What It Is
Novation Launch family
What It Does
Portable, extensible MIDI controllers and DJ systems
Where to Buy It
What It Costs
$100 for Launch Control
$170 for Launchpad
Up to $250 for Launchkey (61-key)
Most audio controllers are easy to use if you’ve had the right amount of practice. But finding one that’s not only easy to operate, but also portable and sufficiently loaded to help you sail through any sound-setup situation has the potential to be somewhat tougher. This doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, however, as Novation proves with its Launch line of products.
The newest of these is the Launch Control (about $100), a particularly compact device that combines 16 knobs and eight “pads.” You use these to fire off clips, trigger loops, play drums, and so on, and each lights up one of three colors depending on the current state of its clip. And because they’re sensitive to velocity, the movement of your fingers across them determines exactly what happens and what sort of sound you produce.
With eight factory templates and eight more user templates, you could have as many as 448 controls in your arsenal at any one time—not too bad for a device that measures just a little over 9.5 inches long and 4.6 inches wide.
Though designed for Ableton Live—the Lite version of the software comes bundled—it will work with almost any major DAW software package. It’s also powered entirely by USB and fully compatible with the iPad and its Launchpad app, meaning you can cart around everything you need for your next gig without breaking a sweat (or your back).
Novation offers several other products based on a similar workflow, none more dynamic than the aptly named Launchpad S ($170). This one sports an astonishing 64 pads, which gives you truly detailed control over every sound at your command. But aside from those pads and a few other basic control buttons, the Launchpad doesn’t have much else—including knobs—so you might find it limiting unless it’s paired with something else (such as the Launch Control).
Looking for something like the Launchpad in a smaller package? The Launchpad Mini gives you that. If you’re a keyboardist, Novation’s Launchkey keyboard controllers (available in 25-, 49, and 61-key varieties) offer all the typical features (with more than 50 controls, including pitch and mod wheels, and octave switch buttons, on the largest version)—plus 16 pads as well.
The whole system may take a little getting used to, and don’t expect the Launchpad and Launch Control to work as well separately as they do together. But any or all of these makes for a colorful, feature-rich way to explore and expand your use of sound.