Since the arrival of the instantly recognisable Launchpad, the Novation Launch range of products have proved some of the most popular USB MIDI controllers for music makers. Do YOU know what they are now capable of? Read on to find out more…
The original Launchpad was released in 2009, primarily as a controller for Ableton Live software, which was then at version 8. The ability to trigger Ableton clips and samples spawned a whole new way of playing with the sounds that make up a track, and ‘virtuoso finger tapping’ soon became quite an advanced skill. Since the original Launchpad, improvements and refinements have been made, and today the Launchpad is available in three flavours –
This current line-up caters not only for Ableton users, but for any DAW that can make use of the Launchpad controls available. After all, the MIDI data sent out by a Launchpad is just MIDI data that can control whatever you like once configured in your software.
So what’s the difference between the three models?
The baby of the bunch – an 8x8 multi-coloured mini trigger pad matrix, plus 16 other buttons. These can be configured to trigger clips, instruments and samples, arm tracks, control volumes, pans and sends. The Launchpad Mini V2 can also be used with an iPad (using an additional Apple Camera Connection Kit) and the Novation Launchpad App.
With the same basic layout as the Mini MK2, the Launchpad MK2 is bigger, and has larger launch pads that are brighter and offer more colours for better visual feedback. The Launchpad mk2, like all of the Launch products, can also be used with an iPad.
The daddy of the Launchpad range – On the face of it the Launchpad PRO looks pretty similar to the MK2, with the addition of another 16 buttons that sit around the edges of the control surface. However, the additional functionality offered by the PRO version makes it a very different beast. There is much more integration with your software, with dedicated ‘modes’ that allow you to jump from one aspect to another at the touch of a button. Many of these features are geared towards Ableton, but the Launchpad PRO can feel at home in most computer music environments. Away from the computer, Launchpad PRO can be used as a stand alone MIDI controller for synths, sound modules and drum machines. An external power supply is included with the PRO for use in this mode. The pads on the PRO are also velocity sensitive, for truly expressive drum performances.
Triggering clips and creating brightly coloured light shows with a Launchpad is one thing, but what about knobs and other physical controls you might want?
Novation are aware of the need for other types of control, and their answer is the Launch Control range of products. Currently there are two versions – the Launch Control and the Launch Control XL.
A relatively simple and compact controller comprising 16 knobs and 8 pads (backlit just like the Launchpads), the Launch Control allows you to tweak anything that can be controlled by MIDI CCs, so virtual instruments and software parameters, as well as hardware synths and iPad apps. You can also jump from one template to another (there are 16 recallable templates), so you can control different parts of your studio instantly.
For those that like a lot of control, the Launch Control XL offers 24 knobs, 8 faders and 16 buttons/triggers. These can be mapped to whatever you like, just like the basic Launch Control, but with one major difference – you can also choose to use industry standard DAW control using the HUI protocol. This means that all of the major DAWs mixer functions can be accessed automatically without any manual mapping. The eight faders and corresponding knobs and buttons become controls for channel volumes, pans and sends, and the mute, solo and arm functions found on almost all recording software.
The one thing almost every producer needs is a MIDI controller keyboard. There are lots on the market, so what makes the Novation Launchkey special?
Now at version 2, there are four sizes of Launchkey keyboards – mini-key, 25-, 49-, and 61-note versions. Each model has the same control types - knobs, faders and pads, with the exception of the mini key and 25-key versions that only have room for pads and knobs.
The pads are backlit just like other Launch models and, as usual, can be used for triggering clips, loops or samples, or behave like drum pads or even a chromatic ‘keyboard’. They are also all velocity sensitive, a major plus for drum programming and unusual at their price. The rotary knobs and faders can be assigned to any parameter you like, and the addition of a transport section means you can play, stop, record and rewind without reaching for your mouse.
The difference between the Launchkey and other controller keyboards is in the way the controls can be mapped to your software. Whether you are using Ableton or another DAW, a Launchkey can control different aspects of the software at the touch of a button. The Launchkey uses Novation ‘InControl’ – an automatic mapping system that takes the pain out of controller mapping. You can jump from DAW control to instrument control at the touch of a button, and the InControl system means you don’t have to get under the hood – it works straight out of the box.
Novation have produced some great MIDI controllers with advanced features at a very reasonable price. They are not necessarily the cheapest controllers out there, but they are packed full of features and integrate seamlessly with almost all recording software. iPad support is a great bonus, and InControl makes setting up a Launchkey keyboard a breeze.
It’s also worth noting that all of the Launch products also come with a suite of software: Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station and V-Station virtual instruments and 1GB of samples from Loopmasters, so if you don’t have any software at all, a Novation Launch controller is all you need to get started.
So, if you want take control of your music production software, check out what Novation have to offer.