Best Ableton Live Controllers for Production and Performance

In the past decade, Ableton Live has transformed from the software of choice for electronic music-makers and DJs into the default means of production and performance for a massive array of genres and styles. Ableton's surging popularity is largely due to its flexibility via its arrangement and session views, and to really take advantage of these offerings, you’re going to need a reliable MIDI Pad controller. These devices allow you to trigger various sounds and parts, sequence beats, and do just about anything else you can imagine with the push of a colorful pad or slide of a fader.

There are two kinds of controllers to consider when working with Ableton. The first are more traditional MIDI controllers with drum pads and a keyboard for control of both the arrangement and session views. The second kind, grid-based controllers, are designed specifically to function in session view, with each pad on the grid visually lining up with a sample or sound that can be triggered. Take a look at our list of the five best Ableton Live controllers you can grab that’ll make playing and producing a breeze.


Ableton Push

Since Push is actually made by Ableton for Ableton, it stands to reason this would be our top choice MIDI controller for the DAW. Both the Push and the Push 2, which was released this past autumn, are designed to maximize your control over the program and let you dive deep into the intricacies of what Ableton Live has to offer.

Although it might be daunting at first due to a considerable learning curve, beginners can start making beats with the Push in minutes and wade into the minutiae of the program as they learn more about the controller.

There are some considerable differences between the original Push and the Push 2, like a larger, higher-res RGB screen and additional pad controls that offer a more touch-sensitive response. However, the biggest discrepancy is price; the newest Push controllers sell for around $700 to $800, while the older version can be had for under $300.

If 64 assignable velocity- and touch-sensitive pads are enough for you, and you want the depth of control without emptying out your bank account, look at the original Push. If you know you’re going to be using Ableton Live for all of your music making, plan on learning the program inside and out, and want to make an investment, bite the bullet and drop some cash on the Push 2—it’ll be worth it.

Great for: musicians who use Ableton Live as their primary DAW, and who consequently want complete, deep, and streamlined control over the program to squeeze every possible functionality out of it.


Novation Launchpad

If you’re working primarily in session view and don’t want to spend buckets of dough on the Push, the Novation Launchpad mkII is your next best bet. For a fraction of the price and with a much less complicated layout, the Launchpad is an easy introduction to grid-based controllers. This compact little controller packs 64 non-velocity sensitive pads into its minimalistic interface, which are perfect for programming drums, launching clips, and even mixing.

Perhaps the best thing about the Launchpad, however, besides its price point and portability, is its versatility. It can be a perfect companion to other controllers and gear in your rig, and can also be used with any other music software as a generic MIDI controller—you can even use it with an iPad.

Great for: those who want a simpler, more affordable entry into the world of Ableton Live, or who want a more portable option that will beef up a rig.


Akai APC40 MKII

Another great entry to the grid-based controller lineup is the Akai APC40 MKII. As soon as you plug this one in, it auto-maps to Ableton Live, giving you that out-of-the-box ease that’ll help you learn your way around the program sooner rather than later. The APC40 boasts, as the name implies, 40 colorful RGB-lit clip-launching pads plus nine faders and a bank of eight encoders, each of which is assignable to give you customized and complete control over your workflow.

An included Sends button gives you the ability to cycle through all eight send buses without even clicking a mouse, and the assignable A/B crossfader allows for rapid and spontaneous mixing. For those who’ve had positive experiences with the original APC40, just imagine that but tenfold. More streamlined, more compact, more visually appealing, and best of all, more functional, the APC40 MKII is all that and a bag of chips for those who love to work in session view.

Great for: users who want extended functionality above and beyond that of the Launchpad, like onboard faders and knobs, for a sweet price.


M-Audio Oxygen 25 MKIV

Now enters a more traditional type of MIDI controller: the standard keys-and-pads type. As the most affordable member of this list, the M-Audio Oxygen 25 MKIV is perfect if you’re looking for something inexpensive just to get the basics of Ableton Live under your belt. As it isn’t configured for directly interfacing with Ableton’s session view, you can use it just as well, if not better, with the more standard arrangement view.

The Oxygen 25 MKIV is a tiny controller, capable of being slipped into a bag or backpack for some on-the-go beat-making or keeping on your desk without eating up a lot of space. 25 keys, eight velocity-sensitive pads that work equally well to trigger samples and to tap out drum lines, and eight assignable knobs make up the meat of this MIDI controller, along with a few extra goodies like the dedicated transport controls. Best of all, although the Oxygen 25 MKIV is perfectly suited to Ableton Live, you can use it with virtually any DAW to equally great effect.

Great for: newer Ableton Live users who want to learn the basics of the program without committing to dropping a ton of cash on a controller.


Akai MPK49

Another choice selection from Akai, the MPK49 is a well-equipped traditional MIDI controller with virtually everything you could need, both for Ableton Live or any other DAW you choose to work with. Built off the backbone of a 49-key keyboard, the MPK49 offers a buffet of useful features, from eight full-sized sliders and pots to 12 touch-sensitive MPC pads to an MPC note repeater and arpeggiator.

Although it’s a little on the larger side, the MPK49 is perfect for any desk rig and will give you all the assignable functionality you need to interface with Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper, or other programs. For the price, it’s harder to find a more feature-heavy MIDI controller than the MPK49.

Great for: more advanced users who want to jam-pack as many features into their MIDI controller as possible like keys, pads, pots, and faders.


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