Do you want to improve your performance? Here are 6 of the best live software controllers

MIDI control surfaces are essential for getting your electronic music off the screen and into the realm of performance. No one wants to watch a musician look at their laptop, and it’s not much fun to play that way either, so a decent MIDI controller can do wonders for your tracks in the live environment.

Presonus atom

(Image credit: Presonus)

Presonus atom

Price: $ 135 / £ 120 / € 138 | Main characteristics: MIDI pad controller for use with Ableton Live, with 64 pressure / speed sensitive RGB pads, Ableton Live Lite plus virtual instruments and additional plug-ins, Chord and Scales mode, Custom modes, standalone sequencer. | I / O: USB C, 2x MIDI outputs, MIDI input

Compact

Expressive control

Works well with Studio One and Live

Experienced artists might find it too basic

Geared towards Studio One’s new live performance options, but as comfortable as a Live controller.

The powerful Atom is a compact, USB-powered pad controller, which lets you make quick choices on the fly and create detailed, layered live arrangements. Its velocity and pressure sensitive pads also add natural musical expression.

Zerodebug touchAble Pro

(Image credit: Zerodebug)

Zerodebug touchAble Pro

Price: $ 31 / £ 21 / € 27 | Operating system : Mac, Windows, IOS and Android

Extremely customizable

Tons of pre-designed templates

Economical (if you have a tablet)

You lose some advantages of a physical controller with a touchscreen

Take things to an ultra-modern level with a Live Controller on your mobile or tablet.

The app is extremely customizable, letting you sculpt your interface to control only the settings you need, or you can choose from 60 pre-built templates. A show with your phone? Alexander Graham Bell would be amazed.

Arturia KeyLab 49 MK II

(Image credit: Arturia)

Arturia KeyLab 49 MK II

Price: £ 375 / € 469 / $ 499 | Main characteristics: 49 keys, 16 backlit pads, nine faders and nine rotary knobs, | OI: expression, sustain, CV / Gate, MIDI, USB and 3 assignable auxiliary pedal inputs

Rugged build quality

Offers keys and keypad control

Lots of appetizers

Expensive

Improving the studio and the stage, the KeyLab series is a robust and well-built keyboard with 16 performance pads that allow the triggering of samples and beats.

It has plenty of inputs, while its DAW control chops are impressive, meaning you can leave the laptop hidden in plain sight, while you flip the card like Jean-Michel Jarre.

Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3

(Image credit: Novation)

Novation Launchpad Pro Mk3

Price: $ 350 / £ 300 / € 335 | Main characteristics: 64 pressure / speed sensitive RGB pads, Ableton Live Lite plus virtual instruments and additional plug-ins, Chord and Scales mode, Custom modes, standalone sequencer | OI: USB C, 2x MIDI outputs, MIDI input

Great standalone sequencer option

Full live control

Stylish hardware with nice pads

Navigation can be complex without a screen

Novation reigns supreme when it comes to pad controllers, and the latest iteration of the Pro seals the deal with some impressive new features, including a more streamlined build, bigger pads, and a built-in step sequencer, not to mention ‘better control of Ableton Live (and any other DAW, for that matter). The pads are colorful and it looks cool as hell.

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25

(Image credit: M-Audio)

M-Audio Oxygen Pro 25

Price: $ 200 / £ 150 / € 179 | Main characteristics: 16 RGB, backlit, assignable, velocity sensitive pads, eight assignable knobs and knobs, nine assignable faders | OI: Input for 1/4 “sustain pedal, USB-MIDI connection and 5-pin MIDI output for controlling external MIDI equipment

Excellent integration with major DAWs

Smart Chord and Smart Scale modes

Good fun

The keyboard feels a “light” touch to play

Control DAWs via 25 auto-mapped commands, plus performance boosting capabilities (read the cheat!)

The Oxygen Pro is simply designed to make you sound good. Its built-in arpeggiator is another fun addition.

Ableton Push 2

(Image credit: Ableton)

Ableton Push 2

Price: $ 799 / £ 49 9 / € 699 | Main characteristics: 17 cm tactile strip for pitch bend / scrolling, 31 navigation LEDs, 64 backlit pads, 8 tactile rotary knobs | OI: Two pedal inputs, USB

Impressive build quality

First class buffers

Beautiful efficient screen

No Editing of Arrangement View

Price

If you are using Ableton Live, the obvious choice of controller is Ableton. The widely used Push 2 is literally a hardware extension of software, with a high-resolution display to keep you visually in the know as you hit the expressive pads.

Sample a slice, bring in third-party plugins, and improvise with new musical elements to your heart’s content. A solid choice.

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