There’s no dearth of grid-based MIDI controllers on the market for music producers these days. At the high end is the Monome Grid, which is both thoroughly customizable and artisanal as heck; alongside it sits Ableton Push, which (unsurprisingly) sports the deepest-in-class workflow integration with Ableton Live. Also extremely popular is Novation’s ever-broadening line of Launchpad controllers, which have been around since nearly the dawn of the software they best compliment. The Launchpad Pro is Novation’s most feature-packed, heavy-duty entry to date—with not only RGB color feedback, but also velocity sensitive pads, much-improved build quality, tighter integration with Ableton Live and a lot more flexibility than most of its competitors.
How It Looks
The Launchpad Pro is definitely a more substantial piece of kit than any Launchpad before it, with a rubberized orange base and solid black chassis that feels built to last. At less than 10” x 10”, it’s also much smaller (and lighter) than a Push, though a bit larger than the Launchpad S. There’s no display, but rather two extra rows set of buttons to add more functionality. There are also hardware MIDI I/O adapter ports, which can be used to control external hardware directly from the Launchpad, or function as a MIDI interface for a computer. The aforementioned RGB LED buttons feel good and, importantly, are velocity-sensitive.
How It Works
The new rows of buttons—stretching down the left edge and across the bottom of the Launchpad Pro—provide more tools for user to sink their fingers into. These let you delete, double, duplicate, quantize and record clips at the press of a button. Duplicating clips is a one-touch affair as well, letting you build upon existing loops without looking at your computer. There are also dedicated undo, redo and metronome buttons.
There’s also one-button access to volume—simply hold the Volume button and tap from lowest to highest on the track(s) you desire, with no switching to a mixing mode required. While it’s certainly not as precise as using a knob or fader, Novation has smartly designed something called Fader Glide (which also applies to pans and sends, which have their own dedicated buttons as well). Essentially, this mixing responds to velocity: hit the desired volume level hard and you’ll punch to it immediately, or tap it softly for a slow fade up or down. It’s a smart design touch, and helps wring the most out of the device’s minimal, highly streamlined interface.
There are still modes, including Session (for clip triggering), Note (for playing instruments), Device (for effects), and the normal User mode. Plenty of smart touches—hold the “Stop Clip” button, for instance, and a row of buttons along the bottom of the grid light up red, letting you stop all clips on individual tracks—make the Launchpad Pro learning curve a gentle one
The Launchpad also boasts something the Push doesn’t: the ability to operate in standalone mode (using its included power adapter) and with external hardware, effectively making it a grid controller for any synth or drum machine you’ve got. It’s USB class-compliant, meaning that it works with other devices and operating systems (iOS, Raspberry Pi). And going one further, Novation has even released a customizable firmware for the device as open source code on GitHub. This means that with a bit of handy work, you (or others in the Launchpad community) can make and share new applications for the Launchpad Pro as a standalone device. Light shows, step sequencers, arpeggiators and more can be built and written directly to the device, which is an exciting prospect indeed.
The Bottom Line
For those looking for a quality, grid-based MIDI controller, the Launchpad Pro is a portable, well-built option that sits in a comfortable sweet spot between its higher-end (Push, Monome) and lower-end (Launchpad S, Akai’s APC line) competitors. And while it’s solid as-is for standard-use cases (particularly with Ableton Live), Novation’s open mentality around the device is potentially the mightiest trick up its sleeve.
Pricing: MSRP $299