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Review: Richie Hawtin and Livid’s CNTRL_R

The result of a unique collaboration between Livid Instruments and Richie Hawtin, the brand new Livid CNTRL_R is a fully mappable, open-source boutique MIDI controller. With a slew of programmable knobs, endless rotary encoders, faders, and buttons, there’s certainly a ton of tangibles to keep controllerists busy, whether you’re a DJ playing cuts from Traktor or remixing and creating tracks on the fly with Livid’s step-sequencer apps for Ableton Live! Read on for our review of the unit.

Manufacturer: Livid Instruments
Price: $699
Availability: Now (purchase here on Amazon)
Communication
: MIDI over USB (USB powered), MIDI, Expansion Jacks for Livid add-ons
Ships with: Single piece of paper, USB Cable
Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 14.5″ x 9.75″ x 1.75″ (WDH)
System Requirements: USB/MIDI connection

The Good: Lots of controls and deep step-sequencer integration with Ableton Live in a small footprint. High quality aluminum construction feels rock-solid, yet light and small enough to fit in your backpack for a gig. Can be used with just about anything that supports MIDI. Expandable with Livid’s line of XPC controllers. Pretty multi-color LEDs make girls at the bar think it’s cute.

The Bad: Ableton Live remote script can be confusing at first, since you’re launching clips on a 4×4 (albeit scalable) grid. Not as flexible as the Livid OHM in terms of larger button layout and cross-fader features. Expensive, given that it doesn’t come with its own soundcard/interface. Buttons aren’t stiff, so not as ideal for finger drumming ala MPC/Maschine (they’re not drumpads).

The Bottom Line: For the price of around 2 1/2 APC 40’s, you get this suite of fully programmable controls: 8 faders, 48 multi-color LED buttons, 24 knobs, and 12 pushbutton encoders with LED ring indicators. For Ableton Live users, you’ll undoubtedly want to get it for the step-sequencer devices that Livid and Richie Hawtin developed, not to mention the deepening well of Max for Live devices and Remote Scripts created by its online community. This unit does not have a built-in sound card, so you’re going to have to pair it up with one still.

CONSTRUCTION

Building on Livid’s reputation for quality, the CNTRL_R presents itself as the modern controllerist’s rugged toolbox: an all black, aluminum casing that exudes minimalist cool coupled with an intuitive layout made of quality tactile material. There are two sets of 4 faders and 12 knobs on either side of the unit bridged together by a 4×4 matrix of buttons and 12 rotary push-button encoders.

The rubber on all the knobs and encoders make for satisfyingly accurate tweaks, while the buttons have a slightly-matte finish that feel like they tug lightly at your fingers as you gently glide over them. Livid asked us to note that these are not drumpad buttons – and if you’re looking to make use of the buttons for finger drumming like you would do on an MPC, you’d be quite disappointed as the buttons are a bit squishy (like in those old Denon CD Players).

Each 60mm fader has a delightful resistance that feels just right, provided you aren’t using it for scratching or turntablism. Every tactile detail screams quality, and just spending a minute twiddling around with the controls brings comfort to the fact that you just spent quite a bit of cash on a piece of kit.

The two rows of 16 buttons at the bottom of the unit are what set this controller apart from the rest of the pack: when used in conjunction with the free DrumStepp:R and SynthStepp:R devices in Ableton Live, the unit transforms into a step sequencer that is a joy to use onstage and in the studio. The multi-color LED’s ensure that you get enough visual feedback and information on the CNTRL_R without having to squint at your laptop.

The CNTRL_R houses MIDI connectivity and a USB port at the back for maximum compatibility with your existing setup. There are also a pair of jacks for MIDI devices, as well as Livid’s proprietary expansion port for their XPC line of products should you wish to expand your palette of controls.

MAPPINGS

As previously mentioned, Livid maintains an expanding repository of mappings for all of its controllers: Already on the site are Remote Scripts for Ableton Live (including the DrumStepp:R and SynthStepp:R apps), as well as a mapping for Traktor 2 that allows control of up to 4 decks (2 main, 2 sample). Needless to say, this is a great alternative for EDM DJ’s that require 4-channel operation of Traktor and want everything in front of them in a simple fashion.

The Livid community has also come up with a handful of apps for VJ’s and Lighting, but currently doesn’t support CNTRL_R out of the box as of this writing, so if you’re planning to use it for those purposes you’re in for a bit of mapping!

Of course the best part about the CNTRL_R is that it’s entirely reprogrammable: using the free CNTRL_R editor program lets you reassign any function of your software to the controller, allowing you to customize it depending on what app you’re using. It stores up to four banks of mappings in its flash memory, so you could use one CNTRL_R to practically control and switch among all your devices, apps and plugins within your DAW!

WHAT’S MISSING?

A shot of the CNTRL_R in the dark - backlit faders and indicators on knobs would be handy!

You obviously can’t have it all when it comes to a fully customizable, hardware MIDI controller (unless we’re talking about a touchscreen tabletop), but what I really wanted to see in the CNTRL_R was what they intentionally left out: a crossfader. I know Livid is marketing this as a step sequencer and not a successor to their OHM RGB, but after trying out their Traktor mapping at a gig, I wasn’t too sure about using an endless rotary encoder to switch between two decks, but that’s just me. The expansion port for their XPC devices is a welcome addition if you’re looking for extra controls, however a crossfader isn’t in any of their add-ons.

On the software side, I would’ve loved the SynthStepp:R and DrumStepp:R to have a sequence function within its internal pattern storage, just like Ableton’s “Follow Action” feature so you could leave it running without having to switch between patterns manually.

THE NEXT STEP IN LIVE PERFORMANCE CONTROL?

In essence, the CNTRL_R is yet another customizable MIDI device, and there already are many to choose from! With all the controllers crowding the marketplace, it’s easy to pass on the CNTRL_R if you already own a grid-based controller like the Launchpad or a 4-channel all-in-one like the Traktor S4.

It’s also worth including a brief comment from Livid themselves on the cost of the unit in comparison to the cheaper alternatives that exist:

“It’s hard to compare a Made in the USA product manufactured directly by us, to a mass produced product in China. We can’t win on price, but you can at least know who’s making your gear, and that our manufacturing process is transparent. So it’s not a totally fair price comparison.”

However, Livid is able to position itself as a provider of a very specific electronic musician’s niche by making its step sequencer feature layout the highlight of what to some might seem an otherwise “redundant” piece of gear. Granted, there are other step sequencers out there (you can even turn the Maschine into one with its Step mode), but there’s something quite special about having it all laid out for you right before your very eyes while you consider every fraction of a second’s musical possibilities.

In case you missed it, check out Mad Zach’s review of Livid’s other new controller, the Ohm RGB Slim!

  • Ricky

    No way to compare this object with other MIDI controllers in the market. This midi controller is literally handmade and completely customizable. Event tough the price is still pretty high, the quality and the durability are absolutely awesome.

    I don’t suggest it for early, but it’s perfect for all the djs and producers who want to stand out.

  • Hugh

    if this controller’s so great why doesn’t Hawtin use it himself?!

  • 3DoubleD

    Something like this with atleast 1 a Xone style Jog wheel would be sweet for traktor use just so you could stroll shit nice

  • Erik Mitchell

    WAY too expensive

  • Morten Agnor

    As far as I’m concerned this device lacks on very important feature… THE JOG WHEELS! For finetuning points and bend the speed. How come nobody has commented on this before?

    YES, I use sync and warp and Traktor and stuff, but sometimes, a few times during a DJ-set I find that the markers are out of touch, and need som manual fine tuning, or that a cue point needs to be manually owerwritten for that special punch in. With only buttons and faders… (need I say more)

    It also lacks a crossfader, but that is not that important. What I really like about it is the possibility to assign multiple effekts and multiple faders for things like filter etc, would like to try one, but as others have commented, the price is not right…

  • RonMexico

    Don’t judge a “hands-on” controller with out putting your hands on it.  Seems pricey but honestly I’d rather pay the extra money and be able to speak the same language as the person who made it.  Livid instruments are boutique, just like API consoles and lunch boxes, handmade and built to order….but not made for everyone  

  • I bought this controller and created a custom traktor mapping for it. I absolutely love it. I do a lot of 4 deck mixing so no need for a crossfader I always use volume faders. Endless possibilities. Love how it is not designed for a specific software in mind. Perfect!

    • Joshua

      awesome live remix bro! i think I’m gonna have to get one for myself 🙂

  • NI makes controllers at 1/2 the price.
    ableton mabie…..but too boutique for the standard user. I like to play music….not midi map for 16 hours.

    i can see richie and only richie using this.

  • bundled soundcards can shut up

    honestly, fuck soundcards being bundled into controllers. get a soundcard. get a controller. they shouldn’t be the same package or expected to

  • DJ ForcedHand

    A missing sound card, cross fader and no default mapping printed on the surface AND it’s $699 ?!?! I think this is a bit much noting the rest of the field of controllers. Let’s compare this to;

    * An APC 40 which has the same number of up-faders (plus a Master), 8 fewer buttons and 20 fewer knobs, but it also comes with a sound card, a cross fader AND Ableton Live Akai Professional APC Edition for $299. You’re already looking at something that’s rivaling the cost of the CNTRL_R (with better integration) for a lot less. You might consider adding the following devices to flesh out your stage gear.

    * A Behringer BCR2000 (which has 24 knobs of it’s own) to come up with 4 more knobs than the 36 knobs on the CNTRL_R
    for $179. Yes, the APC 40 doesn’t have RGB LEDs, but is that worth the $221 difference? * A MIDI Fighter 3D will get you an additional 16 RGB colored buttons (with obscene amounts of twist and turn (the box) control at $249.*OR* If you’re looking to add velocity sensitivity and an x-y pad to a 12 button, full color control, you’ll want a Vestax Pad-One: for around $130 (Buying the APC 40,

    Behringer BCR2000 and Pad_one is still less than the price of the CNTRL_R).Combined Price: APC 40 and BCR2000: $299 + $179 = $478APC 40, BCR2000 and MF3D: $299 + $179 + $249 = $727
    APC 40, BCR2000 and Pad-One: $299 + $179 + $130 = $608Any way you look at this, the CNTRL_R is overpriced for what you get out of it, with fewer features than a comparable set up, you’re still going to have to get a sound card for the CNTRL_R.

    • Methodamericon

      Could you show me where the soundcard is in my APC40? I’ve had it a couple years now, and just can’t find it. Am I doing this wrong?! Did I break it?! /s

      • DJ ForcedHand

        You are correct, the APC 40 does not have a sound card. I made an error in my response. I am hoping that the comments section one day will have an edit button.

    • Peter

       But its still APC and Behringer… 😉

    • Dubsquidselekta

      LOL,
      Are you joking? You are comparing a quality handmade unit manufactured by craftsmen to mass produced crap made by the equivalent to Asian slave labor. And, the CNTR-R has step sequencer capabilities. AND, the layout; at least to me, makes a hell of a lot more sense than either of the units you listed. I passed on the APC due to the layout. I had one of the Behringer 2000, what f-in junk; I sold it for $50 (quite the loss). I’d be willing to bet the resale on one of these is also better than either of the units you listed. If I ever find myself not so strapped on cash, I’ll be upgrading to a Livid unit.

      • DJ ForcedHand

        My personal choices have been the Novation Twitch (which is a steal at $399). When used in Ableton Live, it has more colored trigger buttons than the LIVIR CNTRL_R. The Twitch is an amazing tool but it just doesn’t have as many knobs, buttons or sliders as I’d like to use for remixing, so I got a ReMOTE 25 SL MkII (for $350) which came with the X-Y pad, a pitch-mod stick, 8 limitless knobs (with LED indicators), 8 limited knobs, 8 velocity sensitive pads, 8 up-faders and 25 keys. All the controls are touch-triggered and have 4 pages of assignable controls. So, much like my Twitch, all I had to do was touch a button to have a LOT more options.

        Combined, that was around $750… $51 more dollars than the CNTRL_R.

        If you’re going to use *JUST* Ableton Live Intro, the ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2 and Twitch, come with a sound card (Twitch), 10 up-faders (8 on the ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2, 2 on the Twitch), 68 knobs (64 on the ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2 the 4 on the Twitch, 10 more on the Twitch if you want to reassign the EQ envelope knobs), 64 2-color LED buttons (Twitch), 8 Velocity Sensitive pads (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), a bunch of transport and assign buttons (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), 25 Piano Keys (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), an X-Y pad (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), Pitch-Mod Stick (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), Named controls (ReMOTE 25 SL Mk2), the 2 touch strips (Twitch), Ableton Live Intro, Automap and Live Twitch Tool (for ease of mapping). Sure, it has a larger footprint than the CNTRL_R and they’re 2 separate units, but I’d say it’s worth it for all you get out of it… and if you want to DJ, the Twitch comes with the Pro DJ software ITCH. This is without adding the SHIFT function keys or the fact that you can DOUBLE the number of up-faders, or buttons on the Twitch when using Traktor Pro.
        Alternatively, you could get the ReMOTE Zero (in addition to the Twitch) which adds a(nother) cross fader and deletes; the keys, the pitch-mod stick and X-Y pad for $199. That combined package would be around $600… you could still buy “Traktor Pro” and still be under the CNTRL_R’s price, with many more options.

    • Simen Øvergaard

      Good points but there is no soundcard in the APC40. 🙂

  • Padi_04

    I think it’s perfectly fine that they didn’t include a soundcard. Not everyone has the same I/O needs and having it sitting in there with no use for the ones that don’t need one doesn’t make any sense either.

  • Does it work with Reason???

    • Methodamericon

      “…midi…” 

      Yes.

    • Joey

      yes, you can map everything on the CNTRL_R to Reason 🙂 

  • i havet seen a dance dj use a crossfader in years, its kinda frowned appon these days for some reason.. so that really shouldn’t be a concern.. and i dont think this would be a good tool for rnb djs..   

    • Nosferatu

       “kinda frowned appon”

      and you don’t want to upset the Jedi DJ council now do you?

      hahahaha… I’ve learned never to frown upon any DJ’s rig as long as he/she can rock the house.

      Can we please do away with these fictitious rules of how a DJ should be?

      • DJ RB0t

        AMEN BROTHER

  • Stewe

    This controller is begging for sick Traktor mapping. So much potential!

  • JuanSOLO

    I dont mind the absence of a soundcard,
    but for the price and intent on drums, the 4×4 matrix should be drum pads. 

    damn shame.

  • Peter

    Wouldve been great with a soundcard…

  • No sound-card with this device? 

    • Patrickwdoyle

      If you are in the target market for this product, you can rely on a Pioneer 850 or 900 in booth so there is no reason to lug your own interface.  Also, you probably have a studio set up with racks, etc and aren’t about to take any of that too a club.

      • Joey

        yup, it’s only a midi controller 🙂

  • Parkaust

    I keep expecting to see new blog posts that are tutorials or ean showing us the midifighter in some way but all we get are reviews? Come on step it up a little

    • I was supposed to post a basic controllerism tutorial today but it got moved to wed instead due to a hectic weekend. 

      • Devon

        Ean, your guys’ content is awesome. Keep it up!

        >>only complaint is I want more! (I know how expensive original content is though..!)

        • Anonymous

          How about letting users also write up blogs and the best ones getting posted? Or even a new area on DJTT, where people who intend to write good product reviews, experiences about their  dj’ing, or any other DJ related blog can be shared? 😉

          scamo

          • I am 10000% percent on board with this if there is a way to do it REALLY well. We must maintain the quality 

      • Parkaust

        Sorry ean. Didn’t mean to be a douche. I take you back. You guys are way awesome

    • Alishaferaz

       satisfaction guaranteed or your money back