I initially posted this on Reddit in /r/Ableton (at the end of 2019), but sometimes posts get easily buried so I wanted it here, as I think it’s pretty damn informative, and thorough.

 

So, I’m somewhat green when it comes to Ableton… I’m not a noob as I’ve dabbled with Live Lite for a number of years (since version 7 probably), using a basic Launchpad (Behringer TC64) which worked great (and still works great), combined with a basic midi keyboard for note and chord input. Followed the release of Push 1, Maschine MK2, Launchpad Pro, Push 2, Launchpad X, etc. Have mostly used Live with Session View, for idea-building and dabbling with loops/scenes… which I feel is a huge strength of it (and obviously what it was initially designed to do, with version 1.0 way back when).

Wanted to share my thoughts on 2019/2020 Ableton workflow tips and options, for any beginners or experts, alike…

I own: Push 2, Launchpad Pro, Launchpad X, Launchkey Mini MK3, Maschine MK2, Maschine Studio, Maschine JAM, Maschine MK3 (sadly, the only Maschine controller that doesn’t really offer good Ableton integration, like the older controllers do).

Push 2 is obviously a lot of people’s first choice when it comes to controlling Ableton. There are a ton of pros, but info about the cons isn’t really present. Let me list some.

Push 2 Cons

  • $800. Seriously? And Live Standard isn’t even included? Come on. The Maschine MK2 and Studio scripts for Live 9 (which also work flawlessly for 10) give a LOT of Push-like functionality, for a fraction of the price. And if you can get a license transfer buying a used Maschine, you’ve got the full software, AND a great controller… for what.. $150-250 used? Seems like a no-brainer to me, in a lot of ways.

  • No way to toggle from Session to Arrangement View, unless you might own Suite, and maybe a Max4Live script… I wouldn’t know, as I’m rocking Live Lite. You have to frequently use TAB on your computer keyboard. From my research, you cannot switch Views from Push 2, and that is ridiculous. Not to mention that Push 2 has like zero Arrangement functionality (even though it easily could). It’s all Session View.

  • Third-party synth plugin support (via the Browser / Device mode) sucks (flat-out). If you own Suite and all the great instruments, yeah… it’s a great controller for that because everything’s integrated. But hell no on the third-party plugins. Hell to the no.

  • Sample-chopping (manual, like MPC-style, not slicing) is still not very intuitive or fast… drag a piece of audio into a clip slot. Ok, now click “Convert”, and convert it to a Simpler. Cool. Now, wait… convert it to a Drum Rack… ok. Now we can chop each drum rack pad to our liking… but, it’s still not fast or intuitive (not like Maschine).

  • Drum Rack again… you can’t select more than one pad at once (for instance– choke groups or TRANSPOSING)? If you’re chopping samples, be sure to set the choke group on the first pad BEFORE you duplicate to other pads…. ugh. And don’t even think about transposing more than one pad/chop at once. You can’t. You should be able to select multiple pads at once, for a million reasons, most importantly: choke groups and transpose. (edit: this is possible with Simpler’s Transpose tied to a Macro, but it isn’t always easy to set up)

  • Duplicating pads— in Maschine, you hold Duplicate, hit the pad you want duplicated, and hit multiple pads in a row, and they’re all set. No need to “re-select the pad you want to duplicate”. With Push 2, you hold Duplicate, hit the pad you want to Duplicate, and select an empty pad. You’re allowed just one. And then you have to repeat the process. And there’s a bit of lag, too. Especially if you delete some pads one by one. Workflow killer? Yes.

  • I’ve found the Browser doesn’t remember where I last was, when browsing for Instruments or sounds / loops. That’s annoying as hell. Maschine’s Browser remembers. So does Reaper’s Media Explorer. At least give us an option “remember folder location” or something.

  • The Browser is kind of annoying to use. It’s not exactly “fast” especially with nothing tagged by keyboard / category. It’s VERY basic. Push 2 has been out for over 3 years. Why hasn’t anything been upgraded, here?

  • It’s REALLY dark without the main power supply. Really dark. REALLY dark. Maschine MK2 is insanely bright, on bus-power only. Same with Maschine MK3 (but again, not great support for Ableton… not like the MK2 and Studio). I’ve used Push 2 without the power supply and with. It’s usable with USB only. But you have to give your eyes a lot of time to adjust. It’s very jarring immediately when you go from “plugged in” to not. Give it time, and you’ll see it is usable. It’s dim, but it’s usable (not in sunlight, though).

  • I experience a lot of lag with Push 2… mostly while it’s in Drum Rack mode, and showing the instances of Simpler… lots of lag (a way around this is to disable auto-select with your Drum Rack). Even lag when selecting a clip on a track (MIDI clip). It takes a tiny moment to update the screen. No clue why. Especially bad while Simpler is active, and I’m finger-drumming.

  • No notched encoder for “Arrangement View Jog”. The Maschine MK2 and Studio (and even Mikro) all offer this. Criminal that this is not included. The top left corner encoder (Tempo) should double as Jog, in Arrangement View, or shift+Tempo encoder, even.

  • The only way to chop samples and see the affected waveform (manually, while in Simpler) is to use a Push 2. As far as I know, you can’t even do it with Push 1 (edit– you CAN set the sample start and end points, and the loop length, etc), but you can’t see the waveform on the Push 1 screen, obviously). And you certainly can’t use any midi controller to “learn” the sample start/end points (for whatever Simpler is focused). Ridiculous oversight. Maschine’s been able to do this since 2009. Easily, and quickly. Granted, you can chop the loop start and end/length, from any controller that is supported via Ableton MIDI Remote Scripts (Novation SL MKIII, Launchkey Mini MK3, etc)

  • as I find more things, I’ll list more.

Now let’s talk about the Launchpads–

Launchpad Pro Cons

  • The LEDs are a bit annoyingly bright (and an awful lot of green, which I’m not a huge fan of). There’s no way to dim the brightness.

  • A clip in playback is green (like all oldschool Launchpads). It doesn’t simply flash, like Push 2 (which admittedly looks a lot better).

  • Note/Scale mode is a set purple/pink. Ehh…. white would be a lot nicer (like the Launchpad X!). Firmware update please, Novation? Also, how about a few Custom MIDI modes, like Launchpad X? AND support inside the Components software?

  • No way to set clip or loop length… even a mode with pads… would be nice to have a row of pads be “1/2 bar, 1 bar, 2 bars, 4 bars). Maschine MK2 and Studio can do this.

  • No way to set initial clip length (again, you can with Maschine MK2 and Studio).

  • No way to set global quantize, from a row of pads. Would be great to have some type of mode that allows this.

Pros

  • Those functions on the left side, and the bottom (specifically: Quantise / Record Quantise, Click, Undo, Delete, Duplicate, Double, etc). Can’t ignore how important they’ve been for me, in a million ways. And so many others.

  • Bus-powered and BRIGHT

  • The bottom-left record button. A lifesaver, when you’re using Note mode to record a beat or melody… you don’t have to go back into Session View to get a perfect 1-bar, 2-bar, 4-bar or 8-bar loop. It’s RIGHT there. Love that so much.

  • The cost. Yeah. It’s hella cheap. I picked mine up for $249 new about a month ago (it fluctuates between $249 and $299 new usually… and can be found used all the time for about $180 or less).

  • MIDI I/O for hardware… and being able to use it standalone (what?) Sweet. r/Novation supports synth hardware. The SL MKIII is amazing for so many things, from Ableton to hardware control.

  • final thought– if you’re considering Launchpad X or LP Pro for Ableton (especially if you don’t need custom midi maps), I’d probably say LP Pro. Because of the dedicated function buttons. They’re worth the extra price. And truthfully, the LP Pro isn’t that much bigger than the Launchpad X. It’s thicker, yeah… but it’s still just as portable.

NEW as of January 15th, 2020!
LAUNCHPAD PRO MK3 CONS

  • not any I can think of…. yet

PROS

  • Only $350 ($50 more than the regular Launchpad Pro)
  • has Circuit-style step-sequencer built-in, AND more options than the Circuit step-sequencer (such as Mutation, etc)
  • “Print To Clip” (you can essentially make a sequence independent of Ableton’s transport, and then dump it right into Ableton).
  • eight custom MIDI maps/modes (the Launchpad X has only four)
  • the up/down buttons are now on the left column, instead of the top row
  • has two MIDI outs, not just one
  • bus-powered, like the original Launchpad Pro
  • bigger pads, still velocity-sensitive
  • save patterns and “Sessions” right into the unit, just like Circuit or the SL MKIII
  • and countless other things…

Launchpad X Cons

  • No Quantize button (argh)

  • No Undo button

  • No Click button (argh……….)

  • No Delete button

  • No Duplicate button (arghhhhh….)

  • No Double button

  • No direct Track Select mode (arghhhhhhhh….)

  • No way to set loop or clip length (initially, or Fixed Length)… blame the Ableton software, obviously

  • Pads can be a little too sensitive (a lot of double-triggering going on, depending on the situation)

  • the Launchpad Pro MK3 just came out, which is like a Launchpad X on crack… $150 more, and does WAY more…. WAY more.

Pros

  • The Custom MIDI modes and Components support. Godsend. r/Novation and /u/TomFocusrite, please do the same for Launchpad Pro, PLEASE.)

  • (workaround for missing Click button)– use a Custom mode to create a midi CC or Note for Click On/Off. Assign 8 pads for direct Track Select for tracks 1-8.

  • It’s very slim. Bus-powered. Great colors (more “pastel” than the Launchpad Pro).

  • The scale modes are a beautiful pink/light blue color combination (as opposed to Launchpad Pro’s intense purple/pink combo)

Launchpad Mini MK3 Cons

  • No velocity-sensitivity on the pads (ah well.)

  • A single “Stop / Solo / Mute” button which cycles through those modes.

  • No direct track select (again, you can use a Custom MIDI mode and use 8 pads in a row as direct Track Select for tracks 1-8).

  • No Quantize button (argh), no Undo, no Click, no Delete, no Duplicate, no Double, etc….

Pros

  • TINY and CHEAP.

  • RGB colors that match your clips.

  • 3 Custom MIDI modes/maps, though the best idea is to keep the 4-octave chromatic keyboard for Keys, erase the other 3 Drum Rack grids on Drum mode, and instead, assign custom midi CCs/notes for midi-learn in Ableton. The third could be 4 octaves of major and minor scales (but you’re stuck with whatever root note you choose).

  • Best used as a perfect 8×8 grid for launching clips, or playing in fixed-velocity drum beats… or melodic lines. You don’t always NEED velocity-sensitivity (but it’s great to have). But its real strength is an easy oldschool launchpad (but this time, with colors that MATCH your clips).

Akai APC40 MKII Cons (left out in my initial post, as I forgot about it, and don’t own it… yet.)

  • It’s Akai (I am not nor have ever been a fan– their quality control and customer service is trash, but I can’t help but remain interested in this controller).

  • No scale or drum grid modes (like the Launchpads, or the MK2/Studio/Jam)

  • Step-sequencing is not possible (from what I’ve researched). 5 years ago, Will Marshall did a script, but it only worked for Ableton 9 (before 9.5, I believe).

  • No velocity sensitivity on the pads

  • Faders are not motorized, so they might jump when you have more than 8 tracks, and bank to the next 8.

  • 8×5 grid, as opposed to 8×8 (which they could have done, with more planning)

  • No EDIT (function) buttons: undo, duplicate, delete, quantize.

Pros

  • Faders and encoders and device control encoders (sweet.)

  • RGB pads (unlike the APC40 MK1)

  • recessed clip stop buttons (nice.)

  • DEDICATED mute/solo/arm, clip stop, track select, and “A/B” PER TRACK (huge selling point for the APC40 MKII especially for performers)

  • basically, DEDICATED CONTROLS for nearly everything (even without a screen). Very, very nice.

  • User mode with customizable midi assignments for the top 8 encoders… easy access to get in and out of it– master cutoff, scene scroll up/down, other random stuff that you can easily midi-learn with Ableton)

  • Price. Still good at $299.

Maschine MK2 and Studio Cons

  • It’s not Push 2.

  • only a 4×4 grid (not a deal-breaker in my opinion)

  • Can be very confusing to get the hang of, until you know what everything does (the “Shift” button is ENTER on MK2, and BROWSE on Studio… huh? Weird).

  • No zoom option for clips (Push 2 allows this)

Pros

  • Super-powerful controller, not just for its own software and plugin… but also for Reaper, Logic, etc. Customize anything with the Controller Editor software. Hella useful.

  • CHEAP Push-like workflow (MK2 often sells for $150 used, in great condition). Studio varies from $200-350. Great screens, even on the MK2. Lots of information shown on the screen.

  • tactile response from the function buttons (soft click). Honestly I prefer the feel of them to Push 2’s low-profile function buttons.

  • The jog wheel. Does 3 different things on the MK2 (Navigation, Transport, and Selection), or dedicated modes for Master Volume, Tempo, and Record Quantize settings) and 6 different things on the Studio (same, all achievable from the multi-function jog wheel)…. Arrangement View JOGGING!! Dude. And Push 2 can’t do this at all? And…. why?

  • GREAT pads… the best-quality and superb sensitivity and response (seriously I’ve tried them all)

  • Note Repeat up to 1/64 note (Push 2 doesn’t do this…. does it?)

  • You can set clip start/end and loop start/end lengths from both (SWEET). And you can set the grid division.. 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1 bar, 2 bars… nuts.

  • Faceplate buttons do a TON of stuff: new clip, undo/redo, note repeat, click on/off, duplicate, full transport, “stop all clips”, actual REAL STOPPING functionality (the Launchpad Pro and X do not have this… the Ableton transport keeps moving even when all clips are stopped), and more!

  • Navigate through Session View (granted, only a 4×4 box) but still.

  • Scale modes, Drum Rack mode… octave up/down, transpose, etc. etc. etc.

  • Dedicate MUTE, SOLO, ARM and TRACK SELECT modes… easily accessible by holding, and selecting a pad

  • Ability to launch Scenes while in “Pattern” Mode (Session Mode)… or, go into the dedicated Scenes mode…

  • PAGES of functions… track volume, track pan, A&B sends… one of the pages has a Quantize button…. which you can manually map to a faceplate button if you wish (via Controller Editor)… for me, I changed the REDO button (Step, on MK2) to “QUANTIZE” as I use that a lot more than REDO…. etc.

Maschine JAM Cons

  • It’s not Push 2.

  • It has no screens

  • No zoom option for clips (Push 2 allows this)

  • The buttons are all “click” buttons, so, no velocity response at all.

  • Can be very confusing to get the hang of, until you know what everything does (SHIFT is “shift” on Maschine Jam, but BROWSE is “shift” on the Studio, and ENTER is “shift” on the MK2).

Pros

  • Super-powerful controller, not just for its own software and plugin… but also for Reaper, Logic, etc. Customize anything with the Controller Editor!

  • Price is still great, for what it does ($300– and it includes the full Maschine software).

  • Bus-powered and BRIGHT pads/buttons

  • You can easily step-sequence with it!

  • Full transport

  • Basically the same customizable stuff from the MK2 and Studio (record quantize, clip/loop length, etc). Scale mode for melodic instruments, drum grid mode for the Drum Rack, etc.

  • Note Repeat up to 1/64 note (Push 2 doesn’t do this…. does it?)

  • Top row of buttons do the same functions in Ableton as they do in Maschine (including Quantize, Quantize 50%, etc)

  • Those smart strips are A LOT of fun, and a great selling-point for JAM.

  • Check out Haxor and Roxor’s Maschine JAM script (haxorroxor.com), which works better and less-buggy than the one Ableton and NI provide… and also, you get Vertical scale mode, AND Horizontal.

Yes, I know this is a thorough dissection. But that’s the point!

If money is no object for you (or hey, if you’re like me, and put gear on 8 or 12-month payment plans through sites like American Musical Supply and Zzounds), get a Maschine MK3, Push 2, Launchpad Pro, and Launchpad X and Maschine Jam (total cost: $2200). Or, the NI / Novation combos without Push 2 ($1400). And definitely consider the MK2 and Studio, for Ableton control (cheap). The stuff is from a few years back but it’s STILL awesome and extremely, extremely powerful.

So yeah… Push 2 isn’t the only game in town. Yeah, it’s super cool. But… wouldn’t two or three different controllers provide a better experience, overall? Maybe one for Scale/Drum mode, and another for strictly Session View / clip-launching? Sure, all the Launchpads can do that, as well as Push 2… but it’s so nice to not have to switch modes, when recording clips. I find that the most annoying thing about the Push 2 (when used by itself).

Again, I’m no Ableton expert. I’m mainly a r/Reaper guy, and use Push 2, a Novation SL MKIII, and my Launchpad Pro with the DrivenByMoss 4 Reaper script (pretty damn useful script– well-loved by a lot of Reaper people who know about it)… my Launchpad X is usually just generically used with Reaper and Maschine standalone, for scale play or multiple drum kit use… (or with Ableton, stuck in Session View mode) and the custom modes, I love, for additional Reaper functionality.

But, obviously… all these controllers are mainly designed for Ableton, so… I thought it might be helpful dissecting all of these to death…. god knows I’ve done TOO much research through the years…. hopefully the pros/cons list (and these videos) save you some time! 🙂

Stay creative!

MASCHINE MK2 controlling Live (start at 2:33)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dji-Mxny888

MASCHINE STUDIO controlling Live (start at 2:10)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wltm3LhI66Q

MASCHINE JAM controlling Live

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJEJRrY71J8

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