I have to admit, I was on the fence about Push when Ableton first announced it with Live 9. After people started getting them and I heard generally positive things, I decided perhaps it was time to give one a try. So I placed an order and after a bit of a wait, it arrived yesterday.
A few people have asked me why I post reviews of a product after only having it day. This is less a review than it is just my initial impressions. Things that immediately stand out, both good and bad. How easy is it to learn, things like that. I’ll probably do a more comprehensive review after using it for a few weeks for some actual songs. So then, how is it?
Well, it was a bit of a rocky start if I must be honest. I had heard about people getting theirs with the white balance all out of whack on the LEDs, but in general it seemed like a rare occurence. But of course, mine has the issue, and quite badly too.
Yes that’s mine, and yes it really does look like that. So it was a bit of a bummer, as it’s MUCH harder to play when it looks like this. Ableton was very quick in getting back to me about sorting out the issue, so that’s good. Luckily a user on the Ableton forums has created the great looking “Seapunk” skin that you can load onto Push (see first picture), which not only looks better than stock, but also hides the irregularities. Whew!
Other than that one issue, things have been great in terms of the hardware. I had a chance to use one briefly before, so I already knew that it was built to a much higher standard than most controllers. The finish is soft and modern looking, the buttons are all solid feeling without being hard, and the knobs are great. The pads are easily playable once you adjust the sensitivity, didn’t take long at all to get used to the way they feel. It’s really a nice looking and feeling controller, it feels like an instrument should, not something generic.
Which is good, because it’s huge! Ok, maybe not huge, but still a little bigger than you might expect. I like it though, it’s meant to be the focus of all your attention, and the size feels right when on a desk in front of you. It’s surprisingly bright when using just the USB cable for power, though the PSU that comes with it steps things up even more. I personally found the PSU mode to almost too bright in a dark studio, so it’s nice that there’s the dimmer USB mode to fall back on.
Live recognized it right away, nothing I had to do to start right in and get to know it. I’ll admit I watched the 5 or so videos on how to use Push that Ableton has on their website before it arrived, so I had an idea of where things were. It was still very easy to get up and running with Push, I had a simple groove happening in no time, with only a few glances at the laptop to see what a couple of the buttons were doing.
Things like Live 9’s new browser make a lot more sense when accessed via Push, making it intuitive to use, at least with the factory and suite content. Adding new tracks, loading new sounds, tweaking and recording loops, they’re all incredibly simple to do on Push. After I made a few different song ideas, I really saw the attraction of what Ableton had done.
They’ve managed to make something that interfaces with a program I know so well I’m bored with it, and created a workflow that feels really new and fun. You really don’t need to look at the computer at all to come up with some pretty complex song sketches, even a basic arrangement in Session view. You’re not going to be doing a lot of detailed editing necessarily, but I was still surprised at how easy it was to add and tweak effects, come up with new synth sounds, or get some decent sounding drums programmed.
Speaking of decent, let’s talk about the content you can access from Push. For the most part the sounds are pretty decent. They aren’t amazing awesome, but with some quick tweaks they can work quite well. Overall things are organized by what kind of sound it is (Bass, Synth Keys, Drum Kit, etc), what instrument makes it (Analog, Tension, Drum Rack, etc), or what Live Pack it’s a part of (Konkrete Drums, Factory, etc). So you can find the sounds in the library pretty easily a few different ways.
I have the Suite and most of the packs, and it adds up to a fair bit of sounds to choose from. Not overwhelmingly so like with Omnisphere or maybe NI’s Komplete, but a good enough variety to choose from. I haven’t yet tried importing my own samples, I think for now I’ll keep using Push just with the Live content to ensure the best compatibility. And to sort of force me to start using Live’s devices again too!
Gripes so far?
Well I do wish there were a few more drum kits. While there’s lots of individual hits if you want to build your own, there’s far too few of the really good Drum Racks compared to the number of Instrument Racks. Also, it seems like the touch strip is really under-utilized too. It only does pitchbend for some instruments, and switches the grid up and down in Drum Racks currently. I have a couple other wishlists, but I have a feeling given how many others share the same ideas they will be addressed soon.
But, so far I’m a lot more enthusiastic about Push than I thought I would be if I’m honest. It’s fun to come up with new ideas on, easy to find your way around most of the basic tasks, and truly doesn’t require you to look at the laptop for just about everything.
I found that I had to go to the laptop to save (really Ableton?), rename tracks and clips, or reorder tracks. For the most part everything else I needed to create some good solid song ideas could be done right from Push. Cool.
I’ll post some more reviews after I get some more time with it!