Novation has another go at the MIDI controller with this updated range of their Launchkey keyboards. It follows the ideas that came with the updated Launchkey Mini MK3 and puts them into your choice of 25, 37, 49 and 61 key versions.
The Launchkey range is the bread-and-butter Novation MIDI controllers. They all feature full-sized keys, proper pitch and modulation wheels and a whole stack of useful MIDI control and DAW integration. When the Launchkey Mini Mk3 arrived in September last year it managed to make the previous version seem immediately dated and the rest of the Launchkey Mk2 range has been feeling it for quite some time. The Mk2 came along in 2016 so it’s definitely time for an upgrade.
The concept of the Launchkey revolves around the deep integration with Ableton Live. It has the ability to launch clips, map itself to devices and take control of the music-making environment. And all that existing functionality remains with the addition of the Live 10 Capture MIDI function for instantly retrospectively recording what you were playing when you weren’t in record. They also added deeper level support for Logic on MacOS and HUI integration for better hands-on control in other DAWs. All good solid stuff.
So what else is new?
The look is quite striking. These things are always being chipped away at and this time around Novation has gone for the sharp lines and corners of the Launchkey Mini and I definitely approve. They’ve rearranged the layout on the wider keyboards putting the faders more central and to the right of the pads. The LED display has been replaced with a more versatile screen, the pads are set lower and those slim knobs seem to add an air of sophistication.
Novation has also added a whole new version in the 37 keyed Launchkey 37. It sort of gives you a bit more elbow room playing a compact keyboard without going to the 49 keys. And it’s only the 49 and 61 key versions that have the fader bank.
But the best improvement comes in the form of a bit of creative functionality. The Launchkey Mini introduced their advanced Arpeggiator, Scale and Chord modes and these are all present on these new controllers.
Scale is easy, you choose a scale and you can’t play a wrong note – really useful for jamming with melodies. Chord mode lets you hit a button to save a chord you’re playing and now you can play that chord with a single finger all over the place. You can also select relevant chords from your chosen scale from the pads or save your own chords to the pads for recall or play them on the pads themselves. All good stuff.
What I really like is the Arpeggiator. Arpeggiators are always satisfying as ways to get things moving while you play with sounds. But the Launchkey arpeggiator has some secret sauce in the shape of Mutate and Deviate. Mutate brings in interesting variations on the melody whereas Deviate messes about with the rhythm. These can transform your melodies and make it an interesting creative tool as opposed to just being a helpful place to kickstart some sounds. I’m slightly disappointed that they haven’t added a dedicated button to the Mutate/Deviate functions so you have to activate them on the keyboard via the Shift button but at least there’s now a separate Latch button with the Launchkey Mini didn’t have.
Your new controller?
MIDI controllers are not that exciting but Novation has done a good job of smartening up their range of workhorse keyboards and offers some useful functionality that you could find helpful. Excellent for Ableton Live, decent for any other DAW and the Arpeggiator can come into its own when pumping it into external synthesizers.
LK25 MK3 – £159.99
LK37 MK3 – £179.99
LK49 MK3 – £209.99
LK61 MK3 – £259.99