Novation FLkey 37 & FLkey Mini review: Excellent controllers for FL Studio with deep project integration
Novation’s new controllers have been designed to provide the ultimate control over FL Studio. Could this be the deepest integration we’ve ever seen?
⊕ Powerful but easy-to-use workflow
⊕ 37 key model adds extra performance and project controls
⊕ Solid software bundle
⊕ Nice balance of performance and mixing controls
⊖ USB-A cable supplied but no USB-C in the box
FL Studio is one of the world’s most-used DAWs and, in recent years, has expanded its user base even further, thanks to native support for macOS. Like all leading DAWs, it supports all kinds of MIDI controller keyboards and devices, with a healthy library of custom scripts available.
But advanced software packages like this only unleash their full potential when paired with a specifically-designed controller, rather than adapted from a bunch of MIDI CC maps. Sure, there’s the AKAI Fire, but that’s not a keys-and-pads controller like most people need for everyday use.
Enter Novation’s new FLkey keyboards. Designed to be plug-and-play, they connect to FL Studio with no need for any setup and are preconfigured to not only control regular MIDI notes and commands, but navigation of the interface and much more.
There are 37 and 25-key (Mini) models with many commonalities but some differences, too, meaning that the 37 isn’t just the same with more keys, but has extra features over the 25.
The 25 is significantly smaller with mini keys, as opposed to the 37’s full-sized keys, and easier to slip into a backpack, whereas the 37 while not especially large is more comfortable on a desk. The 37 has a screen that the 25 does not and, while you can get by without it, it’s helpful for visual feedback on the larger model. A full comparison of the two keyboards’ feature sets can be found here.
Both models are USB-powered, and a USB-A to B cable is provided. This means users of USB-C-only computers will need an adapter, but Novation has likely surmised that many FL Studio users are on Windows PCs, the vast majority of which will have USB-A ports. On the rear panel, ther’es a sustain pedal input, Kensington lock port, and a MIDI DIN/mini-jack output for use with synths and other hardware. The build quality is professional and the design, while not particularly flashy, keeps things straightforward in terms of workflow. The FLkeys are certainly well-labelled and laid out, with the small screen on the 37 adding an extra layer of feedback.
There’s a Windows driver for download but on macOS, the controller got going with no setup required. At the heart of the controller are its pads and pots, which can be switched into different modes using the Shift key. Moving between modes causes FL Studio’s interface to respond accordingly, automatically selecting the required area, channel or tool, or bringing the relevant window to the front.
In Sequencer mode, pads can trigger notes or beats and can be used to play directly into the Channel Rack, an instrument, the Sequencer and, in the 37, a Chord mode. This is really intuitive and makes it quick and easy to put together patterns and rhythms, especially when combined with the Note Repeat button that can be used to achieve fast and intricate rhythms, with quantize and metronome buttons also available on the 37.
The keybed has shortcuts for setting note repeat resolution. There’s also a Scale mode that ensures your playing always stays locked to the selected scale type. Chord mode on the 37 lets you program chords and easily trigger them. FPC, Slicex and Fruity Slicer are all directly supported, meaning pads map directly to slices. Preset browsing is another handy feature, allowing you to quickly cycle through patches on any selected Image-Line instrument.
The pots are equally flexible, and you can switch their modes to work on the current plug-in, mixer volume or pan, channel volume or pan (37 key only) plus a custom setting of your choice. Combined with the Channel Rack and Mixer Track navigation buttons available on the hardware, the result is a system that lets you whizz around a project using fairly simple key presses, with red bounding boxes showing you which areas you have selected.
The pots also allow you to easily record automation data into a project. The 25 key model has touch strips for pitch and modulation, whereas the 37 has full wheels and also adds Undo and Redo buttons to its transport control section.
You also get a decent software bundle with your hardware purchase, unlocked after online registration. This includes a 6 month trial of FL Studio Producer Edition, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, AAS Session Bundle, Spitfire Audio LABS – Expressive Strings, Klevgrand Røverb, Klevgrand DAW Cassette and membership of Novation’s Sound Collective.
FLkey is an excellent MIDI controller for users of FL Studio, providing quick and comprehensive control of projects and performance in a way that MIDI-mapped third-party controllers can’t match. With nicely playable keys, the pads add an extra layer of creativity and, along with the pots, are easily switched to control different aspects of a mix, a performance or a project.
If you’re after absolute portability, the 25 key version is an accessible means of getting hands-on with your projects and comes with the full software bundle. For other users, however, the 37 key model has to be the one to recommend since, for not a great deal more money, you are getting full-size keys, expanded functionality, more dedicated buttons, and chord modes and extended mixer control. It’s laid out cleverly enough so that common operations quickly become second nature, and you soon get to a point where you’re not using the mouse much to navigate a project and its plug-ins.
A similar level of control is possible with the 25 key model but it’s slightly more limited in scope. Both models also allow some customisation, too, and have generic MIDI modes to work as regular controllers with other software and hardware. If you’re looking for the best way to control your FL Studio system, the FLkey controllers most definitely fit the bill. Given their affordability, it’s even a pretty safe bet to move across from a generic controller, considering the in-depth project tools that these models give you over and above simple MIDI control.
- 25 mini or 37 full-sized keys
- USB data and power
- Pitch bend and modulation
- Record directly into sequencer, channel rack
- 16 RGB backlit pads, 8 rotary encoders
- FL Studio project navigation buttons
- Pads and pots have multiple modes for different controls
- Chord modes (37 key) and note repeat button
- Preset browsing in Image Line plug-ins
- Software bundle downloadable after registration
- FLKey Mini £99.99 / $109.99, FLKey 37 £199.99 / $199.99
- Contact Novation
- Buy: FLkey 37 – Sweetwater, Thomann | FLkey Mini – Sweetwater, Thomann
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