Now, Ableton is doing its own hardware. Sure, Ableton’s logo was on the Akai APC40 and Novation Launchpad, and yes, “engineering by Akai” is stamped on the Push. But make no mistake: this is really the first Ableton hardware, and it shows.

Push is a grid controller with extra keys and encoders for navigating features. It shows the influence of devices like the monome (and divides up that grid like the Pages and 7up patches from the community). But it also includes controller features that are specifically integrated with Live, recalling custom controllers used by Monolake.

Ableton pitches this as a hardware “instrument,” but it’s both instrument and controller. And Ableton says it solves the problem of “how to make a song from scratch,” but it also solves the problem of how to perform with Live. In fact, it solves the problem of how to make a song from scratch while performing, coupled with some new Live 9 clip recording enhancements that work with other controllers, too. In typical Ableton fashion, then, it doesn’t really matter whether “live” means “live onstage” or just “working faster in the studio.”

As with Live 9, I got to spend some time playing Push and talking to the developers who worked on it last week at an event with other press, partners, and artists at Ableton’s offices. The hardware is near-final, but software is still in development, so some features are subject to change.

You can read the specs anywhere, so let’s list the biggest surprises (for me, anyway):

  • The pads sense velocity and pressure – no more grids limited to on/off only.
  • A ribbon controller along the side adds additional control and expression.
  • All this light and color runs on bus power. (Awesome feature: plug in external power, and everything gets brighter.)
  • It’s hacker-friendly: USB class-compliant (hello, Linux, iOS), and fully controllable via MIDI. (You can evidently even use the displays via SysEx.)
  • You do get some footswitch inputs, too. (someone asked about this in comments, so it must be a surprise)

You get 64 velocity-and pressure-sensitive multi-colored pads, plus eleven touch-sensitive endless encoders.

As an “instrument,” Push maps to an isomorphic pitch layout. It’s I think the first time we’ve seen such a layout in mainstream, non-niche hardware (unless you count iPad apps). That makes the grid map usefully to different keys and harmonic structures, and it’s there by default – no extra work needed. In a feature I hope survives from the prototype to the final version, there’s even feedback on equivalent pitches as you play.

The advantage of isomorphic layouts is, once you learn a pattern, transposition is easy, and chords and harmonies are generally easier to find. (A guitar, for instance, is actually isomorphic; a piano is not. I like pianos, and you can learn to transpose on them, but for learning a new instrument, this is an ideal choice.) At the Ableton demo last week, we got to see “Giant Steps” played in all keys.

And, of course, you get all of this with pressure, mapped to aftertouch. If you can accommodate the grid layout, that could make Push a really expressive instrumental controller, particularly with the ribbon controller. The challenge may be fatigue playing pads; some velocity sensitivity adjustment will be necessary. But the pads felt good even on a prototype unit. Yes, they’re Akai-built pads.

A look at the isomorphic pitch layout, with blue lights indicating equivalent pitches.

As a “controller,” Push does all the business with clips you’d expect. What seemed impressive in early demos was how tightly it could integrate with the production workflow. You can quickly drop into recording a clip or overdub settings, adding to a track as you go.

There are various clever features. For instance, since the color scheme could be potentially confusing, lights pulse to show active clips for playback and recording. A display shows you the remaining time in clips. And crucially, you can navigate Live, and select clips without launching them. The APC and Launchpad for me never quite got to the stage where I could hide the computer and still use Live; it looks like Push just might.

We’ll look closer soon at how these mappings work, but there were already impressive examples in which Push was running step sequencers, triggering and recording clips, and playing instrumental solos, all right out of the box – no fancy Max for Live patching required.

If fancy Max for Live patching is what you want, you can do that, too. You can “hijack” everything Push does as far as Live control and customize it, with complete control over the hardware and the way the software responds. There’s also a “user” mode, as with Launchpad, which you can assign to your own tools (like a plug-in, for instance), then switch between them. Right now, you can’t use more than one Push in controller mode, though you could presumably set the second to “user” mode and map it separately.

Ableton showed off the Push at a private demo event last week, demoing it by pulling it out of a small backpack to illustrate how portable it is. The hardware really looks beautiful and feels luxurious, more so than any of this class of controller we’ve seen previously, on first impression. On pads, it will have to live up to the fantastically-responsive pads on the new Native Instruments Maschine, but of course you get 64 instead of 16, and the Push appears to be more versatile as a Live controller. (One Push, one Maschine may be popular among those who can afford both.)

Weight: 2990g / 6.59 pounds.
Cost: USD 599 / EUR 499, including Ableton Live 9 Intro.

As with Live 9, Push is promised for first quarter of 2013. And you’ll need some version of Live 9 to use it – at least with its native control features, which are kind of the point. (Well, though I do expect some hacker to do something ridiculous with this and Renoise. Let’s get on that.)

(You’ll still need separate hardware for audio, but I’d choose compactness and bus power over that, anyway; I’ve got an audio interface.)

No one controller can suit everyone, but I have to say, Push looks like it makes a reasonable set of compromises. Fortuantely, there’s nothing stopping hackers from doing their own, similar controls in Live 9 if they desire. But for those who do want something off the shelf, Push is a big leap forward. We’ll be testing it as it becomes available, and then can look more closely at how mappings work.

As with Launchpad and APC, there’s a logical mapping of Session View to the controller. (Arrange View is actually not really a focus.) Unlike the past hardware efforts, though, you have enough controls on the device that you should be able to hide your laptop away and still make music or perform.

Images courtesy Ableton.

  • Leon Trimble

    oh. my apc just lost some of it’s lustre.

    • jamesy

      Though the APC does still have a crossfader….i do enjoy using the crossfader, especially when playing live…

  • cooptrol

    Nice, looks solid. I would have gone with 2 different models: one like this, or even with less, bigger pads, for MPC style players, and one Monome-like with small buttons and a 16×16 or 32×32 grid, for TR style players…

    • Peter Kirn

      Heh, well, I suspect if this is successful…

    • Alwyn

      How do the encoders feel ? And whats the feel like on the all the side buttons, so the pads on par with machine ?

    • cooptrol

      Well, in the hardware world there is a well defined division between supporters of these two paradigms. The software controller industry has leaned to the MPC paradigm, but the truth is there are as much TR-style sequencer users in the world. Why there aren’t TR-style controllers is something I just can’t understand (except some DIY projects we’ve seen).

  • Nikola

    Looks useful. No sliders though, so my old nanoKontrol will be still in the game for me. If the ribbon could be dynamically mapped according to the last control used, it could be the end of the road for nano – as i know it.

    • Peter Kirn

      Actually, there are some of these things you can do with the ribbon, not just the encoders. And it could be reassigned by a clever patcher. I’ll look more closely at that once we have one to test.

    • Anders Hofsten

      that’s the beauty of it; M4L is included with suite so you could easily hack together a patcher to do just that, in which case i might actually get rid of all my controllers except a push and then an epiano. wahu!

    • Jesse Terry

      I’m really enjoying using Push with ControlDeviceMidi – so I can send Aftertouch, pitchbend, velocity to any parameter in Live. Also note that the PitchBend slider is reassigned depending on what mode you are in – for example, on a Drum Rack track, the slider accesses the Drum Rack slider, and sets the drum rack bank so you can quickly access 128 drum pads

    • Tom Byrer

      Cool; I’m looking forward to more ribbon testing/tricks from you & Jesse!

  • sjur

    Are the pads like drum pads, or do they click down like buttons?

    • Øivind Idsø

      It says they are velocity sensitive, which means they can’t be like buttons.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yep, they’re like drum pads. Tiny, tiny drum pads – 64 of them. But the velocity response and pressure sensitivity are each really impressive, even in this pre-release hardware. (That’s the part Akai engineered.) Getting this with velocity sensitivity is very cool.

    • sjur

      That sounds really amazing! It’s exactly the kind of controller I’ve been hoping for, a mix of the APC and the MPD. And then some.

    • Jesse Terry

      Also: the sensitivity will change depending on whether you’re banging on a drum, or playing an instrument.

    • Eric

      Thank you Peter, could you tell us more about the feel of the pads? are they on par with maschine’s?

    • Ginkgo

      And when we talk about Akai pads, we are talking about MPC, and not LPK, right>??

  • griotspeak

    I want this because it is what I was trying to build, but I don’t want this because I have SO MANY toys already. Perhaps it is time to sell some.

  • grindFish

    oh wow. i think i just got sucked into the realm of software again….

  • coolout

    HOLY F*CK! It’s like they took the hardware integration ideas of maschine and put the power/flexibility of ableton behind it. This could easily replace 3 or 4 controllers for me. My only questions are

    1. If there’s no built in audio interface then what are the two quarter inch jacks on the back? midi perhaps?

    2. For Live 8 users will Push come with a free upgrade to Live 9?

    3. Will it come in white?:

    • Peter Kirn

      1. Ah, forgot to add that detail (and had it in my notes) – they’re footswitch inputs.
      2. Push requires Live 9 and some (fairly cool, I think) changes made to how it maps things like recording clips, so Push won’t ship before Live 9.
      3. No. 😉

      And I think you’re right on in that this single controller does the job of several. That may not appeal to everyone, but it’s an impressive design in terms of combining functionality.

    • bloodynails

      The integration with Live’s software comes up far short with Push though, which makes sense since Maschine was designed from the ground up with both the hardware and software being fully integrated from the beginning. Push was more of an afterthought after its software had existed for over a decade.

  • Molto Bene

    I will be selling some stuff to get this. I would LOVE if Ableton did a package deal where one could get a free or discounted upgrade path if they purchased this. Especially if Max was involved. *droooool*

    • Ginkgo

      I suspect they will. I just got a response from Ableton that for existing Suite/Max owners, there will be a further discount to Suite 9 than what’s currently listed, and I’m guessing that that will extend to Push. My upgrade price is currently $783 for Push and Live Suite, and I bet this could come down as low as $599, which is the price of just Push and Live 9 Lite.

  • itch

    hope they change there website back looks like sh*t
    also hope they add the ability to edit within a clip.
    otherwise nice to hear some noise from them.

  • itchy

    hope they change there website back looks like sh*t
    also hope they add the ability to edit within a clip.
    otherwise nice to hear some noise from them.

    • jamesy

      I second the editing a clip within the hardware! (Though I love the new site) 😉

  • Justin Schuurbiers

    Wauw! So this also means that you can actually see the clip names in the little screen at the top of Push?

    • Peter Kirn

      I’d like that, too, but I’m not sure. We’ll need a closer look. (Tell you what, if it doesn’t, I’ll definitely want to work on a Max patch that does that for you!)

    • Sam_Mallery

      It would be pretty difficult to hide away your computer without this feature.

    • Jesse Terry

      Yes, you can see clip names (and remaining time before clip ends). In session mode, you hold select, and press a clip to see the name (without triggering it).

    • Anders Hofsten

      yes please, do that. :)

  • span

    How does it integrate / interact with the APC 40 ???

    • Jesse Terry

      Depends how you want to use it – they are two separate midi control surfaces in Live. I generally keep APC40 to control session view, crossfader and volume, and use Push just for drum and instrument creation. But each persons use of the APC40 is different. The APC40 is certainly a powerful performance tool with Live, Push is intended more for creation.

  • Jim Aikin

    A grid controller with velocity and pressure — yip! I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Big props to Ableton.

  • malco

    I wonder how it will work w vst instruments. If it can control parameters in NI instruments, I might just replace my maschine…

    • Jesse Terry

      My response on the Ableton forums

      “With Live devices, we try to have the 8 macros laid out in a consistent way — so you almost always know which encoder to grab for filter frequency or resonance, etc. With VSTs, we currently can’t access parameters in an automatic and consistent way, as we can with our own devices, so you would be left with a way to load a VST, but not control it automatically. The workaround, for the moment, is to save a VST into an Ableton rack, with parameters laid out as you’d like. Push both sees these presets in it’s browser, and automatically maps to the device controls. The wish for more automatic control of VSTs is noted though.”

      The scales and note input functions work fine with VSTs/AUs.

    • mg

      Aha! To be able to control plugins, could this be the dream finally coming true?!
      Please excuse me for drooling. This would move something for alot of people:

      1 Simple navigation/access of tracks and their plugins.
      2 Control of all vst parameters.
      3 Changing and saving the order of parameters within each plugin (this is kind of allready possible with the Ableton rack workaround).

      …without having to look at the computer or use the mouse at all!


    Needs MLR Style sequencing to be perfect, but still so sick and pretty much what I have been waiting for my whole life. Great vids Peter!

    • Peter Kirn

      We did get a bit of a step sequencing demo. More on that soon.

    • Leif Olson

      im planning on porting over my mlresque smplr monome m4l app when i get my hands on a device. Should be fairly straightforward.

    • Virtual Flannel

      Leif, very cool. Just noticed this reply!

  • Matt Leaf

    lovely… was looking at getting a maschine for workflow and pads… but being a live user this makes so much more sense… yay!

  • YoungMasterReed

    Soooo glad I waited and didn’t get a Quneo!

    • Peter Kirn

      QuNeo should still have a place, some folks pointed out to me. Much smaller, much thinner, and cheaper. Also, you get OSC. I’m sure some QuNeo users will also get a Push – will be interested to see what they do.

    • sounddevisor

      I have a QuNeo, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting a Push when it’s available. Might sell my APC40 at that point.

    • djr

      yeah this really doesn’t compare to the QuNeo

  • Charles Jacob

    Beautiful controller, a maschine killer for Ableton users! Push + my iPad and touchAble for all the things this beast cannot do, going to be the best combination ever, can’t wait!

  • emp

    ohhh….RENOISE….where are yooooou??

  • jinna

    wow, it looks amazing! great features, the EQ8 – sick!
    and the controller is just awesome

  • jmcq

    Wow! The new Maschine was on my xmas list but this will be worth waiting for. Looks like the ideal Live controller. I’ll have to start selling off some old hardware, the software/hardware combo is going to put a big dent in my credit card.

  • George LoPez Dispenser

    Peter, do the Push pads have *poly* aftertouch? If so that represents an improvement on Live 8’s MIDI capability, which can’t pass poly aftertouch.

    • Jesse Terry

      When controlling an instrument, Push has Mono-aftertouch (we don’t have a way to edit Poly-Aftertouch in Live 9). However, with a drum rack, you can change the repeat volume of multiple pads at the same time. Many of us at Ableton want Poly-Aftertouch badly, software making is a constant game of prioritization.

    • Eric

      From what you say, i understand live 9’s instruments won’t natively react to or record polypressure – but will we be able to use Push with poly-aftertouch on supported softsynths / vsts / external gear via midi? Thanks!

    • Jesse Terry

      No – we have no way to record or represent polyphonic aftertouch (i.e. per note automation) in Live, so we wouldn’t be able to play, record into a clip, then send on to a softsynth/external instrument.

    • Eric

      Thanks for the patience Jesse, So if i have, for example, animoog getting fed midi externally by Live – Push isn’t capable of outputting polyphonic aftertouch? I understand midi recording isn’t possible in Live 9, but does Live 9 filter away Polyaftertouch or does Push just not have that capacity in hardware? thanks again – sorry for so many questions!

  • Emu

    Amazing news! Now if only this included MIDI IN & OUT.

  • Nshan

    Is there an upgrade path for Live 9 + Push? Coming from live 8 lite

  • fruts

    I can’t find any mention of whether Live 9 has finally enabled scroll-wheel support. If not, I’ll continue to stick with 7.

  • MD

    Peter, you say “The challenge may be fatigue playing pads; some velocity sensitivity adjustment will be necessary. But the pads felt good even on a prototype unit. Yes, they’re Akai-built pads.”

    My question…. will the pads respond to a light touch? How much pressure is needed to make them trigger? I am interested in using this as a keyboard replacement. [ like an AXIS ] Not for drum programming. None of the Akai pad controllers I have tried respond to a light touch. Are the pads more responsive on this unit?

    • Leif Olson

      my understanding is that there is some internal sensitivity adjustment between the drum rack response and the keyboard response. Havent touched it yet but its supposedly quite sensitive.

  • 0x80

    Every excited about this. Just got Maschine a few months ago but it didn’t live up to my expectations. This looks perfect, and can replace my APC and Monome too :) The only thing I wish for now is some quality (automated) faders. I hope Ableton creates a little mixing controller in the future, which of course they should call Shove 😀

  • Tom Byrer

    “Akai’s pads on their other units are designed to be exactly as they are — there is a long lineage of hitting pads hard with 2 fingers for playing drums, from those of us who started on MPCs (2000XL for me). Their engineers are really experts in this field, it’s been educating to learn from them and see their solutions.

    However, we had a different need with Push – we needed pads that are extremely sensitive with instrument tracks, but also ‘bangable’ with two fingers for drum tracks.

    So yes, these pads will feel solid like Akai pads, and they have a deep base to them, but ultimately will be a bit different from all other Akai pads so far in that they will be extremely sensitive for playing instruments (the sensitivity will change when you play drums though).

    Hope that clears things up.
    Jesse Terry”

  • vaikl

    Maybe I’m the only one. But this “Push” looks like any AKAI thingy of the presence – pure plastic boredom:-(

    Dark/small printings on black buttons, Playstation-styled cursor buttons, amber display – come on, do we need such a hyper-retro style??? I don’t.

  • Tom Byrer
  • Josh Lucas

    Ableton made a couple of huge mistakes with this unit, namely:
    1-Lack of Sliders. As anyone who has ever DJ’ed or worked a console, knows, you have more control over a Slider, than a knob, plus the fact that you can operate a slider with just one finger, instead of the whole hand it takes to operate a knob.
    Yes, it takes an whole hand to work a knob, as you need your thumb to do so, and you only have one thumb per hand :)
    Have you ever seen anyone turning two knobs with one hand?
    I have on many occasions worked one or more sliders with one hand at the same time.

    2-Having Akai engineer this unit. Akai US tech support is HORRIBLE. I purchased an APC-40, and the MIDI ports on the unit wouldn’t show up on Win XP.
    The issue was some kind of conflict with Novation’s (horrible) Automap / MIDI drivers.
    I did so much research, i ended up knowing more than the Akai tech support person i got on the phone.
    Akai’s tech support were, unresponsive, only provided some lame tips i already knew from reading the forums, and never escalated my ticket to the next level of support.
    I ended up getting a second hardrive and re-installing Windows XP (and all my software and plugins) to solve my issues!
    Who is going to provide support for this unit?
    Imagine paying a lot of money for this, and then having Akai’s horrid tech support blow you off, like they usually do…

    No thanks.

  • vsnares

    Eooow, come on.
    It’s not going to make me a finished breakcore track from an original break in 3,5 minutes, while i’m playing it.

  • Brett

    Finally, an isomorphic instrument controller for the masses! I can’t wait to get my hands on this. I am a guitarist, and an isomorphic layout is really the only thing that makes sense to me. The standard piano keyboard, with its white and black keys, seems like the most arbitrary and idiotic design for an instrument, because it means you need to develop different muscle memory depending on what key you’re playing in. By contrast, I think people will find it so simple to play the Push, provided they have a basic understanding of music theory and a good ear for intervals.

  • pulsn

    ok…i just found out about Push…very interested to use that instead of a normal keyboard. What about the Live 9 versions and Push support? What features of Push can be used right of the box with Live Intro and for what features shown in the video would Live Suite be needed?

  • julienbayle

    Here is a nice page I’m updating on my spare time with PUSH:

    Here is the MIDI map of what the push sends while in User Mode:
    more to come…