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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
- Very compact and portable
- USB powered
- Full 8×8 grid
- Focus is on grid sequencing
- 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!