Nektar Panorama P4 Keyboard Controller Review

06-08-2014 10:13 PM

I first met Tim Chandler when I started the blog over 5 years ago. I had been invited to the Digidesign UK headquarters by a couple of the guys who had seen the first couple of weeks of the blog to see if they could help support me. Whilst I was there I met Tim, he showed me an idea he had been working on, that idea was the M-Audio Axiom Pro with Hypercontrol. As he explained the idea to me and demonstrated it in action I was impressed by how Hypercontrol would be able to help automate lots of laborious task, when I heard the back story I was even more impressed.
Tim wasn’t a software developer working for them, he had come up with Hypercontrol in his own time and then shared it with the M-Audio team. Tim is my kind of guy, he sees a problem and comes up with an answer, even if it’s not his responsibility or his job title.
Tim left M-Audio and now owns Nektar, the controller company.
When I heard that Tim had set up Nektar and saw what the Panarama keyboard could do for Reason users I reached out to him and asked when it would have the same kind of functionality in Pro Tools, at that time Tim had no idea of when that would be, so I sat on my hands. As time has gone on, I’ve grown impatient and seeing that Tim now has some integration with Pro Tools I asked if I could check out the Panorama keyboard - mostly to see if the vision he started at M-Audio had been developed further with the Nektar Panorama keyboard controller. The Panorama offers deep integration with Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Logic Pro and Reason, but not Pro Tools, so is it even worth me considering it as a keyboard controller?
Read on to find out.

Nektar Panarama P4 The Basics

  • 49 note weighted (semi-) velocity-sensitive keyboard w/aftertouch
  • 5 velocity curves plus fixed
  • 12 pads with velocity and pressure sensitivity
  • 7 velocity curves
  • Note-learn, Scale mode with 30+ scales and interval setting Velocity spread functions spreads the selected pad assignment over all 12 pads, at different velocity levels
  • Transpose and Octave shift in both pad-map and scale mode
  • 100 mm ALPS motorized fader
  • Expression pedal 1/4” jack input (pedal not included)
  • Foot switch (sustain) 1/4” jack input (pedal not included)
  • MIDI output USB port for communication with computer
  • USB Micro B connector for extra and external power*

In Use

The Nektar Panorama P4 is one of the few MIDI controllers that I’ve seen that actually looks like it has been designed by someone who actually cares about style, with it’s sleek black and white casing with sweeping curves that look like something that’s been conceived in an F1 design studio. The top panel with buttons and faders continue to reflect a design that really feels classy, this is completed with the raised keys on the keyboard. You might think that these things don’t matter, I disagree, after all creativity is about being inspired and this design is inspirational, I would much rather play this Nektar P4 than some homogeneous plastic brick that seems to prevail in the controller market. One can hardly blame the brands that do this, most of them are trying to knock out keyboard controllers for a little cost as possible to try and grab market share - not so with the Nektar Panorama, this is a thing of beauty.
All the buttons and faders feel nice, the large colour display in the centre of the unit gives clear information either in use or when editing parameters.
Setting up is a simple. If you want to simply use it then plug in the USB cable and start to play, it’s a class compliant device so it should work out of the box simply as a MIDI controller. If you want the deep integration however then you need to register your keyboard and download the software for your DAW. In the case of Pro Tools, you don’t get the deep integration, but you can still download software that sets the P4 up to be mapped to Pro Tools functions. This includes transport, faders, mutes and solo controls. Once installed you simply go into the peripherals section of Pro Tools and set the MIDI section to recognise the P4, there’s a set-up guide for both Mac and Windows users on their website.
Even without the deep integration that will have Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Logic Pro and Reason users smiling with joy, using the Nektar Panarama P4 is a joy. Firstly, the semi-weighted keyboard has a great feel to it and proves that the design of the baby is more than just style over substance. I don’t like a lot of synth and controller keyboards, over the years only a handful have made me want to play more, not less, the Roland D50 deserves notable mention for this, now the P4 is on my list too, it has a wonderful feel, that matters.
The drum pads are also really nice to use, as well as to set-up. Why is it that so many controllers require the user to have a degree in computer science simply to map a few pads? The P4 offers some quick ways to map the pads, jump octaves even map one note to all the pads at varying velocities so you can use it for things like a single note or drum sound. It’s much easier than other pad based controllers i’ve used.
Finally there’s a 100mm motorised Alps fader that in supported DAWs can be used to control each track in you mix as well as write automation.
With the software installed I was also able to control Pro Tools and use the Panorama P4 as the centre of my studio. Hitting record and getting down tracks and then playing them back and mixing them, however for Pro Tools users that’s as far as it goes, however if you have multiple DAWs and one of them features the deep integration then you’ll be quids in. You’ll have plug-ins mapped automatically to controllers, you’ll be able to switch directly from the keyboard which DAW you are controlling if they are ReWired together.

In Conclusion

With all the deep integration with other controllers so great and the Pro Tools support so limited is it even worth considering the Nektar Panorama P4?
Well that depends - a recent survey we ran showed that most people use at least two or more DAWs, so there’s every chance you are going to be able to use the P4 with Pro Tools and a deeply integrated DAW, but setting that aside the P4 is a great keyboard with a great action that looks like the keyboard equivalent of a super car.
Would I love the deep integration in Pro Tools? Of course I would, would I hand back the P4 because it doesn’t have it now? No. I love it.
My advice, find a dealer with one in stock and go and test drive the Panorama P4, it’s one of the nicest keyboards I’ve played for a long time, after playing one, I think you’ll agree.
If you own one of the DAWs that has the deep integration that the Panorama P4 offers then this controller or its bigger brother offers then you should have this on your shopping list.
Street Price £325
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