Review: Novation Launchpad S

Novation recently improved their Launchpad controller with the ‘S’ version, a pad controller that I decided to pair up with my iPad and Ableton Live. The Launchpad has been a massively popular controller for live performance and now that most DAW’s have solid functionality in the live department it’s time to see how these mobile pads can help you in jamming out your set.

First Impressions

While the Launchpad S has slimmed down in size and weight compared to its predecessor I did find it to be a bit heavier than I expected (mind you I never owned the original Launchpad). But then again it does make it quite sturdier when placed on your studio desk. The controller sports the same familiar 64-pad grid and the scene and transport control button layout.

The pads, they’re really buttons. Don’t expect an MPC-pad response from these, but rather a clicky/springy feel more suited for launching clips instead of finger drumming. This is also backed by the fact that the pads aren’t velocity sensitive.

Equipped with just a single USB port (also its power source) there’s no way of being confused with the Launchpad S’ intentions.

iPad and Launchpad S

I tested out the Launchpad S with my (almost ancient) iPad 2. Novation provides dedicated iPad apps for both the Launchkey and the Launchpad. The great thing is that the Launchpad can draw its power from the iPad without needing an external power supply. When you fire up the associated Launchpad app you’ll notice the bright lights appearing on your pads.

Launchpad S iPadThe Launchpad app is like a Session View light, it comes pre-packed with a variety of loops and oneshots from Loopmasters which you can lay out over your grid. The bottom two rows are reserved for performance effects like beat-repeat and filters. All in all the Launchpad and its app work together flawlessly, but you’ll feel somewhat constrained by the presets. At the time of writing there isn’t a way to break the app open and upload your own loops and samples (or connect to Audiobus).

You can also pair up the Launchpad with other Core Midi supported apps, but you’ll lose the tight integration and the lighted pads, making the experience not so instant anymore.

Ableton Live and Launchpad95

The Launchpad S comes shipped with the Ableton logo on it and this is where the controller really shines. Besides just functioning as a clip and scene launcher for live performance (which can be an art in itself), the user mode on the controller can be equipped for custom implementation.

This brings me to the Launchpad95 script which basically turns the Launchpad S into a poor man’s Ableton Push. You can step sequence your drum racks and play your grid in a variety of scale modes just like the Push, except for velocity sensitive pads of course:

This mode is perfectly suitable for laying down ideas on the go, be it drum loops or melodies. For serious composing this will eventually leave you lusting for the real deal though.

The Verdict

The Launchpad S is a small but sturdy controller making it a trusty companion for a laptop with Ableton Live. When you’re working with live sets or ready-made loops a lot, this controller is probably the best you can get in its price range. For traditional composing or controlling your third party iPad synths/drummachines there are better and cheaper options available.

Click here to buy the Novation Launchpad S on Amazon


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