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Push it real good

Last month we saw how Ableton’s flagship production software, Live, has evolved into an improved powerhouse, with the new Version 9 release. However, not content with bolstering their software to be all-powerful, the guys at Ableton have added an extra dimension to the whole package. It’s obvious in their minds that software is not enough, and so exploring the next level seems like the logical progression.

This progression now sees the introduction of Push, the first Ableton/Akai-designed controller for Live. A quick word of warning, though: Push will only work with the new Version 9 upgrade, and not any of the earlier incarnations of Live.

Push in itself is a rarity: a multipurpose controller that actually works. It's part-instrument, part-drum machine, part-live controller, part-arrangement and editing tool, and you can compose, record, edit and mix entirely from the hardware. This is the angle that Ableton were keen to express — that Push is more than just a basic controller, it's a complete music creation instrument in its own right.

At its core, Push is a musical composition device. The 64 input pads offer a nifty alternative to a conventional piano keyboard and allows complete beginners to play complex chord progressions and switch from major, minor and diminished chords without even having to change the relative position of your fingers.

It offers two different systems for ensuring that notes are only played within a specified key (users choose this themselves, from a huge array of conventional and exotic scales). With In-Key engaged, only notes that fall within the specified key will be assigned to the pads, allowing for fantastic chord progressions and extemporisation even in the hands of a novice.

The alternative is Chromatic mode, which assigns the other notes to the pads, but only those in key light up. Either way, the system is a game-changer for non-classically-trained producers, and even an inspiration for trained musicians.

The pads also offer perhaps the cleverest drum pad system ever designed. Half MPC-style drum pads, half step-sequencer, you can use both simultaneously to input notes or to edit and quantise existing notes (there is also input-quantisation). And Push features the Note Repeat button, made famous by the MPC.

Engage Note Repeat hold and it's easy to build a beat, play chords or even trigger an arpeggiator simply by holding the pads. It is so simple that users will feel confident doing it on-stage within hours.

So what about arranging? Anybody who's used an APC-40 will be immediately at home with Push. The pads respond to clips and note value buttons to scenes, but thanks to the RGB backlighting, the actual colours respond exactly to the clip colours onscreen, making it easier than ever before.

Basic mixing functions are available too, with mute, volume, pan and sends all available via a well thought-out and intuitive system. But what is mixing without plug-ins? Push allows you to add devices (and tracks) using a nice menu system, and once added all the parameters can be edited using rotaries and buttons. It works as well for third-party plugs as for Live's own devices: if it can be automated, it can be edited with Push, with parameter names and values displayed on screen.

The build, meanwhile, is tank-like. The buttons feel great, with function buttons offering a reassuring click, while the pads are constantly touch-sensitive (hold a snare in repeat mode and as you push harder and softer, the snare hits will respond in kind) and can be set to varying levels of sensitivity to suit your taste. The rotary encoders also feel solid, and are all infinite (except for tempo, which clicks in increments). They even feature touch-resistance, so simply put your finger on one to call up its value.

There is so much more goodness, and very little about Push not to like. That said, at the basic level of use the user manual could be improved as it really doesn't explain everything that can be done with Push. Also, while Native Instruments' Maschine is a much simpler affair, MPC purists might appreciate the fact that it can record audio, then slice and edit the samples directly from the hardware — which Push cannot. In fact, Push is rather limited in what it can do with audio channels, but that is hardly a criticism.

As rites of passage go, this is an unmitigated success. Push is very definitely a good first look, and from initial plays and given its complete integration with Live it is going to win itself a whole new collection of fans.


Build quality 8.0
Ease of use 8.0
Features 9.0
Value for money 8.0
Sound Quality N/A


Stunning and innovative in-key mode, best 'beats' mode on any hardware, unrivalled creative control of Live with fantastic construction.


No audio editing facilities, but that can all be done in the software.

Push is a great tool to enable quick and easy music production, and is so versatile that it easily lends itself to Live performance as well.