Ableton Push reviewed

January 17, 2014
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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 pie.

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.

PROS: Deep and thorough integration with Live 9. Gorgeous and sturdy design. Dedicated buttons for most commonly used parameters. USB powered.

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 of art.

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 a mouse.

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.

 

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