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Last updated: July 01, 2021
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In recent years, Ableton has transformed well from DJs’ and electronic music-makers’ favorite software into the default method of performance and production for a wide range of styles and genres. The surging popularity of Ableton is basically owing to its adaptability through its session views and arrangement, and if you are looking to make the most of this fantastic software, you will need a MIDI controller. The best controllers for Ableton enable you to activate different parts and sounds and actualize whatever you can make up from your imagination by just pushing a pad or sliding a fader.
While the first step for a producer is choosing a perfect software for his musical creations, finding the right controller for this software is the second step, which is often the most difficult one. Ableton Live has developed into one of the biggest forces amongst modern DAWs, which explains why different manufacturers have come forward with various models engineered to offer users with the haptic, real-time control they so desire. Fortunately, we’ve compiled the best controllers for Ableton available today, considering essential factors like keys features, pads and controllers, Ableton version requirements, dimensions, and weight.
From the handy comparison table to the in-detail reviews section to the buying guide, this article has been carefully planned to ensure it provides readers and prospective shoppers with real values. The comparison table has been designed to give you a feel of the things to come. The product reviews have been carefully written and complete with pros and cons of each product. The buying guide is the most value-adding section, as it contains essential tips to help you choose the best Ableton controller for your needs.
With its incredibly responsive keys, knobs, and pads that have simple integration with Ableton Live, and several faders, the Novation Launchkey 49 is undoubtedly one of the best controllers you can find on the market today. You don’t have to be a user of Ableton Live to take full advantage of this controller. The physical knobs and faders onboard can be mapped easily to any DAW. The device is even compatible with an iPad, which makes it an excellent functional music-making MIDI controller.
Furthermore, the unit has 49 velocity-sensitive keys, 16 sensitive pads, eight knobs, and control buttons designed for easy navigation. The controller works with several software bundles like the Novation Bass Station, the XLN Audio Addictive Keys, and the Ableton Live Lite, of course. It also comes with over 4GB of Loopmasters samples for the prospective buyers of the device. The model is, nonetheless, backed by a 2-year warranty that includes only manufacturing defects.
What’s more, the Novation Launchkey also has a set of samples, loops, and spare software of more than 2 GB download. The compact and minimalistic design of this device makes it easy for beginners to learn the controls quickly. While some users had an issue with the pads lack of sensitivity, the pads still work quite well for activating tracks and samples.
The Alesis V49 is an excellent controller that has everything required by a music producer. Featuring a semi-weighted 49-key configuration that provides you with a sufficient keyboard to produce musical samples, it also includes extra eight pressure and velocity-sensitive drum pads to trigger sounds or program drums. On top of that, the unit also comes with four buttons and four knobs which can be assigned to any virtual instrument, plugin, or control in your Ableton Live.
If you regularly go on music tours or you have a tiny studio, you will definitely find this controller likable. It has a lightweight and compact construction, while still being remarkably solid. Also, it features a software editor that enables you to edit and modify MIDI messages sent to the computer. For instance, you could modify the keys’ sensitivity, change the function of the sustain pedal, play with the drum pads and more.
It is also worth noting that a lot of beginners mix up the Alesis V49 Controller for equipment with built-in sounds, which is not the case. The Alesis V49 is a controller designed to be used with DAW programs like Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase and more. However, this controller doesn’t come with an LCD display which is a bit disappointing.
Why are we impressed?
Portable and compact construction
Features all the necessary controls
Keys are responsive and sensitivity adjustable
What negatives must you be aware of?
No LCD display
Somewhat basic set of features
Semi-weighted keys may feel to flimsy for experienced musicians
The Launch Control XL MIDI Controller helps you focus less on your computer and more on your music by providing you with 24 knobs, 16 buttons, and eight faders that seamlessly integrate with Ableton Live to provide you with complete hands-on control. The controller also has an inbuilt 64-button grid for amazing real-time control over Live’s mixer, instruments, effects, and session view. With this fantastic controller, it has never been easier to create the perfect mix.
Furthermore, the 24 knobs on the Launchpad are arranged in three rows, which perfectly align with the Live’s mixer. Also, the controller comes with multicolored LED lights that light up to differentiate between EQs, sends, or any other machine. The unit also features eight sturdy faders that offer accurate control, while sixteen multi-color buttons provide you with an instant track focus. In addition to that, the Novation Launch Control XL comes with HUI integration, which allows you to use it for controlling the Mixer in Pro Tools, Logic or Cubase.
What’s more, you can assign your faders, knobs, and buttons to any parameters in Ableton Live in order to create your layouts. The machine even allows you to customize the knobs with your own colors and switch easily between your mappings and Ableton’s built-in functionality. Besides, this controller has a fairly sturdy construction, which allows it to endure all sorts of abuse you might expose it to. The controller is also compatible with iOS, Mac & Windows, which shows how versatile it is. Although it has at least one drawback, with the USB connector on the controller’s body being not really a tight fit.
The Novation Launchpad has been on a steady rise in popularity over the last few years, making it one of the most popular products in the music production industry. While the Launchpad has been in existence for many years, the amount of updates it has seen has kept it level with new models. With a simple layout and a very reasonable price, the Novation Launchpad is an easy intro to grid-based controllers. This little compact unit comes with 64 sensitive backlit pads, which are ideal for mixing, launching clips, and programming drums.
Furthermore, the Novation Launchpad features extra control buttons on the side and top that enables you to switch further between different Ableton Live tasks. Also, this model has a lightweight construction, making it an excellent fit for gigging. The pads have a durable feel and the controller features rubber feet at the base which keeps it securely in place when you put it on a flat surface. In Mixer mode, arming, muting, and soloing tracks become available via the control buttons placed on the device’s right-hand side.
The controller also includes a user mode, which enables you to assign different settings to the User One and User Two. The User One mode is set to activate drum racks by default so that you form drum patterns on-the-go. However, the best thing about the Launchpad could be its versatility, apart from its portability and price point. It can be an ideal mate to other gear in your setup and can be also utilized with practically any software as a universal MIDI controller. It can even be used with an iPad, which further illustrates its versatility.
However, despite all the pros of this controller, it comes with a few shortcomings. The first one is that it might initially take some getting used to. Secondly, the pads’ sensitivity is difficult to adjust. Both cons aren’t really significant, and if you could get past them, you have an incredible controller on your hands.
The Arturia MiniLab MkII 25 Slim-Key Controller is a MIDI controller that is built for the traveling musicians in mind. It is a very compact and portable controller, which means it can sit on your desk without eating up much space. The well-constructed, solid enclosure allows the device to endure some knocks and its small size makes it an ideal controller to create music in the plane, at the café, bus rides, in confined spaces and more.
It comes with two banks of pressure and velocity-sensitive backlit pads which are useful for activating live clips in Ableton Live or drum samples. The device also comes with 16 rotating encoders that can be mapped easily to pan pots or utilize them for recording remarkable automation. Users of Ableton Live will love this controller as it has a very seamless and simple integration with this software. Although it has no external power output, it’s still a decent unit.
However, you might not like the pitch and modulation touch strips that come with this controller since most users prefer the physical wheels. Perhaps, the manufacturer included touch strips to maximize space on the device. The Arturia MiniLab MKII Controller also features some Lite-edition software and VSTs, namely UVI workstation Grand Piano, Analog Lab Lite and Ableton Live Lite. Coming at around $100 only, there are not many MIDI controllers better than the Arturia MiniLab in its category.
Why is it special?
Keyboard for more versatility
Features a pedal input
Beautiful design and spectacular overall build
What are the flaws?
No external power input
Pitch and modulation touch strips may require some getting used to
For a very long time, the Akai Professional MPD226 Controller was the best and most popular drum pad controller. Till today, the company is still making some of the most popular drum pads out there, modernizing their creations of several decades ago. The Akai MPD 226 is a reappearance of the predecessor model, though features a sleek black casing and a backlit 16-pad setup this time. To take full advantage of the small interface, the manufacturer included four control knobs, four switches, and four faders, with each capable of assigning to a particular control.
The pressure and velocity sensitive attributes only improve the natural sound you get when you are playing – it will send in data depending on how soft or hard you hit the pads so it isn’t robotic, providing each hit with its own flavor or volume. The pads are also RGB illuminated which gives the unit an outstanding appearance in your recording studio or if you are intending to be on stage. The unit features 16 high-quality MPC drum pads, 64 assignable pads accessible via four banks, and 36 assignable controls as well.
The other buttons are also illuminated and there is a small display for easy navigation. The whole device is very slim for effortless fit in any sort of setup. Due to the device’s compact design, however, the controllers are understandably too small and might be problematic for some users.
What makes it stand out?
Adjustable sensitivity and backlights
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
The controls are smaller than other models offer
Things to Consider
Now that you have read top controllers for Ableton Live reviews, we will proceed to the buying guide, which contains different tips to help you choose the right model for your needs.
What is Ableton Live and why do you need a controller for it?
Ableton Live, launched in the early 2000s, is one of the best DAW programming options for producers and musicians. The software looks to give users an option that is perfect for both home production and live performances. The app comes with a user-friendly interface, which allows for an easy workflow that has a parity of efficiency and versatility. Due to this balance, users are able to produce professional-quality songs, and also remix and reorganize during live performances.
The potential of Ableton Live as a tool of live performance is accepted widely, and if you intend on using the software before a large crowd, you’d definitely love to have a box with a lot of pads and buttons that can be used to trigger clips, and knobs to tweak parameters. All of these can only be provided by the best Ableton controller, which answers the last part of the question.
Features to consider before buying a controller
If you are really serious about buying the best controller for Ableton Live, then you need to take the following factors into consideration when making your final decision.
Pads and controllers
Nowadays, most controllers come with buttons, knobs, and faders. With all these options available, you have sufficient direct control to accelerate your time of production and fully showcase your creativity. Modulation wheels, sliders, and knobs enable you to have a real classic feel. Also, there are some controllers that come with auto-mapping tech allowing the faders and knobs to match with your Ableton Live.
Some controllers feature inbuilt keyboards which is a nice addition to those in love with composing music apart from just mixing. Here the key action should be considered carefully. Simply put, key action is the feel of the keys when they are pressed. Keyboards can be either full-weighted, semi-weighted or synth-action. Synth-action keys utilize springs rather than weights to take the key back to its previous depressed position. Consequently, they are much quicker and feel much lighter than semi-weighted keys which have weights tied to every key to give them a heavier feel. In a semi-weighted keyboard like the Alesis V49, every press has more resistance and bounce back when the keys are released, which is similar to how a piano feels. Full-weighted keys feel exactly like an acoustic piano’s ones and are more often seen on digital pianos rather than controllers.
While synth-action keys will not tire out your hands as much as semi-weighted keys, they feel a bit cheap and spongy. In the end, choosing between them always boils down to personal playing style because neither of them is better.
Weight and dimensions
You will also have to figure out which one to choose between a full-sized controller or a compact model. For instance, due to the fact that most individuals that buy 25-key controllers don’t use them for serious piano playing, it is not surprising that compact keyboards continue to rise rapidly in popularity.
Apart from being cheaper, compact units are also much more portable and handy and will fit just about any desk. Of course, you’ll have to make due with smaller controls. Because of the smaller keys and buttons, some individuals find compact units a bit too cramped and would prefer to rather use a full-sized model.
You might also want to look for extra features when shopping for your controller for Ableton Live. Cables, backlighting and LED indicators are useful things to look out for making your purchase. You should, however, keep in mind that the more extra features a controller is equipped with, the more expensive it will be. So, you might want to reconsider some features that may end up being useless in the long run.
While most controllers are powered via USB cable, some controllers come with a DC socket, and the reason is not far-fetched. Normally, when you power your controller via the USB cable, it draws power from your laptop battery. If you, however, have a model that has a DC socket, you can power it with an external DC power supply. This can be particularly useful when you have already exhausted all your laptop’s USB ports.
Ableton is a company renowned for its production of great software for audio and Ableton Live is their most popular app till date. From beat production to modifications, recording, and live sets, Ableton Live enables you to manage every process of audio production easily. But, is there any similar app on the market that can be compared to Ableton Live? Of course, there are several alternatives. Examples include FL Studio, Logic Pro X, Pacemaker Editor, LMMS and BPM Studio.
The Ableton Live Lite is basically like a demo version that aids a user’s smooth introduction to Ableton Live. The Lite version lacks a lot of essential plugins that are available on the standard version, which leaves you with only a single draw with no possibility of making a proper track. In addition to that, the Lite version has a limit of 16 tracks, whereas the standard version can go as much as 40 tracks.
After the extensive research we’ve carried out, we believe the Novation Launchkey 49 USB Keyboard Controller is the best controller for Ableton on the market right now. With its seamless Ableton Live integration, user-friendly interface, and incredible versatility, we can’t find any model that is better than this one.
Taking second place is the Alesis V49 Controller, which despite being compact and lightweight, packs a lot of features. It also allows for a lot of customization, making it a great controller for Ableton Live.
Our third choice is the Novation Launch Control XL MIDI USB, which is also our pick for the best DJ controller. Not only that, but it is also very versatile as it is compatible with iOS, Mac, and Windows.