A worthy successor to the much-loved Launchpad controller, and really is a major update that brings a pioneering grid device straight into the current Ableton Live’s controller meta. Novation’s new Launchpad Pro takes Live’s Session View graphic interface and puts it right under your fingers. Just plug it in your laptop running Ableton Live and get ready to rock; you can’t go wrong with the Launchpad Pro. Highly recommended.
First Impressions / Setting up
I’ve used the original Launchpad as well as the smaller Launchpad Mini, and I can tell you that the Launchpad Pro has the best feeling build out of the lot. It’s slightly heavier and larger, but still very much a portable device that you can throw in your rucksack (unlike Ableton’s new Push 2 controller, for instance).
It’s got an 8×8 velocity-sensitive grid with RGB pads, a first for the Launchpad series as previous models only had single velocity pads and red, green, and yellow lights. Now, the Launchpad Pro’s pads mimic the colour the clips that you’ve set in Live, making clip identification possible without looking at the screen (as long as you’re colour coordinated, of course!)
Round the back, the Launchpad Pro has a power switch, Midi On and Midi Out 1/8″ jacks where the 1/8″ to Midi cables go in case you want to use it with other Midi gear, and finally a socket for connecting its wall adaptor for brighter pad lights and using it with other Midi devices other than your laptop.
A Kensington lock is on one side of the device, as well as an LED status light. The base is made of an orange rubber to prevent it from slipping as you mash those pads. 32 circular buttons surround the grid, each with specific functions which we’ll get into later in this review.
I hooked up the Launchpad Pro to my computer, launched Ableton Live, switched it on and got to work.
Up and running, the Launchpad Pro looks like it means business. Without any clips loaded, the centre 64-pad grid stays blank while the function buttons around the unit stay lit. Let’s go through them first, as each button interacts in a different way with the pads.
There are five sets of buttons around the Launchpad Pro, and we’ll go clockwise around the unit starting from the upper left.
There are four navigation buttons (up, down, left, right) used to go around Live’s Session View interface. You can use these buttons to navigate through a large project that has more clips than can fit in the 8×8 grid. These buttons are also used in Launchpad Pro’s other modes.
Mode Select buttons
The Launchpad Pro can operate in four modes under Ableton Live: Session, Note, Device, and User.
The Session Mode button can be considered as the “default” mode, letting you launch, stop, record, and edit clips in Ableton’s Session View using the 8×8 pad grid.
What is Session View?
Ableton Live has two interfaces that make it both a studio production DAW and live performance software. The first is called Session View, and is a grid-based interface that looks like a spreadsheet: You place audio samples / loops and Midi data in empty rectangles called clips, and these clips have play and pause buttons.
When you press play or “launch” any clip, it will start playing in time with the rest of the clips in your project. Same goes for stopping clips. In Session View, time moves in a circle, so all the clips are capable of looping indefinitely.
The other interface is called Arrangement View, and this is the more traditional view associated with DAWs. Here, time moves from left to right, and audio is played back as the playhead passes through the clips.
Ableton Live is a unique DAW because of Session View, and is the interface that the Launchpad Pro takes advantage of most.
The Note Mode button turns the entire pad grid into a playable surface capable of triggering musical notes if you’ve selected a track within Live that contains a sampler or synthesiser, or drum / percussion notes if the track selected in Live contains a Drum Rack device. The navigation buttons allow you to change the scale and octave range of the pads.
The Device Mode button allows you to control values and parameters of a track’s device, whether it’s an audio / Midi effect or an instrument plugin. The left and right navigation buttons allow you to switch among track devices that you’ve got in Live.
The User Mode button is for more advanced mapping and programming of Launchpad Pro, such as for creating grid light shows and the like.
Scene Launch buttons
To the right of the Launchpad Pro are a column of Scene Launch buttons. When you press a Scene Launch button, the entire row of clips beside it will all launch simultaneously. This is useful when you need to launch horizontally adjacent clips.
To the left of the grid are the Launchpad Pro’s Edit buttons, which let you do a variety of clip commands such as quantising, deleting, duplicating, and undoing. There’s also a clip record button, which lets you record Midi data onto a clip or empty grid square when enabled.
Finally, the bottom of the unit has the Launchpad Pro’s mixer buttons, including record arm, track select, mute, solo, and clip stop. Pressing any of these buttons changes the bottom row of pads on the grid into the selected mixer function, letting you execute without having to reach for your mouse.
The volume, pan, and sends buttons are also here. Pressing the any of these buttons turns the gridpad into faders: If you wanted to increase the volume of a track for example, you’d press the volume button, and the grid turns into eight volume faders for eight tracks. The volume level is shown by the number of lit pads: Pressing the top most pad will bring the volume to max setting, and the bottom pad to its lowest.
The Launchpad Pro’s velocity-sensitive pads come into play here. When you hit a pad really hard, the level “snaps” to that pad immediately, while a soft touch will gently decrease the level. Novation calls this “Fader Glide”, and is a nice way to vary parameter and value changes.
You can quickly switch between the current gridpad Mode or mixer screens by holding down any of the Note Mode or mixer buttons, applying the level change or launching the associated clip / playing a note, and then releasing the button, which brings you back to the previous gridpad screen you were working with. Handy!
I took the Launchpad Pro to a friend’s place for an afternoon jam session. I loaded my Ableton Live project file containing a bunch of clips (mostly drum, percussion, and pad loops) that I prepared beforehand. For that I used to take along my Ableton Push, but I was never fond of the size and heft of the Push as a controller – it feels more like something you’d use in the studio as opposed to something you’d take anywhere you perform.
The Launchpad Pro is the exact opposite. In fact, the form factor practically begs you to take it with you wherever you go, and I really thought that that’s one of its biggest strengths. What good is a portable controller if you don’t like bringing it with you?
Clip launching was a breeze on the Launchpad Pro as expected, but what surprised me more was how intuitive it was to control mixer functions like volume and track mutes / solos. I also appreciated the fact that the RGB pads coloured the same way as my clips in Live’s Session View, so that colour coding my clips meant that I could rely more on the controller’s pads instead of looking at my laptop all the time.
All in all, the Launchpad Pro is a worthy successor to the much-loved Launchpad controller, and really is a major update that brings a pioneering grid device straight into the current Ableton controller meta. Midi In / Midi Out options are great for connecting other pieces of gear you’ve got lying around.
What I would’ve wanted to see on the Launchpad Pro are a row of knobs for parameter tweaking, but it’s not really a deal breaker. Having those would also make the chassis slightly larger. Besides, I figure if I really wanted more hands-on control of Ableton Live, I can just get one of Novation’s other modular controllers to fill in that gap such as the Launch Control XL.
If you’re just getting into Live and you want to explore the production aspect of it instead of gigging, we still recommend learning Ableton Live on its own first. Once you’ve got to grips with the basic functions and workflow, that’s when you may want to consider getting a controller like this for both live and studio use.
Now if you want to perform or DJ with Ableton Live and you’ve got the budget for it, you can’t go wrong with the Launchpad Pro: The new pads feel awesome, it’s portable, and it’s just really fun to use. Highly recommended.