Novation & Ableton Announce LaunchPad – New $200 Live 8 Clip Grid Controller

Akai APC40 — Live Fast, Die Young

Novation and Ableton have just announced the Launchpad, a new dedicated controller for Ableton Live. Developed for DJing, performing live or working in the studio, Launchpad features a multi-color, 64-button grid, control modes for the Session View and Live’s mixer, two fully-programmable User Modes and dedicated scene-launch/function buttons. Despite the big grid, Launchpad is compact and portable: 239 x 239 mm with a slim 24 mm profile and weighing only 717 g.

The Launchpad announcement also gives the industry a glimpse of Ableton’s hardware strategy. When Akai and Ableton announced the APC40, many had perceived the announcement to mean that Ableton had finally committed to one manufacturer to create co-branded hardware. Before that, the concern had taken a more Switzerland approach publicly stating that they were not going to solely endorse any one manufacturer’s endeavor. Well, as it turns out, they are still adhering to that philosophy. What’s even more interesting, is they are apparently not sharing in-depth details about products in development with their hardware partners, since the APC40 and the Launchpad are similar.

Akai can’t be happy about this pre-holiday season announcement, especially at the $200 price point. Akai has been fighting some criticism over the APC40’s ergonomics on the right side of the unit (see our Akai APC40 Review —Ed.), which is clearly where the APC has a competitive advantage over the Launchpad with its plethora of knobs. But, that’s not the least of Akai’s APC problems.

Many consumers, who have overlooked some of the APC40’s deficits, have had problems trying to procure a unit due to high demand and a biased retail dissemination strategy that has left smaller stores that accepted tons of pre-orders with no stock, while Guitar Center, and the like, are able to create box pyramids on their floors. Now that Akai is finally delivering more units, the Launchpad appears with a stocking stuffer price and a significant marketing campaign to corral the next group of budget minded, early adopters. So what does the Launchpad offer? Let’s take a look…

The Launchpad uses four different modes:
» Session Mode for controlling clips in Ableton Live’s Session View
» Mixer Mode for controlling Live’s mixer
» Two User Modes for custom device control and configuration (nice!)

The Launchpad features a multi-color, 64-button grid for launching clips plus eight dedicated scene-launch buttons. The buttons are lit by LEDs displaying clip status so you can see at a glance what’s loaded (orange), what’s playing (green), and what’s being recorded (red). It’s not just about launching clips: as well as the Session Mode, Launchpad offers Mixer Mode – a unique way to control Ableton Live’s mixer – and two fully-customizable User Modes.

In Mixer Mode, the rows and columns of the grid become virtual faders, sliders and knobs controlling track volume, pan, sends, mute, solo, Clip Stop Buttons and record arm, depending on the function selected. Use the scene launch/mixer function buttons to select the function you want to control.

The two fully-customizable User Modes transform the grid into a drum pad controller, DJ effect controller or anything else you can think of. The default state for User Mode 1 provides drum pad control for Live’s Drum Racks—great for sketching out beats. Using Live’s simple MIDI mapping, it’s easy to create custom control environments, whatever devices you’re using and however your Live Sets are configured.

The User Modes make Launchpad the ideal hardware counterpart for Max for Live. Launchpad is flexible enough to deal with even the most detailed Max for Live devices and can handle generic parameters and controls with ease. Eleven LED states provide visual feedback that’s precise enough for complex devices. Launchpad users will soon be able to download a Max for Live step sequencer patch from Novation and more Max for Live patches are planned for the future.

Like the APC40, Live and Launchpad are in a constant, two-way, hardware-software dialog. The back-lit grid buttons show what’s happening in Live and Live, in turn, shows which section of the Session View is currently under Launchpad control: a red border around the current clip group let’s you see where you are with a just a cursory glance at your screen.

Obviously, you’re not limited to controlling only 64 clips. The arrow buttons move the grid up, down, left and right one track or scene at a time. Hold down the ‘Session’ button in Session Mode, and you can use the arrow keys to jump eight tracks or rows at a time—very useful for navigating around large, complex Live Sets.

Want more buttons? Launchpads are designed to work together, with up to six units at once. That’s more than 400 assignable buttons! Launchpads running on the same system can run in different modes, so you can control the Session View, mixer and custom setups all at once, with one Launchpad for each.

Launchpad comes with a custom-tailored software package: Ableton Live 8 Launchpad Edition. This features eight audio and eight MIDI tracks plus eight Session View scenes. It also includes Live’s classic effects and even allows custom mapping, making it a basic but adequate out-of-the-box solution for studio and stage. To see the differences between this version of Live and the full version of Ableton Live 8, please check this feature comparison chart.

The Future: This will chop block the APC40 at the knees this holiday season tearing ligaments and doing serious cartilage damage. Will they respond with a new Ableton controller? Or will another manufacturer come along and finally put everything together (Clip grid, usable knobs and buttons, mixer section and a killer sound card in a compact chassis)?

Novation & Ableton’s Launchpad will available November 1, 2009 and cost $199 / €149. More information, plus a nice demo video, hit the Ableton’s Launchpad page.

Author: FutureMusic

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