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Want to perk up your performance? Here are 6 of the best live software controllers

Best live software control
(Image credit: Zerodebug)

MIDI control surfaces are vital for bringing your electronic music out of the screen and into the performance-sphere. No one wants to watch a musician staring at their laptop, and it's not much fun to perform that way either, so a decent MIDI controller can work wonders for your tracks in the live environment.

Presonus Atom

(Image credit: Presonus)

Specifications
Price: $135/£120/€138
Key features: MIDI pad controller for use with Ableton Live, w/ 64 RGB pressure/velocity-sensitive pads, Ableton Live Lite plus additional virtual instruments and plug-ins, Chord and Scales mode, Custom modes, standalone sequencer.
I/O: USB C, 2x MIDI Out, MIDI In
Reasons to buy
+Compact+Expressive control+Works well with Studio One and Live
Reasons to avoid
-Experienced performers might find it too basic

Geared towards Studio One’s new live performance options, but equally as comfortable as a Live controller. 

The mighty Atom is a compact, USB-powered pad controller, that lets you make quick choices on the fly, and build detailed, layered live arrangements. Its velocity and pressure-sensitive pads add natural musical expression, too.

Zerodebug touchAble Pro

(Image credit: Zerodebug)

Zerodebug touchAble Pro

Specifications
Price: $31/£21/€27
OS: Mac, Windows, IOS and Android
Reasons to buy
+Hugely customisable+Loads of pre-designed templates+Cost-effective (if you have a tablet)
Reasons to avoid
-You lose some benefits of a physical controller with a touch screen

Take things to an ultra-modern level with a Live-controller on your mobile or tablet. 

The app is hugely customisable, allowing you to sculpt your interface to only control the parameters that you need, or you can choose from 60 predesigned templates. A show with your telephone? Alexander Graham Bell would be astonished.

Arturia KeyLab 49 MK II

(Image credit: Arturia)

Specifications
Price: £375/€469/$499
Key features: 49 keys, 16 backlit pads, nine faders and nine rotary knobs,
IO: expression, sustain, CV/Gate, MIDI, USB and 3 assignable auxiliary pedal inputs
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy build quality+Offers keys and pad control+Lots of inputs
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

Enhancing the studio and the stage, the KeyLab series is a robust, well-built keyboard with 16 performance pads that allow sample and beat triggering. 

It’s got inputs aplenty, while its DAW-controlling chops are impressive, meaning you can leave the laptop hidden from view, as you rock the ‘board like Jean-Michel Jarre.

Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3 

(Image credit: Novation)

Specifications
Price: $350/£300/€335
Key features: 64 RGB pressure/velocity-sensitive pads, Ableton Live Lite plus additional virtual instruments and plug-ins, Chord and Scales mode, Custom modes, standalone sequencer
IO: USB C, 2x MIDI Out, MIDI In
Reasons to buy
+Great standalone sequencer option+Comprehensive Live control+Sleek hardware with great-feeling pads
Reasons to avoid
-Navigation can be complex without a screen

Novation rule the roost when it comes to pad controllers, and the latest iteration of the Pro seals the deal with impressive new features including a more streamlined build, bigger pads and an in-built step sequencer, not to mention better control of Ableton Live (and any other DAW, for that matter). The pads are colourful and it looks cool as hell.

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25

(Image credit: M-Audio)

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25

Specifications
Price: $200/£150/€179
Key features: 16 RGB, backlit, assignable, velocity-sensitive pads, eight assignable knobs & buttons, nine assignable faders
IO: 1/4” sustain pedal input, USB-MIDI connection and 5-pin MIDI Output for controlling external MIDI gear
Reasons to buy
+Great integration with leading DAWs+Smart Chord and Smart Scale modes+Good fun
Reasons to avoid
-Keyboard feels a touch ‘light’ to play

Commanding DAWs via 25 automatically mapped controls, as well as performance enhancing (read cheating!) abilities such as Smart Chord and Smart Scale, the latter of which restrains you to a selected scale. 

The Oxygen Pro is simply designed to make you sound good. Its in-built arpeggiator is another fun addition.

Ableton Push 2

(Image credit: Ableton)

Specifications
Price: $799/£499/€699
Key features: 17cm touch strip for pitch bend/scrolling, 31 LEDs for navigation, 64 Backlit pads, 8 Touch-sensitive rotary knobs
IO: Two pedal inputs, USB
Reasons to buy
+Awesome build quality+First-class pads+Beautiful, effective screen
Reasons to avoid
-No Arrangement View editing-Price

If you use Ableton Live, the obvious choice of controller is Ableton’s own. The widely used Push 2 is literally a hardware extension of the software, with a high-res display to keep you visually clued in as you pound the expressive pads. 

Sample slice, bring in third-party plugins and improvise with new musical elements till your heart’s content. A solid choice.

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