I had a chance this past weekend to get up to one of the local big box music stores and check out some of the gear. This little box seemed to have slipped past the radar, but I had just read about it online recently and it was one of the things I wanted to look at while I was there.

If you’re a Live user (like I am) you don’t really need much of an explanation what this is or what it does. But for those of you not initiated, this is more or less Novation’s stand alone control box that has been taken from their newly introduced LaunchKey series of controller keyboards (which has also now been extended to the Mini!), sans one row of launch buttons.

It’s use is pretty self explanatory in that it’s got 16 knobs that you can assign to Live’s various controls as well as 8 buttons that you can use to trigger clips with or use as a drum controller. And then on the right hand side of the unit, you’ve got a set of directional controls for moving the control grid up, down and around Live.

The first thing that I really want to say about this (after we’ve gotten the standard blurb out of the way) is that by far, hands down, this little box has the best build quality of the entire LaunchKey line. On the whole, the line feels cheaply produced; the knobs are tiny, the body feels plasticy and it’s not something I would call an investment, but rather a temporary rental until you’re forced, one way or the other, to buy a new one.

But in contrast, the Launch Controller feels solid and well built. The knobs are large, yet soft to grip and they have that satisfying resistance as you turn them. And best of all, they have stops. Why is important? Because over the years we’ve seen a shift away from pots and towards endless encoders. Which is great if you’re an overzealous recording engineer that really needs to dial down that pan setting to something microscopic. But for us synth guys and people that use Live in a DJ-esque way by tweaking effects and filters, it’s a quick trip to carpal tunnel syndrome as on the average, it takes 2-4 complete revolutions to sweep 0-127 in MIDI values. Yet on a pot (potentiometer), you can sweep the same range with one full turn, which is also a spot on emulation of real synthesizers and recording gear.

In my opinion, I would skip the LaunchKey series and just get this to add on to anything that you may already be using as a controller. Or just buy it if you need extra knobs for your VSTs and given Novation’s new open architecture, this will also work with FL Studio or any other DAW. And at 99$, it’s worth it, IMO.

I remember back in the day how sought after M-Audio’s little boxes of knobs were for the same reason and until now, we’ve never really seen anything similar. If you do any sort of computer based synth work or recording and you’ve also been lamenting the loss of pots, definitely jump on this.

Be sure to check out the Novation Launch Controller @ Zzounds