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Ableton Push Review + Video First Look

Push is a new controller from Ableton that features a high-performance 64-button grid, backlit LED screen, and a plethora of function buttons dedicated for total control over Ableton. Although at quick glance Push might look a bit like a Novation Launchpad on steroids, it’s actually much more. Read and watch Mad Zach’s full review inside:

PUSH: THE INSTRUMENT

The buttons, layout and build quality indicate that this controller was carefully engineered to be played like an instrument, opposed to just another controller.

The whole unit feels very well-constructed and you can tell right away it will certainly endure the rigors of the road. As a finger drummer, my first instinct was naturally to begin tapping the buttons percussively and I was quite impressed by their feel and response. Unlike the Launchpad buttons which are mushy and absorb your hits, Push’s buttons feel tight, and actually bounce your fingers back, making them suitable for fast, technical drumming and crabs.

Reviewed: Ableton Push
Price (MSRP): $599
Available: Pre-order now in the DJTT Store
Communication: MIDI over USB
Ships with: USB cable, quickstart guide, power supply, included Ableton software
Weight: 2990g (6.6 lbs)
Dimensions: Width: 370mm (14.57 inches)
Depth: 293mm (11.54 inches)
Height (body): 26mm (1.02 inches)
Height (body + encoders): 46mm (1.81 inches)

System Requirements (Minimum):
• PC or Mac with free USB port or powered USB hub
• Ableton Live 9

The Good: Great feeling buttons with accurate velocity sensitivity and nice rebound (suitable for clip launching and finger drumming). Impressively bright LED’s with included power supply. Groundbreaking integration with Ableton lets you build grooves and compose songs without ever touching a mouse. Super long throw touch fader with pitch bend resolution.

The Bad: A bit on the heavy side. Although the knobs feel smooth, they are endless rotary and are not optimal for extreme knob twisting and controllerism. Grouped drum racks behave like instruments. Drum rack grid on left side (would have made more sense on the right). Would have liked to see more routing and sound design tools accessible through the hardware.

The Bottom Line: This versatile and thoughtfully engineered control station makes working with Ableton a much more musical experience. A true “instrument,” Push gives us an intuitive and expressive way to build songs, grooves, melodies, and harmonies. Although it doesn’t do anything we couldn’t technically do before using a mouse, it excels in recontextualizing the Ableton platform and getting you into music world instead of mouse land.

THE GRID

While the 64 button grid is a familiar layout for those used to working with Launchpad, Push manages to completely re-contextualize the grid through well designed full-color LED implementation and vastly improved button quality. The first thing I noticed when I got Push out of the box was how uniquely musical the buttons are. Unlike most MIDI buttons these days, which feel a bit like trying to have fun jumping on a futon, the Push’s buttons are more akin to frisking around a professional trampoline doing back-flips. Granted they could be just a smidge bigger but Ableton has compensated for that by giving them a rectangular shape that makes sufficient space for your fingers to roll, tap, etc with relative ease.

SCALES

Naturally, with my finger drumming background I started with a drumrack, but zip over to an instrument and the LEDs really go to work. With the sprawl of 64 notes in front of you, it is a great tool for composing melodies, chords, and actually writing music. The brilliant white and blue LEDs indicate your position in the scale and do really make music theory an intuitive, logical experience.

The best part is definitely the “scale” button, which allows you to select from a large number of interesting music scales. If you’ve ever played a marimbaphone or other “pre-tuned” instrument you’ll know how ridiculously fun it can be to have every note sound good. I call this mode the “al dimiola” mode because this is how he must feel on guitar. Solos are something I feel has been missing from electronic music and now I expect a whole slew of controllerist van halen’s to emerge from the woodwork’s. The introduction of Push will no doubt usher the hairmetalcontrollerism movement. What will be the “Stairway to Heaven” of controllerism?

THE TOUCH STRIP

Located to the left of the button grid is an impressively long touch strip with LED position indicators. So far the strip has been quite useful and fun.

In drum rack mode, you can use it to move through your “banks” scrolling with ease through the drum rack. One complaint I had about this was that I was getting stuck notes if I tried to scroll to aggressively with my left hand while playing a beat with my left. This makes sense because on a typical controller, if you change banks while holding down a note, it will stay on.

That said, I still think they should formulate a workaround because that strip is just begging to be throttled and right now I’m having to be just a little too nice to it. In instrument mode, the strip becomes a pitch bend, which is awesome because you can use the strip to do jump point pitch bending. This is great for solos and actually much more accurate than I had initially expected.

PUSH’S TWO WINDOWS

There are two main windows on the Push, the “note” and “session.”

In note mode, you can play drumracks, and step sequence grooves. It’s also possible to compose various loops and/or combine them into one longer loop. While I do like the concept, my only complaint here is that the 4X4 grid is on the left side. It would have made much more sense to me (as a right-handed individual) to put it on the right so I could rip with my good hand while step sequencing and pattern navigating with my left.

Alternately, if you have an instrument loaded up, the note view gives you access to 64 notes of melody, which can be doctored using the “scales” feature to select your key, scale, and shred the paint of your studio walls. You can also use the buttons on the left to create new loops, select loop length, quantize, double, delete, and duplicate. In either view you can also record automation into your clips.

STEP SEQUENCING

As a 909 and 808 user for years, I have been waiting a long time for great software step sequencing to come around. Ableton has certainly given it a good go. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty dang good!

Choose your step increment (between ¼ and 1/32th), loop length, position, and get sequencing. The best part is that you can also record parts manually, and then edit using the steps you recorded. It’s also nice that you can adjust the note “nudge” to get your rigid step sequences to feel a bit more natural and emotional. I was impressed by how easy it was to switch between 1/16 and 1/32 to throw in some fast hats or a more detailed sample position. Additionally, you can choose either between 16 unique loops, or combine them into one loop –  this makes composing different parts super easy and fun.

THE KNOBS

I am not usually a fan of endless rotary encoders, but these are pretty nice. They are also touch-capacitive, meaning you can press them as well as turn them, although there is no click.

The reason people use endless encoders is not because they feel great, but rather that they integrate with presets and changing values much better than fixed rotary pots. Since these knobs are multi-function it does make sense that they be endless. Underneath them is a backlit LED display that changes to tell you what the knobs are controlling, depending on your navigation location at the time.

THE COMPETITION

To better understand how the Push fits into the controller landscape, it’s useful to look at it in the context of its peers. Sandwiched somewhere between a Launchpad and Maschine, Push takes the best elements of the two and combines them into one controller that truly brings out the best in Ableton.

The Push goes beyond the groovebox style of the Maschine to deliver a full-featured instrument as comfortable composing melodies and song structure as constructing dope beats. With 64 buttons vs. 16, the melodic and compositional possibilities are far greater. Not only that, but everything you create with Push is already perfectly integrated into Live, meaning you don’t have to fuss around with plugins and porting your ideas from Maschine to Live.

NOTHING BUT A SOUNDPACK


Push is a powerful, expressive controller. But, as with many digital performance environments, it’s only as powerful as the sounds you have loaded! Fortunately I was delighted to discover an solid synergy between my soundpacks and the new Ableton workflow.

Since each soundpack comes loaded with drum sounds, bass-lines, atmospheres, one shots, risers, and character samples, you can literally compose a complete remix without ever having to look at the computer screen. Now that’s what I call a good time.

Pre-order your Push in our store and you’ll get exclusive access to my (Mad Zach’s) Push Sound Environment (a $50 value!) and template (which includes drum sounds, bass patches with preset macro’s for total skronkington 2000, interesting samples and dope lead instruments ready to shred).

  • Crocronico

    Anyone know if we can use multiple push for one computer (like multiple lauchpad configuration for exemple).
    I need more RVB pads to launch scene..

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t notice any mention of velocity or pressure sensitivity, which would be good to know, thanks.

  • Any chance you expanded on / recorded that gypsy melody you were playing? Would love to buy a copy for my sets

  • Hey DJTT, when are you planning on selling those Push-designed soundpacks? I’d be mad keen to pick them up 🙂

  • I love it how this is supposed to look like this guy’s bedroom studio. He is obviously employed by Ableton. A guy in his bedroom studio would not have two cameras on him.

    • Kutmaster TeeOh

      He’s not employed by Ableton. And that is his actual studio. I’ve got 4 cameras in my live room and I have the Push. It was given to me by an Ableton rep who knows me. Working on a DJ routine with the Push and Serato.

  • dimitri

    just ordered mine soo stoked hopefully I can set this up with my kassilator pro and kaos pad and mininova

  • I had it for 15 mins and hit the dump button by accident , now my push has no firmware and asks for a sysex update…please help…Thanks

  • doubledolphins

    Im glad I pre-ordered my push. It comes in a week or so when all new orders from the 10th of march and on are gonna take 4-16 more weeks which is like an entire freakin summer… Oh well I pray my Push comes because it looks amazing and I’ve had my eye on it for as long as I can remember

  • loomy

    Hi! Can you tell me the real size of each push pad?¿its smaller than kontrol F1 pads?
    Thank you.

  • deaconjonez

    @google-a457db5c79d1382b4eec9a60fda79e37:disqus great review man i pre-ordered one. Unfortunately it looks like abelton and akai dropped the ball and did not produce enough. The website said my suggested wait time is 12-16 weeks not very happy and hope they make right on this issue and hook up the people who pre ordered the push with some extras for such a long wait

  • Is it possible to play a VST synth and then edit the notes in the step sequencer (like adding them or deleting them and/or more than that) ?

  • @google-a457db5c79d1382b4eec9a60fda79e37:disqus, as intrigued as I now am about the Push after your review, my favorite part was noticing the Seed of Life you keep on your shelf.

  • Anthony

    I think my question has been deleted ? It was : is it possible to play a VST synth and then edit the notes in the step sequencer (like adding them or deleting them and/or more than that) ?

  • Anthony

    Big question here : When you play notes with a VST synth, do you access to them in the sequencer mode to add and remove some ?

  • What are the differences between this and the apc 40?

  • johnn

    Mad, you didn’t mention anything about controlling any of the parameters which is really important. Is it possible to warp the whole track, edit start/end points or use the markers without touching the computer? And what about waveform? Can you view it on the push’s screen? What about switching from the 4×4 grid to 8×8 grid in drum rack like on the launchpad in user1?

  • Solaris

    Great review, too bad I’ve ordered already in another place, can we buy your push sound environment and sound packs at once ? Thanks !

  • HOTSAUCE!

  • I think there is a lot of value of hardware-software coming from the same company. Mostly because the controls tend to be laid out in an intuitive way to the software. For example, the lay out of the NI S4 is mapped better to the software than non NI controllers. Additionally, I tried to use the Maschine Ableton mapping and found it super awkward because Maschine is not designed specifically to control Ableton. I think heavy Ableton users will benefit from the tight intergration of Push with Ableton.

  • Will you guys be selling the Push with Ableton Live Standard?

  • Wanker

    “Drum rack grid on left side (would have made more sense on the right).”

    Completely fucking arbitrary…

  • krozlorrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    Most comprehensive (and interesting) review of the Push yet. That drum rack on the bottom left is a bummer, It’d be great if you could choose where to put the instruments/step sequencer on the grid.

    Are there only the two “views” (sequencer/drum rack/looper view and the note scale)? Can you make your own?

    Ideally I’d want a view mode with half of the note scale going along the left “column” of 4 across x 8 down and use the right side for two 4 x 4 drum racks so they can both be played at the same time. Melody with the left hand, beats with the right.

    There’s a great rendition of Flight of the Bumblebees on the Push somewhere around the internet too, worth a look.

  • How does it map with other programs like Traktor? does it have pre made banks/layers like the novation twitch or F1 or does every button send/receive a standard midi note/cc?

  • R3Production

    Push Me and than just touch me , till i can get my SATISFACTION, SATISFACTION

    For all new Benny Benassi’s in the world.. great review Zach.

  • tr4gik

    Mad Zack showing the Push INSTA WIN.

  • Can all these 64 pads be played as one Drum Rack with 4 blocks or 4 different racks (one rack per track) at one moment? I think it would be great!

    • Ginkgo

      Not as of now, but I suppose you could make a sampler with 64 different samples mapped out and then play in instrument mode.

  • Loving it! this rocks..looks like Traktor has got real insane competetion..been looking at the launchpad for some time..definately if i can afford it..i’m getting that new one 🙂

  • Push looks pretty sweet! I haven’t had a chance to watch the whole video yet, but I did have a question if anyone can answer. Does the display at the top of the unit have the ability to show waveforms?

    That has been one of the things about Maschine I have really liked working with.

    • 0bli0 Jonez

      unfortunately, no – only text… maybe in future firmware as i’ve seen many people request the same

  • Really want one… thats for sure…

  • Charlie

    Is it possible to use another MIDI device (such as the Launchpad) to launch clips while using the Push for step sequencing? My idea is to remix songs live: launch acapella vocal clips, while building instrumental loops using the step sequencer. Is this possible to do in Ableton?

    • mor4sso

      From the review over at http://www.createdigitalmusic.com, they were able to use a Launchpad and a Maschine, as well as other Midi Devices, in conjunction with the Push. You can’t run 2 Pushes in Native mode though, but you’re able to run a Push in native mode and one is User mode on the same system.

  • Thanks for the review. I’m glad to see a more musical review. Also, I didn’t know You played guitar, I also come from a guitar background, been playing for 17 years and recently made the switch to synth. I’ll be getting a Push, because it seems very expressive.

    Is there any form of a Mod Wheel type mechanism on there for vibrato? That’s the only think I think it’s missing. I know about the touch strip, but I’ve seen it used mainly for pitch in instrument mode. Thanks again

    • there are new max4live devices in Live9 for that kinda things, i discovered good tricks dropping them on pads

  • MIM

    I need to learn how to play pads like that. I think it’s probably going to be great. Can’t wait to get my hands on it. I can’t believe there is no integrated melodic step sequencing – an absolutely outrageous omission. I hope to see full integration with M4L step sequencer and Monosequencer very soon. Given the layout it would be absurd not to. Polyphonic step sequencing of melodies n key and step automation of key parameters like velocity, cutoff, release would be the dream. Do you guys think it would be easy for the M4L aficionados to put together something together tight integration with these M4L sequencers?

    • all you need to do is make a 16pad drumrack with external instrument
      devices in each pad, and route those devices to your instrument to
      sequence notes (you can even add a pitch device on each pad to let you
      rescale each pad on the fly). Dead simple.

      • MIM

        Should we really have to resort to workarounds at £430?

        • not sure why you would say that, its hardly a ‘workaround’, its just how you do this sort of thing in live. a workaround would mean having to use some other application or hack to achieve what you want. this is simply using it as it was built to work.

  • Dee Jay

    Hmmm? where does the hot sauce next to the Launch come in to play? do you pour it on the pads..LOL!

    • Hah! I noticed the Tapatio product placement too.

      Great review as always Zach. Adding Push to the wishlist.

  • Pedro

    @google-a457db5c79d1382b4eec9a60fda79e37:disqus Which controller do you recommend for someone who wants to do pad drumming but never did this before?

    • Mad Zach

      a midi fighter spectra

  • also the reason that this integrates with live 9 so well, and has many unique features that we have not seen before, is that max 4 live is now bundled into live 9, so often there is some max 4 live stuff happening in the background, which provides that amazing functionality of the push.

    • fyi, the existing push functionality is done through python scripts into the live API, not through the M4L ‘live-object-model’ means.

  • Great review of an awesome piece of kit. ALSO Here is my semi regular request for the How I play with Madeon Video. Yes I have tweeted him about it. Can I at least get an affirmation as to whether or not he has vetoed it’s release?

    • Mad Zach

      he pulled it

      • damm

        • RockingClub

          That’s really sad. Was very much looking forward to watching it here, as well…

  • hahah Mad Zach “I… I don’t know, I just dick around. It’s not productive” I’m sure many of can relate! That’s why I would love more hardware myself.

    • Ginkgo

      That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Big part of the reason I want the Push so bad. (But more hardware would be nice, too.)

  • Ben

    mad zach you the man!! thanks for the review!

  • Turntable trucker

    Nice review

  • Astrosolace

    What about mapping capabilities? I wonder how well/if the aftertouch/velocity and LED colours can be mapped to/from other softwares

    • Mad Zach

      there is a “user mode” where you can map easily. I don’t believe there is a specialized mapping mode that would make it easy to map things like aftertouch and velocity but perhaps they will implement something like that in the future.

  • I was wondering if you use External Midi Instrument to send midi to… lets’s say Maschine… does Push display the note grid ?

    • Mad Zach

      it would probably display the note grid for external instrument (not the drumrack step sequencer) although I am trying to get them to be able to switch between the modes at ease regardless of the instrument type

      • Can you go deep edit on a drum cell from the rack ? I know you can’t do what Maschine does, but are you able to add a delay to a certain pad for instance ?

  • Great review. Thanks for giving us a look at how you’d use it. Also, really interesting that the step sequencer isn’t available for instrument racks. Gotta say I’m quite bummed about that.

    • Mad Zach

      lets hope they change it! Also there will be a lot of hacks no doubt

      • all you need to do is make a 16pad drumrack with external instrument devices in each pad, and route those devices to your instrument to sequence notes (you can even add a pitch device on each pad to let you rescale each pad on the fly). Dead simple.

  • Filippo

    ahahahahahhaha….. “People, Push….. Push, People”…. Great Review Mad…. Thanks from Sardinia, Italy 😉

  • anyone gonna do a killa traktor mapping on these?

  • Sold! This looks amazing. Nice review Zach.

    • Jason Current C Gupton

      What he said! Preordered my unit yesterday. Hoping there will be a hack for the ribbon slider to be able to be assigned to parameters such as arpeggiation, modulation, cutoff, etc…

  • i actually got a one on one hands on with Huston Singaltary at a exclusive push release event. let me be the first to say, this is just going to change the whole music industry. I highly recommend getting one!!

  • Mad Zach is a beast as always. It’s cool to hear he came from a guitar player background! I came from a guitar and drummer background 🙂 keep up the awesome work DJTT!

  • ObliO Jonez

    best review on the net so far! glad i ordered it

  • Kunal

    Love the review :). Love DJTT!