Review: Four Great Ableton Controllers

The number of dedicated Ableton controllers is growing steadily – here are four of the best…

Ableton Controllers

It seems that there are more dedicated Ableton controllers than for any other DAW, these days. But, given its live performance credentials, it stands to reason that users would need ways to exploit it.

With such a variety of controllers on offer, it’s worth taking stock of those available. Here are four of the best…

Ableton Push 2

ableton push 2

What Is It?

An evolution of the grid-based Ableton controllers, the Push 2 takes the ‘session window’ approach, but expands upon it exponentially. Alongside the ability to trigger clips, adjust effects, and track levels, it adds the ability to step sequence, and even functionality to be able to be played as a pitched instrument. It also includes Clip launch mode for live performance and arrangement recording as well as Live Intro.

Grid buttons are velocity and pressure sensitive, and a host of function buttons make navigation a breeze. Ten rotary controls and a large backlit display to feedback DAW data make it even more powerful and intuitive.

We Like

  • Superb build quality.
  • Step-sequencer functionality.
  • Note entry.
  • Pressure & velocity sensitive pads.
  • Neat design touches (e.g. key centre buttons being illuminated in note entry mode).
  • Great backlit display.


  • If you’re a keyboard player, you may find note entry mode a bit, er… strange.

Launchpad S

Ableton Controllers - Launchpad S

What Is It?

The Launchpad S is one of the latest additions to Novation’s ‘Launch’ family, updating the classic Launchpad design. Essentially, it takes the award-winning design of the original, updates the refresh rate, and makes LEDs brighter, adding iPad compatibility along the way.

It still provides the same hand-in-glove control over Ableton’s session window, mixer and effects.

We Like

  • Just about as intuitive as it gets.
  • Small enough to fit into a laptop case.
  • Astonishingly powerful and flexible.
  • IPad compatible.
  • Small enough to fit easily in most DJ booths.
  • Great price.


  • No rotary controls.
  • No display.

Akai APC40 MkII

Akai-APC40-MkIIWhat Is It?

The original Akai APC40 was the first dedicated Ableton controller to appear, and it’s successor, the Akai APC40 MkII, still offers a set of features that aren’t available in any other controller. Again, it has a grid of buttons to mirror the session windows, which illuminate in different colours according to status.

It adds nine faders and sixteen rotary controls to this, along with a cross-fader, and individual channel control buttons, plus cursor navigation buttons and other function controls. The unit is of heavy-duty, robust build-quality.

We Like

  • Chunky construction.
  • Physical faders and rotary controls- always welcome.
  • Additional function buttons.
  • Intuitive Session window functionality.


  • Large size – not quite as portable as some…

Novation Launchkey

Ableton Controllers- Novation Launchkey 25

What is it?

The Launchkey is a neat, keyboard controller, loaded with Launchpad-style functionality. Along with a quality keyboard, it has sixteen velocity sensitive trigger pads that behave like a section of a Launchpad, complete with status indicator backlights.

Eight rotary controls add even more flexibility. In addition, the Launchkey can be used with iPad (including with Novation’s two ‘Launch’ apps- ‘Launchpad’ and Launchkey’)

We Like

  • Launchpad functionality with a keyboard attached.
  • Novation’s high standards of construction.
  • Rotary controls and velocity sensitive pads make it a great controller for any DAW.
  • Compatible with PC, Mac, iPad.
  • Two iOS apps designed specifically for Launchkey.
  • Great value.


  • If you are aiming to use it predominately with Ableton, you my find the need for the extra buttons of the Launchpad, eventually.

All of the above are great Ableton controllers, with their own strengths and weaknesses. For more information or advice, call our stores or customer service team (01925 582420).

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