tracks and FX plug-ins within, as well as arguably FL Studio’s best feature, its sequencer.
There are six pad modes accessed by holding down the shift button, three dedicated to FL Studio and three for any music making software. For example, the Channel Rack mode effectively delivers standard drum pads that allow you to audition sounds and record parts traditionally, Instrument mode is for notation or to control FX like FL Studio’s sample slicer, Plug-in mode is where you can use the eight rotary pots along the top for physical control over plug-in parameters, and so on.
As expected and likely one of the main selling points for this controller is the Sequencer Mode, which is essentially a mirror of FL Studio’s grid-like sequencers for each channel rack or set of sounds in your project – the top row of pads are the first eight steps and the bottom row is steps nine through 16 – so you can quickly (and completely mouse-free) create beats and parts with your fingertips.
Take control of FL Studio’s Step Sequencer straight from the keyboard – no mouse needed. Producers can program beats and make high quality tracks with ease thanks to FLkey’s Channel rack playability straight from the pads. With Mixer controls directly on the hardware, mixes can be tweaked to perfection immediately. Creators can stay inspired during studio sessions with Scale and Fixed Chord modes, so they’ll always hit the right note and craft perfect melodies. With FLkey, you can control instruments and automation, browse presets from Image Line plug-ins, and assign custom controls with Custom Modes for the ultimate tailored workflow in FL Studio.
Here’s a closer look at the spec sheet:
- 37 full-size keys
- Eight backlit drum pads
- Integrated sequencer
- Physical controls for FL plug-ins, mixer
- Built-in chord and scale mode + custom-created chord creation
- Note Repeater
- Integration with Novation’s Components software for customize creation and control templates
- Pitch and modulation wheels
Much like it did for Ableton Live and subsequently Logic Pro’s Live Loops with its Launchpad controllers (here’s our feature series on using Novation’s Launchpads with Logic Pro), Novation has once again churned out a wonderful dedicated hardware controller for music makers. This time focused on the potentially more-popular-than-you-think FL Studio – it is used by loads of top-tier producers like Boi-1da, Tay Keith, Lex Luger, Murda Beats, Metro Boomin and Hit-Boy – and its sequencer-based workflow, FLKey’s feature-set out muscles just about every other keyboard-based hardware controller for Image Line’s DAW while providing just about all of the typical MIDI keyboard functionality most folks need no matter what music creation environment they frequent.
Being able to quickly tap in notes to the FLStudio sequencer from the pads mounted on FLkey is a wonderful experience – it can be a very fast and intuitive way to get the job done and had me creating patterns and motifs far faster than sliding a mouse around within a very short time. Add in some of Novation’s other musical input prowess highlighted by its auto-chords and scale locking, and it becomes very hard not to recommend its new FLKey line to anyone that uses FL Studio. Outside of music makers that require a more “real feel” set of weighted piano-style keys, I’m having a hard time seeing why anyone that uses a MIDI keyboard controller with FL Studio wouldn’t want one.
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