Novation has been at the forefront of electronic music production for quite some time and they almost stole the show with their first attempt at a mini keyboard. The second version is what sequels are meant to be, just like first except 100 times better. They’ve excelled with their MPC drum pads, launch controllers, and the various synthesisers but their range of keyboards is what sets them apart. The LaunchKey Mini is by far their most portable and compact MIDI keyboard controller to date.
It was tailor-made to suit Ableton Live but it can still be integrated to work on many of the most popular Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) on the market, including FL Studio, Pro Tools, Reason, Cubase, Logic and even Magix Music Maker. It’s a strong competitor with its incredible value for money and is a far cheaper alternative to the Ableton Push 2 when it comes to getting a controller dedicated to the software. So, for any veteran producer looking to pick up an affordable on-the-go keyboard or anybody looking to buy their first MIDI controller, here’s my Novation LaunchKey Mini MKII Review.
Product: Novation LaunchKey Mini MKII
Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon.com
Operating System: Windows and Mac OS
Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars (Based on 173 ratings)
What Can It Do?
The LaunchKey Mini is the definition of Plug-in and Go…after you take the time to register your product on their website that is. Be prepared to do this to get the included software as well if you don’t already have a DAW. Now, they may have designed this controller to integrate perfectly with Ableton Live but doesn’t mean you need to replace the one you’re using. It’s just that this DAW, in particular, has a unique layout courtesy of its ‘Session view’ and its interesting ability to launch and audition clips without skipping a beat.
That’s where this nifty keyboards main feature comes into play. There are 16 velocity-sensitive pads at your disposal and they can be used to trigger your preloaded clips or to get a beat going with some traditional finger-drumming. Tap out your drum pattern while simultaneously adding synth all from the pads alone, it’s really up to you. Each pad lights up as well to indicate when you have a clip loaded, playing or recording.
The 25 Mini keys are smaller than your regular size keyboard (hence the word ‘mini’) so they’ll be a bit of a challenge if you’re stepping down from the full-sized deal. Even for the beginner, it may take a few hours to get the hang of it but they’re still very usable. The 8 knobs are completely re-assignable and can be used to tweak your instruments and effects however you please with precision.
Using them on a non-Ableton DAW may take a bit of technical support as you map each control but again, it shouldn’t deter from picking one up for your favourite software. You’ve also got Octave Up and Down buttons as well as 4 more for easy track and scene navigation through your Ableton Live session.
What Can’t It Do?
You notice how I keep mentioning Ableton? Well, that’s the downside this controller. It’s really the only program that’s going to squeeze every drop of value out of your purchase and that kind of sucks. No controller is perfect and the LaunchKey Mini is no exception. The thing that I can’t get over is the fact that there’s no pitch or modulation control, which is practically standard these days. No matter how slick my Ableton skills are, there’s no denying the versatility you miss out on without these kinds of controls on deck.
A common complaint that I’ve seen is that of the keys and the amount of action they have. I know it’s only a mini keyboard but their key component should be a little more responsive. It does boast an app that you can download from the Apple App Store to operate the launchpad from your iPhone or iPad but turns out that without a Camera Connection or lightning to USB camera adapter, it’s pretty useless so…wharp-wharp.
Besides the launchpad app, the LaunchKey Mini comes with a lot of downloadable extras like the Novation Bass Station, a great plugin that retails for almost $70 alone, and V-Station virtual instruments. And since this controller was made to favour one DAW, in particular, they’ve included Ableton Live Lite. A stripped down version of the software that gives you enough of the basics to get you started. Once you have your controller registered you can download the Addictive Keys plugin. Pick from Modern Upright, Studio Grand, Electric Grand or Mark one, on the house! The cheapest of these goes for $79.95 so it’s practically a steal to be included with this.
When starting out, it’s important to focus on what you need more than what you want, and with that regard, the Novation LaunchKey Mini delivers on all fronts. It caters more for the Ableton-use than any other but you can still get a lot of use out of it with your favourite software, so there’s no need to rush out and switch just yet. It’s made for the musician on-the-go but looks just as welcome on the desktop of any young producer just starting out.
Click Here to get your Novation LaunchKey Mini today.
The Short Version
- 25 note velocity sensitive mini-key keyboard
- 16 multi-colour backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
- 8 knobs
- 2 octave buttons
- 2 track buttons
- 2 navigation buttons
- InControl button
- 2 multi-colour backlit round buttons
- Micro USB socket
- Kensington security slot
Have you picked up one of these bad boys? Got a few questions you need to ask? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
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