AF’s Weblog

January 27, 2010

Novation Launchpad: Who’s Pad?

Novation Launchpad Gear Review

Novation surprised everyone by bringing out an Ableton Live dedicated control surface. Like Akai’s APC? Not really, and obviously not at the same price.

Even though the Ableton Live revolution already goes back several years, it is noteworthy that dedicated control surfaces started to appear very late on. Except for Faderfox and Livid – which were the first to offer products conceived for Ableton’s baby – most manufacturers limited themselves to offering Live mappings for their generic controllers. The market started to get interesting for Abletoners when Akai launched its APC40. Following Akai steps, Novation introduced its own Live controller, but with a serious advantage: it’s sold for under $200 – half price of the APC40. So let’s take a look at what Novation has to offer for that price.

Novation Launchpad

The Launchpad is basically an eight-by-eight pad matrix with 16 function buttons made out of the same smooth, translucent plastic as the pads. All buttons are backlit (green, amber or red, depending on the application – we’ll come back to this later). The device is a 6.45″ long and 1.2″ thick square. It weights about 1.5 lb. and is equipped with four large rubber feet to ensure it stays secure and perfectly stable on almost any surface, even when you hit the pads. There’s nothing to criticize the finishing quality about except for the pads’ hardness, but that ought to change with time. We appreciate its lightness and compact dimensions that allow you to take it with you in a backpack along with your notebook for mobile applications.

The device has only one USB connector. No MIDI in/out/thru, no sustain or expression pedal connector, only the bare minimum! But Novation points out that you can use several Launchpads at the same time using a standard USB hub. However, we received only one unit for the review so we couldn’t test this setup. We recommend you to use a USB hub with a power supply because the Launchpad is powered via the USB connector and it might be too much to ask from your computer to power several units at the same time, especially if it’s a notebook…

The device is, obviously, provided with a dedicated Live version (limited to eight scenes, though). Once you install Live and the drivers, you just have to declare the Launchpad as a control surface in Live and you’ll be ready to go. As a (funny) side note: the program installed the Novation Audio Control Panel on my computer, which is less than useless considering Launchpad is a MIDI-only control surface and I only got error messages when I tried to open it…

Among other regrettable details, I’ll mention the two-page Getting Started guide provided as “documentation” with the product. It’s true that the Launchpad is a masterpiece regarding intuitiveness but I still find it hard to believe that it takes only two pages to describe how it works… I bet Novation had to sacrifice such details in order to command such a low price. On the other hand, the manufacturer provides some nice video tutorials on its YouTube website which are clear enough to compensate for the lack of a serious user’s manual.

Conclusion

The rugged, compact and light Launchpad will surely be a success among Ableton Live fans who can’t afford an Akai APC40. Novation clearly gave a lot of thought to its product, and even though some aspects could still be improved, it will definitely win you time and improve your ergonomics. As a result, you can rest assured that you’ll see it on lots of stages and in home studios, and certainly under more than a few Christmas trees…

Advantages:

  • Extremely affordable price
  • Compact size and lightness
  • Rugged
  • Ergonomic and well thought out
  • Four modes for virtually any application…
  • Effective MIDI learn function
  • Several Launchpads can be used simultaneously

Drawbacks:

  • Lighting intensity hardly distinguishable by daylight
  • Not velocity/aftertouch sensitive
  • Continuous controllers set by steps: we miss encoders and faders…
  • The lack of track information display can get you lost in the matrix

To read the full detailed review see: Novation Launchpad

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