Novation’s Launchpad may have begun its life focused mainly on controlling Ableton Live. But a new update, while not radically different from the original, is more flexible, working with more software and more operating systems – including the iPad. It’s also brighter and refreshes faster than the original.

Updated – for a newer Launchpad, check out our hands-on guide to the Launchpad Pro.

The Launchpad S is, generally speaking, still a Novation Launchpad. It has the same complement of controls, and unlike some recent hardware, it lacks features like velocity sensitivity and full-color RGB LEDs. This is still just a basic, tri-color 8×8 array grid controller with some extra controls. But like the original, that also means it’s about the cheapest grid controller you can buy, and it’s unusually light and portable.

What that “S” adds in terms of hardware is mainly brighter LEDs – much brighter and more saturated, from the looks of the video – and a “significantly-faster refresh rate” that might appeal to specific programming applications.

The other big change is, while there’s still an Ableton logo (the old one, even) and prominent mention of controlling Live, the Launchpad is no longer tied to specific drivers and software. Class-compliant operation means you can plug it into any Mac, Windows, or Linux machine (hello, Raspberry Pi), as well as, via the USB Camera Connection Kit, an iPad.

I think it’s most interesting what hackers will do that, but Novation is also bundling some extras to get you started. There are new custom software control overlays in the box, including FL Studio. (No word yet on what others may be included.) And there’s a gigabyte of Loopmasters samples, as well.

It seems to me there’s a window of opportunity for Novation here, both in timing and cost. On timing, any mention of Ableton’s much-fancier Push controller has to come with a big caveat: Ableton can’t ship you one, with a backlog stretching into the summer. Novation says the new Launchpad S will be available this month. Add to that the dealer price / suggested retail of US$169.99. We’ve seen some street prices much lower than that.

So, sure, the Launchpad S does less than most of the competition. Significantly, Keith McMillen’s QuNeo controller offers more touch controls and continuous control, plus RGB color, for US$199.

But, if you really just want a grid controller bargain, the Launchpad S is a contender. And it’s worth observing that, for not much more than a Push, you could pick up an inexpensive PC laptop or netbook, install Linux and Renoise, and plug in a Launchpad S for an all-in-one setup (among other solutions). I’m also interested to see what an iPad-plus-Launchpad S rig might look like.

What do you think? Is the Launchpad S – or original Launchpad, which may now be even more impossibly-inexpensive – something you’d consider? Let us know in comments.

Artist Videos

With the new ‘S’, here’s KillTheRobot. There’s an Ableton session to download, too:

And behind the scenes of how he produced this:

  • henri

    information on usb version it uses ? USB1.1 or USB2.0 ?

    • Peter Kirn

      Pretty sure these are USB1.1. For a controller like this, I don’t know that USB2 would have any particular advantage.

    • henri

      it does. you would surprised how slow it is to refresh the full matrix (about .5 sec)

    • newmodernscience

      Peter, you should have a look at this post for some really interesting information on the original LP:

    • newmodernscience

      I should say, it’s a teardown of the original LP, with some really interesting commentary from one of the developers, that speaks to the USB and speed and all that.

    • ibt

      I’d guess/hope it’s 2.0 to hit the “significantly-faster refresh rate” – one of Novations developers (from 2 1/2 years back) details the limitations built in to the olde Launchpad here:

      I combine 2 Launchpads with Molar ( and USB1.1 can’t process all the MIDI messages as quickly as Molar sends them. Lots of latency/bottlenecks etc.

      I’ll be upgrading to the Launchpad S when I have the funds.

  • Joshua Young

    I love my launchpad, and I think brighter lights alone might be a good reason to eventually upgrade. But watching the “how to” video sort of made me laugh. Here I was thinking Novation was adding some true monome magic with a cool new template or something. Hardly! Instead the guy is creating a separate “light show” track! Lol. Who needs all that flexible, intricate OSC mapping stuff?! Fool your gullible friends, who will of course assume that all the blinking lights are actually doing something! 😉 😉

  • Mark

    Didn’t the original work on linux too?

    • empolo

      Yep, with the libusb module but since this new version is class-compliant, there shouldn’t be a need for it anymore, I would guess.

  • James Husted

    I imagine that there is no way to update the firmware in the older version to work easier with other programs than Ableton. It would be great if you could update over USB. You wouldn’t get brighter LEDs or faster response but the flexibility increase would be worth it to me.

  • Evan Bogunia

    I bought my first Launchpad when they came out a few years ago, and use 2 on stage to do all my live sets. I have a slew of M4L patches that expand functionality and some more off the wall mappings, and I think I may upgrade to 2 of these (while waiting for the Push hype to die down). Just a blank slate of buttons holds a lot of flexibility if you get creative with how things work and talk to each other. The faster refresh rate and brighter LEDs are the selling points to me. I have been revamping my old max 5 patches to work with Max 6 and Live 9, and would love to have some brighter and more responsive hardware to program with. although I have been crashing out Live quite often when working on new patches.

  • kot

    It only needs kind of chromatic playing like Push has. And it would be a Push killer.

  • newmodernscience

    Cool. i’m really hoping they fix the button action. I would take lighted Macbook-style typing keys over the old LP buttons. They never depressed quite right. If you got off center from the button, some times you’d get a palpable secondary click as the pad slipped off of a post. This is actually the only thing that remotely bothers me about the Push. The regular grid is glorious, but the utility buttons on the sides feel a little tilt-ey.

    I wish all buttons would feel like monome buttons. I really love the feel of those.

  • Leon Tricker

    Personally I’m really disappointed in Novation. I was hoping that a LP update would bring multi-coloured pads. That would make it worth upgrading for me because I could abandon the screen completely. I don’t need half the stuff Push does, but I guess it’s the only way to get coloured pads.

  • safetydank

    FYI, Raspbian already includes driver support for the original Launchpad – it’s just plug and play.

  • Rocketpilot

    I’d somehow never heard of the QuNeo until this post and.. uh, mouse finger slipped and now one is on its way.

  • ben

    The technical story behind Launchpad S is here:

  • cassiel

    I’d need to check, but I thought the Launchpad 1 was also class-compliant? Sure, Novation insisted on shipping it with their horrific Automap system, but Ableton support at least was direct.

    • ioflow

      not in the slightest — lp1 uses a proprietary serial proto that requires special drivers on all OSes. folks ended up doing a few different kernel and userspace stacks on linux, since novation never provided exact proto specs/docs; most they ever did was a midi guide:

    • cassiel

      OK, thanks for the clarification. I remember doing the AutoMap install and almost immediately ripping it all out again; I didn’t realise there were any device-level drivers in there.

  • Eugen Kinski

    Still no velocity sensitive pads…

    • ibt

      That’ll be the Launchpad V : due in 4 years (?).

    • Tommy Maverick

      I don’t feel like the velocity matters. Most people are gonna use it in a Fixed Velocity situation and you could just have the buttons play notes at different velocities anyway.

  • Samuele Cornell

    ‘ Brighter , Better , Faster , Stronger ‘

  • Pablo Dbdlr

    That’s a really bad update…

  • EATYone

    Need some pads! yeah on iPad

  • Todd Keebs

    It would be great it this were complimented w/ a new, more “premium” version as well (full RGB LED’s, pressure sensitivity, firm buttons, etc). The QuNeo is nice, but even though each of the 4×4 pads can be divided up into 4 corners, that’s just not the same as an 8×8 pad layout.

  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    I love the functionality of the launchpad, especially with software like numerology or max4live monome-clone’s…. If your still not happy with the functionality, stop complaining, and start building your own controllers……

  • Börvi Hireq

    “the Launchpad is no longer tied to specific drivers and software.” it needs drivers, but the original LP works with standard midi note msgs (and notes sent to LP control the leds) so i don’t see how it’s “tied” to any particular software. i originally bought it to use it with pure data.

  • Greg

    On the global Novations page there is a development story of the Launchpad S (search for Launchpad S on the site). It provides interesting information about how faster the S is and also answers the USB question, it should be 2.0+. There is also a light comparison picture where you can see the (quite big) difference.

    I love my Launchpads and I am using them with Renoise and the Lauflicht step sequencer plugin without any speed problems. My secret wish of a new Launchpad was (and still is) a bigger Launchpad 16×16 or 16×8,.. nevertheless for me the most interesting new feature is the brighter lights, it makes absolutely sense when performing live.