Review: Novation Launchkey 49 and Launchpad S Controllers — By Erin Barra

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This month I was lucky enough to receive two controllers from Novation, the Launchkey 49 and the Launchpad S, for the purpose of this review. I spent a few weeks getting my hands dirty, and I have to say, I loved every minute of it.

After years of being an APC40 user and now an Ableton Push convert, I was curious as to what Novation had to offer that these controllers didn’t. What I discovered was that outside of a record/loop/launch function, all of these controllers truly are different beasts, each created with a different user in mind.

Launchpad S takes minimalism to the max.

Launchpad S takes minimalism to the max.

Launchpad S

I found the Launchpad S to be a tangible example of when less truly is more.

The unit consists of 80 total pads — 64 square pads in 8×8 formation, plus 16 round pads along the perimeter.

With the limited amount of buttons and total absence of knobs and faders, I was interested as to how much I was going to be able to manipulate, and how complicated it was going to be, but I was pleasantly surprised that it quickly made total and complete sense.  The thing I liked most about it was that it wasn’t trying to be everything to everyone. It does what it does very well and leaves it at that.

Nuts and bolts, Launchpad S is a controller, which was created to function as a remote extension of Ableton, but also integrates with several other DAWs.

It functions in four modes, each in a specific manner:

In Session Mode, you can launch/stop clips and also navigate through large Live Sets without touching the computer.

The Launchpad App takes it to the iPad.

The Launchpad app is a totally self-contained iPad app that hosts loops which can be triggered by an 8×8 grid of virtual “launch pads.”

User 1 Mode is for playing drum racks and other instruments, but is also freely assignable.

User 2 Mode is for assigning to any assignable parameter in Live or for Max for
Live patches.

Mixer Mode allows you to adjust volume, pan, and send amounts via a workflow that functions on both the x and y axis. It will also allow you to “stop all clips,” un-mute all tracks, un-solo all tracks, and un-arm all tracks.

I would suggest this controller to a user who wanted something easy to function, and that does a few things very well. I think it would be optimal for a DJ/Producer or anyone looking to launch/effect/mix clips live on stage. It has cool “lightbright” esque visuals and has a playfulness to it that would translate well on stage.

With a $169.99 MAP, I think it’s slightly overpriced, especially since it’s accessible to such a wide range of users. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely really cool, but I would like to see it priced at $100 and see EVERYBODY with one.

Launchpad App

The Launchpad App (which is free) was literally one of the most fun things I’ve messed around with in a long time. Currently, the iPad is the only compatible device for the app.

On it’s own it will turn you into a DJ before you can say “launch” and when integrated with the Launchkey (which has fewer trigger pads), is another highly powerful tool that supports the other hardware in all the right places.

Launchkey 49

An array of controls awaits on the Launchkey 49.

An array of controls awaits on the Launchkey 49.

Launchkey 49 is a more complex controller, which is catered towards the synth user or keyboard player. Launchkey is a keyboard controller which comes in a 25, 49 and 61 note lengths and also includes 16 velocity sensitive multi-color launch pads, 8 faders and knobs, and several other buttons.

You can still launch/stop clips and maneuver through a Live set, but the matrix of pads is highly limited by having only 16, so the workflow isn’t as visual as the Launchpad S.

That being said, you can do a much wider range of parameter adjustments, both macro and micro. The Launchkey 49 will also put you “InControl” if you so choose to use its faders, knobs, buttons and transport controls to adjust a number of things depending on the operating mode.  It really can do a whole lot, without even mentioning the traditional synth-style MIDI controller, which of course comes in 3 different sizes depending on your needs.

Purchase of the Launchkey 49 also comes with a few virtual instruments, the V Station and Bass Station, which seamlessly functioned with Ableton as VST’s.  I thought they were both really cool and again, were created for the user who is synth-driven.

The Launchkey App was equally as awesome as the Launchpad App. I was playing soft synths upon initialization and it was REALLY easy to navigate. From what I can find on the site, just like Launchpad App, the Launchkey App only is compatible with iPads. (And don’t get it confused with the personal security app on the Android Market.)

The Launchkey app is a synth with a touch-screen interface for creating and morphing sound in multiple ways at the same time.

The Launchkey app is a synth with a touch-screen interface for creating and morphing sound in multiple ways at the same time.

The graphical function to adjust parameters was dope and I can see it as being a great way for people to experiment and play with sounds, without having to understand what the cutoff or LFO rate knobs do.  The native soft synths were fun to work with and I thought the whole thing was a total blast.

It is probably important to note that both the Launchpad and Launchkey Apps will work separately and simultaneously with the Launchkey hardware, but only Launchpad S will work with the Launchpad Hardware.

At a MAP of $199 I think that the unit is very reasonably priced, especially if you’re going to be using all the functionality. I would suggest this controller to a user who wants a keyboard function as well as something to control Live on stage or in the studio… all in one.


In conclusion, I was impressed with Novation’s addition to the controller game, Ableton-centric or otherwise. They were accessible to a huge amount of users, advanced or novice, and had functionality I thought made a lot of sense.

The Apps blew my mind in terms of their integration into the Launchkey and also how much fun they were as stand alone apps. You might see me launching clips on my iPad and bringing the heat to a subway station near you any day now…

ERIN BARRA:  Singer/Songwriter/Producer/Multi-Instrumenatlist/Ableton-Enthusiast/Nationally-Touring-Aritst. Also visit her on Facebook or Twitter @erinbarra

  • KV Vizo

    perfect combination XD