Ableton Live’s a unique piece of software: You can make music with it, you can DJ with it, and you can even perform your songs live, all just using your laptop. It used to be that you bought Ableton Live first and then mapped your controller or downloaded a mapping for it next, but these days a lot of fantastic, budget controllers are out in the market that come pre-mapped and are good to go with Live.
If you’re just starting out, I always recommend learning Ableton Live on its own first without a controller – that way, you’re focused on learning on thing at a time. But if you’ve already been bit by the Ableton bug (and would like to compose live, DJ or gig), you will start to find that triggering clips and performing with a controller is more intuitive than clicking with a mouse. So here we’ve listed five of our favourite controllers that won’t break the bank:
Our top 5 for beginners
Novation’s Launchpad was one of the very first 64-pad grid controllers that addressed clip launching and Session View navigation in Ableton Live. This is the revision of the Launchpad Mini, which removes a few function buttons but retains primary features that made the original Launchpad a big hit.
If you’ve just started and you want the largest amount of pad real estate for the least spend, you can’t go wrong with the Launchpad Mini. It’s a great home studio tool if you want to get started controlling Live’s Session View, and of course it’s an excellent performance pad for when you take Ableton Live out to gigs.
Akai’s grid ‘n faders offering gives you even more tactile control of Ableton Live that includes nine faders (eight assignable faders and one master fader), an 8×8 button grid, and navigation functions in a form factor that you can throw in your rucksack.
If you’d like more performance control flexibility and you like the feel of faders when you’re producing at home, the APC Mini would be the better deal than the Launchpad Mini.
Arturia’s Minilab 25 Key comes with 16 endless rotary encoder knobs, eight drum pads, and two touchstrips (pitch bend and mod wheel) all in mini keyboard size.
I’ve written previously about Arturia’s bang-for-buck keys – not only do you get the control-packed keyboard, but you also get the excellent Analog Lab software, which has tons of samples of really cool vintage keyboards and patches to use for your next production whether you’re just starting out or you’re already into producing.
Price : US$149
Part of Novation’s 2015 lineup revamp, the Launchkey 25 gives you full-sized keys, 16 RGB pads for controlling Ableton Live, and eight knobs for tweaking. You also get a pitch bend and mod wheel for expressive keyboard playing.
For those who like the feel of bigger keys, the Launchkey 25 is a solid choice, and Novation has crammed an incredible amount of Ableton control on this – the 16 pads can be used for triggering and stopping clips, or using them in soft synths via Novation’s In Control feature baked into the controller. Good value, and looks great too!
Finally, we’ve got this keyboard and drum pad pack from IK Multimedia that’s excellent value, and has exactly what you need in a controller bundle if you’re looking to produce beats: This includes IK’s iRig Keys, which is a mini keyboard that has 37 keys (three octaves instead of two found on the Launchkey and Minilab), and also the iRig Pads which is a 4×4 grid pad controller great for mashing out drums.
When I travel I take the iRig Pads with me because it’s just such a tiny drum pad that fits in my pack. I’ve been working on my finger drumming lately, and this has been a constant companion. The iRig Keys has found a home in my bedroom studio – I have it on top of my bedside desk, and it’s what I use when I want to jot down melodic ideas in Live.
What do you think of these controllers? Do you own any of them? Have other controllers for Live in this price range that you’d like to share with us? Let us know below.