What Novation say about the product
The Ableton Live Controller
Jointly designed by Ableton and Novation, Launchpad places Ableton Live at your fingertips. Whether you’re a DJ, performing musician or studio producer, Launchpad gives you all you need to truly ‘play' Live
The Novation Launchpad is a midi controller consisting of 64 square pads in an 8x8 block, with 16 circular pads, 8 across the top and 8 down the right side. There are four main modes on the LP, session, which is where you can launch session clips within ableton on the fly. User 1, which is dedicated to drum rack programming or midi inputs. User 2 which is fully customizable, using the midi learn function within ableton. And Mixer, where you can control the functions of the mixer in Ableton including solo, panning, volume, sends etc.
It looks and feels sleek, fitting perfectly into the look of any home studio, and it's compact size is a bonus for anyone with space restrictions. The rubber pads remind of the old Sinclair Spectrum, with the little rubber keyboard. They are soft to touch and a good size no matter how big or small your fingers may be. The LP has four large rubber non slip grip pads on the underside to stop it sliding around if you get carried away in "the groove!". The singular USB power supply is created well, with a 90 degree port to keep the leads from getting in the way. It is all held together in a solid plastic casing, that feels sturdy enough for the price range.
After getting this home the other day I was excited to get it unpacked and hooked up. Connection is simple as it's just a usb connection, and as it's designed specifically for Ableton, live recognises the LP straight away upon opening so there's no laborious installation process.
Once opened, I sat down ready to play around. I gave it a quick trial in session view by opening up one of my previous projects, and moving the audio and midi sections from the linear arrangement view of Ableton (where I usually build my tracks) into the session view window. Once done, buttons on the LP were amber, indicating there are clips loaded ready to play, from here, a simple press of any corresponding button on the LP would launch the segment relating to the button, turning the lit button from amber to green, telling me the clip is now playing. This is a great way to remix your own tracks, or utilize them for playing out live as you can rearrange the initial layout of a track, bringing in different parts at will. My first impressions of the LP were very good.
After my first evening playing with the LP I was itching to get back to it the following day and delve deeper to see what it can do. I opened up the manual that came with it to read in more detail what it can do. This is where some disappointments began occurring. The manual is very basic, and doesn't explain much at all. Infact, it tells you what modes there are, and that's it, no details on how to set up those modes and get the most out of them! So I figured I'd jump in and work it out for myself.
So this session I was going to focus more on the drum rack programming, using the LP as a live drum pad! So I go into the User 1 section of the LP, load up a drum rack in Live onto a midi channel and begin putting my chosen samples in the drum rack. When I hit the buttons, there is no sound, I realise I have to change the input settings on the channel so it can read the LP, which I didn't mind as it was the 1st time using the section of the LP. However, later on I was to find out that I need to re load the I/O on the channel every time I open Ableton, which is extremely annoying. There may be a way to save the settings for the LP but as of yet I havnt found it!
Anyway, once done I began jamming on the LP and the first thing I notice is the buttons aren't as soft as I was first lead to believe, they need to be pushed in quite hard to be read, which isn't a problem in the session view, but when jamming live it can begin to be a problem, however I have also noticed that the LP reads inputs from the sides of each pad, so you don't have to have a direct hit on each pad for it to be read, which is a huge bonus for two reasons, one, when in the groove you often find yourself missing the centre of the pad, and two, the edges of the pads don't need to be pushed as hard for inputs to be read!
Next thing I find is there isn't a button linked to the overdub button in live, so theres no way for me to audition the sounds and play out rough ideas before recording. It's simple to rectify as I just use the midi learn function to make one of the circular pads down the side an overdub button. So now I can play out rough ideas then at the click of a button begin recording the clip. It's simple, but I think it's something that has been overlooked by Ableton and Novation, by automatically having an overdub switch on the LP would be beneficial. Also, to get a good solid groove on the go, you may need to make sure all quantization settings on each sample are where you want them, either 1/4 1/8 1/16 etc etc. Unless you are a god with your fingertips and have the timing of a ninja! This can also be a very laborious effort going through each individual sample changing settings before getting a jam on the go!
I have yet to look into the user 2 area, as this is basically a blank canvas for you to link whatever you want to the LP, and considering I have pot wheels, faders and sliders, pitch and mod wheel etc on my Midi keyboard I probably wont venture too much into using the LP for these things.
The mixer section in my honest opinion is useless. I cant comprehend using it at all, it's clunky, jumpy and I believe this extra section could've been used for something much more rewarding. Some people may find use out of it, but for me it's a no go.
Over the last few days I have found that the LP is making me think outside the box a lot more, It's not very practical for producing whole tracks, But it is immensely fun creating drum grooves for a track, and having live jams! Also, I'm finding myself writing basics of a track, getting an 8 or 16 bar loop with all elements, then using the LP to build a tracks structure, bringing in different elements, while recording it live.
If you are going to buy a Launchpad, don't think you will be able to jam instantly! It's a long process, quantising beats to 1/4 1/8 etc, linking the channels to the LP, getting the midi learn going on for various things, creating banks of sounds for session view etc etc. I've had the LP about 5 days now, and I am not using it to it's full potential because I am still trying to build up a library of samples and sounds to use in session view, and sections to use live in user session!
I'm still happy with my purchase, and wouldn't send it back for anything, I do find myself looking at it sometimes wishing I could use it more, Like I say, its not gonna benefit entire track productions, but it is gonna make my drums have a more natural groove, and I am gonna have so much more fun structuring a track!
I think both Ableton and Novation have overhyped it if I'm honest, It's not as quick and easy to get going as they make out, but it is still a nice addition to my studio and the more I use it, the more I will understand it, and get more out of it. I will also write an update to this review after several weeks with it, as my opinions may change after continued usage.
I give it an overall of 6.5/10