We’ve seen plenty of pint-sized keyboards about lately, especially as people more frequently play and produce on the go with laptops and tablets. What we haven’t seen is much in the ultra-portable end of the spectrum that combines drum/trigger pads with knobs with keys – something KORG’s microKONTROL did once, before it was discontinued. (More recently, that has included the Akai MPK Mini and, below, Arturia Minilab.)

The Launchkey Mini, introduced today, promises to fill a niche. Available worldwide later this month, you get a nicely-straightforward complement of playable controls. And hopefully, this includes more flexible pads (now with LEDs) and key action than on the Akai and Arturia options (we’ll know more once we test):

  • 25 notes (mini keys)
  • 16 velocity-sensitive, three-color launch pads (those colors match triggering in both Novation’s iOS software and Ableton Live – or your own tools, with some customization)
  • Eight knobs
  • Seven function buttons
  • Two performance buttons
  • For desktop computers, bundled V-Station and Bass Station synths (a bit long in the tooth, but versatile and nice-sounding), plus Ableton Live Lite, plus soundware
  • For iOS, Launchpad and Launchkey apps (which could be the basis of an all-in-one iOS solution … or you can choose to use your own favorite iOS apps, instead)


The extra controls are kind of interesting in that they could be used in a clever template to switch between additional functions.

For the iPad, as usual, you’ll need the Camera Connection Kit so you can connect a USB cable to the machine. Of course, the iPad isn’t the only tablet game in town – you could also use a Windows 8 tablet, which gets more interesting with introductions like today’s announcement of an Image Line tool just for Windows 8 touch, a story Synthtopia picks up (more on that on CDM soon).

And because Launchkey Mini is USB class-compliant, it will work not only with the iPad, but also with Linux solutions. This could make a nice companion to Renoise on Linux, something like Bitwig Studio (once it ships), or even a lunchbox-sized solution with the Raspberry Pi. (And yes, if an intrepid CDM reader makes that happen, let us know.)

Product info:

Here’s what it looks like if you’re playing a live set on a London rooftop (and taxi, and park…):



Some definite competition, as suggested in comments, is the Arturia Minilab. Upsides: you get modulation and pitch control, plus an extraordinary selection of models of analog classics – far more sound possibilities than you get from Novation, by an order of magnitude. And it has USB class compliance so will work with iOS, though I’m uncertain how much power it draws, and there aren’t any iOS apps. Downsides: you get only eight pads (albeit with two banks), so for some people who rely on the 4×4 APC-style layout, it may not appeal. And, crucially for some applications, the Arturia lacks LEDs. I’m curious to try feel of each. (For tips on tweaking the controls on Minilab for other software, read this useful discussion on Arturia’s support forum.)

Keyboard has a superb video review with Steve Fortner:

  • Joshua Schnable

    Peter, did you notice in the video that the launchpad looks different? If you bump it up to 1080p, you can see it has an orange base, and no bevel on the top panel.

    Curious as to what that is – if it’s just a demo product, or what.

    • Peter Kirn

      I think it’s just a Launchpad S, which does look a bit different than the Launchpad, but not sure?

    • schuster_d

      too small for a launchpad. The pads on the lauchkey have lauchpad size. Just my thoughts…

    • hypnosapien

      The overhead view on the stairs at 1080p makes me think it’s a launchpad mini. The label in the lower right says launchpad followed by a rectangle, presumably with lettering in it. It’s likely not an ‘s’, as it’s too wide. Maybe another new
      announcement soon?

    • renderful

      Whatever it is, I hope it also has the velocity sensitive Launchpads that are only currently available on this Launchkey!

    • hypnosapien

      Yep, the Launchkey Mini says “mini” in a little white rectangle. Definitely a Launchpad Mini in the video. Let’s hope for velocity sensitive pads…

    • hypnosapien

      Compare the product names printed on the two devices. Okay, I’m done now.

    • hypnosapien

      Crap, meant to attach this pic…

    • hypnosapien

      Argh. Never mind…

    • schuster_d

      Thats what I try to say. Thats no current existing launchpad. My bet is a Launchpad mini, too.

    • leow

      There are a number of differences from the Launchpad and Launchpad S. The differences are clearest in the stairs video and cafe video:
      It doesn’t have the various text and arrows above/next to the round buttons – it looks like it might be just the numbers 1-8??
      The logo in the top right corner doesn’t appear to be the Ableton logo. It looks like something else inside a white square.
      As mentioned by hypnosapien, the Launchpad logo in the bottom right is different – orange text followed by white text, followed by something in a white rectangle.
      As already mentioned, no bevel, plus the orange base and handle cut-out similar to the Launchkeys.

    • krellmusician

      Look again at the pictures accompanying the article; the unit has an orange base just barely visible on the sides and bottom.

    • Peter Kirn

      Ah, you’re right. Maybe the Launchpad S is getting a slight restyle.

  • Kris Keyser

    This looks great! To clarify, can this be powered by the iPad itself through the camera connection kit?

    • Peter Kirn

      Yeah, appears that way; I can double-check, but should be possible.

  • Charly

    Great little product – Too bad there’s no pitch and modulation touch controls like Arturia’s MiniLab…

    • Peter Kirn

      Good point – actually, do you know if the Arturia can do bus power on the iPad?

      Added this thought and some other notes above.

    • Andy Cartridge

      shame they didnt fit a touchstrip on there like they have got on other products… that could be switchable between pitchbend or modulation… save it for V2 i guess :)

  • Andy Cartridge

    that looks like a really nice little controller for taking out and about… especially with iOS devices….

    deffo in the UK and not NYC in that video – but still – not sure about using it in the park though! and with the macbook too! haha ROB ME

    • Peter Kirn

      Ha! And I was only there but a few *hours* ago. 😉 Uh… yes. Fixed.

  • shelfindex

    the ultra-portable end of the spectrum that combines drum/trigger pads with knobs with keys —let’s not forget the AKAI MPK mini

    • Peter Kirn

      Yeah, absolutely – realized I should be explicit in the lead. (I’ve got an MPK mini, actually.)

      I hope the key action on this is a bit closer to a conventional synth action, though; the AKAI and Arturia are a bit stiff for my tastes.

    • Bruno Afonso

      Definitely! I could use something nicer than the MPK Mini. I also don’t love the pads… tempted to swap it for this if the action is better.

  • MrBim

    could have used different tunes for the different locations. i was getting bored of it by the end.

  • Aaron
  • Rocketpilot

    Does the Launchkey Mini (or any of the other Launchkeys, for that matter) have aftertouch?

    • Rocketpilot

      I looked around, and .. nope. Seems like the only reasonably priced small keyboard controller that does is the QuNexus.

  • pablopiccolo

    can hardware producers that claim they support ios start adding the appropriate connectors please? yes i am ridiculous and want to use my iphone 😛

    or maybe Apple add CCK support for next ios? Yeah right. Ok back to irig keys then …

    • pablopiccolo

      it looks so nice though damn! :/

  • IanRaWdriguez

    Thought this was worth sharing..
    Apparently Novation announced a new MIDI controller today called the Launch Control..

  • George Babanski

    what the point? match better is impulse mini with interacrive arpeggio and endless knobs

  • Prinsipe Aeron

    Just a noob suggestion, I think it’s a bit better if it could save samples so we can use it as a stand alone synthesizer.I know it’s just a controller but would it be nicer if we can use it like that?