Novation has been making MIDI controllers and synths for over 20 years now, with every new device modified and upgraded to keep up with new tech developments. The latest success has been the new MIDI controller series – Novation Launchkey MK2, released in 25, 49, and 61 keys. In this article, we’ll review the Launchkey 49 MK2 model, check out its looks, parameters, features, and everything else needed to make an adequate purchase decision.
Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 is an excellent MIDI keyboard that integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live. If you have a different DAW, no worries – you can still assign its controls to control plugins and tools inside of your application. It’s just a better integration with Ableton as it was specifically made for that.
The newer model’s color looks a little different – Launchkey 49 MK2 comes with a black body and blue base. A pretty slick design, if you ask me, especially if you consider the controls design.
Launchkey 49 MK2 comes with 9 faders and 9 buttons underneath them that are used for soloing or muting your tracks.
You also get 8 knobs that rotate 270 degrees, control buttons to skip back and forth between faders and knobs, a display that shows the chosen parameters, octave switching buttons, 2 wheels, modulation and pitch, and Track / MIDI back and forth buttons.
Overall, an impressive set of controls. It may seem overwhelming when you are just looking at it, especially for beginners, but you’ll get a quick hang of it as most controls of Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 are incredibly straightforward.
- 16 multi-colored pads
- Free Ableton Live Lite included
- 2 premium VST synths for free
- 4 GB of free samples from Loopmasters
- Easy setup
- Integrates with any DAW
- Works with Macs, PCs, and iOS devices
- No aftertouch
- Lacks standard MIDI port
- Fixed configuration
- No 88-key option
The keys on the MIDI controller are velocity-sensitive but aren’t weighted. The spring action is really nice, and it works well when playing synth instruments.
Of course, it’s better to get semi-weighted or even weighted keys, but don’t just cross Launchkey 49 MKII off your list so quick – they are still great.
You may notice that they are narrower than you’d expect, as they are smaller than regular piano keys. If you have bigger fingers (like me), it will take some to get used to it.
You must’ve already noticed that our Novation MIDI controller comes with 16 velocity-sensitive drum pads. After all, it’s one of the main features of the keyboard.
While they are similar to the previous version of the controller, MK1, now they feature RGB color feedback lighting, so you get much better feedback that shows what your clips are doing in real time.
And that’s not everything. They also copy the clips’ colors in Ableton, which is another plus to the intuitive workflow. Lastly, that just look pretty neat and futuristic – always a plus in my opinion!
The Launchkey does a great job when it comes to integration with digital audio workstation, but it’s best used with Ableton Live. I’ll use Ableton settings here as an example to make the point more clear.
Alright, so once you open up the Operator patch with a Rack and Macros, you’ll notice how your 8 rotary knobs are already linked to the macros knobs (pretty impressive to say the least).
The transport functionality assists you in navigating the project by, for example, launching and recording clips on the go.
That’s a sweet and easy way to speed up the workflow, isn’t it?
If you use another popular DAW like FL Studio or Logic Pro X, there is another way to use the controller – by using InControl protocol.
In your software application, the MIDI Input / Output preferences must be set to Launchkey InControl option. And if you want to make full use of the transport control options on the device, go ahead and set the controller to Mackie HUI emulation mode.
That’s about it – you are good to go. Pretty smart move by the developers if you ask me.
If you prefer producing or working on your tracks on the go, you may have thought of using something even more portable than a laptop – an iPad (or even an iPhone)!
Well, iLaunch lets you do that. Once connected, the Launchkey lights up, and you are set. While it does take some battery power and definitely drains the battery a little bit, it’s not as bad as you expect. What I mean is you’ll easily get a few hours out of it.
Novation has 2 free apps in the App Store, Launchkey and Launchpad (I know, not the most original names).
You can even use them without the actual MIDI controller – just to see what the design looks like and how capable they are. The best part is that when you connect your Launchkey keyboard, everything is already mapped for you – all the knobs, sliders, and transport keys.
Both apps can run side by side, which is pretty impressive. You can trigger the synth with your keyboard in one application while running loops with your drum pads on the other.
Of course, you can experience some lagging here and there, but it’s still a pretty cool feature. The thing I didn’t like is the inability to import or paste loops, but I feel like that’s as good as it’s going to get. After all, Launchkey 49 MK2 was made to work best on a PC or laptop.
It’s the simplest synth that comes with a row of controls and a friendly graphical interface – not really a DAW of any sort.
The app is definitely a lot more interesting and feature-packed. With Launchpad application, you can run multiple loops, mix and filter them, add effects, and more.
Every track is laid out in a matrix with orange and green pads, that show either whether a sample is ready to go or denoting playback. Once again, everything is mapped out for you.
The iPad interface makes the experience even better with its own neat features (such as displaying sample names and loop types), which come in handy during jam sessions.
Overall, it’s pretty sweet considering it comes at no cost.
If you don’t have a digital audio workstation handy, Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 comes with Ableton Live Lite, which will get you used to the DAW interface.
Once you get the feel of the full integration the Launchkey offers, you’ll have a hard time moving to another audio editing application.
While the Lite version limits the number of actions you can perform, it’s good to get used to it before upgrading.
Moreover, once you upgrade to Ableton standard or Suite, you’ll only have to pay the difference between the two as opposed to the full cost.
You also get a couple of synth VSTs, Novation Bass Station and V-Station. They are both great synth plugins with a lot of settings and a decent preset sounds databases.
Lastly, you are free to download 4 GB of top-notch samples from Loopmasters, which are perfect to use with drum pads.
Overall, it’s a pretty sweet deal, considering you get all of the above premium plugins and sample for free!
Check out Alesis V49 Review.
There are tons of affordable controllers with 49 keys out there, but it’s hard to score higher than Novation Launchkey 49 MKII. The biggest highlight is the number of drum pads – 16 of them – which is a lot for the price.
Include all the freebies, protocols, and apps, and it gets tough to beat.
A good alternative that costs just over half of the Launchkey controller is Alesis V49. It doesn’t have faders or drum pads but comes at a much lower cost and a pretty cool VIP software, which is a charm by itself.
It’s also a lot less complicated for beginner producers and is easy and straightforward to use.
Novation always works on updating and upgrading their controllers to keep up with the competitors and often get ahead of them by putting the emphasis on the most necessary functions.
Although it’s not really a drawback, some producers prefer 88 keys for synths, and the biggest one Novation’s come up with is 61. H
owever, it excels at pretty much everything else – you got everything to play the drums, loops, and synths, easily control the basic DAW functions and tweak effect settings on the fly.
The best part here is that the Launchkey 49 MK2 not overly expensive either.
Ipad integration is a bold yet interesting proposal that’s a sign of improvements in music apps and increasing support in the iOS sector.
While the apps are not perfect, you can still do a few cool things with them and maybe even make a track. Don’t forget about GarageBand on your iPad either – it may be more complicated to set up, but it’s a working DAW that can go off your iOS device.
Ableton integration is a really neat feature for Mac and PC owners, saving them a lot of hassle, and the colored pads that sync with what you tab color is in the DAW make the MIDI controller stand out among competitors.
To sum everything up, Novation Launchkey 49 MK2 is an excellent feature-packed MIDI controller for the price.
While the keys aren’t weighted and may take some time getting used to, they feel great, especially if you like playing synth instruments. It seamlessly integrates with Ableton Live, and inControl protocol makes the integration hassle-free with other DAWs as well.
Then you can easily switch between instrument, use the drum pads to tweak the Live’s clips, and do tons of other things to speed up your workflow and improve efficiency.
Last update on 2020-02-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API