If you’ve been in the market for a MIDI controller (and if you feel like good old fashioned black and white keys aren’t your thing) then you’ve probably come across the Novation Launchpad and really, I can’t blame you for being interested. It takes a fair amount of finesse to get your fingers dancing across the pads and creating impressive light shows but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t eager to give it a try. Like many of Novation’s products, this controller is geared toward the growing crowd of Ableton Live users across the world.
It’s very similar to the Ableton Push 2 but unlike it’s more favourable cousin, it won’t burn a giant hole in your budget (but if you’ve got the cash then by all means, get that one!). Being dedicated to one Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) does have its drawbacks, though. For starters, you’re basically alienating a plethora of producers by insisting that they switch to Ableton Live or suffer through the process of mapping this controller to their software and seriously, ain’t nobody got time for that!
Nevertheless, the appeal is still there to add this nifty tool to your arsenal. It’s sleek, lightweight and looks so damn cool that I had to give the Novation Launchpad a quick review and help you make the right decision.
Product: Novation Launchpad
Price: $124.99 (MKII – $149.99)
Cheapest Place To Buy: Amazon.com
Operating Systems: Windows, Mac and Linux
Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars (Based on 112 ratings)
So, What Can It Do?
As you ‘re about to see, it does quite a lot. Let’s start off with the most obvious, most confusing and most daunting part of the launchpad and that’s the 8×8 grid (64 total if you’re good at math) of pads that you have at your disposal. These bad boys are about as multipurpose as a swiss-army knife and that’s what gives the Launchpad it’s exceptionally steep learning curve. I can already see myself glancing at the manual every 5 minutes, or watching some lengthy Youtube tutorials, from day one. But once you’re over that hump you should barely feel the need for a mouse.
I have to touch on the RGB LEDs that light these pads up, though, because that’s what attracted me (like a moth to a flame). They can display a variety of colours to match perfectly to any of your preloaded clips or to match the volume levels of your tracks once you start mixing. They can even be used to synchronise fantastic light shows to your live routines (like we just saw).
Tell me more…
The 16 buttons that decorate the top and right-hand side each have a unique use and are the tools which you will use to navigate through the different modes and functions that completely alter the layout of the grid with each switch. This controller loves Ableton Live and integrates seamlessly with the software’s unique Session View so that you’ll have every pre-loaded clip ready to launch and laid out exactly as it is on screen.
Being able to use the drum goes without saying but one of the most surprising features is this controllers ability to mix directly from the grid. Entering this mode changes the layout to represent the volume meter or the pan controls of each track you have on screen, so you can make edits without the mouse. It also allows you to control sends and arm tracks for recording, making this controller extremely versatile.
But, What Can’t It Do?
Now, being able to mix with this controller may sound cool but if you’re in a studio environment, it’s also completely useless! Any mixing engineer worth his salt will tell you that getting a good mix requires a far more surgical approach and 9 times out of 10 that’s going to need a fader or a mouse (or at the very least a knob). When changing the volume, it essentially works as a stepped fader, giving you only 8 options of loud and that makes no sense. Check out the buttons that they have too.
I mean, I feel like I’m back at square one and I have to learn what every little knob and fader does on a mixing desk! I shouldn’t need to dive for a manual as soon as I open up the box. I honestly think I’d be making hits with the Push 2 from the moment I plug it in. It has a grid that’s much easier to understand (and comprehend) and the layout itself is a lot more sophisticated. This is definitely going to throw beginners a curve-ball.
Plus these days, if I threw a rock in the air I bet it would land on a producer using FL Studio and not Ableton Live and it just doesn’t provide the same level of functionality with other DAWs.
Since they need you to have Ableton Live in order to squeeze every bit of value from this controller, it does include the ‘Lite’ version for you to get started. It has all the software’s most basic tools so you can get setup pretty quickly (after taking the time to register your product and completing your download). Something that puts a smile on my face is the 1GB of free samples from Loopmasters that come as another free download (which recently got bumped up to a 4GB download for all new and existing owners of Novation products…I’m drooling for that offer).
To top if off, you get the Novation Bass Station as a free plugin that would normally retail for almost $70, so it’s an added treat along with the V-station virtual instruments.
Should I Get It?
Unfortunately, this is definitely a controller I recommend beginners stay far away from. There are producers out there that found less difficulty getting started but I guarantee it took a bit of prior knowledge or at least some experience with electronic music production. It’s a solid controller, no doubt, but there are better options at a slightly lower price like the Novation LaunchKey Mini that has everything you need including the above-mentioned software. So take a moment to decide if this is the right controller for you.
Have you got any more questions about the Launchpad? Have you had good experiences you’d like to share? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
- 64 (8×8 grid) square RGB backlit buttons
- 8 round RGB backlit system buttons (assignable)
- 8 round RGB backlit function buttons (not assignable)
- Orange rubber base mat
- USB socket
- Ableton Live Lite 9 is included
- 1 GB of Loopmasters sounds and samples
- Novation Bass Station VST and AU plug-in synthesiser
- Novation V Station VST and AU plug-in synthesiser
- Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII 2017 Review: Still Bang For You Buck!
- Alesis V25 Review 2017: Still Missing The Bullseye?
- Novation LaunchKey Mini MKII Review 2017: Still Relevant?