Welcome to my Novation Launchkey 25 MKII review. This is actually the second version of Novation’s 25-note USB keyboard controller. It is designed specifically for using with Ableton Live music software. It has pads which are velocity-sensitive, 8 knobs for controlling various sound parameters, and dedicated control and navigation buttons. It comes with the Lite version of Ableton Live, Novation Bass Station and V Station software synths, more than 1GB of Loopmasters samples, and works on both PC and Mac.
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Product: Novation Launchkey 25 MKII
Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon
Warranty: 1 year
Here it is in action:
Hardware and Software Working Seamlessly Together
The Launchkey 25 has been specifically designed to work perfectly with Ableton Live. Use the pads to trigger loops, change sounds in real-time with the knobs and use the slider to change volume levels. Everything can be controlled by the hardware, which means you don’t have to spend all your time clicking your mouse.
Although the Launchkey is specifically designed to be used with Ableton Live, you can use it to control any music software. So if you have some software synthesizers or even a different DAW, you can use the Launchkey with that. You just might find that it takes a bit more fiddling to set up with software other than Ableton Live.
I almost wish I had got this keyboard myself because it comes with everything you need to make music. All you need in addition to this is a computer and some speakers. With the Ableton Live Lite software, two VST instruments, and 1GB of Loopmasters samples, you can start making music straight away without having to buy any other software or hardware.
Although the Launchkey is designed so that it automatically maps the controls to parameters in Ableton Live, you can actually use them to control whatever you want. It just means you will have to play around with the settings a bit. One user even said they use it to control the sliders in Lightroom when processing their photos. So it seems it’s a great all-round control surface.
Let’s Talk About Keys, Sliders, Knobs, and Colored Pads…
The keys and pads on the Launchkey have great velocity sensitivity and nice action. It also comes with a choice of 3 different velocity curves to suit the particular style of music you want to play. This means you get a lot of expression out of the keyboard by playing loudly or softly.
Not only can you use the pads for playing drum sounds and triggering loops, they also light up with the corresponding track color in Ableton Live. This is such a genius idea, and it means performing with it live will be much easier because you don’t have to remember which pads are associated with which sounds. The pads are also velocity sensitive, so you can add a real dynamic feel to your drum beats.
I think this is the mark of a great MIDI controller when the pads and keys feel good and have good velocity sensitivity action. My only problem with my Akai MPK Mini MKII is that the keys don’t have a good action; they stop too suddenly. The Launchkey, on the other hand, has full-size keys that have a good standard synth action to them. The velocity sensitivity comes in three different versions, so you can choose whichever version best suits your particular style of music.
There’s only really one thing missing as far as the keys are concerned, and that’s aftertouch. Aftertouch is when you press a key and then press it down harder afterward and you get an additional effect, such as the opening of a filter for example. Not all keyboards have it. It’s not an essential feature, and on a MIDI controller that provides so much else, perhaps it’s not such a major oversight.
On the larger versions of the Launchkey 49 and 61 note versions), there are nine faders which can be used to control parameters in Ableton Live such as volume level. Unfortunately, the Launchkey 25 only has one slider, because there is not enough space to fit any more sliders.
When you are performing on your MIDI controller, you don’t want the knobs and wheels to be stiff or difficult to use, so it’s great that the Launchkey’s wheels and knobs have a nice smooth action. This means you can more accurately express yourself when playing.
One user mentioned that they were really pleased with the position of the octave buttons because it meant they could access them really easily. This could be really useful on a keyboard like this with not many keys because it means you can still move up and down through the octaves with relative ease. It means that the lack of keys is less of a restriction than it otherwise would be.
Sturdy Build, Low Latency, and Great Customer Service
Musicians and DJs who want to use this in a live setting will be pleased with its solid construction. If you are taking gear from gig to gig, you need it to be reasonably tough. There’s nothing worse than getting to a gig and finding that a button or knob has broken off or the case has cracked open.
One thing that some people sometimes complain about with other MIDI controllers is the high latency. This is when there is a significant delay between playing the note on the keyboard and the note sounding from the computer. With the Launchkey, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable latency at all, so you can be sure to get accurate, fast playing from the keyboard and pads.
Dealing with a company that provides good customer service is important, because what if your keyboard breaks? One big complaint that several people have had with a different company, Native Instruments, is that they have really bad customer service. So it’s very reassuring to hear that this company, Novation, have really good customer service.
Is the Novation Launchkey 25 MKII Suitable for You?
This keyboard controller has been specifically designed to be used with Ableton Live music software. It can also be used as a controller with other Digital Audio Workstations, but it may be more difficult to set it up with them. Although this is only a 25-note keyboard, it is not particularly small, so it is not as suited to making music on the move as something like the Akai MPK Mini MKII for example.
However, you do get a lot of controls on this keyboard for the price, and the actions of the keys/pads/knobs are great. So it could easily take its place in a compact studio setup for someone who wants to be able to control their software synthesizers and DAW with real-time physical controls.
This is also a great first keyboard for any beginner music producers because it comes with software and samples that mean you can get started making music straight away.
You may also be interested in the Maschine Mikro MK2.
I hope you found my Novation Launchkey 25 MKII review helpful, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will reply as soon as I can.
All the best,
P.S. If you want an all-in-one music making box, take a look at the Novation Circuit Groovebox.