Major updates to Novation's third generation of Launchpads improve both form and function.
The announcement of the new Launchpad Pro at NAMM completed Novation's line-up of MkIII Launchpads, with a new slim design, USB-C connectivity and enhanced features. Each model has levelled up: the Mini is now full colour, and the standard Launchpad (the 'X') gains velocity sensitivity and some of the Ableton integration seen on the original Pro. Which leaves the new Pro to venture into uncharted territory with upgraded Live control and impressive stand-alone sequencing powers.
As well as the hardware refresh and individual enhancements, all the new Launch-pads offer next-gen user customisation via Novation's Components web-based system. This includes an editor for creating user pages, complete with drag-and-drop 'widgets'.
Customer On-boarding is a fashionable term in the tech industry for the process a user goes through to get started with new gear of software. If I ever run an On-boarding workshop and you attend, I'll simply hand you one of these new Launchpads and ask you to plug it into your laptop. (If you want to break into groups and write on a big pad knock yourselves out, but you know, please don't).
When connected, the Launchpads mount a tiny storage partition containing a link to Novation HQ. This takes you straight to the product registration page (where the serial number of the unit is auto-filled!) and a setup video. Slick.
Connection (and power) is via USB‑C. A single B‑to‑C cable is included with the X and Mini, and you also get a C-to-C with the Pro. It was a delight to connect directly to my MacBook Pro, without the usual rummaging for an adaptor.
Launchpads can be generic MIDI controllers — even more so now with customisation and the Pro's sequencer — but they are designed with Ableton Live in mind. Control scripts for the units on review were already installed on my version of Live 10. The Mini and Pro auto-configured with no help from me, while the X required selecting in Live's settings.
The hardware design on these new Launches is lovely. They are way slimmer than the previous generation. The pads have been enlarged in area and the pitch between them reduced. The mode, scene and function buttons around the edges are now square instead of circular, as on all previous models.
The pads on the main grid of the X and Pro have a super-sensitive, light action, and you can adjust the pressure sensitivity and aftertouch threshold. They are simply the best grid controller pads I've ever used for playing instruments and synths. For finger drumming I initially felt I preferred the more solid pads on the original Launchpad Pro, but came around quickly.
The mode and function pads have a definite travel and a click, giving a reassuring button-like response. Labels are now all embedded in the buttons, and light up only when available in a given mode or context.
The Mini in particular is insanely cute, but all the Launchpads are highly portable. In fact, over the last few years I've clocked up much more time on the Launchpad Pro than Push, purely because the former fits easily in a bag and is happy on USB power.
The new models have the square rubber foot that runs around the...