Novation is a brand that I’ve mentioned more than a few times on my site. Safe to say, I’m a fan. Up until now, though I’ve been sticking to a beginner friendly budget and spoken highly of the ‘Mini’ version but I think it’s time to step out of the $99 shadow and turn your attention to a beast that’s got a few more teeth. I’m talking about none other than the Novation Launchkey 25 and boy does this beast look like a beauty. The bright lights from those candy coloured drum pads are downright hypnotising and for an Ableton-user like me, it’s almost too good to walk by without taking a second look.
It’s sleek, light, compact and makes an attractive addition to any home studio, even if you’re not on the Ableton band waggon like I am. That’s all thanks to the InControl feature that allows you to fully integrate it with your favourite Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), whether it be FL Studio, Cubase, Logic, Reason or even Magix Music Maker. Add that to a bag of downloadable extras and you’ve got a controller worth putting on your wishlist. Here’s my Novation Launchkey 25 review.
Novation Launchkey 25
Cheapest Place To Buy: Amazon.com
Operating Systems: Windows and Mac
Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars (Based on 173 ratings)
What Can It Do?
This control was designed for the expressive use of sound and quite honestly, when I see what some producers are capable of doing with this controller, it makes me feel like I’m not living up to my potential. The first thing I’ve got to mention are the 16 drum pads that light up like easter eggs. You get the same amount regardless of which size Launchkey you take so you’re really not selling yourself short with the 25 key model.
If you’ve spent a day using Ableton Live then you’d be aware of it’s unique ‘Session View’ and how the grid is used to launch and record any clips (or patterns for the FL Studio guys) that you have preloaded onto your tracks. The top row will select and launch the clips as they map to each track once you press the InControl button and the bottom row will stop them. It doesn’t end there, however, as they can be used to tap out a beat on your drum rack too.
Besides the Pads…
The 8 knobs above are used to tweak any instruments and effects, including ‘pan’ and ‘send’ controls, and the 25 full-sized keys below are where you really get your money’s worth. Let me say that again, 25 FULL-SIZED keys that are suitable for newcomers and even those stepping down from a regular piano. Supporting the keys are a host of other controls, including the all-important Pitch and Modulation wheels and Octave Up and Down buttons.
Not to mention two track navigation buttons and one little fader just to wet your appetite for the larger models (which come with 9 faders). There’s also a little window to indicate tempo as well as a complete set of Transport controls, including start, stop, record and play, plus forward and reverse (which double as scene navigation buttons). I mean, am I ever going to touch a mouse or keyboard again?
What Can’t It Do?
Like any beast, it’s not without it’s not without its ugly side. The biggest issue by far is the fact that you need to be an Ableton Live user if you want to squeeze every drop of value out of this controller (much like it’s little brother). That doesn’t mean that it won’t function on your favourite DAW but take into account the way Ableton operates as a whole. The Session View’s capabilities are what this controller thrives on and not many DAWs work in a similar fashion, meaning you won’t really get your money’s worth in the end.
Sure, you can map the controls out to suit your software but how many beginners out there wanna sit and watch a bunch of YouTube videos just to use a controller that’s advertised as ‘Plug In and Play’? And what about that fader? Come on, what a tease! I never have just one track up and trying to use it on many seems ridiculous. The level doesn’t reset to whichever track is selected so your fader could be halfway down adjusting a meter on-screen that’s still at the top.
Even if I dedicate it to the master, that’s not a track I wanna mess with much so all in all, I think they could’ve saved us some bucks and left it out altogether.
Where do I begin? How about with the 4GB of Loopmasters samples that come downloadable for free just because you own a Novation product. Add that to a free license of the plugin, Addictive Keys that allows you to own any of their high-quality piano instruments for absolutely nothing. Pick from Modern Upright, Studio Grand as well as Electric Grand and Mark One, valued at just under $80 each.
Also available as a free download, you get the Novation Bass Station and V-Station virtual instruments, one of which retails for nearly $70. All this great value and I didn’t even mention the free version of Ableton Live Lite for anybody looking to give it a try or still in need of music production software. I mean, what a steal.
Check out the Launchkey in action
Should I get It?
Yes, you certainly should. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better alternative in this price range and it excels as a great beginners tool with exceptional portability and functionality. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for peeps that aren’t using Ableton Live. There are much better controllers on offer, like the Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII that will integrate with almost any software on the block. For those Ableton beat makers looking for a bigger challenge, look no further than the Push 2. This one’s definitely only for the brave.
Git any more questions on the LaunchKey 25? Want to tell us all about your experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
The Short Version
- 25 note velocity sensitive synth-style keyboard
- 16 full-colour RGB backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
- 8 knobs
- 1 slider (25 note)
- 6 dedicated transport controls
- Pitch bend and modulation wheels
- 2 octave / transpose buttons
- 7 segment 3 character LED display
- 2 Track / MIDI Channel buttons
- 2 InControl buttons (25 note)
- 2 full-colour RGB backlit round buttons
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