Gaining popularity over the last couple of years, the Novation Launchpad is one of the most original products on today’s music production market. If the Launchpad has been out for several years, it has been exposed to numerous updates which kept it on par with its contemporaries. This Novation Launchpad review will demonstrate how minimalistic but also adapted this product can be for music production enthusiasts who are prepared to make the jump to the complete version of Novation’s Ableton. Extremely useful if you are using Ableton live, the launchpad has been specifically designed for this software. You just plug in your Launchpad, launch Live and get started.

Essentially used for the triggering of loops and sounds via Live’s Session View, the launchpad can also be useful when it comes to arranging your clips in Live. Indeed, the device automatically lights up, making navigation between clips very straightforward. With the Launchpad Novation has had great success. Indirectly promoted through a lot of Youtube performances, Novation has recently decided to extend its range of products, releasing 3 new Launchpad versions.

  • Novation launchpad overall rating 85% 85%
  • Software & Installation 80% 80%

Ableton Live Lite code for free

Accessible and straightforward use

Great integration with Ableton Live

Considerable learning curve

Hard to adjust the sensitivity of the pads

Pad MIDI notes are predetermined

The Launchpad consists of an 8*8 buttons matrix that are basically on and off switches. Moreover, these pads have a considerable amount of assignable colors which indicate the state of the corresponding clip in Live. A launchpad’s main use is to trigger loops and sounds in Live’s session mode. The way it works is that the device lights up buttons to reflect the arrangement of your performance. Comparing the current version of the launchpad with previous ones, the experience is way more pleasant. To make navigation easier, novation has integrated a special row of buttons across the top of the launchpad and a column of buttons that let you trigger “Scenes” view. Noteworthy improvements can be noted in terms of ergonomy and functionality. Everything has been made to make arrangements more convenient to explore and arrange clips to be triggered more efficiently. For “light shows” you can add a midi out channel and assign it to your launchpad input port. This launchpad lets you use piano roll to place notes which will light the buttons. You can sequence these for some complex animations (as illustrated below).

Noteworthy improvements can be noted in terms of ergonomy and functionality. Everything has been made to make arrangements more convenient to explore.

                                             The older version of the launchpad was already “very functional”. 

Moreover, the Launchpad’s 64-button grid is multi-functional and can operate in 4 different modes. The session mode which corresponds to the “Live’s Session” control button is relatively easy to get familiar with it. Once you’ve been using it for a while the system of different-colored illuminated buttons is pretty straightforward. The mixer mode that corresponds to Live’s Mixer has a slightly different purpose. The Mixer mode gives you access to essential mixing controls in Live: volume, pan, sends, clip stop, track activation, solo and record/arm. The directional arrows to change the focus of the session view rectangle are still accessible in Mixer mode. And finally, the 2 User (1 & 2) modes that make custom control assignments allow you to create your sounds, beats etc. It can then be recorded on the launchpad. The rightmost four round buttons give you the possibility to switch modes easily.

What is included? Launchpad, USB cable, Ableton Live Lite code, and user manual.

If the design of this product is similar to the previous versions, a lot of improvements have been made. The 64 square RGB backlit buttons are more intuitive than before since they can display more colors. An orange rubber base mat will prevent your launchpad to slip of any hard surface. There are now 8 assignable backlit system buttons and 8 unassignable function buttons. In short, this Launchpad is more ergonomic than its predecessor.

The tactile feel on the launchpad’s buttons is pleasant. They are resistant on firm pushes, very respondent and firm.

Novation has concentrated its efforts primarily on the design and this is felt in a lean and pristine construction which has an overall durable feel. The considerably small dimensions of this product make it also extremely portable, which is great if you plan to use your launchpad for live performances. The tactile feel on the launchpad’s buttons is pleasant. They are resistant to firm pushes, very responsive and firm. Nonetheless, these buttons are not velocity sensitive and won’t replace a dedicated drum or percussion controller.

                   Madeon’s “Pop culture” live mashup was one of the videos that propelled the launchpad to stardom. 

As mentioned earlier, with this product, you will get a limited version of the Ableton Live software. Ableton Live Lite is a great way to start understanding how the complete version works. Nonetheless, you should know that even though you can do a lot with this version, it is not the fully unlocked one. Before, installing Live, you should make sure that your computer requirements are sufficient to run the program. In fact, some users mentioned issues because they didn’t have the latest OS X or Windows version. Considering that you don’t have to install any additional drivers, the launchpad is instantly compatible with Ableton.

“The launchpad in itself has been build for a cohesive integration with the Ableton software and the possibilities are abundant”

The launchpad in itself has been build for a cohesive integration with the Ableton software and the possibilities are abundant. An intricate grid will allow you start or stop loops, arm tracks, and control volumes, pans and sends. This version of the launchpad is well adapted to beginners, considering that the limited functions make it very easy to learn and use. The upgrade to the superior version of the software is possible on the Ableton website. If the accessibility and straightforward use of this device is great, Novation has also included “Melodics”, which is an additional software specifically aimed at improving your “padding” capabilities. This software is very handy when it comes to exercising live performances and regular practices.

                                    The furnished “Melodics” software is a great way to practice with your launchpad. 

The padKontrol is similar to the Novation Launchpad in terms of quality and performances but has some specificities worth to be mentioned. First, this controller features only 16 rubberized trigger pads compared to 64 for the Novation Launchpad. Moreover, the very responsive and velocity sensitive pads can be seen on a display screen as you’re playing. Korg has been very well known for its XY pads. Present on this product, these allow you to tweak the sound you’re playing and can be used for a multitude different effects.

This device also has a clicky knob allowing you to make setting changes on the devices. It includes other controls that let you adjust the velocity, change programs, a hold, a flan and finally a roll controls. On the top of the device, you will find 2 control knobs that can be assigned by using knob 1 and 2 buttons. These can be used to control nearly anything that is programmable with MIDI inside of your host application. With each pad, you have the possibility to adjust secondary controls such as entering info into the device, changing pitch bend, main volume, pan settings, expression settings, resonance, brightness decay time and reverb sound.

This device features 16 rubberized pads. The Akai MPD 226 offers a multitude of backlit colors that can be changed (around 10 colors available). This will help you get organized and structured if you color code your layout. Especially when you’re switching between 4 banks of assignable pads. For the controller section, there are 4 sliders. Each of them has an assignable button and encoder. From there, you can set up tracks control, ADSR envelopes, EQ and so much more.

Furthermore, just like the Launchpad, the pads are velocity sensitive. What we like from this Akai product are its modification capabilities. For example, you can change your pads sensitivity or other parameters. In the end, Akai focused on making the device as creative as possible. Indeed, thanks to it MPC Note Repeat, a dedicated transport controls, an impressive software package, this pad controller is perfect for those who want to express and expand their ideas and creativity. 

To wrap it all up the Launchpad is a highly capable product. We would highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to get into the field of music production or who is already using Ableton Live. This Novation LaunchPad review has demonstrated how great of a device the Launchpad is. However, in order to learn faster, we would advise you to watch videos, read articles and the user manual to understand more about the product’s particularities.  The devices we compared it with (padKontrol & Akai Professional MPD226) are also highly satisfying products, possessing already built in sounds. Nonetheless, our preference goes with the Launchpad, which is one of the most accessible and well-thought-out in its category.