Review Launch Control XL by Novation
LaunchControl XL – a new controller from Novation. Could all those knobs, buttons and sliders become a hardware version of your DAW?
by A. Arsov, Jan 2015
I was expecting a fragile peace of plastic and was surprised at what came to my doorstep. It was pretty big controller, but far more firm than most of the plastic musical toys that I’ve played with during last ten of fifteen years. Actually, it is built like musical equipment from 80s, from the time before various manufacturer applied cheap, tin, and shabby plastic that is so prevalent in all new products sharing the same qualities with the era we are living now.
The whole thing is middle-weight, not being so light that can be easily blown off the table. Knobs are really solid and you need to even apply some minimal force to move them, so it is very easy to apply exact values without having troubles going too far in any direction as it is the case with too-loose knobs that we get on some products. The same it goes for the sliders. Even the USB cable is big and massive.
At first I thought “why the hell this should cost so much?”, a piece of plastic for almost €200 EUR. But being so solidly built, I can easily understand that price policy. After all, it is a controller – a truly old school controller – one that can be bashed on the head of a drunken intruder at a concert and not like those new controllers that can’t hurt anyone. Ah, memories … there is no such weapon as a Yamaha DX7 – you can actually kill someone with it – solid and heavy, almost like a sword.
The second thing that impressed me was that Ableton Live instantly recognized Launch Control XL without any additional setup procedures or similar gymnastics. It is really plug and play and not plug and pray as sometimes can happen.
Launch Control XL has twenty four knobs (three rows with eight knobs). Then there are eight sliders and sixteen buttons at the bottom along with a vertical row of command buttons at the right, aimed at some general actions, like switching between user and factory mode, send select buttons, track selection along with device, mute, solo and record arm buttons. The first sixteen buttons, or the two upper rows of buttons, to be precise, control the send volumes for first eight tracks. If you want to include additional tracks, it is just a click away with a track select knob. The first row is for a first send effect and second for a second one. There are no problems if you have more send effects; additional sends could be added with send select knobs. Sounds a bit tricky, but after spending first five minutes banging the knobs, buttons and faders, you will get there.
The third row is for panning – same procedure: first eight tracks already present, then for more press track select. Faders are actually the hardware version of the faders you have in Ableton Live, so controlling volume is now a much more enjoyable thing. I use to spend plenty of time trying to be precise with volume knobs in Ableton, but using a hardware controller can really make a difference.
All described functions are included as a part of a main factory preset. All in all, there are eight user presets and eight factory presets, more than enough.
Being a VST XL Control Freak
A device button activates bottom row of rotary knobs to control the first eight parameters of any of selected effects on a track. You can easily reach any effect in a row with a track select button. Of course, I instantly got an idea that it would be nice to control third party VST instruments with Launch Control XL. I was dreaming about how nice it would be to have an instant access to some main parameters whenever you select track with VST instrument. After bit of trial and error in user mode I capitulated and wrote a question to technical support. Only a few hours later I got an answer and after another fifteen minutes it worked like a charm. Thank you, Mr. Loftus, you saved my day.
Here’s how to do it. First select one of the eight user modes. I decided to use the first two vertical rows of rotary button for controlling Sylenth 1, the next two rows for Nexus, and another two for Synthmaster. Following John’s instruction, I went to the last page of the operation manual for all three synths, the place where we usually can find CC map for VST instrument. Opening the Launch Control XL editor that you get bundled with the hardware controller, I set the CC value for all desired knobs. These were mainly cutoff frequency and resonance in the filter sections along with some other “depends on specific instrument” controllers for each of the mentioned VST synthesizers. I also changed the color of the knob buttons, setting unique color for each VST instrument. Finally, save user mode and send it through the editor to your controller and that’s it. Now those settings will work in every project for any instance of those instruments. Select a track and select user mode and there you go. I was a bit curious if this could also work in Cubase. Testing, testing … worked like a charm. Without any further settings, I opened all three synths and everything was there.
At the Bottom
I didn‘t mention the bottom two rows. The first row is a track focus, where we can easily select a track, while the second row offer you Mute, Solo or Record arm options. I hope that I don’t need to go into detail here. All in all, this is all very practical and easy to use.
At first I thought this would maybe be a just-a-few-tricks pony, but after one week I found it much more useful than I ever expected. Mixing a song with hardware controller is an absolutely different experience than doing that in software (look who is talking … since I’ve sold all my mixers and other hardware paraphernalia years ago switching totally to software). And this is only the beginning, controlling all VST instruments and effects is just a click away. Any controls that are not CC-friendly, you can control by using MIDI learn. The others could be set through user templates to serve to all of your projects. The large number of internal Ableton Live controls already works well with the Device control row from default template.
It is very solid and robust controller that will cost you a bit more than a typical VST Instrument, making a hardware version of most of your VST instruments, and you are just a click away you have your own mixing desk. Launch Control XL is definitively far better than it might look at first glance. If you dive into user mode, you can do almost everything.
The only thing that I miss is some scheme or map for all eight Factory templates. Only the main factory template is described on the web site or in the manual. Also, I hope that Novation will make a remote patch for Cubase. It is already recognized by Cubase and it is not difficult to connect it with plug-ins, but it would be nice to have similar capabilities already pre-programed as is the case with Ableton Live.
The price at your local dealer is one Euro less than €200 EUR.
It is rock-solid gear, and it comes with Ableton Live Lite, one Giga of additional loops from Loopmaster, and with the Launch Control XL editor for PC or MAC.
More info on the product page: