Novation's latest LaunchKey Mini offers more features in a smaller package.
There's no shortage of mini MIDI controllers knocking around under £100for about $100 and so any manufacturer hoping to capture this market is going to need to pull something a bit special out of the bag. The previous versions of the Novation LaunchKey Mini have held their own against the likes of the Arturia MiniLab and the Akai APK Mini, so does the updated MkIII offer a creative advantage for mini-keyed music makers?
I find it remarkable how the smallest tweaks to a design can make previous versions appear dated so quickly. Novation have followed Native Instruments into the neatness of straight lines and square angles. The MkII had the smallest curves on the case and graduations on the knobs, but I wouldn't be seen dead with such old tat now that the MkIII is here. The clean lines are beautiful, the straight down encoders futuristic, and even the keys have been flattened to make them feel nuanced and less chunky. It looks classy and understated with the matte grey/black paint even if it is still made of plastic. It sits over 1cm lower on the desk, and the pads and buttons have been slimmed down so as not to spoil the flow.
The button, knob, key and pad count are almost identical to the MkII with the addition of a couple of extra buttons. But the most prominent physical developments are the pitch and modulation strips, whose presence should be standard on every MIDI controller. Call me old fashioned but I do enjoy a good modulation wheel. However, if you're looking for miniaturised control and sleek lines then a touchstrip is a small compromise. You don't expect to get too excited about the feel of miniature keys, but these feel OK — there's plenty of spring and resistance in a small amount of travel.
The LaunchKey Mini is lightweight without feeling flimsy, gives good resistance to my twisting and banging it about and has half-decent rubber feet for keeping it still on the desk. If I could find any complaint at all for the build quality of a plastic controller it would be that there's perhaps a bit too much wobble in those very petite encoders.
On the back you get a regular USB port that serves as both power and computer connection and that all-important Kensington security slot for when you're making music in a cafe and have to nip to the loo and don't want anyone to steal it. But that's not all. With the MkIII Novation have added a useful Sustain pedal socket that can be mapped to anything via the Novation Components software. And they've added a MIDI output port which is a cause for celebration. The MIDI Out is on that increasingly...