Being a music producer, I love to see when some of the music technology giants, such as Novation, bring classic or even new synthesisers and other cool tech into an app form, such as the LaunchPad — a variety of Korg synthesisers — and this, the Novation LaunchKey.
LaunchKey is a fully-featured synthesiser that has been condensed into an app with some really awesome features and functionality. The app includes 80 preset adjustable sounds for you to play around with and modify to your hearts content. Can the app do justice to its hardware counterpart? Let’s take a look.
LaunchKey comes with a relatively simple navigation, which is a plus for beginners who aren’t used to the more complex parameters of a synthesiser. When you open the app for the first time, you will see that it opens on a help screen to show you the locations of its various functions, which I found incredibly useful.
You can choose from any of the preset sounds to start off with which are organised into categories such as bass, lead, arpeggiated, and so on. This provides a great starting point for creating your own unique sounds. You can adjust key synth parameters such as filter cutoff and the reverb intensity by turning the knobs on the screen just above the keys.
Another way to modify synth parameters is to move the orange circle on the main display between the retro-looking icons that each have their own unique sound through a specific combination of parameters. This is great for someone who doesn’t have an extensive knowledge of musical parameters, meaning they can modify the sound by ear without knowing exactly what they are changing.
The app also features a built-in arpeggiator, toggled on or off by pressing the Play button on the Arp menu on the right of the keys. You can also have this arpeggio loop while you change the sound by toggling the loop key next to the Play icon. These arpeggios are built up depending on how many notes you play simultaneously, which adds these notes to the arpeggio pattern.
Novation have made the LaunchKey app fully compatible with their own app, LaunchPad, that mimics the hardware with the same name, although the app comes with a selection of preset sounds for the pads instead of programming your own, perfect for beginners.
How the apps work together is as follows. Whilst you play a selection of pads on LaunchPad, you can swipe over to LaunchKey and riff over the top of what you have playing, and it only takes another swipe back to change the song again by modifying pads.
If you have an arp still playing, that will also carry over when you play with LaunchPad.
If you are lucky enough to have the LaunchKey hardware as well, then this is also compatible with the app. You can control the functions on the keyboard from the app (and vice versa), which is handy due to the graphical display on the iPad not featured with the keyboard.
Whilst the synthesiser is somewhat limited in terms of parameter control (no ADSR or the ability to start a sound from scratch), there is still a lot of functionality in the app. The addition of an interactive, almost graphical approach to the modification of sound is a great tool for beginners to investigate how and why sound changes due to certain parameters, or just to mess around a bit. I find this synthesiser works better for live performances as opposed to recording, however, feel free to use it either way.
The preset bank is rich and diverse; I found that I could use most of the presets as starting points for creating songs or certain sounds. The way the sounds evolve when you drag the orange rotating icon on the screen is something that I think has been extremely useful for live performances, as it allows you to modify multiple parameters with one gesture. In a future iteration of the app, perhaps they will include the ability to modify what parameters have changed, something me personally (and I’m sure many others) would benefit from, allowing you to drag between your own personal sounds.
The design of the synthesiser is fairly straightforward; everything is easily accessible, and the help screen displayed at the start makes a note of where every feature is kept, which was very useful. It looks clean, crisp and fit for purpose. Perhaps one thing I would change would be to increase (or give the option to) the size of the keys, as it did get quite difficult to reach higher notes, or even smoothly transpose between closer together keys.
As far as synthesisers go, LaunchKey is a fair contender for the top spot. Whilst it doesn’t have as much modification potential as some of the Korg counterparts, it’s definitely great fun, especially if you are more of a music enthusiast than a music producer. Novation’s app offers an easily accessible way to delve into the world of modern synthesisers without all the musical jargon that will confuse or even put off beginners, and for that reason alone, it scores high in my books. It has an introductory price of free, so get it while you can!