Last year saw Novation overhaul its flagship controller keyboards with an excellent Mk3 update for the SL line. Now the UK brand is turning its attention to the other end of its controller range, with a refined version of the ultra-compact Launchkey Mini.
As with its predecessors, the Mini is a combined keyboard and pad device designed for plug-and-play use primarily with Ableton Live. The hardware is very compact and neat, with a width around the size of an average laptop and lightweight feel meaning you could easily chuck it into a bag and barely notice it. Size aside, though, the Launchkey Mini feels fairly rugged and the layout design doesn’t feel too cramped.
Novation has updated the 25-note mini keyboard itself, and the result is one of the nicest sets of keys we’ve tried on a controller this size. The pitch and mod strips sitting to the top left are a nice touch for a device of this size, too.
The bank of 16 velocity-sensitive pads is equally well-placed, offering plenty of room to tap out drum patterns across the Mini’s compact interface. The one hardware element that does feel a little pokey is the set of rotaries along the top edge – they are a little fiddly, although not problematically so.
The Launchkey Mini is built mainly with Ableton Live use in mind, offering plug-and-play control over a good selection of the DAW’s features. This includes the ability to play Drum Racks using the pads, tweak device parameters with the rotaries, launch Clips and Scenes and adjust mixer parameters.
There’s solid integration with other DAWs, too, including Reason and Logic, and Novation’s browser-based Components system makes it easy to configure the device’s MIDI messages.
Two of the Launchkey Mini’s best features come from the hardware itself: the onboard arp and fixed chord modes. The former has multiple modes, timing divisions, rhythmic patterns and a four-octave range. There’s also a Mutate mode than can auto-generate variations.
Fixed Chord, meanwhile, lets users define chord shapes and then trigger them up and down the keyboard.
There’s a MIDI output port, too, which enables the Launchkey Mini to operate in standalone mode for use with hardware, with the arp and chord modes available. Sadly, this requires an adapter that doesn’t come in the box and, due to a change in format to adhere to a new industry standard, existing Novation adapters for Launchpad Pro or Circuit synths are not compatible.
This aside, the Launchkey Mini is an excellent compact controller, whether it's used with Ableton Live or not. A tidy free plugin bundle sweetens the deal for beginner producers, while more experienced users will appreciate this as a great tool for production on the go.