Launchkey Mini Review: Neat

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I first heard about Novation when they made a neat tool call the Launchpad, a cross-DAW performance mode sequencer.  All the flashy lights were mesmerizing, but I never found the desire to purchase one, as I’m not much of an electronic performer. However, on my latest expedition to the all-mighty Guitar Center, I bought the Launchkey Mini on Impulse to replace my broken (and awfully shoddy to begin with) Akai LPK 25 Mini Keyboard.

BUY IT BUILD IT

In spite of the relatively price of around $100 dollars, the Launchkey handles its job surprisingly well.  $30 more than the Akai LPK 25 and $50 more than the Korg Nanokey buys a surprising amount of hardware.  The Launchkey Mini sports a total of 8 knobs and 27 buttons, 16 of which are velocity sensitive – opposed to the Launch Control which buttons are either pressed or unpressed.  Novation has done an excellent job in terms of build quality.  It’s definitely plastic, but it’s fancy high grade plastic.  The pads are comfortably rubberized, and the knobs feel very secure and anchored to their respective positions.  The keyboard itself plays surprisingly well for being made out of plastic.  The force it takes to press down a key is rather comfortable – even more so than my Roland Juno-G.  The pads, on the other hand, are not nearly as sensitive as they ought to be. It takes more effort than it should to press down the pads when drumming.  Granted, this isn’t a problem for those who wish to use the pads as extra controls or a micro-launchpad, but they are so uncomfortable to drum with that you’ll probably just prefer using your keyboard.  Also, the Launchkey comes with a flimsy micro-USB port along with an extremely short USB wire, so be prepared to purchase a new cable.  Be very cautious when moving the keyboard around as to not bend the port (That’s how my Akai broke).

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How does it look?

While I’m no industrial designer, it’s incredibly important to take into consideration the design of a product, especially one that focuses on performance.  The Launchkey is elegant and well laid out; it’s minimal design allows for easy access of all controls in a split second.  The pads light up with three different colors, providing for a neat light show whenever it’s first plugged in.  The octave buttons also possess the useful function of increasing their back-light brightness depending on how many octaves it has transposed.  The backside of the Launchkey contrasts the plan black front panel with a bright orange color.

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INTEGRATION and implementation

Since I’m a user of FL Studio, my DAW is rarely supported well with hardware aimed at Ableton.  Being said, Novation actually seems to have put sizable effort in its compatibility with other DAWs.  Launchkey worked as soon as I plugged it into my computer; it downloaded all the necessary drivers as well as setting up my MIDI ports in FL.  All I had to do was press “enable”.

Although I haven’t tried this controller with Ableton, it’s safe to assume that it will work well with it, as Ableton seems to be the main focus of Novation products.

Should I buy one?

That question’s answer relies heavily on your needs.  Are you okay with small keys and only two octaves?  Would a performance controller better suit your needs?  Would you be better suited with something like the Novation Launch Control which has no keyboard but more controls?  In my case, the Launchkey was a much-needed assistant to my Juno-G, as it was a cheap controller with some nice controls that I could use to modify my synths on the fly.  The Launchkey is, in my opinion, the way to go for first-time MIDI controller users, or for those who need to expand their ever-growing collection of controls.

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