Novation's recent overhaul of its flagship controller keyboards introduced an excellent Mk3 update for the SL line, and now the ultra-compact Launchkey Mini is getting the same treatment.
Like its predecessors, the Mini is a combined keyboard and pad device that is designed primarily for plug-and-play use with Ableton Live. The size is manageable and the design very tidy. Altogether it is about the size of an average laptop in width, and its lightweight build allows you to throw it into a bag and barely notice it.
Despite the Launchkey Mini's size, it feels fairly rugged, with the layout design never feeling too cramped.
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Novation has updated the 25-note mini keyboard with one of nicest sets of keys we’ve tried on a controller this size. The pitch and mod strips are positioned on the top left of the device.
Offering plenty of room to tap out drum patterns across the Mini’s compact interface, the bank of 16 velocity-sensitive pads is equally well-placed.
The only element of the hardware that does feel pokey is the set of rotaries aligned across the the top edge – it's a little fiddly adjusting them, but not overly so.
Built with Ableton Live use in mind, the the Launchkey Mini offers plug-and-play control over a wide selection of the DAW’s features. You can play Drum Racks using the pads, tweak the rotaries to adjust parameters, launch Clips and Scenes and adjust mixer parameters.
The integration with other DAWs is impressive, too. It'll partner well with Reason and Logic, while Novation’s browser-based Components system makes light work of configuring the device’s MIDI messages.
Two highlights of the Launchkey Mini are the onboard arp and fixed chord modes. The arp has multiple modes, rhythmic patterns, timing divisions and a four-octave range. Put it in Mutate mode and it'll auto-generate variations.
Users can define chord shapes and then trigger them up and down the keyboard using Fixed Chord.
We've got a MIDI output port here, too, enabling the Launchkey Mini to operate in standalone mode for use with hardware, with the arp and chord modes available.
Unfortunately, this requires an adapter that is sold separately, and due to a change in format to adhere to new industry standards, existing Novation adapters for Launchpad Pro or Circuit synths will not be compatible.
Whether it's used with Ableton Live or not, the Launchkey Mini is an excellent compact controller. There's even a free plugin bundle to sweeten the deal for beginners, but even experienced users will appreciate this as a great tool for production on the go.
MusicRadar verdict: The Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3 is a small but perfectly formed MIDI controller that works great with or without Ableton Live.