Standing out in a crowded market is a daunting task for any
manufacturer, but Novation isn’t just any manufacturer. With over two
decades of experience ranging from both analog and digital synthesizers
to flexible software and some of the world’s most popular controllers,
Novation clearly knows what works in the electronic music market—and how
to price it.
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
Their new line of Launchkey controllers is an excellent
example of this understanding. With three keyboard models to choose
from, all of which are bundled with extremely useful software, the
Launchkey lineup covers a lot of ground at a range of price points. Over
the past month, I tinkered with the Launchkey 49 and Launchkey Mini and
was rather impressed with their value and functionality. Here’s why.
The Launchkey 49 (also available with 61 or 25 keys for 50
dollars more or less, respectively) includes all the features we’ve
come to expect from a controller keyboard: a bank of nine sliders (as
opposed to eight, in case you want to control virtual Hammond drawbars),
eight knobs, transport controls, and nine assignable buttons. What
takes the Launchkey up a notch are the 16 velocity-sensitive pads that
do double-duty as Ableton Live clip launchers, with integrated
multi-colored LEDs that indicate the status of the assigned clips. This
gives the Launchkeys a level of integration with (and with Image-Line FL
Studio as well) that other keyboard controllers can’t touch. From these
pads, you can control two simultaneous rows of eight clips and easily
shift between rows via an additional pair of buttons next to the pads.
In practice, it’s actually quite easy to get up to speed.
Deepening the Launchkey integration is the inclusion of
Novation’s “InControl” features—essentially a baked-in version of their
Automap software, for customized control of various soft synths,
effects, and DAW features directly from the unit.
Significant added value comes thanks to Novation’s
inclusion of two soft synths (Bass Station and V-Station) and a pair of
iPad apps: Launchkey and Launchpad. The former is a nifty little iPad
synth; the latter is a performance-oriented loop player. Both apps are
great fun and quite useful, considering they’re both free, regardless of
whether you’re a Launchkey user. Good stuff.
The Launchkey Mini includes the same software, but is more
of a tabletop controller for casual use and DJ gigs. It loses the
sliders and transport controls while retaining the knobs and pads.
The only major caveat with the Launchkeys is the lack of
five-pin MIDI connections; these keyboards are for computer use (via
USB) only. That said, even the large 61-key version can be powered from
your iPad. Kudos to Novation for packing a ton of features—and some
really great software—into an affordable line of controllers.