Today we are going to be taking an in-depth look at the Novation SL MKiii keyboard. Like its predecessor, the SL MKiii does a lot of things right and also adds in some great flare.
The Novation SL MK III is one of my favorite controllers on the market. All of the controls are pre-mapped with Ableton and work out of the box.
My overall opinion on the Novation SL MKIII is that Novation made some great improvements for the studio. I think that this is great for producers and I personally love using it for just that.
However, I don’t love this keyboard for live performance, I believe the MKII was great for touring musicians and there are a couple of things that Novation took away in making the Sl MKIII.
I know that a lot of keyboardists weren’t happy with some of the changes and I have to agree. I’ve broken down the SL MKIII completely below.
Check out my guides to these controllers below.
Table of Contents
Novation SL MKIII – 49 & 61 Key MIDI Controller
Novation is easily one of the leading names in MIDI controllers and for good reason. Some people love their products whereas others not so much. I have the opinion that with every release, their products have gotten better.
An 8 track internal sequencer with a built-in arpeggiator is impressive and this is something that a lot of other MIDI keyboards don’t yet have.
I also think the LCD screen is much nicer than on the MKII. The mod-wheel and pitch-bend wheels are also back-lit, which I don’t think is a huge deal, other than it looks cool.
A quick look at features this MIDI keyboard can do that its predecessor can’t
It has MIDI in, out, and out 2/thru: analog clock out and two different sets of CV pitch, mod out and gate. This allows the SL MKIII to take full control of modules and synths.
Let’s take a further look below:
Big improvements on the Novation SL MKIII here. I think the keys feel better and I like them being semi-weighted.
The keys don’t feel as cheap as a lot of MIDI keyboards key-beds feel. Aftertouch was added to the keys and this is a major improvement.
Once you play on a keyboard with aftertouch you will not want to go back. This is something that previous Novation keyboards did not have.
It has a scan rate of 10kHZ and this is extremely high in a MIDI keyboard. Basically, this gives the keyboard a super realistic feeling when it comes to having a dynamic performance.
Behind the keys, you will find a LED lit backdrop. You can learn scales, modes, and zones on these LED strips.
Velocity-Sensitive RGB Pads
Aftertouch is on the keys, but it is also on the drum pads. This is a really cool feature as you can set any parameter for the aftertouch on the pads. I personally like the way the pads feel and the aftertouch makes them extremely expressive. I’m kind of shocked that all drum pads don’t have aftertouch.
The pads on the MKIII look similar to the MKII being that they’re backlit, however, they have the aftertouch that the MKII does not.
Internal 8 Track Sequencer
To me, this is what makes this MIDI controller special. You can play the notes step-by-step or record them as you go.
You can also edit any of your sequencers directly from the MKIII. You can change the arp type, set sync rates, and design different rhythms in real-time.
Ableton Live And Other Daw Integration
As you may know, Novation is known for being well integrated with Ableton Live.
Ableton Live is one of the most popular DAW’s, but it is not the only DAW being used.
Novation made the MKIII work better with other DAW’s and I think this is a big upgrade for them.
Not that their other keyboards had integration problems, but the integration is much better on this keyboard than its predecessor.
If you use Ableton Live as your DAW you will be happy as everything is color-coded perfectly.
This video below shows some pretty cool features on the MKIII:
Drum Pads: 16 RGB back-lit pads
Pitch-Bend: Back-lit pitch-bend control
Mod-Wheel: Back-lit mod-wheel
Encoders: 8 rotary knobs
Faders: 8 faders
Dedicated Transport Control: Yes
Pedal Inputs: Expression and sustain
MIDI In & Out: Yes, In, Out, Out2/Thru, USB
USB: Type B
Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite
Power Supply: 12V DC power supply which is included
Things I Don’t Love About The Novation MKIII
I am a touring musician, so when it comes to MIDI keyboards, I want as much control that I can possibly have when playing live.
The MKIII went from 16 to 8 pots/encoders and from 16 to 8 faders. Now, this might not be a huge deal to people, but people who are playing live will most likely prefer the 16 to the 8.
With Novation keyboards, I always thought that the faders and knobs were on the cheaper end.
The placement of the encoders are directly above the screen. I think they could’ve placed these in a different place as you can sometimes block your view of the screen while working.
This is still the same case with the MKIII. Keep in mind that it’s hard to meet every single standard that we have has as musicians and companies have to pick and choose where the upgrades make the most sense for them as a company.
Lack of Bluetooth in the Novation SL MKIII is frustrating. I have been saying this about all of the new releases for MIDI keyboards and I will continue complaining about it.
Really, I don’t understand why more aren’t going into the wireless technology as the ones I have tried have been awesome.
This technology would be used by so many touring musicians because it’s much easier to set up every night.
There are also fewer cables running across the stage.
I think the Novation SL MKIII is mainly a success for Novation, however, I think they could’ve focused a tad bit more on live features.
This keyboard will definitely be competing with the Arturia Keylab MKII for the next couple of years.
I am considering purchasing this keyboard. I was wondering if I would be able to load a Keyscape piano for use in standalone? Say the “LA Custom C7 Grand Piano”, would I be able to load it from Logic and then be able to play it upon disconnecting from my DAW?
Thanks for you help.
Hi Daniel, I always use plugins through my DAW, but I believe you can totally do this as Keyscape has a full stand-alone feature. You can read more about it here: https://support.spectrasonics.net/manual/Keyscape/11/en/topic/keyscape-stand-alone
Hope that helps. If you decide to go with the MKIII, I believe you will really enjoy it.
The MKII had 8 faders, like the MKIII. They did take out the pots, This can be seen has advantage, pots can make parameter jump. I don’t understand why they put the encoders above the screen, So you can’t see what you turning.
Bluetooth is not reliable has a simple cable. And you will also need to run on batteries, Trust they will power all the screen and lESs for the all show, Anyway, I don’t see how it’s easier to set up then USB and for something that big like 4-5 octave keyboard (and static) Bluetooth will just make it much more expesnive.
Hi Chris, how do you feel about doing organ smears on theach key bed for the sl mkiii? There isn’t one in stock for over 100 miles of me. Thanks!
Has this donut already apologised for erroneously stating that the Novation 49SL MKII DOESN’T have MIDI In/Out/Thru?
Because, it does!
Quite sure that I can’t rely on the rest of the article on account of this one, glaring, 4-inch wide in physical reality, wholly-unfounded statement.
Compared to the mpk249 the sl feels really cheap like a toy, the faders feel very cheap the led lights are nice but the feel of the controller doesnt match with the price. I was very underwelmed. It works great but just doesnt have that premium feel you would expect for the price
This keyboard has very inconsistent velocity sensitivity. In particular one key D3 almost always transmits maximum velocity of 7F with anything other than the slightest touch. Did not notice until trying to use it with a particularly sensitive synth. Out of warranty and Internet buzz is that trying to repair (under warranty or not) it is a waste of time and money. The SL MK3 may cost more but you pay for the Technology and the amount thereof.
Not sure if Morey will see this, but that one key with max velocity is a common symptom for nearly all keyboards. The dual-contact velocity measurement system fails when dust gets under one of the silicone contact strips. It’s kind of a pain to fix, as you have to take the keyboard apart to clean it. But it absolutely is fixable. You can find instructions for cleaning contact strips.
I’m still using the SL61 MKII. I feel it’s more complicated but far more robust. A couple points… The MKII keybed is amazing. It does have aftertouch on the keys but not the pads. The pads are all but useless, calibrating helps to some degree. There only eight faders. I wish the MKII had an arpeggiator.
I don’t use a DAW and only use the MKII as an external device for my Korg arranger, so my needs are probably different that many others. Other than the arpeggiator which I would probably never use live the MKII has done everything I’ve asked of it. I don’t think I’ll be switching to something else anytime soon.