Ableton Live has been a personal favourite of mine for a very long time, so the thought of them having their own controller had me foaming at the mouth. Their first release of this device was nothing to write home (or make a blog) about, but the second version of Ableton Push has nearly every electronic producer curious to see what it can do, including me. The sleek design and flashy control system really unlocks the ‘Live’ factor of its software counterpart and seeing as how we just did an article on their DAW, I had to talk a bit about this awesome piece of hardware that adds flavour like cheese on a pizza. Here’s our brief Ableton Push 2 review.
Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com
Operating System: Windows and Mac OS (Requires Ableton Live 9.5 and above)
Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars
Overview – Like, What is it?
Now if you’re a beginner to the art of music production then I suggest you stay away from this bad boy until you’ve at least spent a couple of months getting to grips with the standard DAW first because this integrates with it like a finger integrates with a glove. It was designed as to not just be an alternative to the popular keyboard controllers on the market today, but as a complete extension of the software, removing the keyboard and mouse out of the equation so that you’re about as hands-on as you can get.
Instead of sliding a mouse, you’re turning an actual knob, instead of drawing MIDI patterns with your keyboard, you’re finger-drumming your next hit and instead of clicking on clips in the Session view of your computer, you’re tapping the pads to audition your sounds. The thing that gets my attention (like really, really gets my attention) is the mixing capabilities that it comes with too. It has all the basic mixing functions you need, emulating the feel of working behind an actual mixing desk. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eventually ignoring the software altogether and only ever gazing on it to load, save & exit.
See the thing is, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in studios that still had old equipment in it and I’m baffled, sometimes, at how anybody got anything done. Some may argue that it’s just my millennial brain being…millennial, but I simply cannot wrap my head around the idea of recording and making music without a computer screen. I mean, how do they edit the waveform without being able to see it? And that’s what made me weary of this slick looking gadget.
Why would you reduce all the visual intricacies of digital audio software down to a bare minimum of fixed buttons and knobs and a sad little screen that looks like it came off a Gameboy? It’s the same reason I prefer to browse the web from a desktop computer instead of a mobile device. There’s something about being able to see the entire picture, having everything spread out and within reach without fuss. That’s why I felt a little intimidated when I first came across Push.
That all changed when I saw this incredible device in action
Like, What Can it Do?
It’s not just a mixer or a launchpad for your clips, it’s also a drum machine, an instrument, a step sequencer and a sampler. Seeing as how I just mentioned it, browsing and navigating the menu is done with ease. At the touch of a button, the display will bring up the menu for you to get started cycling through and selecting your devices and tracks by rotating the knobs or using the directional pads on the right. There’s a continuous preview that will play at the same time too, so you’re never going in blind.
Load up a drum rack and instantly be transported back into the early 90’s as your controller becomes an old school analogue drum machine with 64 pads being divided up into a step sequencer and MIDI Editor. You can plot out individual hits on the sequencer or tap along live and record your beat. You don’t even need to be able to play in time with the quantise feature that will keep everything in time with one button. Imagine this as the real life version of the sequencer you’d typically find the first time you open up FL Studio except you’re touching is in real life (I mean, WHAaaaaT?!).
Beneath The Surface
That’s really the only thing about this controller. Getting to know what the pads do is key because they have a different function and backlight colour (because, you know, that’s important) depending on which mode you’re in and what kind of track you have loaded, because once you have an instrument like a piano or a pad, they work in a whole new way. In music theory there are 12 notes per octave (including sharps and flats) but there are only eight notes in each scale and you need to play the correct notes of each scale in order to stay in key (or in layman’s terms: stay in tune…yeah, I hate music theory too).
Luckily the process is simplified in a way I’ve only dreamed. Pressing the scale button on the right will allow you to choose the key you’d like to work in and which scale. Once you do that, those eight notes are all you get. So no matter which pads you press, you will always be in tune with the song you’re working on (hallelujah). And don’t worry about getting lost in the mirage of white buttons. The root notes of the scale you’re working in are lit up so they’re easily identifiable.
What’s Not To Like
Once you have your sounds, recording a loop is no problem. Pressing the record button will count you in and let you tap away to add and create your own MIDI Patterns. The overdubbing feature is rock solid so you can add and remove sounds to your song without even pushing stop or even looking at your computer screen. Using the ‘Simpler’ plugin, you can edit your samples with ease on the controller’s display and create your own one-shots or harmonies. Even for those that like to dive a little deeper and alter parameters within each plugin should never fear.
All your visual needs are met on the display and all parameters can be attenuated with the knobs on the controller, which is especially effective when mixing. Migrate your entire session view onto the controller with one button and have every track and clip laid out for you as if you were looking at your screen, to get in the zone and work as if you were in a real studio. Going ‘Live’ is what this was truly meant for. Perform live, record live, compose live, the possibilities are endless.
Definitely! The Ableton Push 2 is, without a doubt, the must-have tool this year, especially if you’re an Ableton Live user. It definitely does more than your average MIDI Controller and will make a great addition to any producer’s set up. With the boys over at Akai putting their stamp on its inner workings, you know it’s a great device. And don’t worry, you’ll be able to use any other external plugins and virtual instruments that you have already installed on your software. If you’re looking for the something far cheaper and still Ableton-friendly then look no further than the Novation LaunchKey Mini MKII.
Get your own Ableton Push 2 today
Read more about Ableton Live itself here. Got any questions you want to ask? Or have you bought it before? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HTMH.com
The Short Version
- 64 velocity and pressure-sensitive multicoloured pads to play and sequence beats
- New way to play notes and chords. Play melody and harmony in any key.
- Improvise and play with loops. Trigger and re-arrange your ideas at any tempo.
- Hands-on control with 11 touch-sensitive encoders.
- Includes Ableton Live 9 Intro and works with any edition of Ableton Live 9
- Designed by Ableton, engineered by Akai Professional
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