Are you looking to purchase a midi controller but are overwhelmed by the options and expense? Well you’re in luck because if you keep listening, I’m going to break down one of the most popular midi controllers on the market today – the Launchkey 25 Novation.
The company Novation was founded in 1992 and has a long track record of producing quality musical equipment. In recent years, they’ve teamed up with Ableton which creates a very connected and special user experience, however this controller is compatible with pretty much every DAW available today. Even if you don’t have a music program, included in the box are directions to download Ableton Lite so you can get started making music right away.
The launch key comes in three different lengths, with 25 keys being the smallest and most compact. The 49 and 61 key options have some added faders and buttons, making good use of the extra space. All three versions have velocity sensitive keys and pads for an expressive tactile experience.
Starting from the left, the Launchkey 25 has two circular dials, controlling the pitch and modulation. Above that, there are two buttons that increases or decreases the register of the two octave keyboard. The keys are full size and have a pleasantly realistic touch. Above the octave transpose buttons is the track selection option. If using this controller in conjunction with Ableton, this will allow you to select different tracks without the use of the mouse. When the two buttons are held together, this allows you to change the midi channel which is universally recognized by all music programs.
On top of that, there is a three digit numerical display that typically ranges from 0 – 127 representing MIDI CC data. This display shows the change of every fader, knob and wheel, depending on what is being moved. Along the top there are 8 knobs and below that, 16 pads that can be assigned to trigger clips or samples. Directly out of the box, the pads feel a little stiff, but this is probably a good thing since in time they will have more give.
Lastly, all the way to the right are dedicated transport pads with stop, start, record and other navigation controls. The In Control button helps to extend functionality to Digital Audio Workstations other than Ableton. Nearly every key, pad, knob, fader and wheel can be mapped to control parameters of you choice, by assigning “midi learn” inside your DAW. These changes are applied directly into the project or session file and not to the controller itself. This means that when opening a new project, you’ll need to reassign any changes previously made. To save time, create a blank session with the desired midi mapping and save it as a template. This way, all future sessions will load up to your liking.
Getting back to the features and design, the launch key is fully bus powered. This is an awesome feature that contributes to its ease of portability. Along the back, you’ll also notice a sustain port and power in, though no power adapter comes with the unit since it’s not needed. The bottom and sides of the keyboard have a sporty green accent color along with matching USB wire. It’s also very light, weighing in just shy of 6 pounds. And to be clear, this midi controller is compatible with both MAC and PC.
So that’s the overview of the Novation Launchkey 25. Now the question is, should you buy it? Well there are a lot of options out there, each with a different set of pros and cons. Let’s start by talking about the size.
If you’re interested in a 25 key midi controller, chances are you want it to be compact and possibly will be traveling with it to and from different locations. If this is the case, the launch key 25 is actually quite big especially compared to some other 25 key midi controllers out there such as the key rig 25 by m-audio. When putting it inside a backpack or suitcase, every inch counts – that’s what she said. So while the launch key 25 is relatively compact and will fit nicely on a small desk, it is not the most compact option.
Another thing to consider is how much you value having built in drum pads. Yes they look really cool and light up when you hit them, but you can just as easily program drums on the actual keys of the keyboard and some might argue that you actually have greater control over velocity since there is actual space for a key to move vs a flat, stationary pad. My personal opinion is, if you’re interested in having pads, assignable knobs and faders, space probably is not an issue, in which case, I would recommend buying the 49 or 61 key models.
Depending on your skill as a keyboard player, having more than two octaves is really important if you want to program realistic piano parts with proper chord voicings. If however, you are just looking to program a lead, bass or lay down some pads, most of those musical elements will fit within the 2 octave, 25 key range without changing the octave transpose excessively.
The next thing to consider is the price. Currently, the launch key 25 sells for about $150, which is quite expensive for just two octaves. However, for just $50 more, you can add 2 more octaves and get the 49 key model. And just $50 on top of that will take you to 5 octaves. $250 for 5 octaves is a pretty incredible price, especially compared to other keyboards that have built in sounds.
The Launchkey 25 Midi Controller manual can be downloaded directly from the Novation website. PC users can also download the Novation Launchkey 25 driver on the same download page. A Mac driver is not necessary and connects straight out of the box.
Well that about raps it up. I hope this answered some of your questions and gave you some insight about the Novation Launchkey family. If you’re on the fence, stop over analyzing and just get it! It really is a great controller and will serve you well for years to come. If you’d like to know more or have a specific questions, feel free to leave it in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer it. I hope you enjoyed this review and thanks for watching.
Smaller Full Size Key Alternative
M-Audio Session Keystudio 25
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