Novation Launchpad S reviewed

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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 |

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 muting.

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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 and clips.

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.