The Novation Launchpad (Review) – The Affordable, Portable Controller For Ableton Live

The Novation Launchpad is the MIDI controller that took the 8 x 8 button matrix mainstream.

While it’s been out a few years, we thought it was time to revisit it, in part because the monome-style button matrix has become a de facto interface for working with Ableton Live and also because the Launchpad’s street price has dropped to a very affordable $150.

If you’ve been under a rock, the Novation Launchpad is a MIDI controller designed specifically for Ableton Live, designed in conjuntion with Ableton. It comes with an introductory version of Live and is extremely easy to set up. It’s USB powered, so you basically plug it in, launch Live and get busy.

The primary use for the Launchpad is triggering loops and sounds in Live’s Session View. The Launchpad automatically lights up its buttons to mirror the arrangement of your clips in Live. This makes it easy to navigate the grid of otherwise identical buttons.

Here’s how Novation positions the Launchpad:

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The Launchpad transforms your experience of using Ableton Live, making it more like working with hardware than working with a computer & mouse.

While using the matrix buttons instead of a mouse delivers obvious speed improvements, the benefits of the Launchpad are deeper than that.

The Launchpad turns the Session View into something that you can really ‘play’, making it easy to trigger samples and loops on a much more granular level. This makes it much easier to experiment with arrangements and rearrange things while playing live.

Hardware

Novation stripped down the Launchpad design to create a streamlined hardware interface for working with Live. The Launchpad has a different focus than the Akai APC 20/40, emphasizing portability and performing on the matrix over mixing and other functions.

The Launchpad is dominated by its 8 x 8 matrix of buttons. The buttons are basically on/off switches, but they can light up in different colors – green, yellow and red – to indicate the state of the corresponding clip in Live. The buttons are unlit if the slot is empty in Live, yellow if the slot is loaded but not playing, green if it’s playing and red if it’s recording.

In addition to the matrix, there is a row of buttons across the top that help you navigate Live and a column of buttons on the right that let you trigger ‘Scenes’ of clips in the Session View. There’s a USB socket and cable for connecting the Launchpad to your computer and that’s about it.

In terms of construction, the Launchpad is both smaller and lighter than the Akai’s APC line. As a result, the Novation Launchpad is a great controller for musicians that gig with Ableton Live or that just like a very mobile set up. You can fit the Launchpad into many laptop bags and have a rig that’s extremely portable for composing or performing.

In Use

We’ve mentioned the Session View above. The Launchpad brings an immediacy to interacting with the Session View that is important; it becomes much easier and faster to experiment with arrangements, so you may spend a lot less time focused on using Scenes to trigger groups of clips, and more time arranging clips on the fly.

Most Live users expand far beyond an 8 x 8 grid of clips. The navigation buttons at the top of the Launchpad make it easy to jump around the Session View. Live updates your computer display to help make clear what you are currently controlling, and the Launchpad lights immediately switch to the state of the clips that you currently have control over.

You can also use multiple Launchpads together to eliminate much of the need for navigating. Here’s an example of a performance using 6 Launchpads:

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The Launchpad also supports a Mixer mode. This lets you use the grid to do things like adjust the pan, fade and send levels. In a nutshell, it lets you use columns of buttons in the grid as illuminated faders. It’s a useful feature, but not as convenient as dedicated knobs or faders.

Finally, the Launchpad has two User modes. You can use these to control just about anything in Live using MIDI learn. User 1 defaults to letting you use the Launchpad as pad triggers.

Here’s a series of tutorials that cover gettings started with the Novation Launchpad:

 Other Uses

While the Launchpad was designed for Live, you can use it in a lot of other ways. For example, you can use it as a monome emulator, a generic MIDI pad controller or as a controller for matrix sequencers.

Here are a few examples:

  • Novation’s StepSeq is a free Max For Live Patch that turns Launchpad into a full fledged melodic step sequencer. Buttons are configured diatonically (as opposed to chromatically, as with a traditional step sequencer). The degree of the scale and its tonal centre can be set by the user, meaning that, once set up, any note you trigger in your sequence will fit in harmonically with your track.
  • You can use Nonome to use the Novation Launchpad as a monome.
  • You can use the Launchpad with Numerology to create a modular sequencing setup.
  • Katapult is a flexible mapping application for the Novation Launchpad and iPad. It allows you to map customizable multipage layouts to the Launchpad or iPad and send the MIDI output to any MIDI application or device.

Conclusion

The Novation Launchpad is a great, affordable controller for Ableton Live. It offers a minimal set of controls, optimized for working with Live’s Session View. If you’re looking for a mobile control surface for Live, the Launchpad is the control surface to beat.

Pros:

  • Very compact and portable
  • USB powered
  • Full 8×8 grid
  • Focus is on grid sequencing

Cons:

  • No knobs or sliders
  • Many users will want to have a second controller for creating melodic MIDI sequences

See the Novation site for more information on the Launchpad.

If you’ve used the Novation Launchpad, let us know what you think of it!


13 thoughts on “The Novation Launchpad (Review) – The Affordable, Portable Controller For Ableton Live

  1. The Launchpad is killer and I use mine all the time. It was $200 when I bought it and it was worth it.

    I like the idea of getting several of these, but six seems like it might be overkill!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  2. What no mention of the LPC script from Nativekontrol?Best thing i ever bought turns your Launchpad into a full on sampler workstation.Basically adds more pages like
    Macro device control
    sample slicer
    drum rack control
    scale/chord pages
    Step sequencer page
    not to mention the main page which gives you all the main functions of Live

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
  3. I love the launchpad, especially all the sequencers, maxforlive and otherwise. FL Performance Mode is my new favorite.

    That said, I have to admit something quite shameful- never ever have I even once gotten any one of the numerous monome emulations for launchpad …or lemur or touchosc… to work properly, and it fucking kills me! I must have tried a dozen different ones, and still failure. It keeps me up at night, and sleep only brings nightmares involving blue matrix meanies. I have to figure this shit out before I die. Synthhead, please, for the love of God post a decent tutorial that includes set up AND implementation using MLRV, please before it’s too late!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
    • those marks look to me like reference marks for the pick and place machine during manufacture ie the machine has 2 reference points diagonally accross the board so it knows the locations of the components between those points, sometimes boards have more of these located in high density component areas such as around a processor socket though normally they would be a dot, though i am no expert i dont think these are detrimental to the boards function though i cannot recommend you take a hacksaw to your board or the like as i dont know if you will affect the boards function if it has multi layers etc tho imo i think you would be ok if you dont go too close to any tracks but accept no liability should you damage the board

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  4. ps though i dont think you would damage the board electrically by removing some circuit board that is empty bar the reference mark i think you may possibly damage the unit itself ie you plan to remove some of the plasic housing too i guess which would weaken the structure and possibly cause bowing when you press the buttons along these edges, plus looking at your plans 1 unit would be at 90 degrees to the other which looks like it would be confusing to say the least and far outweigh the benefits of having them an inch or two closer together, so think this is in general a bad idea not to mention the fact that you could break it all together anyway even if you could get around and live with these issues

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  5. thanks for the reply months later! yes I believe they are reference points, and the plastic bodies would have to be reinforced at the back. the midi would be mapped to a specific scheme that would make the turn upside down make sense. I still haven’t settled on the plan, but there are still no controllers with a 128 scheme aside from the monome… more than likely novation will release a product to compete with the ableton push, so I’ll just have to sit on my heels for a while

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  6. i am thinking about getting one for christmas and my birthday but i dont know if i will enjoy this. I love to play music and love dubstep so i thought of getting one. is it worth it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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