Technology

Novation Nocturn Intelligent Plug-In Controller Review

EASY-TO-LEARN SOFTWARE/HARDWARE INTERFACE IMPROVES DAW WORKFLOW 2/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

Nocturn provides eight rotaries, eight buttons and a fader that can be mapped to control most plug-in parmameters.

Nocturn from Novation is a very cool and inexpensive plug-in controller for any DAW. It features eight buttons and eight rotary encoders on the hardware surface, plus a horizontal fader and Speed Dial, which, with its dedicated rotary, can address any function above which the mouse is held. As for the mapped parameters, Nocturn can handle any amount; the surface can be paged +/- for situations where there are more parameters than buttons/rotaries.

The heart of the system is the Automap software, which assigns controllers to the software automatically. If this is not to your liking, the software/hardware can be easily remapped using the Learn function. You can also rename functions as you'd like. The Automap overlay comes in three levels of opacity, so it melds perfectly with your onscreen setup. There is an excellent Browser mode that lets you use Automap as command central for your plug-ins. Rather than clicking on the plug-ins themselves to gain control (which can sometimes be offscreen), the Browser represents all your mapped plugs that can be clicked on (and into) the controller.

Hardware and software setup was easy. Nocturn plugged directly into my computer's USB slot, and the software manages plug-ins with a simple drag-and-drop interface. In my Pro Tools session, I was able to jump right into Nocturn by bringing up a plug-in, which was immediately mapped to the surface.

The Automap software was both cool and frustrating. The interface recognizes the mapped plug-in right away, but it sometimes spreads common parameters apart, making grab-and-go usage unintuitive. For instance, when I opened up a 4-band EQ, the highpass enable was on button one, while the lowpass enable, right next door on the plug-in, was on button seven. The same was true for the rotary controls. However, the fix was easy via the Learn function, which let me quickly reassign the buttons to the plug-in by double-tapping Learn to lock it, then quickly running through the plug-in's parameters and its associated Nocturn buttons as I wanted it in a simple mouse-click/button-tap fashion. All this is saved into Automap for future use.

Some plug-ins reacted oddly to AutoMap and then also to the Nocturn. For instance, a multi-mono Trim plug-in used on a stereo track came up with both buttons and faders assigned to the control knobs — no buttons were mapped. When I tried the same Learn process that worked so well on the EQ, the results were sketchy. For instance, clicking on the Range button would freak out the fader, causing it to jump wildly from Inf to +6. I got around this by clicking on a button in the GUI, then going to the Parameter pulldown and assigning it that way. I have to note that whenever I had to change something, Automap and Nocturn quickly came to the rescue, often with a function addressed redundantly; for instance, Learn has three buttons.

It may sound like I was displeased with the Nocturn, and it's true there were some instances where I was disappointed. However, in all but a few situations the software and hardware were excellent and intuitive — the Browser, Learn and viewing options are well thought out and quickly learned. On the software side, there is room for improvement. A couple of simple upgrades would be to include a “none” choice on the GUI's parameter pulldown — you can accomplish this by clicking on the parameter and hitting your Delete key, but it would also be convenient to have it on the pulldown. Nocturn also can't address non-automatable parameters — for instance, the ability to choose channels and grouping on multi-mono plug-ins, nice functions to have under your fingers. For the majority of applications however, Nocturn is a winner, intuitive, easy to set up and navigate. So if you're looking to step up your system to the next level of control for a month's worth of lattes, Nocturn is just the ticket.

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