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Chip off the old Block

Livid unleash their multi-purpose, easy-to-use controller — The Block

Texas company Livid have been making beautifully crafted hardware such as Ohm 64, as well as various software products, since 2000 now. Their latest product is The Block — a multi-purpose controller for the digital DJ or VJ.

When we opened the box our first impression was that The Block looked pretty stylish and minimalist. The silver front plate, blue LED pads and wood casing go together very nicely.

The Block is minimalist in more ways than one, though, as what is actually sent is just the controller itself and a USB lead. There’s no power cable because it plugs and powers via the USB and there’s not even an instruction manual. Some people might see this as a downside, but ultimately getting straight to grips with the product in a hands-on fashion is less time consuming than trawling through a manual. Seasoned controller users will find The Block relatively intuitive, while others can find tutorial videos online.

The Block is built with a finely finished jelutong wood casing with an anodized aluminium faceplate screwed on top. The rubberised buttons have got a good feel to them and are backlit by a blue LED light when active. In general, The Block appears fairly sturdy although it could do with a better design. After one slight knock, a crack has appeared on the corner joint.

The main section of The Block houses 64 touch pads in rows of eight by eight. There are two faders on the bottom left hand side of the unit, with seven function buttons above these and eight rotary knobs across the top of the unit. The function buttons can be programmed to change presets or sound banks. There is also one larger button handy for tapping out tempo changes on the fly.

Livid have built The Block to be able to work with your software of choice relatively easily. This comes in handy for VJ applications such as Arkaos Grand VJ or Cell DNA as it is layered out in a similar way to these programs with the added flexibility of the rotary knobs and faders.

Ableton Live
To get an idea of its ease of use, we set up The Block to work with Ableton Live and got to it. Pressing MIDI learn in Live chooses a function to be assigned. Press a corresponding button on Block and this will assign a function to that specific button or knob just like that. It’s a doddle. Endless combinations of presets can be stored to your specific preference at the touch of a button. The ease and simplicity of The Block really stands out, although there is gripe in that the rotary knobs across the top of the unit are not in line with the touch pad. This can take a little bit of getting use too when using The Block for the first time, although after a while knowing which knob corresponds with which column becomes second nature so it’s not a major problem.

Livid also have a handy downloadable Block Editor application, which provides an interface for quickly changing MIDI assignments and presets of the buttons, sliders, knobs, and LEDs on the go. Livid are constantly creating new software tools and patches for The Block controller such as a synth, sampler, sequencer, and Max for Ableton Live set ups. The ideology behind the software is about tweaking and experimenting the way The Block can be used. It is also editable in Cycings 74 Max/MSP software. This makes it very versatile and will have bags of appeal to DJs and VJs alike.

In the current market of controllers, there are a few contenders — particularly when it comes to Ableton Live — and the Akai MPC40/20, the Novation Launchpad, and the Monome controllers all offer variations on a theme. The Block is slightly ahead of the Monome on the control front, but it is not quite up their with the Akai in terms of overall quality. Among the cheaper options, however, The Block is a solid choice thanks to its responsive faders and rotary knobs, which are not a feature on many of of the alternatives.

Verdict

Price   £349.99
Contact   lividinstruments.com
Build Quality
  3.5
Ease of Use   4.0
Features   3.5
Value for Money   4.0
Sound Quality   N/A
Hype   A nice simple and easy-to-use box that can control a multitude of DJing and VJing software.
Gripe   It’s not exactly plug in and play so users are going to have to map and program some of the controller set-ups from scratch.
Conclusion   The Block was Livid is a cool looking controller that is versatile in its use and functions. All in all, it’s a quick fix controller for use with not just your DJing software but anything you want to fire at it.
Overall Score   3.5/5