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When Ableton Live was first released over ten years ago, it was labeled a “sequencing instrument.” The radical idea was that you could “play” your production tool, which had (and has) big implications in studios, at home, and onstage.

“Playing” with a mouse and keyboard is unsatisfying for most, so even that relatively primitive first version had MIDI controller mapping. In the intervening decade-plus timespan, musicians have found a variety of ways to connect their hands and bodies to the software model of music contained in their laptops. They’ve constructed massive custom hardware (DJ Sasha’s Maven and Robert Henke’s Monodeck being especially epic), used combinations of boxes of knobs and faders, cameras, sensors, and more or less anything you can connect to a computer. On their own, these are not instruments in that they make no sound, but coupled with Live and a musician’s collections of sounds, patterns, and instruments, the resulting rig is something people play.

For their part, Ableton stayed out of the fray until 2009, with the Launchpad (collaborating with Novation) and APC40 (collaborating with Akai). Each mirrored the grid of rectangles seen onscreen in Live with corresponding light-up buttons. As onscreen in Live 1.0, you could trigger loops and clips (and now patterns). The APC40 also adeptly handled mixing and Device control; Launchpad added the ability to play notes on the grid, or use custom layouts that could perform step sequencing and other functions. (I got to be the first to review the Launchpad, and I still sometimes bang around my pre-production unit, serial #16.)

All of those ingredients resurface here. But the Launchpad and APC40 now feel more like experiments in comparison to Push. The new, sleek black controller is the most complete hardware Ableton has ever released, the first to properly carry the Ableton name. In look, feel, and function, it really seems the first time Ableton has expressed their vision of hardware the way Live originally did for software.

“Playing” Ableton Live can mean a lot of different things, however. Push simultaneously does many different things, and chooses not to do many things. Ableton describes it as an instrument for “starting songs from scratch,” a cue that they don’t expect it to solve every production or performance scenario, and that in particular it isn’t for finishing songs in the way some controllers are.

So, the first task is to understand what Push does, and what it means for making and playing music. That means appreciating how Push can help you “play” Live – whether that’s part of making music on your own or in front of an audience. And Live, for all its advantages and disadvantages, lovers and skeptics, is popular precisely because it intentionally blurred those lines since the beginning.

The Hardware

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Push is a controller only; it has no audio interface. Instead, it’s a rectangular slab (a bit thicker than an average laptop, closed), dominated by an 8×8 grid of RGB-lit, pressure-sensitive pads. A vertical touch strip along the pads provides additional continuous control. Along the left and right are sets of trigger buttons for selection, editing, transport control, and other dedicated options. At top is a row of eight touch-sensitive encoders above an LED display for menus, parameters, and other functions. (That element of the design is sure to earn comparisons to Native Instruments’ Maschine, though the rest of the feel and workflow are quite different. They do look nice together, and you can plug both into a Live set.)

Push is powered via USB, but a jack for the included world-voltage AC adapter lets you increase the brightness. (It’s worth doing that in a sun-lit environment, or to enjoy more saturated colors.) On the back, you’ll also find two jacks for pedals – these work just as sustain and expression pedals would normally; they’re the same as you’d find on any MIDI keyboard and can be assigned to whatever you like. (And since you might be playing a virtual piano with Push, they’re also necessary.)

I’ve tested a lot of controller hardware, and as far as mass-market controllers, I think Push is a new standard. It feels and looks better than anything else I’ve used, excluding perhaps only high-end mixing surfaces and the like. Everything feels solid and responsive, and the design itself fades into the background. Labels disappear when they’re not needed, and when you power off the device, only the recessed Ableton logo is visible, not the usual array of labels and logos and graphics.

When lit up, Push looks tasteful and pleasing. Colors are vibrant, but you generally won’t get a “disco floor” feeling from looking at it.

Push also feels weighty in a satisfying way, though you’ll notice it in your bag, at almost 3 kg (6.6 pounds). But it does fit “in a backpack” as Ableton claims – provided your backpack is a 15″-17″ laptop bag or bigger, as many 13″ laptop bags and messenger bags I suspect will be too small. On the other hand, apart from perhaps adding a Korg nanoKONTROL for faders, many Push owners are likely to make it their one and only control device.

Installation is easy: there isn’t any. Push doesn’t even need drivers. So long as you’ve got a copy of Live 9, you simply connect Push via a USB cable and get going. (This means enterprising hackers will also be able to use Push’s USB class-compliance to make the hardware work with a variety of devices, including Linux gizmos.)

“Modes”

That's a mission statement on the demo screen, not an actual interface.

That’s a mission statement on the demo screen, not an actual interface.

Ableton created some confusion when the demo screen showed modes for playing beats, melodies, starting songs, and performing. Those aren’t actually modes.

In fact, Push is best understood as having integrated pages – a notion influenced in part by creations for the monome, for one.

There is a dedicated “User” mode, in which Live becomes a blank canvas MIDI controller, though still capable of all the bi-directional goodness Live provides (including lighting up colors on the pads and even feeding text to the display). In Live mode, all this functionality is controlled by default, though it can be revised by Max for Live patches if hackers so choose.

Different pages do control other features, though. You can switch between a Note mode, for playing beats and melodies, and Session mode, for working with clips. And Push dynamically adjusts to drum instruments as distinct from other instruments. But let’s look first at how you play.

Workflow: Starting a song

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There are a lot of ways to use Push, to the point of focusing entirely on one set of features and ignoring the rest. But the way you start a song – Push’s big selling point – is likely to appeal to a lot of users. It’s a rare case in which you’re actually likely to work in precisely the way you see in a software demo.

With Push connected, Live will ask if you want to begin a new song. You can either choose your own project, or let Live add tracks for drums, bass, and the new Live 9 grand piano.

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If you want to choose your own instruments, Push’s integration with the new Live 9 Browser makes it easy to dial up sounds, using the encoders at top to browse. With Live 9′s expanded library, there are plenty of options, though sound designers will have added incentive to organize their own sounds in the user bank. (Buttons beneath the screen let you select parts. Ableton didn’t opt for push encoders. Everyone I’ve seen try Push for the first time attempts to push the encoders to select, but once you realize how it works, it’s fairly intuitive.)

Then, the idea is to start playing. You can play instruments and drums directly into clips, or step-sequence drums into clips, using new functions for creating or duplicating clips to build ideas.

Improvements to Live 9 make this easier. These work in conjunction with Push’s dedicated hardware buttons, but will also come in handy even without Push. You can always sketch out ideas by creating new clips, as before. Now, hitting New on Push advances to a new, empty clip. Duplicate copies the active clip to a new space, so you can add to a pattern one layer at a time (a bit as you might with a hardware looper, but with a set of patterns recorded afterward). And the Capture and Insert New feature duplicates all the clips currently playing into a new scene – imagine the looper behavior, but with multiple tracks (and instruments) at the same time.

You can also use Fixed Length to set a pre-determined loop length, then begin recording into a clip of that length. This, at last, gives Live looper-style behavior useful to a lot of musicians. It’s not quite the same as what you can do with a looper pedal – there’s still no way to set the length based on your first recording – but it’s terribly useful in overlaying ideas.

The upshot of all of this is that you can very quickly get ideas down. Push in this case can become a cure for anyone creatively stuck, unable to get songs started. Play something, anything, and then add quantization, variations, device substitutions, and so on.

Of course, this means that the instrumental interfaces are essential, and will likely determine whether or not Push is for you.

Playing Drums

Triggers on the right-hand side let you choose subdivisions, accents, and other features.

Triggers on the right-hand side let you choose subdivisions, accents, and other features.

That 8x8 layout makes for more room. Pads themselves are on the lower left-hand side. (The touch strip lets you navigate more than 16 spaces.) A step sequencer runs at top. At the bottom right are scene selections.

That 8×8 layout makes for more room. Pads themselves are on the lower left-hand side. (The touch strip lets you navigate more than 16 spaces.) A step sequencer runs at top. At the bottom right are scene selections.

When you add a Drum Rack, Push adjusts its grid into a combination of pad triggers and step sequencer. On the bottom-left 4×4 grid, you’ll find a traditional drum pad layout. Sliding your finger along the touch strip lets you navigate through Drum Racks with more than 16 samples. (You can’t change the MIDI note assignments; everything is fixed to the view you see of the pads on-screen.)

The top half of the screen becomes a step sequencer, reminiscent of monome and various custom layouts for APC and Launchpad. You can move between scenes in the sequencer using the bottom-right-hand 4×4 grid. Then, you can either work in steps or play manually; either way, the MIDI clip displays in the step sequencing view.

You also get all the basic functions you’d expect of a step sequencer. Toggle individual steps, copy patterns, adjust dynamics with the Accent key, or hold down a pad and adjust velocity via one of the top encoders. The dedicated Repeat key is also a whole lot of fun: it works in conjunction with rhytmic divisions (1/4, 1/4t, 1/8, etc.). (There isn’t a “roll” trigger, as on some drum controllers, though; Repeat acts as a toggle and works across the whole drum pad. Of course, you can solve this by inserting an arpeggiator or something similar inside the drum rack.)

Quantization and swing also work nicely in conjunction with the new Drum Rack functionality; you can bring up menu-style quantization as you’d find on an MPC. From the encoders at top, you also get control of all the parameters of the Drum Rack. Groove quantization features will send you back to the mouse; this covers the basics only.

Push isn’t, however, a dedicated sampling drum machine. Ableton has clearly made some choices, and opted to function on fairly simple default behavior. When you want to organize samples, drop them into drum parts, slice samples, and control sampler and drum parameters, you’ll be heading back to the mouse and display. (Correction: one thing you can do is swap one shots, contrary to popular – and my – belief. Ableton’s Jesse Terry corrects me: “You can browse one shots on each pad, just select the pad, not kit in device mode. It’s the best part if Push for me…pressing the green button auto loads the next sample…”)

On the other hand, as you’ll see, Push does a lot more than simply act as a drum machine, so it’s not hard to imagine that Ableton could have introduced a lot of complexity had it tried to do all of these things.

Playing Instruments: Notes

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One area in which Live really does stand out from devices that have come before is in its Note mode for pitched instruments. When you add an Instrument Rack or instrumental device, the entire grid becomes a velocity- and pressure-sensitive musical input device.

Over the years, various hardware makers have made niche devices that use arrays of pitches to make it easier to play in key, or play complex melodic lines and harmonies. More recently, we’ve seen iPad apps that do this. But Push is the first major commercial product to take this on in hardware.

In arrays of white and blue notes, Push can be reconfigured to fit any scale or mode. With “in key” mode selected, only the notes of the key are available, so you can never hit a wrong note. With “chromatic” selected, the notes in the mode are lit, and the notes in between are dimmed, providing 12 tones to each octave. Blue and green LED feedback gives you an indication of octave locations.

With the Scale key, you can transpose scales, or choose any number of modes. (All the basics are covered, including the eight “church” modes, specialist modes like whole/half and whole tone, and “ethnic” modes.) Changing the Scale mapping changes the MIDI notes Push transmits back into Live, and thus the notes heard on the instrument and recorded into a clip. Since these are MIDI notes transmitted into the software, changing the mappings after you’ve recorded will have no effect.

It’s tough to overstate just how addictive this is for people who like exploring melody and harmony. In fact, I think I did a poorer job learning the rest of the interface and functionality partly because I got lost in playing Push as an instrument. It made me want to spend time actually practicing playing Push, in a way I otherwise only feel on a piano-style keyboard.

There are some limitations, however, ones I hope will be addressed in time via Live updates or Max for Live patches.

Scale options. Hold down shift to change the interval spacing.

Scale options. Hold down shift to change the interval spacing.

The default brings up a C major scale in which you’re always in tune. Intervals are spaced by fourth from top to bottom, and by step from left to right, an arrangement familiar to guitarists. You can change the mode, and you can change the intervals (swapping fourths, thirds, and stepwise spacings), by holding Shift. I found, for instance, it was useful to switch spacing to thirds horizontally and stepwise (“sequential”) intervals vertically. But the moment you make the vertical or horizontal axis fourths or thirds, the other axis swaps to “sequential,” ruling out a lot of interesting harmonic layouts. (This also doesn’t make much sense, as the menu appears to indicate that you can make each axis whatever you want.

More challenging, Live doesn’t have any way of storing layouts. So, the moment you want to perform even a simple transposition, you’re navigating menus. Layouts aren’t stored with Live Sets, let alone Clips or Scenes as you might like. It all seems like a job for Max for Live – particularly as there would be a variety of different ways to solve the problem – so stay tuned. I’ll be in touch with Ableton, and may even go in and make a patch for myself.

Who is all this for? Well, speaking as a pianist with a graduate level education in theory, I had a blast, so even if it’s for non-musicians, it certainly doesn’t appeal to them exclusively! Be aware that if you are trained on frets or keys, you will have to re-learn some of what you know – but that’s half the fun, as switching layouts can quickly break you out of your normal musical habits.

If you don’t know any of this theory business, Push can help you surf through different harmonies and melodies in a way that can be a lot of fun.

Either way, you probably won’t replace a keyboard, however. Velocity control via pads just isn’t as easy as keys, which is why we put up with keybeds being big and cumbersome and (when weighted) heavy and expensive. Also, if you are a trained musician, you’ll find a new appreciation for your muscle memory on the instrument you already play. But you can think of this as just an additional instrument – one with a very, very low barrier to entry, but that may nonetheless be one worth spending time learning. And that surely brings us to expression.

Playing Instruments: Expression

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Push has Ableton engraved on the case, but it also says “engineered by Akai Professional.” Akai contributed a lot of work with Ableton on the pads, and you can feel the result. Push feels fantastic, certainly up there with the best pads available, and undoubtedly the best-feeling 8×8 grid you’ll play right now. There’s enough give or travel to feel like you’re playing them, but not so much that you experience any wobble or mushiness. Even at high sensitivities, you won’t find a single double trigger or accidental trigger. And you can hit Push hard and have it respond, with lots of subtle gradations in between. I mean really hard – not with a stick, but certainly as hard as you can with your fingertips, another reason Push’s weighty build works well. Continuous pressure also works brilliantly, though it is transmitted only monophonically; Push doesn’t support polyphonic aftertouch.

The touch strip is also effective. It’s not as playable as a pitch wheel – when you release the strip, it pops back immediately to zero in an unnatural way, and it seems it’ll be more effective as a ribbon controller for other parameters than bending pitch. But it works – and I suspect we’ll see some nice use of it via Max for Live.

You do get the tradeoffs of playing pads. For drums, they’re perfect – and Akai owners will feel right at home. For instrumental parts, they’re a mixed bag. It’s still tough to play keyboard parts on pads, even with all the clever pitch layouts and sensitivity adjustments. On the other hand, trills and other patterns become easier. (Suddenly, I can play Ligeti.)

And, again, it’s the idiosyncracies that make playing Push fun. If you’re a 4×4 finger-drumming virtuoso, you’re likely already happy with your favorite drum pad trigger. But for those of us who do like to play melodic parts, Push is a godsend – and this one feature could clinch the deal when comparing Push to other controllers.

Clip Navigation

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It wouldn’t be a Live controller if it didn’t trigger clips. And here, Push doesn’t disappoint. The LED colors make navigating far easier, of course. Ableton also uses subtle cues like pulsing clips to make it clear what’s playing (versus what’s only a clip that happens to be green).

Scene Triggers on the side also allow you to play Scenes at once, of course.

It’s the action keys and LCD that set Push apart from previous controllers. In Session View, you can bring up a display on individual clips by holding down Select and tapping a clip (without having to trigger it). In addition to clip titles, you can see time remaining in a clip, providing a valuable heads-up display when working in complex sets.

You can also work directly with clips – another opportunity to stay away from looking at the computer screen. Hit the Clip button, and you can adjust start, position, length, loop and warp settings, detune/transposition, and gain. What Push lacks in clip slicing and so on it makes up for in these clip options, all of which can be invaluable in production and performance.

What you can’t do is see clip names without triggering them. And, even after doing a lot of work with its RGB LED backlights, color won’t exactly match what you see on-screen. So, here, iPad apps have a certain edge if all you want to do is select clips and mix, since they can fit more information, more dynamically, on a touchscreen – at least until we see better, more widely-used touch laptops. That’s hardly a critique of Push, however, so much as a recognition that, since the release of Launchpad and the APC, a lot more people have iPads.

Editing and Device Control

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The other place that LED becomes powerful – and allows you to keep your laptop pointed away from your face – is in editing and device parameter control.

First off, yes, there is an Undo key. (Whew! And yes, I’ve been using it.) There are also dedicated controls for Delete, Double and Duplicate (working with patterns), transport controls, Tap Tempo and Metronome, and most other essentials. Not everything is there, by a longshot – Ableton has chosen the features it seems to think are most vital, and I expect we’ll hear some debate about that. (I didn’t miss any in particular, in that it seemed Ableton made these decisions by workflows – so some things simply route you to the screen and mouse. Others – like pattern recording and basic clip manipulations and performance and device browsing – all work from the Push and let you point your laptop screen at the wall.)

Devices are, mostly, a pleasure to use. Hit a device, and those eight encoders become grabbable physical controls for instruments and effects. You can shift selection from device to device on the Push, or do it via a mouse; the two will sync bi-directionally. None of this is news to owners of recent keyboards from the likes of Novation and M-Audio, or users of similar implementations like Propellerhead’s ground-breaking Reason controller implementation – but then, those same users already know how useful this can be.

What does make this more useful – apart from coupling these device controls with everything else Push does – is Live 9′s new automation writing support. Now, you can easily toggle recording and “draw” in automation curves by twisting encoders, without ever touching your computer. Don’t like what you’ve done? Keep recording enabled and the clip looping, and hold the encoder at the setting at which you want it. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a relief when things work the way they should.

Some readers and forums have complained that Push works “only” with built-in devices. That’s not really the case. As before, the most convenient way is simply to take your third-party devices and drop them in a Live Device Rack, choosing which controls you want to manipulate. That adds some housecleaning in managing your instruments and effects, but I find it can pay off when the parameters you want are simply available. Having tried surfing every single plugin parameter available in the now-discontinued Native Instruments Kore, I think it’s worth hand selecting what you actually want to control.

Correction: You can also access all parameters in Live Devices and VST plug-ins – provided it’s been configured. (Click the Configure button in the plug-in and select those parameters you want to control. And, again, see my comment about Kore – in some ways, it was a great host, but paging through all parameters is almost always overkil.)

It can sometimes feel frustrating that there are things you see on the screen in Live that you can’t control in Push. But there is still a lot to control from Push.

If you do use the aforementioned drum and instrument playing capabilities, those same device parameters become hugely useful, partly because they’re persistent above the playing layout. It really makes Push feel like a canvas for expressing ideas: once you are locked into an instrument, you have access to input and parameters without any mucking about in menu structures – and without the mouse.

Mixing and Arrangement

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One thing Push decidedly is not is an arrangement tool. There’s a reason Ableton focuses on the “starting tracks” message.

Mixing functions are certainly usable. You have access to Mix levels, Pan, Send, and the usual complement of mute / solo / record enable. Also, all your sends are accessible, if you have elaborate multiple sends in your set. In contrast to the readily-accesible Device settings, though, you will be doing some toggling of buttons to get at these mix settings parameters when mixing.

It’s a necessary tradeoff. Push leaves off the dedicated mixer controls in place of unique focus on other settings. And you can easily supplement this device with another controller, getting the benefits of both. I saw Travis Stewart, aka Machinedrum, play live with Push at Berghain Panorama Bar here in Berlin after just a few days of working with Push. And he solved the mixing problem by adding a KORG nanoKONTROL. That was a good solution, providing dedicated mixer access without taking up much space (or weight, or money), and freeing up the Push to do what it does best. Travis, meanwhile, was clearly having a blast adding drum parts over top of the arrangement and triggering clips.

For my part, I found mixing to be perfectly reasonable. If you just need occasional adjustment of Volume or Sends, Push is useful. If you want faders or sends always at hand, you might supplement with another controller (particularly as there’s no crossfader). But all in all, I’d rather have a dedicated mixer and the focused but multi-function possibilities of Push than something that tried to be all things. The APC40 for me, personally, was always too much of a tradeoff – not a good Device controller since it lacked a screen, not a great mixer, and not a great clip launcher. The Push is really good at what it does – and it doesn’t try to do everything.

Arrangement fairly counts as something Push doesn’t try to do. If something works in Session View, it typically works in Arrange View, but there are no additional arrangement functions per se. There just isn’t an application yet for Push’s big array of buttons in Arrange View. (It could be fascinating to see someone tackle that.) And when you select devices in Arrange view, they aren’t selected bi-directionally across Push and the screen.

Customization and Max

A lot of what Push will be isn’t yet done. Some of that may be delivered in future Ableton updates; during the beta, we saw that new Live builds were enough to provide new functionality on the Push hardware. But a lot of it is likely to come from the community of Push users, who have already demonstrated with the APC40, Launchpad, Livid Ohm, and monome, among others, just what might be possible.

In this age of high-resolution Retina displays, they’ve proved that a set of 8×8 pixels can be a surprisingly-endless canvas for musical interfaces. It’s the simplicity of these interface designs – coupled with physical feedback from each rectangle – that can make them so compelling.

Their work has already impacted Push. The step sequencer, pages, and melodic controls owe some debt to the monome community, who, along with monome’s original creators, helped popularize the use of grids in this way.

Push uses two modes, Live mode and User mode. In User mode, as on the Launchpad, you can create any applications you like, controlled entirely by MIDI. In Live mode, you can take over portions of the screen, customizing the function of Push while retaining other automatic integration. That may itself prove useful, in that it will mean Max for Live work is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition.

But this functionality is so significant, and Push so new, that we’ve decided to dedicate a separate article to Push “hacking.” I’ll be talking with Ableton on their side, and of course relaying information to and learning from people in the hacker and Max communities. We expect additional documentation from Ableton soon, as well.

Julien Bayle has gotten a head-start on hacking the Push. He’s even reverse-constructed the Live Python scripts. Some of this is just for the sake of it – you won’t actually have to do this much work to customize Push with Max for Live. But it does make interesting reading, and includes the crucial documentation of bi-directional MIDI messages. (There’s also a lot of French-language documentation for anyone wanting it.)

http://julienbayle.net/ableton-push/

Collaboration and Interoperability

Two other notes that some people will likely want to know.

First, while Push looks like a nice way to collaborate, you can only use one plugged into Live at a time. (You could make a second work in User mode.) You can plug in Push and a Maschine, or Push and a Launchpad, or some other combination, but not two Pushes… Pushen. Posh. Whatever the plural of Push is.

Second, you can’t really use Push with anything other than Live. It’s driver-free, and it’s possible control everything from pads to buttons to lights to screen using MIDI. But because Live is providing all the functionality and Push does almost nothing on its own, you’d have to recreate from scratch all the functionality Live offers. I expect we’ll see some hackers do interesting things with it, but that means you almost certainly shouldn’t buy Push if you aren’t planning to use it mainly with Live 9, at least for now. (Hackers, on the other hand: go to town with those remote scripts.)

In Use

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Producer Phoebe Kiddo helped us test out Push during our hands-on video shoot. And she was a tough judge, as she's addicted to (and very good with) her monome 128. We were all surprised how much potential we saw for performance - perhaps more so than production, even.

Producer Phoebe Kiddo helped us test out Push during our hands-on video shoot. And she was a tough judge, as she’s addicted to (and very good with) her monome 128. We were all surprised how much potential we saw for performance – perhaps more so than production, even.

I’ve been using Push, and watching friends use it, and sharing experiences, for a few weeks now, and if it seems like I have a lot to say, it’s because I’ve spent months talking to Ableton about it.

I think the moment I realized I really cared about Push was when I tried to do a gig with Launchpad. (It seemed too risky to brave a public performance with a prototype I was supposed to return.) I eventually had to drop the Launchpad and go back to a mouse, and the controller itself was utterly unsatisfying. I missed encoders, and interactive control, and mixing, and, most of all, those wonderful velocity-sensitive pads.

Push takes some getting used to. At first, it was really hard to try to focus on Push and not keep returning to the mouse and screen, particularly with all the shortcuts and controls to learn on Push once you’re editing.

In the end, I decided I didn’t need to hide the mouse; I’m still comfortable with Live’s traditional edit workflow. But I also found that Push was helping me get away from the mouse even in existing sets, to unlock quicker and more musical changes to Live sets. With new sets, it’s better still, as you’re likely to organize around playing on Push.

And the surprise of many people I talked to was, even as Ableton pitches this as a song starting tool, Push seems ideal for live performance onstage.

I feel I need to spend more time adjusting to working with Push after over a decade using Live. And I have some work cut out for me – a little bit of Max for Live creation and a lot of Library organization will clearly pay off. So, I think it’ll be best to see how this goes in the longer term. But I am reasonably sure Push will be there.

It was great fun, in particular, playing Push with Phoebe Kiddo; stay tuned for our hands-on video with her (and more video of her working with monome and Max for Live). And I had a great time playing with Benjamin Weiss (nerk) of De:Bug Magazine, who had a terrific, world-exclusive preview of Push that’s worth reading (if you speak a little German, or can fake it). All three of us approached it in different ways. Phoebe focused on drum sequencing and immediately hooked it up to her Virus. Benjamin got really good with the away-from-the-computer workflow and rapid programming. I am slower to learn to leave the mouse, but get deeper into the pitch layouts and working out, for instance, how to add MIDI Effects quickly from the browser. (There’s a trick to it; I’m putting together a short tips story.) There are different ways of working with Push.

Conclusions

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It’s easy to look at Push, and its sticker price, and for all its beauty, it wonder if it’s for you – as you should. There are cheaper controllers. There are controllers with faders. There are controllers attached to keyboards. You might wonder if you really want pitch layouts, or if you’ll miss having a dedicated mixing section or faders. Push is really for Ableton Live, at least until hackers make it do something else.

And you might long for deeper control of more of what Live does, or the ability to save these fantastic note layouts, or the ability to step sequence melodic lines, all of which might suggest this is a 1.0 release. You might wonder, particularly, if having a big grid is worth it when there are other ways to play.

But in the end, you might hang onto Push because it’s too much fun to play. Even if it lacks some sample editing functionality, Push’s step sequencer is a lot of fun, and it’s a pleasure integrating with Live’s racks when you go beyond sampling – Max for Live and synthesized drum machines (like the ones built into Live 9) are a great start.

Control from Push is better than anything Live has had before. Combining copious clip slots with the display and encoders make this the easiest way in hardware to control clips, even before you get to the handy shortcut triggers on the sides.

And most of all, the thing I think might put people over the top on Push is playing the pads. Whether on drum parts or instruments, the pads feel fantastic, the whole device is expressive to play, and you’ll find yourself discovering new rhythms, melodies, and harmonies – even if you keep a more traditional keyboard or drum triggers around.

Nor is this for everyone; as always, it’s worth considering different controllers. Indeed, I think if you just want a sampling drum machine with hardware control, all in a more traditional 4×4-pad workflow, Maschine is probably a better choice. (You can even run it inside Live.) You can tell that Maschine’s hardware and software were developed in tandem. Or, for the original grid, the monome remains a beautiful, handmade, open, customizable boutique controller you can use with any software, in comparison to Ableton’s proprietary, Live-only offering. And for all the fun novelty of the grid, some people will prefer to play something like a conventional keyboard – many of which are also now adept at controlling Live.

But getting something this lovely, this well-made, with a fantastic set of pads you can use to play instruments, or beats, or control clips, or devices, or put together songs or performances, all with color backlit-feedback and a display and encoders – that’s tough to pass up.

In the end, this “instrument” business may not be about what Push means in Live marketing terms. It may come down to how you “play” Live. If the idea of playing on the grid – beats or music – or accessing Session View via a truly flexible grid and knobs appeals, this could be the controller for you. And if you play another kind of instrument and have a hand free to navigate Live’s grid of parts as a sketchpad, the new looping-style behaviors could make Push a must-buy.

The relationship between gesture and sound, hardware and software is still imperfect, and sometimes complex. But Push is a sign the people making these tools are beginning to have a deeper appreciation for computers as instruments. And that can only be a good thing.

Stay tuned for more on Push, including a video hands-on with Phoebe Kiddo, and information on customization. And, of course, we’ll continue to cover unique ways people perform with hardware with a variety of tools.

  • julienbayle

    thanks for the mention, Peter :)

    More to come there …

  • tech7

    nice, thanks

  • papernoise

    Very good, in-depth review here! Thanks a lot!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lokeymassive Leif Olson

    I, for one, absolutely see the potential for the push to replace my current monome/quneo setup with a single device which performs the same set of functions, while adding greater feedback and tighter integration with routine live features. The ability to grab only a select set of device components in m4l really won me over here, as it means its not an all-or-nothing prospect. I can keep the aspects of the device function that work well for my particular approach, and replace those that dont with customized solutions.

    • http://twitter.com/braduro James

      Yes, the quneo will be fun when I finally program it, no denying that. And then I will immediately wonder why I didn’t invest in a real x-fader. I wanted something for my non-dominant side, and a faderfox might have been a better fit. Now, I think you’ll want something that makes the mixer very intuitive. I for one am not enamored with the hit-5-times-to-control Send E rut we’ve been in since Mackie Control

    • http://www.facebook.com/lokeymassive Leif Olson

      i still marvel at the complete lack of a decent midi faderbox, with qllity xfaders, much like the vestax faderboard…

  • Hays Holladay

    Thanks so much, Peter! I can see you spent a lot of time with it and really approached it from all angles. I really appreciate the thorough review.

    I think what draws me to Push is the ease of idea generation that you talk about. I feel the same way about Teenage Engineering’s OP-1. In a way, these devices are absurd, luxurious and overpriced. Technically all their features exist in other programs or devices. But when the workflow is just right it removes all impediments to creativity and you stop thinking about making music and just get lost in the moment.

    Thanks! I’m glad I preordered!

    • http://twitter.com/braduro James

      I think you made a very good decision. There’s always a next best thing, but don’t forget to calculate the value in the music you make while you have the opportunity, however the means

  • proxemics

    Very cool. Seems like it could also be a great controller for VJ use, would love to hear a use case on that too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Experimentaldog Chris SW Anderson

    Wow. Great review Peter!

    While reading, I look at the bunch of controllers in front of me on my desk, waiting for my Live 9 upgrade to download… I see a : Novation SL, Maschine, Original Lemur, iPad, Stanton SCS.3d, Monome 64, Presonus Faderport, MAudio Trigger Finger, and a MAudio Prokeys 88. I can’t help but be hesitant when looking at Push. I keep wondering about how much I’ve spent on interfaces as a whole and which ones I actually use besides the mouse. What I wonder the most is what’s after Push. What would the Push 2 be like? I’m used to buying the 1st model of something only to see a new model with more features dropped within a few years of the 1st. I was thinking of how these things just pile up over time and depreciate in value unlike some analogue gear or custom-made DIY devices. I feel that I have all I need in interfaces to make Ableton Live shine, but Push is definitely tempting.

    What I’m really thinking of are the current limitations of Push and how we’re not too far from some pretty interesting innovations in future designs. When I first saw pictures of Push I was hoping it bridged the gap between a touch screen and pad controller. I was gear fantasizing, as I like many tend to do, about features that don’t exist yet. I thought, instead of colour LEDs what if the pads were transparent and had LCD or OLED screens projecting through each cube so you could see the clip text or pattern notes on each cube. This would further eliminate looking at the screen and enhance the session view. Both Maschine and Push seem to lean towards laptop independence. Controlling beyond the computer. What if a future incarnation of Push was standalone and included the hardware of a computer capable of running the DAW on a connected screen in some new fancy OS. With the availability of smaller solid-state computer parts, I don’t think we’re too far off from the all-in-one hardware platform. I guess what I’m getting at is the alternatives to Push, suggested at the end of the review, are on my desk so I should make better use of them and perhaps not even consider this version of Push for the time being.

    • http://twitter.com/prgrms Matt Leaf

      This is a great comment!

      I personally believe we will see, or would love to see, a future iteration of Push as a device that ‘synced’ with Live. So Push could operate as a standalone device, that include the Entire Ableton Suite and sounds within it. Jam out songs on Push, and plug back into Live when you need to tweak. That way, Push can live on its own terms. As it stands now, Push is at the mercy of the operating systems that support it.

    • Attic

      I agree. I also wished the manufacturers would include one very simple function…Push a button to memorize a midi chord …. why is that so hard? The M3 does it but it would be nice if it was on a large grid of buttons. I will buy a new controller when the chord function is included. Computer interface’s drop in value so quickly its hardly worth it and new operating systems often break them. ….. or they just break.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That sounds interesting. I’m not sure I understand what you mean, though? You’d store a set of MIDI chord ‘presets’ somehow? (want an m4l patch? ;) )

    • Attic

      On the Korg M3 there is a Chord Assign button. Anytime you push it the next chord you play go’s to the next pad you touch ….. this is intuitive and quick. It stores the midi note number and the velocity of the chord and can be up to eight notes. The Korg has only 8 pads. I want this for a whole lot of pads. It is an excellent tool for composing. It would also be nice if it could store up to 12 notes. Such a simple thing, yet so hard to find on any device.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lokeymassive Leif Olson

      check out the monome polygome app, its a great chord device, and would be fairly simple to adapt to the push..

    • coolout

      Once again…if you have a Launchpad, Nativekontrol’s LPC has that chord function.

    • http://twitter.com/Glitzerstrahl Glitzerstrahl

      Fantastic comment! Could not agree more. while I’m excited about Live 9, at the moment there’s no space for Push on my desk, literally and figuratively…

    • Jesse

      I do find it interesting that the things that the things I find hold up for me overtime are the ones we hack ourselves around our own setup. Push is a new format for that, but when I think of the things that I really need, I realize that if I spent a little more time hacking my Launchpad instead of dreaming about a Push, it would be a lot more helpful to me :) .

  • Samuele Cornell

    This review is so detailed that it is almost a tutorial ! Best review so far
    Thanks a lot !

  • http://twitter.com/LatestArtists Andrew+Deb O’Malley

    Great review! In addition to NI Maschine, I think a comparison to Livid’s Cntrl:r and the accompanying scripts and M4L devices(clip control + Drum and Synth Stepp:r’s) is worthwhile. I’ve been finding it a great single control surface to write drum patterns, control Live (clip launching, recording, device control), and mix (faders/filters/sends).

  • markLouis

    Peter, do you have any thoughts about the range of users who will be attracted to this instrument? I mean, consider keyboards and guitars, picking names almost at random. Chopin played keyboards and Vanessa Carlton and Beethoven and Ray Manzarek. Guitars had Bob Dylan and Jimmy Page and Steve Vai and Bobbie Gentry and Joni Mitchell. So a very, very wide range of personalities can use traditional instruments to create work in a very wide range of styles. Do you see a wide range of personalities using the PUSH to create work in a wide range of styles?

  • Jon-d

    What I find way more amazing than push is how Peter still has then the energy after all these years to still attempt at rallying the troops one more time for some mediocre products developed by the big two…even the original ableton and native people have walked away at this point.

    • donales

      couldnt agree more… the update is mediocre and push doesnt do anything that you already could do with out it.. the only thing that i thought was cool was the automation curves… and who cares about a new comp or LFO or pretty much any of the new fx which you can prolly find in ML4 already.. so when does the cracked scene release commin..lol

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, why aren’t these folks giving you the things you want for the software you didn’t buy? The nerve!

    • donales

      HA yea, why dont these millionaires take my 10$ an hr wage for a mediocre update, but yet im ignorant?!?!… if i was some name brand DJ/Producer i would be more than happy to support these software companies….

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I assume I might get the energy from the same place as do the “original ableton and native people” who still work for Ableton and NI? Daniel Haver and Mate Galic remain at NI; Robert Henke is still at Ableton (if in a different capacity, partly because he has gone on to do far more teaching and art, though he had input on Push). Gerhard I believe is still in charge of Ableton, when last I checked (you know, yesterday afternoon).

      In fact, Stephan Schmitt is the only member of top management I can think of who left *either* company – especially if we’re talking founding or early employees.

      Stephan and Robert continue to use the products they helped create, as far as I know, and I think they’re doing terrific things.

      Where I get the energy to answer comments – that’s more of a mystery.

    • Jon-d

      Daniel Haver could be selling shoes or anything else for that matter…way I see it, it all started with Native Instruments Kore, the trend of selling hardware without any long term future. Hype it to the max, ship, then forget, then update with slight hardware changes like a new paint coat…All about flashy buttons and features over substance. Ableton resisted long enough I suppose but the money making consumerism over art model won out.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Wait a minute, you’re now faulting *Ableton* for your unhappiness with Kore? Are we reaching some kind of comment singularity?

    • Jon-d

      At Ableton, didn’t Robert Henke, Bitwig crew and Bernt Rogendorf disengage and they are only the high profile ones. Native has been little about music for years, they roll out Richie Hawtin every other product launch with the same tired senarios and rehashed products, who is just on some David Guetta jet shit set euro trash these days…The golden years of that generation are well over, sorry Peter :)

    • Ruairi Mullan

      Richie hotpants Hawtin ….hahaha

    • Ruairi Mullan

      If Ableton Actually listened to what we actually wanted like multi screen support,1 small thing out of the many i could mention,instead of money money money it would be something,,new reverb,compression and some other very basic things and tell us they rebuilt it from scratch…kidding me right?Im sure ye will get it right in time but not before ye have milked another few hundred out of us!

    • esolesek

      The golden years of your generation will never arrive cuz you’re a bunch of plagiarists and ignorers of history. You also think you own the sidewalk but my shoulder says different.

    • Ruairi Mullan

      i do….maschine! we need midi scripts for the mashine,if you and NI are such good buddys rather then what ye actually are ( competitors ) then why do ye not include and NI scripts in Ableton…i see korg,novation but no maschine? is it cause its essentially a NI PUSH?

  • Hector_Hektagon

    Nice review! But I am wondering what do we do with the Novation Launchpad now? Hmmmm

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      The Launchpad can operate simultaneously with Push. And actually, I imagine a lot of people won’t shell out for Push – there’s a lot of gear out there to buy. So it’s worth taking Max for Live patches, etc., and testing them on both. I think especially with M4L now in Suite, we’ll see more interesting grid stuff coming out.

      Also still some cool applications for Launchpad for Renoise, etc., too (which you can run inside Live.) So while I know some people are — rightfully — getting nervous about longevity, there’s no reason you can’t continue to use your old gear.

  • Hector_Hektagon

    Nice review! But I am wondering what is there to do with the Novation Launchpad now?

  • Charles

    So aside from the touch-sensitive pads, what is it that Push offers that can’t be done with a touchscreen (iPad, etc) except with greater flexibility and more visual feedback? Not to understate the value of tactile feedback, but that seems to be the only real advantage of a dedicated physical controller.

    I hope this is a lot better supported and documented than the APC40 was. After getting burned by that I’m leery of any new controllers from Ableton or Akai.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, touch-sensitive pads with tangible feedback and continuous pressure sensing, reinforcing muscle memory and something you can use without making direct eye contact, that would be the *fundamental advantage*. ;) Not something to just blow off, I think. Apart from that:

      * Persistent controls that always stay in place, reinforcing physical/conceptual memory
      * A no-distraction, dedicated device (it doesn’t run Facebook)
      * Actual encoders
      * A wired connection to the computer (since sometimes wifi can cause issues — and at the very least requires pairing, helper apps, and other annoyances)
      * No need for batteries

      Like I said, if you’re just triggering clips, I think an iPad has the edge. But — for almost anything else, something like Push (or other hardware) has some real advantages.

      Also, whatever the degree of support on the APC40 from Akai, two things to consider:
      1. This is an Ableton product, supported by Ableton, which was not true of the APC40.
      2. The APC40 *was* well supported by the user community in some incredible hacks, etc. Given that Push is class-compliant and uses MIDI messaging exclusively, I think it may be even better. And that same user community can build on what they’ve already learned about hacking controllers for Live.

    • Andres

      Haha, love the FB comment xD

    • http://twitter.com/braduro James

      Will try to talk with Adriano Clemente more tonight (@adrianocapcom) but I threw a quick question his way regarding the musicality of PUSH: If you put it between two poles where Mackie Submenu Wonderf-k is on one end and say a piano-he wouldn’t even let me finish my question. He was thoroughly enough repulsed by the machine control end of the spectrum. That’s after only 3 days out of the box with enough confidence to stand in front of an audience with his laptop folded down, his own samples slapped in a drum rack, and a willingness to accept that anything goes.

      I think you want to decide for yourself whether you are approaching either your production time or your performance time as the engineer or as the performer. Both serve essential roles, and I’ll take a gander that PUSH strikes a balance.

    • Daniel Ottini Music

      I feel I have to defend the APC40! It works well for what it does and I have been happy with it in my workflow. I think this issue once again speaks to the controller Vs. Instrument argument: what I wanted was an Ableton controller and that’s what I got – Push doesn’t interest me because I am already a guitarist and can hack my way around a keyboard if need be…I fall back on these instruments (particularly guitar) if I need to be “musical”. The “one device that does it all” argument doesn’t work for me either because there are a rare few devices that “do it all” well ! To each his own, but I will hang on to my current instruments (and my Quneo as a Drumpad!). On the other-hand I love the new Live; useful browser, lots of new content, pitch-to-MIDI, and set-up was fairly trouble free (and the APC still works). I thought upgrade price was reasonable and the 64 bit implementation (with M4L 64 bit as well) is alone worth the price of admission for me. Nothing to complain about here…

  • lukematthewsutton

    I’m very close to preordering, however I have one concern; how easily can it be used with external synths? If it’s simply a matter of creating a wrapper/interface in Max for Live, that’d do me!

    • mij

      i’m pretty sure you’ll only need live’s own “external instrument” device for this

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You don’t even need to do that, because Push sends MIDI. (though that is, of course, a convenient way to go!)

    • http://twitter.com/braduro James

      I’m pretty close to preordering as well-then I realized it ships in 2-4 weeks. I was sort of hoping they’d charge my card 6 months from now!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You actually don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary. You can use external MIDI devices just by routing to them as you always would, as Push is a MIDI input device. ;) It’s no different than working with a MIDI keyboard or other input.

    • Jesse Terry

      I use the external instrument device, plus a Max for Live device for every one of my external synths. I can load these as presets directly from Push, and play all my external synths from Push, which works as the hub of my studio. There’s a lot of good controllers already on Max for Live.com, such as this one:
      http://www.maxforlive.com/library/device.php?id=556

      I’ve customized those, or done simpler ones with just a program change device and external instrument in a rack, or done more complex ones for my CV synths, such as the M4L patches made by Stretta to control my Arp Odyssey and Pro One.

  • bloodynails

    “Push isn’t, however, a dedicated sampling drum machine. Ableton has
    clearly made some choices, and opted to function on fairly simple
    default behavior. When you want to organize samples, drop them into drum
    parts, slice samples, and control sampler and drum parameters, you’ll
    be heading back to the mouse and display.”

    Too bad. Ableton missed out on an opportunity here for leaving those functions out of Push’s scope.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lokeymassive Leif Olson

      then extend its scope yourself! Its an open platform.

    • http://twitter.com/braduro James

      Peter did revise this section of the review: just move down the tree to the sample level-the encoders are used for your browser. As for organizing your library, I guess you could hire someone to do that for you, sort in audiofinder and then restructure your folders accordingly, but I don’t feel cheated that a performance based lcd doesn’t do that for me.

    • bloodynails

      I’m not talking about organizing samples or loading one-shots. I’m talking about the fact that Push doesn’t have the ability to do things like slicing to a Drum Rack, sampling directly into a Drum Rack pad, editing that sample, duplicating a Drum Rack pad, accessing the Drum Rack’s mixer and sends…etc.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      This is where things get a bit complicated:
      * Slicing to Drum Rack: no.
      * Sampling to a pad: no.
      * Sample editing: no.
      * Duplicating a pad: no, but see above – you can in fact load one-shots here, so if you have your samples ready in advance, you can swap them, which I think is very important.
      * Access a Drum Rack’s mixer and sends: actually, yes, you can, along with the other parameters, though it may not be immediately obvious that you can. You have access to the default parameters and you can dig down from there.

      The problem is, Live is a really bit piece of software. Push is doing a lot of different things, just not all of them.

      I think it’ll be some people thinking about workflow and going from there, creating some custom patches that do some of this.

      And I think there’s still an excellent argument for loading Maschine into Live. Push isn’t the Maschine hardware, and Live isn’t the Maschine software, and a lot of what is being described here sounds to me like Maschine.

    • bloodynails

      Actually, this is what Ableton’s Jesse Terry says in the Push Q&A:

      “Currently you can’t access sends of a Drum Rack. Your wish is noted. You
      can control sends and returns in general by selecting a return track,
      or going to Pan/Send mode or Track mode to control sends.”

      “At the moment, you can mix via what is offered on the device itself, there is no access to the drum rack mixer.”

      https://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=186306

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes as James notes, I revised this section – apologies. You can access single samples, one pad at a time. Also, some organization is automatic – you can in Live 9 now drop entire folders of one-shot samples and it will put them into drum racks, which is very cool. That was a bit too much for this story, but we’ll get back to those tips later.

  • Jacques Mongrel

    I have a launchpad and a nanokontrol and I use Nativekontrol’s well thought out scripts which add drum sequencer, step sequencer and clip chopper (there is more for the launchpad but this what I use regularly), as well as full integration with live’s mixer and device control (with multiple pages of parameters and more as well for the nanokontrol) without losing the basic handshake for the launchpad.

    Yes there is a little bit of learning curve but build up a little muscle memory and you almost forget you are using a controller.

    Yes you need to read the manual carefully to setup two parallel control scripts but after the one time setup process, and creating an automator script to launch the MIDI clients before Live, it has proven to be very reliable especially considering the cost.

    I love the design of the Push, I love the attention to workflow, I love the LCD screen which makes me think of an old Ensoniq synth BUT I have been doing much of what Push “pushes” as its unique selling point for over well over a year with:

    - Launchpad

    - Nanokontrol

    - 40$ worth of well thought out software that expands the previous two affordable controllers well beyond their original feature set.

    - No Max for Live

    - No programming experience

    So while Push seems very impressive … for the forseeable future I am delighted with the above solution.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rodrigo.hernandezfl Rodrigo Hernández

      Just imagine what stray will do with PUSH, probably a whole new level.

    • coolout

      I agree that Nativekontrol’s LPC has done almost 90% of Push’s functions for years, although without the velocity-sensitive pads or built-in LCD. Also worth mentioning is that Stray has already reversed-engineered Push and put out a Push-emulator for the Launchpad complete with a virtual LED display. I just downloaded it.

  • Dome Chomsky

    i’m glad u mentioned the nanokontrol as an aux controller, as that’s why i bought it. (though i should’ve gotten the original, wtf is up with taking out the multiple banks in the second one?)

    i think i’m pretty much sold at this point. i gotta say tho, i’m a little tempted to look somewhat closely at maschine, cuz not being able to slice is, while totally understandable as a design choice, something to consider. i guess chop your samples on the go and sequence and enjoy them at home on push? i can dig it.

    thanks for the depth and reflection, mate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Triminh05 Doan Tri Minh

    wah…what a detail review…

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for the review Peter!. Design looks really slick for sure. How fast is the controller btw? This new breed of computer assisted event generators all seem to suffer in precision; latency, encoder accuracy, and reliability. I still see most users of this kind of kit raised on videogames. Eye candy, tapping away like asteroids or contra. Specifically, latencies above 20 ms which is gaming, under 10 being ‘analog’, proximal and musical. Looking in the event list at tge time stamps and doing some basic stats will show latency of the serial connection, and the standard deviation of the events around a mean. Computer side interpretation of controller evnts in my experience results in what you might expect compared to hardware encoding. Higher unpredictable lag. If everything is quantized and effective on the next beat or bar asan amateur safety net, it won’t matter. But for this to really be useful for anyone with enough skill to play in an ensemble vs solo, response should me immediate. The piano performance great. Seems fast, but in principle I have doubts and not one of the cool console kids. ;)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That’s a good question. It’s a class-compliant device, so this is partly limited by the performance of USB class drivers on your OS. I didn’t notice any particular latency distraction, but doing a proper test could be a good exercise.

    • Jesse Terry

      Your MIDI latency depends on your audio interface buffer size, so it will be faster with a decent audio interface with low latency. But we do our best fast response for notes, lighting, etc. I’d suggest you try for yourself. though.

  • julienbayle
  • http://timmb.com/ Tim Murray-Browne

    Great review! I know everyone has their own thing-that-never-makes-it to moan about but I was disappointed to read there’s no polyphonic aftertouch. This would have opened up such a huge range of musical possibilities – not just when playing melodies but generally having simultaneous access to 10 continuous controllers. There’s possibly a good reason but this seems to be such a stumbling block for interface and DAW designers.

    • Vincent Bierbach

      Wait. No aftertouch? I thought this was a standard feature in any professional instrument controller… My Roland midi controller has more features than this thing, and if I map it right, technically does the same thing as Push. The integration is what I look forward to feeling when I get Push.

  • http://twitter.com/braduro James

    Paradoxically, I’m actually more excited about the M4L drum synth if it means it will counter and short-circuit the impulse to find the right sample and go straight to the creative process. The sample/preset race is the only real friction I foresee in this workflow, which would be the same Faustian blind spot for any platform you subscribe to.

  • bar|none

    Great in depth review. I’m glad you put in a nod to the monome community who pioneered the use of grids in this way. I must say that it brings a smile to my face to see Ableton embrace such a controller. Actually they embraced more than a controller, they are embracing a style of interaction that promotes playful discovery and creation which was always the goal of monome apps such as 7up which I was involved with. We were always hacking the edges of Live but now a controller has come in through the front gate, albeit their own creation. I hope there are new APIs for all to benefit.

  • Matt

    So can you quickly access the sampler parameters of each drum cell? for instance the pitch, length etc. Is there also a way to quickly spread a sample chromatically across the 16 pads, as on an MPC?

    • Jesse Terry

      Whichever drum pad you hit has its parameters automatically shown on the display (depends on what device is on a pad, but usually start, end, pitch, volume, etc…). The only way to spread a pitch chromatically is to drag a pad to an empty midi track — then you can play it chromatically, or with Push’s scale layouts.

  • Cooptrol

    Thanks Peter for this thorough review. I would have loved that Push had a standard MIDI IN OUT port to use as standalone controller for hardware synths and gear. There is a big hole in the market regarding standalone MIDI controllers these days. People stil have to go back to Behringer BR2000 and Novation SL units, which are outdated and clumsy. They missed the opportunity to address a huge market slice which doesn’t use laptops onstage and only use Ableton as a DAW. I just hope any of the hardware manufacturers finally deliver a good portable and very programmable controller for hardware. And also hope they don’t forget the MIDI Merge function, like Evolution controllers’ designers did!

  • SomeGuy

    Great (pre)view. I say preview rather than review since Ableton’s site now shows 3 to 4 months for availability…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bkimball Brady Kimball

    Great article! I cannot wait for the Push to arrive at my door. I think this will allow me to feel more comfortable in improvisational and live performance situations that I have felt little access to up to this point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Eviathan Brian ૐ Williams

    Um when ableton was released there was very little in the way of sequencing at all

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That may be the case, but that was the tagline for 1.0 – look it up. “Sequencing” doesn’t have to mean MIDI; here, it indeed referred exclusively to audio. (MIDI was only used for controlling parameters; you couldn’t record MIDI parts.)

  • stme

    Push has a fair price tag attached to it and in the end it’s a piece of fixed hardware that only has so many possibilities/capabilities. I’m tempted by the features and advantages of Live 9 but I don’t think i’ll be purchasing a Push.
    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely controller with lots of great features and it’s been well thought out by Ableton and built by Akai. But i’m much more excited about the forthcoming LiveControl2 by Liine or the update to TouchAble that is on the horizon. Both these apps will probably do everything that Push does and a whole lot more and will both continue to be updated with features that are not available on Push and might not even be present on Push2 if that time comes.

  • A

    Can you record into an audio clip? I mean from push can you create a new audio track and set it up to record other tracks?

    How two handed can you use it? Can you edit multiple adjacent knobs at once?

    Also, I think it’s pretty obvious we’re going to get “Pull” a fader/cross fader box with the other half of the APC40.

    If the M4L integration actually happens, I’ll be interested. I want better and deeper ways to manipulate sound, it’s already plenty easy.

  • AlainCl

    Superb article!

  • lukematthewsutton

    So I enthusiastically preordered the push, only realising afterwards that the shipping time is 12 to 16 weeks! Now, local retailers — Australia — are saying they’ll have it by the end of the month. What. The. Flip.

    A three to four month wait, at least nine weeks after it’s available at retail. That sucks.

    So, looks like I’ll probably be cancelling my order from Ableton.

  • http://marcoraaphorst.nl/ Marco Raaphorst

    would be cool to use such instruments with other software. future looks bright :)

  • Anton.a1

    Amazing review…exactly what I was looking for.

    Thank You!

  • JoeP

    How do you get two hands on the surface in order to play it like a piano?

  • Daniel

    Can anyone tell me how to do this? >> (Correction: one thing you can do is swap one shots, contrary to popular – and my – belief. Ableton’s Jesse Terry corrects me: “You can browse one shots on each pad, just select the pad, not kit in device mode. It’s the best part if Push for me…pressing the green button auto loads the next sample…”) Doesn’t work on my push, no green button when i select a pad and the sample in it. Also if Jesse thinks its the ‘best part of push’ then why wasn’t more thought given to the way you browse (or can’t) and load samples via push rather than having to go back to mouse and screen? Seems illogical to me. Also another minor gripe about Live 9 whilst i’m here – it is 2013 and Live still can’t preview in context (ie. playing midi pattern within track) without having to go to hotswap and doubleclick each sample and load it in… LONG. Maschine can do this easy. If they wan’t to compete they’re gonna have to fix these basics…

  • Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte

    Can you explain in more detail what you meant by this?

    “Quantization and swing also work nicely in conjunction with the new Drum Rack functionality; you can bring up menu-style quantization as you’d find on an MPC. ”

    What do you mean by the new Drum Rack functionality? I can’t find any info on new drum rack functionality in Ableton 9.

    Step sequencing and swing are a big part of my workflow. Can you explain in a little more detail what kind of control over swing you have via the Push?

    Thanks!

  • AtomikA

    A lot of the points you said can’t be done on the push hardware (Groove Quantization in Drum Racks, setting predetermined loop lengths on the push itself) actually can be done of the hardware.

  • Hugh McManners

    I’m going to try using Push also as my live trigger and mixer, with NanoKontrol 2. As a guitarist, I also need to find a foot controller to change clips and scenes. The Pok looks useful… any suggestions or thoughts gratefully received!

    Thanks for your helpful comments.

    I’ll re-read this excellent article again. Great review. Thanks again.