Novation Launchpad S reviewed
Since its introduction in 2009, Novation’s original Launchpad has
developed a cult following among performance-oriented Ableton fans,
thanks to its combination of affordability, gig-friendly size, and
realtime control of Live’s clips and scenes via its 64 buttons. The fact
that it looks fantastic on stage—thanks to integrated multi-color LEDs
for each button—doesn’t hurt either. So the recent release of an updated
Launchpad S is big news for fans of the original and for
newcomers who are still on the fence about which controller fits their
Ableton workflow best.
PROS: Excellent integration with Ableton Live. Multi-colored
LEDs provide ample visual feedback. Automap software simplifies
configuration. Small size fits laptop bags and cramped DJ booths. Comes
with Novation’s soft synth of the original Bass Station.
CONS: Mixing via columns of buttons is inherently limited to value jumps of 16. Pad buttons are not velocity sensitive.
Bottom Line: An affordable and compact session controller for Ableton Live.
$249.95 | $169 street | novationmusic.com
The S includes all the features that made the original
Launchpad such a big hit. Compared to the original, the backlighting of
the pads is about five times brighter and their response time feels
quicker. The S is also now USB class compliant, which means there’s no
driver to install. Follow the quick start guide to the letter, and the
Launchpad springs to life, enabling on-the-fly triggering of Ableton
clips as well as recording functions such as arming tracks, soloing, and
Using a streamlined selection of buttons for moving the
active range of controlled clips, activating scenes, and accessing mixer
functions, the Launchpad S is exceedingly intuitive and, yes, fun, to
use with Live. Since the focus is squarely on interactive clip control,
the Launchpad’s mixing control is pretty limited. Out of the box, you
can manipulate track volume, pan, and levels for the first two sends via
treating a vertical strip of buttons as a “fader,” but with eight
buttons per column, you’re limited to volume changes of 16 increments
each, so there’s not a lot of subtlety available.
Novation’s Automap software enables the Launchpad S to be a
true team player when it comes to manipulating soft synth and effects
plug-ins, as well. This free download works as a “wrapper” for the
plug-in, making parameter assignment an incredibly straightforward
process. Just put Automap into learn mode, click on the parameter to be
automated, and then select the Launchpad column you want to control that
parameter. There are two user modes that can be programmed in this
manner, so the Launchpad’s integration isn’t limited to Live’s scenes
Novation is also expanding the Launchpad S’s horizons by
including integration with Image-Line FL Studio’s newest performance
modes, which are so similar to Live’s that the functional approach here
is essentially the same, but with a few added amenities for playing
keyboard parts and drums.
With its combination of integration, simplicity, and
affordability, it’s no surprise that Novation’s Launchpad S is the
top-selling clip controller for Ableton Live. While it’s nowhere near as
comprehensive as Ableton’s own Push or the Akai APC series, it’s also a
fraction of the price and a lot more portable—and that’s why it’s poised to remain the best seller the foreseeable future.