2013/04/30 7 Comments »
Faster and brighter ... aaaand?
Novation went ahead and surprised us all a short while ago, by announcing the Launchpad S – a “
bigger, better, faster” Launchpad.
Based on the timing (i.e. shortly after the release of the massive Ableton Push controller), you might expect more from a new Launchpad than simply “faster and brighter,” but essentially, that’s it. No velocity sensitivity, no pressure levels – just the same old button grid with brighter LEDs and faster refresh times.
If you remember back when the Launchpad was first released, it was marketed (at least implied) as a more affordable and neater alternative to the bulky APC. It made a lot of sense: sixty-four clip launch buttons and eight scene launch buttons, both bankable, as well as a mixer mode and two user modes. In many ways it was the perfect companion to Live. It had its quirks, though: the controller works with Live by sending specific MIDI notes at a specific channel to launch clips, scenes, etc. The problem is that, while this works fine in Session and Mixer mode, there’s no LED feedback in the user modes, unless you set up a dedicated MIDI track to send output to the Launchpad. While this works, while you’re in either User mode, the pads send and receive on the exact same notes and channel as in the other modes, so once you switch back to Session mode, the LEDs are a complete mess. You can, of course, use the pads without LED feedback, but there is very little satisfaction in that. We want light shows, damnit! Furthermore, the LEDs on the original Launchpad are hard to work with in daylight, and can be a complete nightmare if you’re colour blind (as I am). Finally, switching between modes involved a noticeable delay, as the Launchpad needs a little time to update its LEDs.
Enter the Launchpad S. The LEDs are brighter, and, according to Novation, the colours are a lot more distinct, making life easier if you have a colour blindness issue. The revamped Launchpad is also a lot faster, eliminating the lag when switching modes/banks. But it’s still “just” a Launchpad. Is it fair to expect a “Push Light” (even though I’m sure no-one expected a new Launchpad at all)? One could argue that the need for a (basic) clip launcher for Live surely is still there, and that more advanced controls would have increased the price, but Ableton have made some very conscious decisions with Live 9 and the Push integration. Push is a production/studio controller which can be brought on stage as a performance controller. Launchpad is arguably just a performance controller, and a bit of a one-trick pony at that, due to its shortcomings. The updated S version doesn’t change that. It would have benefited greatly from velocity sensitive pads, which alone would have turned it into a whole other beast: the ever-awesome NativeKontrol have already slapped together a Push emulation script for its LPC-Live customers, and velocity/pressure sensitivity is exactly what’s missing if you’d like to use the Launchpad’s pads to play an instrument with articulation, like you can on Push. It would also have made a lot of sense if the user modes would use a channel which would not interfere with the Launchpad’s main modes, and User 1 mode should be able to provide automatic LED feedback. From what I understand, Novation actually made a point out of ensuring that the new Launchpad is 100% compatible with the old one, so no luck there either.
If you didn’t previously own a Launchpad, it’s a no-brainer: it’s a controller you grow fond of. It’s cute, and it’s a very sensible way of using Live in a performance, and there are many things you can use the User modes for that don’t require any velocity sensitivity, like triggering effects, etc., and in this respect, the faster version will be great. Also, if you own one Launchpad and love it so much you’d like an additional one, go for it: they could even complement one another: you could have one in Session mode and one in either of the other modes, or extend it with NativeKontrol’s excellent LPC-Live script, which turns the Launchpad into a powerful production tool. If, on the other hand, you own a Launchpad, are happy with owning one Launchpad and are not overly frustrated with its slightly dim lights and slightly laggy update rate, I don’t think the Launchpad S is going to have a lot to offer. Sadly. I, for one, would be absolutely thrilled to see a bona fide Launchpad 2, with all the improvements of the Launchpad S, but also with velocity and pressure sensitive pads and a SHIFT button (in the top right corner, where, curiously, the OLD Ableton logo still resides) which would allow an instant secondary function for the pads (like, for instance, access to the “arm”, “solo”, “track on” and “stop” rows without having to leave Session mode).