12 best controllers for Ableton Live

Ableton Live is more fun and feisty when you add a hardware controller, turning the software into more of an instrument. Here are our picks of the best Live controllers available in 2020.

1. Ableton Push 2

Ableton Push 2

Price £529/$799

It’s the de facto controller for Live. Many pick up the Live/Push combo on day one of their musical mission. Push is available bundled with any of the three versions of Live. The truth is that Push does such a thorough job out of the box, you need a clear reason not to use it. There’s zero setup time, and you’re armed to play instruments and launch clips with the pads, and use the knobs to tweak instrument and effect parameters.

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We said: “This is a whole new, enjoyable experience and it’s something that we are far more likely to use for composition. Push integrates with the updated Simpler instrument to create more of a hardware-sampling experience; from Push itself, you can browse and load samples into Simpler and view and interact with the waveforms.”

Read the full review here.

2. Akai Professional Force

Akai Pro Force Controller

Price £849/$999

The Akai Force is a standalone sampling/synth/sequencer that does double-duty as a Push-style Live controller, putting the pads, knobs and touchscreen to good use; it’ll export projects as Live-friendly .als files, and built-in wifi allows Ableton Link support. It can be used in standalone mode when needed, integrated with Live when required, and acts as your audio interface, too. This is the choice for anybody who ever wished for Live functionality both with and without the laptop.

We said: “The Force is so enjoyable to use – I’d happily put it to work for song sketching, sampling, jamming and live sets. It’s a great prospect for anybody interested in creating or performing using music hardware. Even if you’re a software diehard, this is another way to think about presenting live music, especially if you experience the occasional option paralysis that comes bundled free with every DAW.”

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Read the full review here.

3. Editors Keys Ableton Live Wireless Keyboard

Ableton Live Keyboard

Price £84.99/$113

This offers computer-keyboard shortcuts on steroids, with a Mac/PC keyboard featuring colour-coded keys (printed, not stickers), with text and icons, to keep your workflow fast and organised. This keyboard will give your studio that ‘serious pro’ vibe – it boasts a modern and sleek aesthetic. There’s also a wired, backlit, version, for the night-time studio vampires among us. Those who are already exceptionally well-versed in Live may not require such a device, but it’s great for getting familiar with keyboard shortcuts that will save you time in menu-diving and mouse clicking.

We said: “These keyboards don’t do anything special in terms of interacting with the software – you still need to use cmd, ctrl, alt, or whatever, to execute the commands – it’s all about the labelling. There’s a lot of visual feedback. Each key has an icon and a text label on a coloured background, and the colours are grouped according to the type of function they represent, which is a good idea”.

Read the full review here

4. Novation SL MkIII

Novation SL MkIII

Price £499/$599

This might be the best Live keyboard controller around at the moment, with an onboard eight-track sequencer, semi-weighted keys, aftertouch, and additional visual feedback from on-key RGB LEDs. Throw in faders, pads, CV and an arpeggiator, and it has you covered for most of your Ableton Live needs. However, it’ll also function as a very capable hub for your hardware rig, which is a real bonus. Available in 49 and 61 varieties.

We said: “Way back when I heard about SL MkIII, I thought I’d focus on the software-control side of it, as that is really where previous models in the SL range were focused, particularly with that AutoMap technology. However, what really comes out of this test is that SL MkIII is more about the hardware; well, more about your studio. Those Templates really do make controlling, sequencing and automating your studio a breeze.”

Read the full review here.

5. Zerodebug TouchAble Pro

Zerodebug touchAble Pro

Price £28

Available on Android and iOS, TouchAble is an easy-to-use control app that is designed specifically for Live. You can make mixer adjustments, manipulate effects and parameters, launch clips and scenes, write MIDI notes into the piano roll and much more. TouchAble does a stellar job at putting the full functionality of Live right at your fingertips.

We said: “TouchAble Pro is easy to configure, fast to use, and engages with the software like nothing else. Also, it doesn’t exclude the use of hardware controllers alongside it, such as Push or APC40, or whatever else you have. The Device control is outstanding, and the ability to view two modules together is the icing on the cake. It’s not truly tactile, and using a glass surface for a controller isn’t for everybody, but other than that, I have no quibbles about this at all. This app is the reason I have an iPad Pro.”

Read the full review here.

6. Deadmau5’s OSC/Pilot

osc pilot
Image: OSC/Pilot

Price $50

In the last decade, deadmau5 has been continuously pushing for new ways to make his live show a memorable experience. Although most audiences will see his extravagant light setup – The Cube – as the main achievement in his shows, us music producers may be just as impressed with his custom-built performance tool, OSC/Pilot. Newly available to the public as an affordable app, OSC/Pilot is extraordinarily customisable, with a drag-and-drop approach to setting up your own control layout.

You can insert a plethora of multi-faceted MIDI widgets, with 32 workspaces accessible at once for each project. It’s currently only available for Windows tablets, but the mau5 himself has informed us that iOS compatibility is next up on the to-do list. “OSC/Pilot has been in development since October 2013, and I’ve been field testing and using it in shows since that time,” Joel Zimmerman AKA deadmau5 says. “It’s a vital component to our live production, both on stage and front-of-house.”

Find out more here

7. Sensel Morph

Sensel Audio Morph Controller

Price £199/$347

Probably the most unusual controller in this guide is Sensel’s Morph. The innovative device comes with several ‘overlays’ depending on which bundle you buy. Each overlay offers a selection of controls suited to different use cases, such as a Keyboard Overlay, Drum Pad Overlay and Music Production Overlay. You can map these any way you want, but the integration with Live makes this a fantastic choice regardless of the kind of producer you are. The pads are also MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) compatible, which can make for some seriously expressive performances.

We said: “The Morph is a very desirable product that offers the user a tactile experience beyond anything a tablet can offer, but without extending to the full-on hardware controls. The Sensel App makes the experience flexible, with overlays for just about anyone who is sitting in front of a DAW and making music”.

Read the full review here.

8. Novation Launchkey Mini Mk3

Novation MkIII

Price £99/$109.99

This compact, affordable, nifty controller from Novation can instantly make your track-tinkering more enjoyable. The Launchkey Mini takes up minimal real estate on your desk, being only 13 inches wide, and is built with 16 RGB, velocity-sensitive pads to take control of your session, drum racks, mixer and more. It also includes a set of knobs, touch-sensitive mod wheels and some transport controls for tweaking your instruments and effects. The Arp and Fixed Chord modes are great fun, too, providing plenty of options to turn boring parts into intriguing textures.

We said: “Use Live a lot but limited in space? Use Live out and about? If the answer is ‘yes’ to either of these then ‘need’ could well be a word you could use because Launchkey Mini certainly delivers a great control experience for either scenario. We found that after a short time with the (online) manual, we were scooting around Live with aplomb, accessing functions and parameters without having to access our damn computer mouse.”

Read the full review here.

9. Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3

Novation

Price £290/$349

The latest incarnation of Novation’s Launchpad range, which debuted in 2009, the Pro Mk3 still works brilliantly with clips and instruments in Live, but also as a standalone controller for other MIDI gear. However, it’s primarily a Live controller at heart – and a good sturdy mobile one at that. Its four-track sequencer happily lets you record and tap in MIDI notes into Live, with note-length adjustments for individual steps in a sequence of up to 32.

We said: “If you’re on a budget, this is a good option, especially as it includes a copy of Ableton Live 10 Intro. The real kicker comes in the form of its increased connectivity and sequencer. If you want to send MIDI notes and control messages to synths or drum machines, or VJ software, and you like the idea of a feature-loaded step sequencer, this is ideal for you”

Read the full review here.

10. Studiologic SL Mixface

Studio Logic Mixface

Price £149/$249

Sometimes a simple mixer-style MIDI control surface is all you need, and for the price, StudioLogic’s Mixface is the best solution we’ve seen in a while. It features nine long-throw faders, eight of which feature a pot control at the top, and a mappable button at the bottom. The Mixface features a DAW mode with an Ableton Live preset for swift integration, with the transport control on the right-hand side of the controller providing ample control over your session.

We said “Studiologic has come up with a great little product here which could easily enhance the user experience for many DAW users in a number of areas. The ability to control certain software instruments in real-time to provide layers of expression and interest is a very tempting prospect. The Mixface is a beautifully adaptable controller, and if you find that DAW control is not what you need, we bet you’ll find plenty of other possibilities for use, and having a decent bank of faders to hand can be very useful”

Read the full review here.

11. PreSonus Atom SQ

Presonus Atom SQ
Image: PreSonus

Price £250/$249.95

Atom SQ offers deep integration with both Studio One and Ableton Live, which is ideal for those wielding a double-DAW setup. It offers a pleasing amount of MIDI features like an arpeggiator, scale mode, and different layouts for the 32 pads. You can set the velocity-sensitive pads to represent a keyboard spanning three octaves; a trigger for sampling devices like Drum Rack; as transport controls for Live and much more. When playing an instrument with the pads, you can also deploy aftertouch for further expressivity.

The controller lets you navigate your Live projects with ease using arrow controls, endless rotary encoders and a context-sensitive display for keeping track of your instruments and channels. Atom SQ also recognises when you’re working in Session View and Arrangement View, switching up its layout accordingly.

Find out more here

12. Akai APC40 MkII

Akai APC40 MkII

Price £259/$299

The original APC40 was one of the first Live controllers on sale, and it’s still going strong. The MkII iteration keeps it fresh and relevant, as long as you don’t need to play pads – these are clip-launchers only. The clip-launch buttons do a decent job of reflecting your onscreen clip colours and it remains a relatively mobile package.

We said “This is a good example of a follow-up release outdoing the original, as it answers most of the first incarnation’s gripes. It’s a very well-thought-out controller – the mkII is a welcome update [to the original].”

Read the full review here.

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