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How good is the latest generation of Novations controller series?

Review: Launchkey MK3

Published 7:00 am on Saturday 1st August 2020 by Beat Magazine

MIDI Controller

The backside holds a pleasant surprise because, unlike its predecessor models and many other compact keyboards, the MK3 launchkey (Checkout in the Thomann sho) has a full DIN-size MIDI output in addition to an input for a sustain pedal. So you can play other hardware with it even without a computer. This is especially interesting combined with the sophisticated arpeggiator and the customizable controller mappings for almost all controls. The custom pages are programmed using the Components software, which is browser-based, or alternatively works as normal standalone software. A nice feature is that buttons can also send step-by-step values (e.g, to switch through waveforms or filter types of the controlled synthesizer/plug-in).

CV/Gate connectors (for integration with analog gear) are not available like they are on the SL MkIII.

Arpeggiator with Extras

The Arpeggiator, unlike the Komplete keyboards, works without a computer. Different playing directions, dividers and rhythms can all be adjusted with a shift button and the keyboard or pads. The knobs control tempo, swing, note length, mutate and deviate. Mutate mixes the notes together to create new motifs, while Deviate changes the rhythm. The degree to which the parameters affect the arpeggio can be individually adjusted using the knobs. Chord Memory allows you to save a chord, which can then be played back with a key. Predefined chords can also be recalled. A scale function prevents „skewed“ tones that lie outside the key.

Ableton Live Pad Controller

Ableton Live in its current version automatically recognizes the MK3 launch key; no further setup is necessary. The pads can be used to record and launch clips, and the multi-colored lighting adapts to the clip color for better visual orientation. Use the side navigation buttons to move through the clip matrix, select additional clips and scenes, and navigate through the tracks. Use the bottom row of pads to stop tracks or solo, mute, and arm them for recording. The Pads can also be used to trigger sounds from a drum track, and individual MIDI mappings are also possible. The Pads even function as the computer keyboard‘s arrow keys, including Enter, so you can navigate through the sound browser in Ableton or a plug-in without using a mouse or keyboard. The dedicated Program Change button is just as handy.

Device and Mixer Control

The eight endless encoders control the parameters of an active Ableton Device such as the wavetable synthesizer or the echo effect, and mixer functions such as volume, panning and sends for the selected 8 tracks. On the larger models, the faders primarily take over the mixer control, but they can also be used for Device control. The control of Ableton devices is no longer limited to 8 parameters; you can now access up to 64 parameters via different pages - all nicely preassigned and with the parameter shown in the display. The transport section with 8 buttons is also very practical. In addition to Start/Stop/Record/Loop, you also have direct access to metronome, quantization, Undo and Capture MIDI. For Logic and Reason there are adapted scripts; other DAWs can be controlled via the HUI protocol.

Verdict

Launchkey MK3 (Checkout in the Thomann shop) sets new standards for compact USB keyboards, especially when combined with Ableton Live. The clip and drum rack control via 16 pads that match the clip colors of the DAW and the extensive device and mixer control via 8 endless knobs, faders, buttons and display replaces, in many cases, a specialty controller like Push. The built-in arpeggiator with interesting additional functions, scale and chord function as well as the MIDI output, also allow jamming with hardware synths independent of the computer. The whole concept seems very well thought-out and practical, which is why we can absolutely recommend it!


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