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Ableton Live is one of the most widely used DAWs for making and performing music. It’s great used by itself but can be an extremely powerful music production machine when combined with a midi controller.
In this blog post, I’ll take a look at the lastest gear to help you find the best MIDI controller for Ableton live. I’ll consider which are best suited for performance or studio production. Whether you’re looking for a simple and affordable option or something with more features and flexibility, this article’s got you covered.
Best MIDI Controller for Ableton Live
When I was begining to perform live with Ableton I was a little confused which midi controller to buy. I was really unsure which was the best controller for my needs. I found that thinking about exactly what I wanted to use it for really helped. For example, I didn’t want to use it in the studio, it would be specfically for on stage. I realised that on stage I wouldn’t be playing a keyboard, or finger drumming so I could rule out those types of controllers.
I personally wanted to control launching clips and have access to lots of knobs and faders (that would be mapped to effects within Ableton). This really helped me visualise my workflow and slim down my list. After a lot of thought and planning I ended up with the Akai APC 40 mk2 and MIDI fighter twister as the hub of my live performance. This works great for my needs, but maybe much different for you.
I recommend spending a little time thinking about your workflow to make sure you find the right controller for your needs.
Related: The Best Keyboards For Ableton
Table of Contents
AKAI professional APC 40 mk II
My pick – the best Ableton Midi Controller for live performance.
Ok, so I own and use the AKAI APC 40 for my live Ableton performances. So, yeah, I’m biased. I love this midi controller as it does everything I need it too, with no hassle and a decent pricepoint. (Sorry Ableton Push!)
The original APC 40 came out a few years ago and is still a great midi controller. If you’re looking for a budget controller you can find some absolute bargains on eBay. (Around £60!)
The APC 40 mk II improves on the first with years of user feedback. It’s been built specifically for use with Ableton which ensures it maps seemlessly providing great DAW control.
It’s worth noting that this controller is designed for performers who trigger clips and don’t need to play pads. This is perfect for my workflow as I can prepare all my clips before hand, then trigger and mix them live. If you have ambitions to perform your drum parts from this midi controller it aint gonna happen – the Push maybe more appropriate to your needs.
Mixing and launching clips is where the APC 40 excels. There’s 40 pads in a 5 x 8 launch grid which provide visual feedback on the status of each clip. This allows for easy triggering and navigation in a dark club environment. You can easliy arm and mute tracks too – which is really handy if you want to do some live looping.
What I also like is the further control you get over your Ableton session with the nine sliders, crossfader and eight device control knobs. The APC reminds me more of a DJ mixer, allowing you to adjust volume & panning and mix between channels. This functionality allows you to remix and DJ your own tracks live. 🙂
The eight device knobs can be mapped to ANY instrument or rack parameters for more knob twiddling mayhem. This allows you to access FX, sends, and all of Ableton’s charms live on stage to really mangle and remix your music. When I use it I feel like I have a lot of flexibility and control over my set. It’s all laid out neatly too, so there’s no confusion during performances!
The APC 40 mk 2 currently ships with Ableton Live lite, Puremagnetik effect racks and some downloadable sample packs from Prime Loops and Toolroom. You can start playing with these straight out of the box.
I highly recommended this controller for those that want to launch clips, remix & DJ their tracks live.
Designed specifically for Ableton.
Free Software Included
Pricepoint makes it an attractive option too (much cheaper than Push)
Best Midi Controller for those that want to DJ, remix and perform their music.
Not compatible with other DAW software
Only a clip launcher – Can’t play pads.
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Ableton Push 2
Ableton’s very own MIDI controller, desgined by Ableton to be seemlessly integrated into the DAW. This piece of external hardware offers amazing control of Ableton, allowing you to navigate through your production workflow with ease.
The encoders on the Push allow you to adjust any parameter within Abelton. This means you can edit samples, trigger effects, launch clips and mix all from the Push.
The 64 backlit pads allow you to control instrument racks, clips & FX. As well as launching Ableton clips you can also use the pads to play chords, melodies and finger drum. You can set Ableton up to quantise the scale you are playing so that you never play out of key whilst performing live.
The push is a solid piece of kit and slots nicely onto the stage or studio. It’s pretty resilient to being knocked about, but I recommend you get yourself a protective case. This is even more important if you’re perfomring live and are going to be travelling with your Push.
One of the main beauties of an Ableton Midi controller is that once you’ve launched Abelton you don’t have to interact with your computer. This gives making music and performing with Ableton a different feel. It makes ableton feel more like an instrument than a DAW.
If you’re just starting out with Ableton you can get a Push bundled with Ableton Live 11 (Intro/ Standard
Related: The Best Ableton Courses Online
Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3
Novation have been banging out Launchpads since 2009. The first iteration was good (i did have one), now 13 years on the Launchpad has evolved to mk3. All those years of knowledge have been crammed into make the Pro mk3 a decent Live controller.
Primarily focused towards Ableton Live the Pro mk3 works well at controlling instruments and triggering pads within the DAW. It is also a standalone controller worthy of some respect – as well as integrating with other DAWs it can easily send control messages and MIDI to external hardware such as drum machines or synths. These are really valuable features, allowing the Pro Mk3 to be used as the heart of a live performance.
Yaeltex Custom midi controllers
Are you craving a controller that is a little more unique? Something that fits your needs perfectly? Extra knobs to twiddle!? Yaeltex allow you to design your own custom midi controllers via their website, they then build them and send them out to you? If you’re after a certain layout, a specific set of features for your production workflow this is a truly unique approach.
You get to choose the size of controller you want, amount of faders, buttons, encoders, even adding joysticks to the design. Each controller is then housed in a lovely looking handbuilt wooden case. This approach is great but expensive. Check out the website and have a go building your own – this might help you realise what you’re really looking for in a controller.
Yealtex controllers all have a web interface called Kilowatt that allows you to map and configure your device. They do have their own models that have been designed to work with DAWs, the Yealtex Turn being a standout model for Ableton Live.
Building your own hardware is one way you’ll get the best midi controller for yourself. The downside is that it can be expensive and lead times can be a little long.
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Korg NanoKontrol 2
The Nano Kontrol 2 is a simple midi controller that doesn’t try to do anything more than provide you with 8 external channel controls for Ableton. It’s a really intuitive controller perfect for controlling Ableton on stage or producing music in the studio. At its low price point it’s a very accessible starter MIDI controller and pairs well with other devices.
As the name suggests, it’s a little, but it provides a lot of control. It features eight assignable knobs and faders, a dedicated transport controls section and mute, solo and record buttons for each channel. These are all automatically mapped into Ableton, but you can remap all of these to instruments and effect racks if you choose
The Nano also features the Korg Kontrol editor section which allows you to really delve deep into the midi controller and customise it to your needs. You can for example, customise the max and minimum values for each of the knobs to give you greater tactile control.
I really like this controller as it is simple and great for gigging. As it’s USB powered it reduces the need for extra cables and clutter on stage. It’s a simple controller but extremely effective, especially if you just want to control your channel levels in Ableton. Some may find it a little flimsy and prefer a more robust controller for gigging with, but if you velcro this controller to your performance surface it’ll do the trick.
Definitely worth considering if you want a MIDI controller to just control levels.
Pairs well with other controllers
Designed by Ableton for Ableton. Perfect integration.
Lightweight – perfect for gigs
One of the best Midi Controllers for Ableton live
No clips launching
No ability to play instruments
Maybe a little small for some
Related: The Best Keyboards For Ableton
The EC4 is a MIDI controller that offers an unprecedented level of control over your music. The EC4 has 16 push encoders , 7 function buttons and an OLED display. It also features an onboard arpeggiator and step sequencer to provide a wide range of creative possibilities.
The Encoders are switchable to 16 groups which allows control over a whopping 256 control parameters per setup. The current values of all the controls are shown on the display, which can be a little small to see in a live performance setting.
The EC4 gives you a lot of in depth midi control by allowing you to customise the various kinds of MIDI commands you send to Ableton. You can program pitch bend, aftertouch, NRPN, , program changes, and control change in relative and absolute mode (with different acceleration amounts).
This controller is perfect for those that want to control multiple parameters from one device. There will be a significant amount of practice required to become familiar with this controller for live performances. In the studio it can become a workhorse, a midi controller hub capable of controlling DAWs and external hardware synths.
Best midi controller for precision customization and control.
Related: The Best Ableton Courses Online
Dj Tech Tools – Midi Fighter Twister
Midi Fighter Twister is a sophisticated MIDI controller designed primarily for DJs. However, it’s still a great choice for studio work and performing with Ableton Live.
The Midi fighter Twister has sixteen big knobs, with integrated push switches on every knob. The knobs are easy to grip and see on stage, and are all backlit with multi-color LEDS. This is great as it gives you real time feedback as to the position of each parameter you are controlling (great when performing in dark rooms).
Each knob can be set to three varying states; turn, push and second turn. This is a lot different to other knob controllers that just allow control over one parameter at once.
With the Midi fighter the push button doubles the functionality of the button and doubles up the possibility of midi mapping. For example, with the push function you can turn on an effect and then control it with the same knob.
The second turn function allows you to create what Dj Tech tools call a Super knob! A superknob allows you to make any of the knobs send a second CC value at the upper range so you can layer up FXs or other functions.
All the knobs are broken up into four banks which can be accessed by soft function buttons on the side of the controller. This allows you to create custom settings for each knob and allocate them to a bank. I like this functionality for live performances, as you can set different banks for performing different tracks. This allows you to easily switch banks on stage by pressing a button. You can also keep an archive of your saved banks in the dedicated software.
Best midi controller if you are looking for a dedicated bank of knobs.
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Akai Professional Force
Akai Force is a standalone music production workstation that works a synth, sequencer and sampler as well as a midi controller for Ableton. You could make all your music in the Force, but it excels when linked upto Ableton via Ableton link support. Linking the force into Ableton allows you to use the touchscreeen and all the knobs and pads to control your projects in Ableton.
All the music you make within the force can be exported as an Ableton .als project file, so you can integrate with live. This is particularly useful if you want to control Ableton in the studio and then use the Force for performances.
This is a serious piece of kit! Due to it being a standalone music production system it’s one of the most expensive midi controllers listed here. If you’re just want to control Ableton via midi then this would be overkill, its designed to be so much more than that. However, if you want a device that you can work on tracks without a computer and also sync into and control Ableton this could be for you.
Novation Launchkey 25 MK 3
The first midi keyboard controller in the list is the Novation Launchkey 25 mk3. The velocity sensitive, 25 key, two octave keyboard is perfect for smaller studio spaces or throwing in a bag for live performances.
Novation Launchkey features 16 velocity sensitive pads to use as drum pads, launch clips or to control other instruments. There’s touch sensitive pitch and mod wheels, transport controls, and set of 8 knobs for mapping to Ableton instruments and effect racks. Its a solid beginner midi keyboard for those who want to perform parts of their tracks on stage or sketch out melodies in the studio.
The keyboard comes with a chord mode and dedicated arpeggio which can also be sent as midi messages. The arpeggiator is flexible too as it allows you to change rhythm, beat, pattern, octave, and gate.
The chord mode features allow you to play single fingered chords, and set the scale of the keyboard so that you don’t play out of tune. These are handy functions that already exist within Ableton live. But are great features if your making music and want to send midi messages to external synths.
It’s built with Ableton in mind so plugs and plays in the digital audio workstation seemlessly. It also works with other DAWs such as Logic Pro if you require it to. If you are on a budget I think this is the best midi keyboard controller for Ableton available at the moment. Other Midi keyboard controllers will have more features such as larger, weighted keys or more octaves, but to start off making music this is a great midi keyboard controller.
If you are looking to purchase a midi keyboard controller you may want to consider how many keys you are going to want. Most budget midi keyboards come with 2 octaves, which is great for melodies, but limiting for playing 2 handed chords. If you wish to play your keyboard like a piano then you should look at getting 49 keys and above.
A solid option for a larger midi keyboard is the Novation launchkey 49 mk3. The 49 key keyboard controller obviously comes with a greater range of octaves. It also features transport controls, drum pads, velocity sensitive keys, sustain pedal, MIDI out and a bank of faders.
For a cheaper option you could always try the smaller Novation launchkey mini mk3. The compromise with the smaller midi keyboard is that it only features mini keys (you still get the chord and arpeggiator modes).
Akai Professional MIDI mix
I really like this little guy. It’s a simple MIDI controller that does simple functions well. It’s got a neat and compact control surface which is perfect for gigging and music production.
The MIDImix gives you nine 45mm faders and 24 rotary encoders, along with 16 assignable buttons. This is perfect for DAW control of channel volumes and FX during a mixdown or live performance.
You can map the controls to your hearts content and control all of your FX racks, soft synths, and external synths. As with other MIDI controllers the MIDImix has been designed for seemless DAW integration with Ableton live.
Additionally, the MIDImix has 2 banks which expands the amount assignable controls x 2, providing extra value from this controller!
The MIDImix would suit producers, DJs, and live performers who want a no nonsense midi controller that gives them rotary encoders and faders. Pairs nicely with controllers such as the Midi Twister fighter or along side a midi keyboard controller such as the Novation Launchkey mini mk3.
I thinks this is one of the best MIDI controllers for Ableton Live for those on a budget.
It also comes shipped with a free copy of Ableton Live Lite.