Fun device, sadly limited, pads are just okay.
Reviewed in the United States on 9 April 2020
Okay, so I just got this controller, but I want to call attention to some issues it has, some clearly bad choices by Novation and some shortcomings of their customizing platform. I think this product gives people the misconception that it's just a really well-designed thing inside and out, and that their software is just what you would want because the note mode looks so cool.
While the controller offers a lot of functionality with all of its pads, there are things that make it feel limited. So to set that tone, I will first bring up the fact that it only has 4 custom pages. You get Note mode and 4 custom pages. Why only 4? There are 8 buttons there down the right side, with 4 of them conspicuously unlit. Is giving us 8 whole grids really that data intensive?
To make this worse, one of those 4 is taken up by the normal keyboard. That's right, the keyboard with regular piano notes in an intelligible layout is not part of Note mode. That keyboard is custom #2. Note mode ONLY has scale keyboards.
And what does this mean? It means you cannot transpose on the normal keyboard. It is a 49-key keyboard with no transpose, on a device that has a transpose feature. If you want to set up a second regular keyboard so you can transpose, you will have to use another one of your 4 custom layouts.
Why is a regular keyboard with transpose not part of Note Mode? And why do we only have 4 custom layouts?
Let's get away from that and start talking about Note mode. I mentioned that the device feels limited. Well, you can say that is my subjective opinion. But what do you say when you find out that the Launchpad Pro has 32 scales in its Note Mode, and the Launchpad X, (not mentioned by youtube reviewers) has the last half of those arbitrarily removed. That's right, those 2 rows they show you of scales in the note mode settings are 16 out of 32 scales. What is missing? Well, the major pentatonic scale. You can't put the major pentatonic onto note mode. I admit, I don't really know much about these scales, but this doesn't really help. It has these different hungarian scales, but it's lacking major pentatonic. Why? Could the device not hold that many lines of code?
I have to expand on this, because it's not just the device that doesn't have it built in. Let's use up a custom mode page to get the major pentatonic scale keybord. I mean, we won't get the cool features of Note mode, but it would be something. Go to your customizer, Novation Components, and you can add scale keyboards. So, can you add a major pentatonic scale with that? No. You can add just the scale keyboards that are already in Note Mode. If you want a major pentatonic, you have to create it note by note.
Why do they have to remove it from the system entirely? A recurring theme here is that the product is designed with a certain function in mind, and then the main keyboard modes can't use that function. With a product like this, which is designed to create scale keyboards, it is very weird to be lacking the ability to use basic scales.
And you have a regular keyboard with no transpose feature, while transpose exists in Note mode. I was thinking about this some more. I was trying to play a tune on the regular keyboard layout, I learned it, and then I found that I learned it in a different key from the original song. So I thought 'It would be nice if this thing could transpose by semitones (like a capo). Oh wait, it can. IN NOTE MODE' Not only would I have to use 2 custom layouts to get transpose at all, but I wouldn't get semitone transpose. On a device that is created to and indeed has that very function built into it. It's a device that is built for this purpose. I have to stress that Note mode is only using scale keyboards and is not really that useful to people who want to treat this like a keyboard, yet that's where all of the good features are.
And then there's the measley 4 custom layouts.
I want to go back to the customizing software, the idea of adding notes one at a time. Let's talk about that. It would be great if the designers of this software were good at making software easy to use. You know how in regular MIDI controller apps, you can type the midi value for a note, like '65' onto the pad you are assigning? That makes it easy to get the note value from the drum program and enter it to the pad. What does Novation have? You have to look at the keyboard part of the drum program you are using, and decipher what musical note it is, and what octave it is in.
So entering notes one at a time is unnecessarily difficult. I have to look at the keyboard, figure out that it's F# of octave 4, drop down the menu for note and choose F#, drop down the other menu and choose octave 4. And that's information the drum program doesn't readily give me. Come on, Novation, all other editors let you type in numeric MIDI values.
So once you create a note, you can then copy it, and whole parts of layouts, right? Well, no, you cannot copy anything. You have to do each thing manually. It's like this is just the bare bones of the bare bones. I think Novation has a reputation that doesn't reflect this.
I think it's worth hammering home, because I can keep going. There is no pad naming. So all you have to identify notes on your custom pages is that stupid note name and octave. Like I know what sound B#, octave 3 is on my drum kit. Or if I was trying to trigger clips or something, wouldn't it help me if I could name it something in my layout editor other than B#, octave 3? It's like Novation never thought that people would want to be able to have this function. Also, there is no undo button, so if you delete a note by dragging another onto it, you have to create the note again manually. No undo button.
It's just that you wouldn't think this from seeing glimpses of the program in videos. You would think Novation stuff is polished.
So I've ripped on the stupid (greedy?) decision to cut off and remove half the scales, including the major pentatonic scale and the stupid decision to make the regular keyboard not part of note mode and take up a custom slot and not have transpose capability. I've ripped on the device for only having 4 custom pages, 1 of which is taken up by said keyboard. So really, you have 3 custom pages.
Then I ripped on the online program for, inexplicably, also not offering the missing scale keyboards as custom options. Then I ripped on the program for how unnecessarily awkward is is to add individual custom notes. Then I ripped on how once you add these, you can't name or copy them.
Now notice how none of the popular review channels on Youtube said any of this. They didn't mention the lack of scales, did they?
Okay, let's talk about the pads now. Are they the best in the business? Well, I don't know how high-end pads feel, but these pads don't pick up light touches. People who say that is normal just have low standards. I modified my Launchpad X like I did to my Akai controllers in the past, putting tape under the pads.
I really wish I didn't have to do this and that the reviewers were actually on target, but I realized on day one that these pads needed the mod just like the Akai pads did. After the mod, I really am happy with it, but it was a large pain. These pads aren't able to detect "super light touches" as it comes. They are okay, but I expected to not have to mod them. They miss a lot, if you are playing with a light touch. I bought these thinking they would perform like my modded Akai pads, but that was not the case. So expect that, or expect to mod them.
And that's all I have to say about that. It's a fun product. In my opinion, it shines if you mod it, but I haven't seen anyone else do that and wouldn't expect to due to the difficulty of that particular mod. And what really bugs me is the things they either took out, or failed to put into their software, both in the device and on their programming utility.
I would buy another one, but that is because I'm willing to mod it, but I think I would go for a Pro and mod that instead, as it has all 32 scales and 8 custom modes. What the heck Novation, I feel ripped off.
Give me the major pentatonic scale and 4 missing custom modes, put the standard keyboard in Note Mode, and give your editor better workflow functions if you want to live up to your "great workflow" image.
Oh yeah, if the pads sensitive like my tape-modded pads it would earn that "up there with the best" image.
Thanks for reading.
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