The Novation Launchpad is by no means a new product but in my eyes a staple for every Ableton user out there. Released in 2009 it’s a 64 button MIDI controller that was made specifically for Ableton Live. It’s relatively light, compact and feels well made. Although at first the buttons can feel a little rigid, once you start using it they loosen up completely.
Novation have also incorporated something which I think a lot of USB accessories need; an L shaped USB connector. This means that the USB cable is flush with the side of the Launchpad and that it doesn’t take up valuable desk or performance space.
Whilst I was unboxing I noticed that, although there was a copy of Ableton Live 8 (Lite), there was no driver software. This was confusing for a while but after a bit of googling I realised that the drivers were actually built-into Ableton. As soon as you select the Launchpad as a device you are greeted with 4 illuminated navigation lights – a good sign that everything is working. There are essentially 4 modes that can be used; session – which is a clip launcher, user 1 and user 2 – which can be used to play MIDI notes directly, and mixer – which, you guessed it, is a visual mixer.
Session mode is great for playing back your Ableton creations, DJing or remixing tracks. Each clip illuminates on the launchpad dependant on its current state. It makes firing samples and tracks a lot quicker than trying to navigate with a mouse – especially if you have a large session view. If you have an extremely large session view you can use up/down/left/right navigation buttons to move the current view. Something which gives you the opportunity to really fill up your project with clips.
The User 1 and User 2 modes are user defined and can be used in pretty much any way you can think of. For example you can use User 1 to launch beats on drum rack, whilst User 2 is used to control a beat repeat effect. Switching between all the modes is a simple as pushing a button. User 2 mode can also be used with Max for Live. This allows users to create original patches to be used in Ableton. Some notable features include Novations own Launchpad Step-Sequencer patch and a Monome emulator called Nonome. Nomone is definitely worth the not-so-easy installation and set-up, trust me. The User modes can also be used to control things like faders and knobs – this is done by sliding your finger across a column or row of buttons.
Finally the Mixer Mode is a visualisation of the mixers on the session view. Each channel has its own illuminated volume level, stop button, on/off switch and record arm button. This is perfect when you are recording tracks or laying down beats using the Launchpad; you can simply switch between User and Mixer mode without even looking at your screen.
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