- Despite the iPad's potential as an ultra-flexible, modular, multi-touch, affordable controller, it hasn't been adopted as widely as one would expect. One reason might be that it was, for a long time, inexplicably difficult to connect to. Simply plugging in your iPad over the standard 30-pin or Lightening connection wasn't enough—MIDI had to be routed through either a Camera Connection Kit via a MIDI-to-USB cable, various proprietary docks or Wi-Fi. While the Wi-Fi solution was the most common, it wasn't without its problems, including the usual router issues as well as latency, lag and jitter, even over ad hoc networks. I'm referring to all of this in the past tense because recently, it's finally been possible to connect your iPad directly to your laptop via the included cabling. It's so recent, in fact, that Imaginando, the Portuguese developers behind a new Ableton Live controller app called LK (previously LivKontrol) only added the functionality while I was in the middle of this review. It might seem like a small detail, but if tablets want to be taken seriously, reliability is paramount.
Using four modules, LK splits control of Ableton Live into Matrix (clip launch and mixer control), MIDI Pads (sixteen pads for playing in drums, notes and chords), MIDI Controller (a more generic mappable section with four banks of faders, rotaries and buttons) and X/Y Pad (a touch-controlled axis with four banks of mappable CCs). While the app itself is free, you only get a 15-minute grace period before you'll need to commit to one or all of the modules, with the Matrix costing $9.99 and all others $4.99. LK communicates with your computer over Wi-Fi or your Lightning/30-pin cable. As you can imagine, the latency is significantly lower over wired connection—though still not as low as you might expect—so I'd highly recommend using it. No matter how you connect, you'll need to download the LK Bridge app from the Imaginando website. The final step is selecting LK as Live's control surface.
I was instantly drawn to the Matrix section, which strikes me as the most powerful and, potentially, the most useful. With icons familiar to Ableton Push users, Matrix can control global functions like play, record, loop, metronome, etc., but its power comes in its in-depth channel and clip control. You can either opt to have clip launch view take priority on the screen or expand each channel to include volume, pan, record-arm, crossfader and an info section, where you'll find device, sends and composer controls. While clip-launching may be the most obvious use for any Ableton controller, it doesn't take advantage of the touchscreen's benefits. The lower section is much more interesting, offering control of devices like EQ Eight, Compressor, Freq Shifter or any other Live device you've loaded. The Device section also supports third-party plug-ins, though you'll need to configure the parameters you want to control manually. It's a shame Imaginando didn't opt for more X/Y control in this section. It's been at the heart of Live's GUI since its creation, and with one setup I had showing over 32 circular knobs on screen at once, it's easy to lose track. I would recommend primarily using macros to control your devices.
The Sends section was the most engaging part for performance, allowing you to quickly add reverb, delays or anything else to a sound via a vertical slider. It's simple and effective; so much so I wish you could view multiple channels' sends and returns at once. Right now you have to change the channel focus to affect its sends, which has a slight lag as the app pulls the current level information through. You could of course assign multiple send control manually in the MIDI Controller section, the most generic but also the most flexible section. It's extremely intuitive, with a large yellow button, long-throw fader and circular dial per channel. Across four banks, you press the Assign button and move the required parameter to get control of that function. MIDI Controller can also be swapped into MIDI mode, which offers simple channel and CC numbers per control that can be used outside of Live. This is really useful if you want to quickly jump to controlling a synth or hardware effect, without losing connection with Live through the other modules.
Another aspect I really liked was the Chorder function in the MIDI Pads section. Chorder offers visual feedback much like Push, lighting up pads to show what notes are playing depending on the chord and scale you've selected. Each pad can have two velocities, Inner and Outer, depending on where you tap it—a nice touch to get over the limitations of touchscreen velocity control. The mode can also be swapped to MIDI for CC and note control.
The final section, X/Y, is self-explanatory, allowing control of up to three parameters across its X, Y and Z axes. The Z-axis features an attack, sustain and release envelope that triggers when a finger is placed anywhere on the pad. There's also an LFO to modulate the effect in one of three directions, with a nice delay option to ease the modulation in gradually. Assigning is super easy: press the axis, move the parameter in Live and it's done. With four banks, it's a comprehensive controller and maybe the highlight of the app for execution alone. Plus, with MIDI mode for CC sending, it becomes all the more powerful for a very low price. A minimum and maximum value per assignment like in rival app TouchAble would be a nice addition.
LK isn't perfect. Matrix is comprehensive, but in cramming so much onto the Pad screen, it's confusing. That's something live performers never want. Once you've spent some time colour-coding and labeling your set, it performs the job of Clip controller well, but we'd leave the Device control to another module to keep things simple. With so many Ableton controller apps available on iOS, Android compatibility might be LK's strongest niche, and although it's unlikely to blow any minds, its stability, user-friendly setup and Imaginando's dedication to updates mean it's worth demoing if you're thinking of adding touch-functionality to your studio or stage setup.
Ease of use: 3.8