Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3: What is it?
Novation’s Launchkey controller keyboards have been very successful. Now at version 3, it continues to provide a good balance of price and features, and on the bench, we have the new 88-key model.
Novation pitches Launchkey as a DAW-ready device that provides keyboard, keypad and DAW control. It has a pretty decent set of onboard standalone features and, in addition to a USB port for connection and power, there’s a regular MIDI out and sustain pedal input.
It supports the HUI protocol, so you can use it with any suitably-equipped DAW. That said, custom scripting means it integrates best with Ableton Live. It also gets extended support in Cubase 12 via a pre-installed script, and there are user-installable scripts for Logic Pro and Reason.
Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3: Performance and verdict
But first, let’s have a quick look at the physical features. Like most 88-key keyboards the layout differs a bit from the smaller models, with the mod and pitch wheels on the top panel, and the controls spread out a little bit more.
Nevertheless, you’ve still got the Launchkey core feature set of 16 backlit velocity-sensitive pads with selectable polyphonic aftertouch, four Ableton Live navigation pads, eight pots, nine sliders with accompanying buttons, a small LCD display and transport controls.
The keyboard itself combines gloss finish white keys with contrasting satin finish black keys, and the semi-weighted keybed is a different design from the other Launchkeys.
The action is fast and positive, and with no aftertouch, when you hit the keys with medium to hard velocity, you get a welcoming solid thump. In terms of physical noise, there is some inconsistency between keys, but this isn’t particularly obvious.
At over 8kg the keyboard is heavy but manageable by one person, and the overall dimensions are reasonably slimline for an 88-key format.
As mentioned, Launchkey 88 has a regular MIDI output and plenty of onboard features, making it an ideal standalone controller. The most powerful is its arpeggiator, which uses a combination of the keyboard keys and pots to help you sculpt your ideal part.
In strum mode, you can even play through your arp using the mod wheel. The 2x8 pad matrix defaults to regular drum pad mode, but can also be used to trigger loads of predefined chords (scale chord mode), or user-specified chords (user chord mode). Further pad options include CC switches and MIDI program selection.
For the keyboard itself, you can select a specific scale and also specify fixed chords that you trigger from the root note. But beyond this and to actually customise things such as pad colours and behaviours you’ll need Novation’s Components application (download or browser version).
We found using the Launchkey 88 in Ableton Live and Cubase 12 more rewarding than via the HUI protocol in other DAWs. Scripting in Live, you can easily trigger clips and scenes, control devices and navigate around your session.
Meanwhile, scripting in Cubase provides different modes that make use of the main pad bank for track select, record arm, mute and solo, or faders and pots for track volume, pan and sends A and B.
Overall, Launchkey 88 Mk3 is a solid update. It offers a great set of features for the price and is particularly attractive for those using the script-supported DAWs.
MusicRadar verdict: Launchkey 88 is a solid performer that makes a great standalone controller but is best coupled with one of the script-supported DAWs.
Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3: The web says
"Its full-size keys and well-placed rotary encoders and faders make it tactile and enjoyable to use, while the Arpeggiator, Scale and Chord modes make playing sensationally simple and rewarding."
Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3: Hands-on demos
Novation Launchkey 88 Mk3: Specifications
- KEYBOARD: 88-key semi-weighted.
- PADS: 16 backlit velocity sensitive with selectable aftertouch.
- SOFTWARE BUNDLE: Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive and offerings from AAS, Spitfire and Klevgrand.
- SCREEN: LCD 2 x 16 character.
- POWER: via USB or regular USB PSU.
- DIMENSIONS: 1270 x 258 x 87mm.
- WEIGHT: 8.3kg.
- CONTACT: Novation