Review: Novation Launchkey 49 MK3

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Review: Novation Launchkey 49 MK3

novation launchkey mk3 review
Words by Liam McShane

Focusrite Australia | Enquire for pricing

Perfect for young buzzing minds who don’t like to play by the rules that sheet music expects you to follow.

In 1975, Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow’ to refer to the feeling of total immersion when performing an activity. Unlike Mihaly’s surname, this ‘flow’ state is a pretty simple concept; you might already know it as ‘being in the zone’. And as anyone who has achieved this transcendent feeling will tell you, this is where the magic happens. 

Read more product reviews here.

Switching attention between multiple stimuli, AKA multitasking, is the biggest killer of productivity in our day to day lives. Although we like to think our brains can focus on multiple things, the fastest way to ruin any state of flow we might have is through context switching, regardless of how minor it may be. Although Ableton Live and other modern DAWs are engineered for creativity, even the disconnect between DAW navigation and recording/composing is enough to throw us out of our flow state.

Novation has come up with a solution to this with their Launchkey MIDI keyboard/controller, offering elegant inline DAW controls and MIDI functionality for the seamless joining of creativity and command. 

The small LCD screen is well visible and conveniently located, allowing you to keep track of certain parameters and functions from within the unit, but as with most MIDI controllers, but especially this one, so much of the action takes place while interfacing with our laptop or mac.

Designed for use with many DAWs, the Launchkey is available in 25, 37, 49, and 61 key sizes to suit all kinds of studio or live layouts. The Launchkey doesn’t cut any corners with its array of controls, featuring an additional 16 velocity-sensitive pads, pitch and modulation control wheels, eight rotary encoders, plus nine faders exclusive to the 49 and 61 key models. The Launchkey works with Ableton straight out of the box – but can be easily set up with whatever DAW you run with – offering an array of controls to navigate the DAW on the fly. Novation also offers a variety free software for beginners to start creating right away.

A strip of buttons to the right of the unit is home to play, stop, record and loop controls, each corresponding to those found in the Ableton GUI itself. The Undo, Quantize and Click buttons also function as expected – the Capture MIDI button is perhaps the most exciting of the lot, allowing you to capture retrospectively anything played recently on a record armed track. This is the golden ticket with regards to facilitating a creative state of flow, allowing you to capture any flashes of inspiration while playing along, with the peace of mind that your accidental excellence, and excellent accidents, won’t be forever lost to the ether. The more practised composer may find that they can get the perfect take without even having to stop and hit record, such is the power of the Capture MIDI button. 

The Launchkey’s chord functionality is remarkably extensive, providing a host of built in chords triggered by the controller’s 16 pads corresponding to the key and scale set by the user. The Scale Lock function locks the keyboard into your chosen scale, forcing all the keys on the keyboard into a note from that scale, meaning you never have to play a wrong note again. 

The Fixed Chord button allows you to input a chord shape that you can play anywhere on the keyboard, a handy feature for those not blessed with fingers long enough to play octaves comfortably.

Users are also able to program their own chords onto each individual pad, with these custom chords written to the controller’s internal memory, meaning they’ll still be there the next time you plug in the controller. Trying to figure out a melody to match a set of chords? The Launchkey lets you play your chords on the pads with one hand while tickling the ivories with another (or you could try and trigger the pads with your nose while playing the keys with two hands – I’m not making the rules here). 

The 16 touch sensitive pads map to drum racks, offering a level of dynamic control more akin to playing live drums than merely clicking samples. This allows for a simple, streamlined workflow especially when quickly jotting down placeholder drum parts during the demo process.

The Launchkey’s built-in arpeggiator is ultra-customisable, the rotary pots at the top of the unit controlling the Arp’s tempo, swing and note length, the Mutate and Deviate pots offer wildcard modulation to the arpeggiated notes and rhythm respectively. A Latch button keeps the last played note.

The Launchkey’s MIDI out functionality allows you to control hardware synthesisers, or any MIDI compatible device, making it an obvious option for performers running hybrid Ableton Live + hardware setups. The intuitiveness and ease with which it interfaces with Ableton is a sight to behold, connecting with the host DAW directly out of the box. The various pots and faders map automatically, in turn providing one of the most user friendly tactile live experiences out there at the moment. 

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways of all with regards to the Launchkey 49 MK3 (or any Launchkey product for that matter) is the sheer quality of the build and choice of the components. The feel and apparent quality of the pads and dials is truly a cut above what you would normally expect from a controller at this price point. This hardiness is not at the expense of portability though, with the Launchkey 49 proving light enough to be ferried from gig to gig or session to session. 

As production and composition workflows become more and more in-the-box, the need for adaptive, intuitive MIDI controllers has never been greater. Novation’s awesome Launchkey 49 might just be the perfect vehicle for this kind of workflow. Every function and parameter just feels so responsive and natural, allowing you to be transported into that aforementioned ‘flow state’ in the shortest time possible. After all, that is where all the good music lives.

Head to Novation for more information. For local enquiries, get in touch with Focusrite Australia.