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Tools of the Trade

Novation's Launch Control is an affordable way to get some hands-on software control

By Evan Shamoon
launch_control

The entry price point for decent MIDI controllers is getting lower and lower, seemingly by the month. At the front of the pack is storied synthesizer and controller manufacturer Novation; its latest knob controller is built for Ableton Live and FL Studio, and is covered with 16 knobs and eight buttons (plus a few for switching banks). The result is an affordable way to get some hands-on control with your music software with minimal hassle.

Look and Feel

The Launch Control is one in a trio of controllers recently released in partnership with Ableton. The line also includes the Launchkey Mini, a 25-key portable keyboard with drum pads, as well as the Launchpad Mini, meant primarily for triggering clips. Each, including the Launch Control, costs $99. Like its button- and key-covered counterparts, the Launch Control has a gunmetal finish on top and a rubberized orange bottom to hold it in place. The 16 rotary encoders have a nice, rubbery feel and are suitably precise. The eight main buttons, which alternate between Novation’s trademark red, yellow, and green LEDs, are most obviously used for track mutes, while the six smaller buttons get you around your Ableton session and move between user and factory templates. On the whole, the device is light but sturdy, and is small enough to chuck into virtually any bag.

What We Like

The Launch Control is bus-compliant, and can draw power from either a computer or an iPad. Compatibility with FL Studio gives it life beyond Ableton as far as computer DAWs go (FL Studio templates are included), and it will also work out of the box with Cubase, Reason, and Logic. Compatibility with the Launchpad iPad app is a nice feature, particularly in conjunction with one of the other controllers in the line.

The whole affair is impressively plug-and-play. Novation’s InControl software allows the user to alternate between a custom template and sending standard MIDI messages. You can use the pads to trigger drum sounds in MIDI mode, for example, and then to enable/disable effects, solo or mute tracks, or pretty much anything else you desire in InControl mode. The endless knobs have good resistance, and automatically map to useful functions when you have an instrument selected, or to your main track controls (volume, pan, bus sends), depending on which template button is selected.

The unit comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite, Novation’s own V-Station and Bass Station synth plugins, and a grip of samples.

What We Don’t Like

Though it’s probably going to change over time, there’s currently a lack of compatibility with iPad apps. I was hoping to plug the LaunchControl into my iPad and be able to instantly control apps like Animoog and NanoStudio; alas, it’s currently only Novation’s (admittedly good) LaunchPad app that gets the LaunchControl love.

Overall

There’s nothing incredibly new or cutting-edge here, but Novation has on its hands one of the cheapest and easiest ways yet to get a bank of knobs and track mutes onto your desk, all while occupying minimal real estate. If you don’t already have something that effectively physicalizes your virtual knobs, it’s definitely a solid option.