Korg's new Kontrol49 MIDI Studio Controller is the full-size sibling to the company's successful MicroKontrol, which became instantly recognizable by the 16 rubberized drum-machine-style pads that accompanied the controller's 37 minikeys. With the Kontrol49, players who prefer wider keys and a wider range of notes (four octaves) will be satisfied while enjoying MicroKontrol features such as Velocity-sensitive trigger pads, rotary encoders with sliders and individual LCD subdisplays, and other enhancements.
FIG. 1: Korg''s Kontrol49 sports a 4-octave, full-size keyboard and controllers that are similar to the ones on its little brother, MicroKontrol.
Size Does Matter
As its name implies, the Kontrol49 is a 4-octave (49-key), full-size Velocity-sensitive keyboard (see Fig. 1). The keyboard has an excellent feel, although it doesn't send true Aftertouch messages. Thankfully, the Kontrol49 does feature a poor man's Aftertouch; while the keyboard itself is not sensitive to Aftertouch pressure, you can configure the Pitch Bend or mod wheels to send either Channel Pressure or Polyphonic Key Pressure messages based on your keyboard performance and the Aftertouch mode. If you're used to sending Aftertouch messages using performance pressure, sending the data with the pitch or mod wheels takes some getting used to, but I'm glad Korg didn't omit Aftertouch support completely.
The Kontrol49 has eight sliders, each directly below a rotary encoder and an LCD. There is also a larger rotary encoder in the center of the unit that serves as the main encoder. The knobs have full 360-degree rotation, but they are not endless encoders in that they continue sending MIDI Control Change messages once the minimum value of 0 or the maximum value of 127 is reached. The LCDs can be programmed to display different messages or any function name that you want — even ones you create. They also provide three background colors that determine whether the text or the controller value on the display relates to the slider or the encoder. The newly designed Vector Joystick can be set to have simultaneous control of two separate parameters. Next to the main encoder is a Tempo LED that blinks for every quarter note it receives from the host software through MIDI Clock.
The 16 backlit rubber pads are not limited to sending MIDI notes. Because they are Velocity sensitive, however, they serve that function well. Users can program them to send any MIDI Control Change message, and many of the programmed Scenes use various pads as transport controls. In a nice touch, Kontrol49 allows you to program the pads to send a Note On message when a pad is pressed and a Note Off message when released. You can also send simultaneous Note On and Note Off messages when pressed. The navigation/programming buttons below the main encoder, which default to basic editing, navigation, and octave shifting functions, can also be programmed to transmit MIDI Control Change messages.
The unit has input jacks for a damper pedal and a switch, which are also freely assignable to any MIDI Control Change message. In addition to the USB connection to the host computer, the rear of the unit contains one MIDI In and two MIDI Out jacks, a connector for the included 9V DC wall-wart power supply, and a switch to select USB power, DC power, or standby (off) mode. If you choose to power the Kontrol49 from its USB connector, be sure it is connected to a port with enough power. The controller uses a lot of juice, and if your USB port is too taxed, the Kontrol49 won't power up.
Setting the Scene
Each collection of encoder, fader, pad, button, LCD display, and joystick settings can be saved as a Scene. The Kontrol49 can store 12 Scenes internally, which you select by holding the Scene button down while pressing the corresponding numbered trigger pad. The name of the loaded Scene will appear in the main display (assuming it is a user-programmed Scene that you named), making it easy to quickly ascertain which Scene is running.
FIG. 2: The Kontrol49 has an Editor Librarian application that allows you to program, save, and load MIDI controller Scenes.
You are not limited, however, to the 12 Scenes that can be stored inside the unit. Kontrol49 comes with Mac OS X and Windows XP versions of its Editor Librarian application (see Fig. 2). The Editor Librarian allows you to store any Scenes that you create, and Korg thoughtfully included preprogrammed Scenes for almost every popular software synthesizer, plug-in, and audio application. The Editor Librarian, unlike the Kontrol49 itself, comes with only a PDF and not a printed manual. Thankfully, the software is generally well engineered and is relatively straightforward, allowing drag-and-drop programming of the Kontrol49.
In addition to Scene mode, the Kontrol49 can also be placed into a native SysEx mode. In Native mode, host applications that have developed controller support for the Kontrol49, such as Apple Logic 7.1, Propellerhead Reason 3.0, and Korg Legacy Collection, can access all of its controllers and use it as a true control surface, with no user configuration required. Users can drop out of Native mode manually if they wish to go back to using a programmed Scene. Unfortunately, returning to Native mode depends on the host application's ability to redetect the Kontrol49, and it can't be done manually.
Installation of the Kontrol49 in Mac OS X is truly the ultimate in plug and play: all you have to do is connect the USB cable. Since it uses Mac OS X's built-in USB MIDI Driver, there is nothing to install. I even tried hot plugging and unplugging the Kontrol49 into my PowerMac G5 repeatedly, and there wasn't a single hiccup.
For Windows XP users, the Kontrol49 has a driver that you must install before you can use the controller. The USB MIDI EzSetup application makes installation a breeze. One thing to note is that if you change the USB port that the Kontrol49 is connected to, you will need to reinstall the driver.
Having the 16 trigger pads at my disposal improved my drum programming considerably, and I enjoyed using them to trigger clips in Ableton Live and grooves from Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. The keyboard felt excellent and was a joy to play — I much prefer the larger keys of the Kontrol49 to the MicroKontrol. When I switched between Reason and Live, I also switched Scenes on the Kontrol49, and it exhibited no MIDI glitches. The Editor Librarian application was a great convenience and was solid as a rock under Mac OS X and Windows XP.
I don't see the Kontrol49's non-touch-sensitive, nonmotorized faders replacing higher-end dedicated mixing control surface units. Editing, automating, and performing with software synthesizers, however, is an absolute dream with the Kontrol49. Having the name of the soft-synth parameter in the LCD right above the encoder and fader is a great workflow improvement and makes twisting the knobs while performing more fun.
I would have preferred a 3-octave full-size keyboard rather than a 4-octave version, and a 6-octave controller would be a welcome addition to the line. Nonetheless, with its LCD displays, 16 trigger pads, encoders, sliders, and full-size keyboard, the Kontrol49 is an excellent MIDI controller. Considering its ease of use, its versatile Editor Librarian, the CD demos of software instruments, and the included applications from Korg and other developers, the Kontrol49 is a big winner.
Orren Merton is the author of Logic Pro 7 Power! (Muska & Lipman, 2004) and coauthor of Logic 7 Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2005).
KONTROL49 SPECIFICATIONS Keys (49) full-size Velocity-sensitive keys Pads (16) Velocity-sensitive trigger pads Assignable Controllers pitch wheel; mod wheel; vector joystick; (10) buttons; (9) 360-degree encoders; (8) faders Octave Shift Buttons yes Displays (1) main LCD display; (8) LCD subdisplays Connectors (1) USB; (1) MIDI In; (2) MIDI Out; momentary switch; expression pedal; 9V DC Power USB; 9V adapter (included) Memory (12) Scenes (complete controller assignments) Bundled Software Editor Librarian; SampleTank 2 Korg Edition; demos of Korg Legacy Collection, Applied Acoustics Systems Lounge Lizard; Native Instruments Vokator; Propellerhead Reason 2.5 OS Support Mac OS X; Windows XP Dimensions 28.7" (W) × 3.39" (H) × 12.6" (D) Weight 10.8 lbs.
MIDI keyboard controller
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 4
PROS: Excellent-feeling, full-size keyboard. Velocity-sensitive trigger pads. LCDs for each slider/encoder pair. Easy installation. Fully featured Editor Librarian application included. Wide selection of factory preprogrammed Scenes.
CONS: Aftertouch messages can be sent from wheels, but not from the keyboard. Editor Librarian software does not include a printed manual.