Review: Novation Launch Control XL

    MIDI controllers are an obsession for a lot of us. As sometimes the sole physical component of a performance setup, it’s hard to ever feel totally settled on a single device. For many years I was a die-hard fan of the Korg NanoKontrol as my go-to MIDI device. It fit a perfect combination of “toss-it-in-your-backpack” size, usefulness, no musical affiliations, and affordable enough to mistreat it and buy a new one next year. I still keep one around, but over the past year I had been looking for something a little more substantial to travel with. I have a hard time giving up on a familiar solution, but I get a little tired of showing up to a visuals gig and having the LD snicker at my tiny sliders.
    I first spotted the Launch Control XL when I was doing a visuals night with my co-worker Tom Hall. He was using one to run his DJ set. It struck me immediately as a good solution for what I was after. With 8 nicely sized sliders and 24 knobs above, it was clear that it could take over all the controls I needed from my NanoKontrol while only needing to reprogram a couple of things in my patch. The way the knobs are laid out in triple rows recalls my long-gone days with my old UC-33e, and lends itself nicely to things like RGB or HSL controls, leaving the sliders to do more expressive gestures. The editor app is pretty simple to work with, and it was a short time to having a completely custom template that matched my previous controller mappings. The addition of backlit, multicolored buttons along the bottom of the Launch Control immediately found use as indicators for different sections of a performance, to cue new presets, and to activate different features of my patch. Lighting up the buttons is just a matter of sending MIDI note messages back to the Launch Control and using special values to set the color. You’ll want to download the Programmers Reference from Novation for reference.
    If you want to jump in right out of the box, check out a user-submitted Toolbox entry from HAZEN that provides a complete Max controller mapping.
    Besides all the available controls, this thing looks pretty good lit up and sitting next to my laptop at the show. The all-rubber bottom keeps the thing sitting steady on the table (a real problem with the NanoKontrol). It also pairs nicely with the Novation Launchpad for jobs that require more light-up buttons. The low-profile design also makes it fit nicely into my backpack - which is ultimately the deciding factor on whether a piece of gear will get regular use in my life.

    • Oct 04 2016 | 11:01 pm
      This looks great - thanks for the pointer, Andrew.
      Good to hear that I'm not the only person around here who checks out the stage setups for controllers I don't recognize, and then watches like a hawk while someone performs with it....
    • Oct 05 2016 | 5:46 pm
      This is awesome. I have the Akai MIDIMix which is almost the same but 2/3 the price! $80-100 new on ebay
    • Oct 05 2016 | 8:37 pm
      I'll second this – I saw a Monolake surround show in the spring, and spotted Robert Henke doing the whole show with not one, not two, not three, but 4 of these controllers strung together. That guy's a wizard. Here's my sneak shot of the controllers, sorry for the blurriness.
    • Oct 05 2016 | 9:28 pm
      Has anyone had success controlling the color of the LEDs for the top row of knobs from within Max? Sending the corresponding Midi CC Data from a knob to a ctlout doesn't appear to be working for me but maybe i'm fudging it up!
    • Oct 07 2016 | 1:36 am
      Have you checked the Programmers guide for the controller? Plenty of details there
    • Jan 10 2017 | 1:37 am
      For anyone interested, I documented the Launch Control XL's LED Midivalues. The patch below should serve as a rough guideline.
    • Aug 02 2022 | 11:17 pm
      6 years later, you totally convinced me for buying a couple here for my new live performance.
    • Aug 05 2022 | 2:21 pm
      Novation's stuff is the bomb! They have the simplest straightforward midi implementation. I use pairs of launchpads and rotate one so that I get a bank of 16 x 8 with a right and left side row and a bottom row. If could happily work with only keysteps and launchpads if you made me. :-)