It’s a testament to the ubiquity of Ableton Live that an
entire ecosystem of MIDI controllers has arisen to support this
performance-oriented DAW. From Akai’s APC line to Novation’s LaunchPad
and LaunchKey line, controller designers all seem to want a slice of the
Ableton’s new Push controller is the summit of this trend.
With its massive grid of touch- sensitive pads, tons of dedicated
buttons, long touch-fader, and a sexy readout that constantly changes to
reflect your interaction with it, Push is far more than a controller
for Live. It’s a true extension of Live in hardware form.
: Deep and thorough integration with Live 9. Gorgeous and
sturdy design. Dedicated buttons for most commonly used parameters. USB
CONS: Size and weight may complicate gigging for casual DJs. It takes some time to fully master the unit.
Bottom Line: The first hardware controller that truly transforms Live into a hands-on musical instrument.
$599 list | $499 street | ableton.com
The first thing I noticed was the overall quality of its
construction. Not only is it built like a tank, its overall aesthetic
would make Jony Ive jealous. It feels luxurious in a way that no other
pad controller I’ve encountered can match. That said, it’s larger than a
laptop and surprisingly hefty, so calling it “backpack friendly” may be
a bit of a stretch, but in a studio environment, it’s a veritable work
Upon plugging in my laptop, Push came alive (it’s USB
powered) and the LCD immediately prompted me to open Live. Once Live was
active, the screen changed to reflect my recording options, with Live’s
preset and device library prominently displayed and easy to navigate.
I selected a TR-909 kit from the library and the pads
instantly changed to reflect a Roland-style scrolling two-bar loop, with
the lower left corner of the pads shifting to function as drum select
buttons. I tapped the pads to determine which drums were assigned to
them, then selected the kick. I hadn’t yet read any documentation—I’d
merely glanced at a YouTube tutorial the day before—yet I was up and
running within ten minutes of opening the box.
Because of its thorough integration with Live, Push can
serve as an interface for nearly all of Live’s musical and performance
functions. You can do step sequencing, scene selection, editing effects
(with ultra-smooth endless knobs, I might add), and automation sweeps
with the touch-fader. There’s even an innovative keyboarding option that
reconfigures the pads—with your choice of key and scale—so that you can
play riffs and chord progressions fluidly and in a way that transcends
the traditional chromatic keyboard. Toggling between all these modes is
almost effortless, thanks to the massive array of dedicated buttons for
most commonly used parameters and functions. The trick is devoting the
time to developing the necessary muscle memory. That said, once you’ve
spent a few days immersed in Push, it will be excruciating to go back to
While it’s easy to make armchair comparisons to Native
Instruments Maschine or the Akai MPC, that’s completely missing the
point. Push actually takes you out of the click-and-drag paradigm that
has become the definitive way of working with a DAW, and takes the
creation and performance process with Live to dizzying new heights.
That said, Push is not for everyone. There are certainly
users who will always prefer the feedback loop of a trackpad, cursor,
and a large LCD, but for artists who are passionate about Live and want
to approach their music from a new perspective, Push is irresistible—and
a true paradigm shift.