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  • Filed under: Gear
  • 10/10/2013

Review: Novation Launchkey Mini, Launchpad Mini, and Launch Control

Novation was one of the first manufacturers to produce an Ableton-specific controller back in 2009 when it unveiled the Launchpad, and the company has been slowly expanding its arsenal of MIDI controllers—continuing with the release of three new portable devices. The Launchkey Mini and Launchpad Mini are both smaller versions of their respective big brothers, while the Launch Control is a brand-new unit that is said to be a perfect complement to the rencently released Launchpad S. These products clearly aim to extend past their current Ableton user base by focusing on compatibility with Novation's iPad apps and the ability to work effortlessly with both Macs and PCs.

How They Look

All three Novation controllers share a sleek, slate-grey finish and elegant rounded corners, and utilize orange no-slip rubber bottoms. The Launchkey Mini and Launch Control both hold a slim profile, but the Launchpad Mini seems particularly suited for being thrown into a bag on the go. Combined with the fact that there are no knobs protruding from its face, the Launchpad Mini's ultra-small footprint and mere 16mm height make it extremely easy to transport. The pads on each unit also utilize Novation's long-running red/yellow/green LEDs, a visual cue that has now been seen on stages across the world.

A minor gripe is the lateral positioning of the USB sockets, particularly on the Launch Control—keeping these on the rear would have given the rectangular controller a slightly slimmer width. Otherwise, each unit feels sturdily made and designed with a focus on keeping details to a minimum. The Launchpad Mini does away with Novation's previous Ableton-centric branding on the Launchpad S, instead paring the labels down to a simple alphanumeric system.

How They Work

Though each unit has its own strengths, there is clearly a good deal of overlap in function amongst this trio. All are bus compliant, able to draw power from either a computer or an iPad. Similarly, there is a newfound focus on compatibility with FL Studio, as all of the units have FL Studio templates included. Each of the three controllers tout an ease of use that clearly shows Novation's plug-and-play intentions, though the Launchpad Mini is the simplest to use, possibly because it has the exact same functionality as the larger Launchpad S.

The Launchkey Mini and Launchpad Mini each work perfectly in tandem with their respective iPad apps, though the former shines in particular when paired with Apple's ubiquitous tablet. The Launchkey Mini's track-left/right buttons can be used to alternate between the apps, and when both are running, they are kept perfectly in sync, allowing the user to trigger loops and play the arpeggiator at once. Furthermore, its functionality goes a little deeper with the introduction of Novation's "InControl" feature, which seems to be a greatly slimmed-down version of the "Automap" ability from the company's larger SL MkII series of controllers. "InControl" allows the user to alternate between sending standard MIDI messages and a customized template. For example, the pads can be used to trigger various percussion sounds in the MIDI mode, and then once "InControl" is turned on, they can be assigned to enabling or disabling selected effects, used as solo or mute buttons, or perform any other function.

It may not sway many potential customers, but all three units do come bundled with a host of software—including Ableton Live Lite, the aforementioned iPad apps, V-Station and Bass Station synth plug-ins, and a modest selection of samples to dive right into.

The Bottom Line

While not necessarily bringing anything fresh to the table, Novation's new mini-controllers excel at fitting a wide range of functionality into portable, easy-to-use packages.

MSRP: $99 (each)

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