Ableton Live Controllers

Ableton Live, as its name suggests, is a piece of software that allows electronic music to be performed rather than simply reproduced verbatim. However, despite its very hands-on approach, until recently there have been no hardware controllers officially endorsed by Ableton…

Akai Buries The Opposition With The APC40

Earlier this year, Akai announced the APC40, the first hardware controller specifically designed to be used with Live, and even sporting the Ableton logo on the side. The device is actually the result of a detailed collaboration between the two companies.

The APC40 features a grid of buttons which light up green when a clip is playing, orange when there is a clip present but not playing, and red when recording. To the right of the grid lie some very nicely designed pots with green indicator lights to show the position of the currently selected parameter. One section here is dedicated to patch control, the other to device control – allowing instantaneous access to essential elements of the set.

The APC40 certainly looks like a winner for use with Live, although it cannot be USB bus powered, requiring a mains connection for juice. It already has plenty of fans in the Ableton community, as evidenced by this rather silly APC40 Photoshop thread at the Ableton forum.

Out To Launch With Novation

Not content to let Akai have things all their own way, Novation have announced their own Ableton partnership product – the Launchpad. This looks like a grid-only version of the APC40, but it is smaller, lighter and (perhaps significantly) can be powered purely from a USB port.

Another crucial difference is the price – the APC40 retails at $399, whereas the Launchpad is set to come in at $199 when it is released on November 1st.

The Launchpad comes with Novation’s Automap software, and it can be used with other DAWs as well, but it is obviously strongest in its integration with Live. Using the Launchpad in conjunction with Novation’s Nocturn would seem to be a very comprehensive alternative to the APC40 (and cheaper too). Multiple Launchpads can be used together if required, with one displaying the clip view and another controlling the mixer, for example.

Ohm On The Range With Livid

Of course, if you want to look beyond the official Ableton controllers, there are plenty of other options. Featuring a similar grid layout to the APC40 and Launchpad, Livid have two very attractive controllers in the Ohm64 and the brand new Block.

Both the Ohm64 and Block are hand crafted in Texas, and seem to be very robust units. CDM offered this feature comparison between the APC40 and the Ohm64…


* Proprietary connection to Ableton Live
* A proprietary handshake that ensures only a real APC is being used with Live
* Fixed MIDI assignments – no MIDI assignment editor
* MIDI only
* No MIDI out jacks, so you can’t use it with outboard gear
* No bus power
* 40 buttons
* Made in some factory somewhere we’ve never seen

Livid Ohm64:

* Open source editor, partially open source firmware, open source patches to connect to whatever you want
* Custom MIDI assignments, for use with whatever you want
* MIDI for now, but the chipset supports open source solutions for OpenSoundControl (OSC) in the near future – and even DMX (for lighting) is a possibility
* USB and standard MIDI jacks so you can sequence outboard gear
* Bus power
* 64 trigger buttons in a more logical 8×8 array
* “Made in the USA by humans” – with a beautifully-crafted body
* Free Cell DNA video software included

The Ohm64 is priced at $599. The Livid Block has yet to be released (it’s due to go on sale the same day as the Launchpad, November 1st) but comes with a price tag of $399.

It’s got a similar matrix of buttons, but only two faders and eight control pots.

While these (well, particularly the Ohm64) are more expensive than the other controllers, they do afford a lot more customisation and open-source delving potential. The APC40 and Launchpad would be geared more towards the plug-and-play musician, whereas the more experimental artist may prefer the added flexibility of Livid’s offerings. At any rate, it’s certainly a good time to be in the market for hardware control…


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