Whether jamming in the studio or performing live – via stream, of course – new controllers continue to supply the demand for hands-on, real-time control of Ableton’s DAW. While possibilities abound, the best controllers strike a balance between guiding novices to fluid workflows while allowing experts to bend them to increasingly specific and unusual needs.
Perhaps the most customizable of any of the options listed here, this multi-platform touchscreen solution encourages construction of bespoke set-ups geared towards particular needs. Connecting via USB or WiFi, it runs on iOS, Android, and Windows devices alike. For entry-level users, you can just fire up one of the dedicated Session, Mixer, Device, XY, Clip Editor, or Keys Module. Those looking for more enhanced control can dive into the editor where you can drag and drop your favorite control modules into a fully customized template all your own.
More info at: https://zerodebug.com/
Of course Akai were the first on the block with their APC series, but the MPD232 offers a different take. While not explicitly designed for Ableton, it does run as a Control Surface in Live, providing excellent control of drum racks along with a handy complement of sliders and knobs. Along with classic MPC Note Repeat and standard MMC, what sets this unit apart is the dedicated row of 16 backlit sequencing buttons, making classic hands-on pattern programming accessible and fun.
More Info at: https://www.akaipro.com/mpd232
Korg nanoKEY Studio
Connecting via USB or wirelessly over Bluetooth, the ultra-portable nanoKEY provides some unique features. In addition to a two-octave flat keyboard, 8 drum pads, and 8 assignable knobs, this ultra-slim, highly-portable unit also offers an XY pad control not unlike their acclaimed KAOSS series of old. Adding to the expressive functionality is a series of handy Scale modes, preset Chords, and a built-in Arpeggiator – perfect for generating new musical ideas on the fly.
Novation Launchpad Pro
If you’re looking for a 64-pad grid with a high degree of musical expression – without breaking the bank – Novation’s latest addition to their vaunted Launchpad line is an excellent choice. Seamlessly switching between Session mode Clip launching and musical Clip editing, the sleek design and multi-color pads lend to an ideal user experience. Unique note entry and sequencing options provide a distinct alternative to those offered by Push, while multi-mode functionality and custom user templates make it a high level option for studio and stage alike.
More info at: https://novationmusic.com/en/launch/launchpad-pro
Ableton Push 2
Can’t step to the king. Ableton’s very own hand-in-glove controller continues to seamlessly add new functionality with every new version of Live. The pads feel great, the ribbon adds variety, and the touch-sensitive encoders are remain rather ingenious. Whether sweeping EQ bands, tweaking Echo feedback, fine-tuning Compressors, editing MIDI Clips, or chopping samples, Push 2’s LCD visualizations aren’t just gorgeous, but actually incredibly helpful. It’s easily the priciest of the bunch, but does come with a full license for Live, and is doubtless the best in class. If you’ve ever wanted to play your entire DAW like it’s an instrument without even looking at your computer, Push 2 remains unparalleled.
More info at: https://www.ableton.com/en/push/
Sensel Morph (for anyone seeking the flexibility of TouchAble with actual hardware in place of a tablet), Roli Seaboard Block Studio Edition (for those seeking full MPE in advance of Live 11), Novation SL mkII Keyboards (for anyone looking for top-tier control of Live with a more traditional keyboard).