Controller Clinic #7: Novation Twitch or Launchpad?

Launchpad vs APC40

Our reader can't decide between a straight DJ controller like the Twitch, or going down the Ableton Live route with something like the Novation Launchpad or the Akai APC40 (both pictured above).

Reader DJ Mustachio Nuts (great name!) writes: "I've been a musician, mostly bass, all my life which has definitely helped me understand the core job of a DJ - getting people to shake their asses! - which is what I loved about being a bass player. I played in rock bands and always considered it my job to get people's heads nodding, no matter how heavy the music, so DJing seemed perfect for me.

"I bought a Numark Mixtrack, but found that although my DJ skills matched the controller perfectly, my producer / musician ear had already felt like I'd outgrown it. I wanted easier access to samples, and one shots, I wanted to run an acappella track and mix and cut together multiple music tracks underneath below to make live mashups.

"I got close using a reggae loop from a Bob Marley track and putting it under a vocal heavily ED'd track from Kanye, got it all beatsynced and was grooving, but I didn't have a third spot to go for the next music track.

So I am still looking for the right entry to mid-level controller. I'm currently thinking the Novation Twitch might be the right controller for me to learn on, especially with that slicer, but am concerned about only having two tracks.

"I've also been reading through the mashup guide you have on your site and really think that is where I'm going to make my local name and find the most creative satisfaction. I already have a ton of ideas for unique pairings.

"For this I was thinking of the Novation Launchpad with Ableton bundle, but am curious what you think would be best. Scratching would be nice but isn't too important, but I would like sample triggers, more cues, and splicing options. I also want to learn to beatmatch 'properly'."

Digital DJ Tips says:

We love the Novation Twitch, but even though you can trigger Serato ITCH's sample decks from it now that ITCH has hit v2.1, we still think for mashups you'd find it limiting. Look at the Traktor Kontrol S4 - four decks or two decks and multiple sample slots, lots of "mashup flexibility", but also the ability to DJ completely normally too.

Novation Nocturn

The Novation Nocturn could give you DJ controls that the Launchpad lacks, if you choose to go down that route.

You can learn beatmatching on it manually, and also move into creative jamming with samples and even record impromptu elements with microphone (or bass!) and throw them over your mix.

It is closer to traditional DJing so you can learn manual beatmatching on it, while still giving you the chance to get creative with samples and produce your own mashups, albeit mashups you'll have to "perform" live every time you play them.

Ableton Live is a much steeper learning curve, and is a way removed from DJing as most people know it, being close to real music production with a jamming element thrown in. In this realm, if you go for the Novation Launchpad, you'll want a DJ mixer-style Midi controller too, and the Novation Nocturn is a good pairing for it.

Otherwise, look at something like the Akai APC40 because it has pads for launching clips and scenes like the Launchpad, as well as analogue faders and knobs for other elements.

On the Ableton route, expect to spend at least a year of often steep learning before you're happy enough to have a DJ set ready and a performance technique you can be confident about performingly live.

As you identify though, for a musician this is the route that holds the most potential for standing out from the crowd, as musical ability can shine through more clearly using a proper DAW than DJ software / hardware with samples tacked on.

However, for many DJs, Ableton Live is a step too far away from the "slam the right tune on at the right time" element of DJing.

Have you chosen to go down either the "DJ software" or "DAW" route for DJing? Are you an Ableton DJ and what do you use? Or do you do mashups using Traktor, and if so, on what gear? Please help out with your advice in the comments.

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  1. i've been a long time ableton user so when i decided to start DJing it seemed reasonable yo just use the gear i had (ableton, a launchpad and an SL mkii zero) since then i have done away with using the launchpad while DJing, i find it almost unnecessary as i have the SL mapped pretty good to cover everything and, especially with playing kitchens and sitting rooms as i usually do, its one less thing to try find space for. i think its a pretty good set up

  2. other than nocturn oyu could use m-audio trigger finger, has 16 pads, 4 faders, 8 knobs, all mappable to whaatever you want and its super cheap... really flexible, I use it to trigger samples, vst fxs and snapshots on Avid torq 2.0 along with my Xponent, and would work with ableton perfectly, you can see that the one that skrillex uses with ableton and thats all he has... and then you have to love the novation remote slMkII for ableton too...

  3. I've recently had to make a similar decision, after years of vinyl djing, and now the last year or so going digital, I've also just started producing and am in year 2 of a music production course, and currently only used an M-audio oxygen 8 keyboard for both controllerism and Production.... I looked at the apc40, mpk 49, novation launchpad and remote slkmkii as possible solutions to improve both aspects of production and performance... In the end I decided to get a second hand akai mpd32, which I got for £125 of ebay in perfect condition, it works perfectly with cubase and ableton with its in built mappings, and ive already found a pretty interesting mapping online for Traktor 2 which works really well for standalone 2 deck mixing, with cue point juggling, macro faders and loop deck control.... The Pads are MUCH bigger than on the launchpad or apc controllers and have a really good hand sized layout meaning you can get to all of them quickly and accurately even when wasted like I was when I first plugged it in and started button bashing.. The unit isn't really very heavy but has just enough weight to feel solid, and it fits happily on top of a deck lid or cushion on the turntable itself... other features Im happy with are the way it mimics the controls of the more expensive akai mpc sampler range within production software, with full/16 level volume control for each pad, note repeat and swing functions(not got round to exploring the last 2 properly yet, but looking forward to it) as well as rotary encoders rather than standard Pots for all knobs. The only thing missing is the backlit buttons for visual feedback like you get on the apc pads and novations knobs, but with the larger pads, thats not much of an issue for me.
    I'm very soon about to map it for traktor the way I want it using the remapping software it comes with (which looks pretty good to use so far) and am confident it'll be able to handle what I want it too..
    The only other bit of advice i can offer is before you buy any bit of kit from any manufacturer is to check how good they are at releasing driver updates.... for example a full sized m audio keyboard I was given from a friend when I started my course doesn't work with windows 7 and m audio would rather make you buy a new one than release a driver... both novation and akai are good bets for futureproofing....
    if you wanna here the results of my first few days of button bashing with the mpd32, Ive just entered a Korn remix comp, my submission is here..... hope some of that helped....
    😉 Penance/Mitch Glusic 😉

  4. There is a third option — use dj software and ableton at the same time. I use mixtrack pro with traktor to launch tracks and ipad to control ableton which launches loops, effects and samples.

    • golerga: Thanks for the tip. I am new to this space, thus, can you please explain how you are connecting these devices and running them? Meaning, are you running both SW pkgs simultaneously? Or, are the linked somehow? Any tips would be appreciated! I am assuming from a HW standpoint you are just connecting the iPad to the laptop and mapped to Ableton. Thanks!

  5. DJ Mustachio Nuts says:

    Thanks for all the info guys. At this point I'm actually leaning towards the Traktor S4 and leaving Ableton alone for a while. I'm really looking for some of that immediate gratification. Since I'm just now leaving the analog world of stringed instruments and going digital, to try and learn ableton up front is more than I think I want for my 2 day a week hobby. In theory though, I could use software like Ableton without a controller to cu my samples, arrange my tracks and then export my completed mashup. Then import the tracks into Traktor and then manipulate my own tracks with the S4 controller? In this way couldn't I create a psuedo-Ableton Live Production Jamming environment by inputting my own "remix pack" into Traktor and live mixing from there?

    • DJ Segatto says:

      Good choice to stick with Traktor, that way u can have the acapela on one deck and samples and loops under on the 8 sample slots and still have 1 deck open to mix the next track in and you always have the loop recorder to use as an extra 5th deck. But i would look into the vestax vci-400 over the s4. Those pads are perfect for what u wanna do.

  6. Experimenting with samples and loops is deadly at a live gig. One mistake ruins your crowd. Instead of buying newer of more hardware-controllers: Produce the track yourself you want at home, save it as a new one and play it at your next gig....why spending money or making things complex?

    • DJ Mustachio Nuts says:

      Yeah this kind of home production and live DJ, instead of live DJ productionist. What program would you reccommend for use for slicing, arranging and making new music tracks with samples sans controller. I figure if I get a good DJ controller I can work with a keyboard in my home studio environment.

  7. I got the Twich and it works great for what you want to do.... You can take a track do your cue points 8 and then throw that directly into the sampler and select any of the cue point as starting point in the sampler. So the same track in 6 sample slots at the same time, each with a different cue point (and u got 24 sample slots) u can use any of the 2 sides to play the samples. And all of this u can do it live...

    • Yep, Twitch all the way after having the opportunity to try out a few at an open day, I settled on the Twitch. Slicing is... well it's just genius basically.

      IMPORTANT: The Twitch comes with a Traktor overlay that lets you have FOUR decks.

  8. You may want to look into getting a Midi Fighter Classic or Pro.

  9. I'm coming into DJ'ing from the Ableton route and I've been blown away by the Twitch Ableton mapping that is available from Novation.

    I think a fast track route could be

    1) Do Digital DJ tips online course
    2) Practise using Twitch and Itch understand the controls etc
    3) Do a 1 day Ableton Live intro course in person not online - Manchester Midi school and others do these
    4) Install mapping software and play (possibly organise some private tuition from the Ableton teacher to help with set up)

  10. Just out of interest, has anybody tried running with both the twitch and the launchpad in ableton? I tried out a few mappings with just the twitch and was a bit limited by the lack of readily available pads so I'm contemplating using a launchpad alongside it for scene triggering while using the twitch as more of a mixer/effects unit? Any thoughts?

    • That's exactly what I was wondering. I have the Twitch and love it, but would like some more pads for use with Ableton.

      Would the Launchpad be the best thing to compliment it?

    • Bit late on the conversation but thought id add my 2cents anyhow.

      I'm currently using the launchpad and nocturn to 'dj' in live utilising the crossfader to set up 2 'decks' but also taking advantage of the powerful features ableton has as a DAW and not just a dj app, i'm usually mashup 4 or so tracks at any given time.

      I dunno about anyone else but i am DEFINITELY planning on adding the twitch to my little novation controller family, all those extra encoders and the TOUCHPADS will definately add far more in terms of effects, and just general ways to express myself more than just mixing tracks.

      The age of controllerism is dawning, thank god for novation xD

  11. Leigh bird says:

    Some good reading above ^^
    I can agree that it has taken12 months to get to grips happily with ableton. Although that's not just djing, I use it for production aswel...
    My djing setup is a launchpad, and 2 nocturns (although you can't save a map to use 2 nocturns, which I didn't know before I bought them) so back down to 1 at the mo.
    I'm considering a twitch, to replace my nocturns and keep my launchpad, but what I'd like to know is:
    The twitch was really created for traktor (so i beleive), so will all the standard effects that work out the box in traktor translate to ableton? Or would it essentially be a blank midi controller where you have to assign buttons and encoders, like the nocturn...??
    I really like the loop function on the twitch, but don't want to buy one and find out that it can't be used in ableton....

    • Wow, surprised no one replied to you before now. The Twitch was designed for Itch (derelict now, but Serato DJ is a free upgrade, yay). In addition to the auto configuration for Serato Itch/DJ, Novation released a Traktor 2 Pro layout (which corresponds to the layout, but you can change anything it's mapped to), AND something called the "Live Twitch Tool", which allows you (through this middleware) to control Ableton.

      To be honest, I've never seen a controller so diplomatic, so forward-thinking, and so flexible. People say this is a low-to-middling controller, but more expensive controllers can't do everything the Twitch does, and the sound card comes from Focusrite.

      As an owner, the two things I wish Novation had added as capabilities are: velocity sensitive pads, and full-color LEDs (instead of the traffic light, bi-color LEDs).

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