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The landscape of available MIDI controllers is crowded with plastic products that are mass produced to appeal to a broad and unfocused range of users, and the components used in these products are often compromised in order to price the products competitively. On the flipside, there are droves of passionate users who invest a great deal of time and energy into working closely with these devices. There simply comes a point where a cheaply produced MIDI controller is just too much of a burden and hindrance. This is where the Austin, Texas-based manufacturer Livid Instruments comes into play.
When you get hooked on manipulating creative production software with hardware controllers, there’s no limit to the depths to which you can plunge while chasing your curiosity. A common obstacle encountered with MIDI controllers is that the layout of the knobs, buttons and faders doesn’t suit your particular needs, and because they’re hardware, there’s no way you can move them around and tweak them to your liking. That’s what drives many people to build their own controllers. The DIY ethic is central to the spirit of hardcore MIDI controller enthusiasts, and that spirit is shared and encouraged by the people at Livid Instruments.
However, not everyone who needs a failsafe MIDI controller has the extensive electronics background, soldering skills, workshop space, tools and endless hours of free time required to build one. Many people just want to get right down to making music, and to serve this end, Livid Instruments offers a range of ready-made controllers that are rock solid. Every model is class compliant, which provides the user with plug-and-play ease on Mac, Windows and Linux computers. Plus, Livid Instruments controllers are supported by an array of open source software applications that make the impossible possible.
One aspect that sets Livid hardware apart (besides the careful, handmade quality) are the RGB backlit buttons found in the grid controllers and in other sections of the hardware. The RGB aspect makes it possible for the buttons to illuminate in seven different colors (which is four more than competing products). This dramatically increases the amount of visual feedback that can be shared between the computer and the controller. When your software is recording, a button can turn red. When muted, the button can turn yellow. When playing, it can turn green. That’s three colors down. You can take the interaction further by assigning other colors to grouped audio clips and mapped controls. You’re free to assign colors yourself and use them as you please.
This enhanced visual feedback between the software and hardware is one of the key benefits of using a Livid Instruments controller. Users of Ableton Live have access to numerous Python scripts that make enhanced two-way communication possible between Ableton and Livid’s hardware. The scripts enable Ableton Live to display a graphical box around the clips that are currently accessible in Session View on a Livid grid controller. If you also have an Akai APC40 or a Novation Launchpad connected to your computer, Live can display graphical boxes for each controller in a different color, so you can use more than one at the same time, and instantly be able to tell which controller has access to which clips.
Livid Instruments also provides MIDI scripts and templates for popular audio applications like Native Instruments Traktor, Propellerhead’s Reason, Max/MSP, Renoise, and MLRV2, and live video mixing/manipulation software like Cell DNA and Arkaos Grand VJ. Many of the Livid Instruments controllers also feature expansion jacks, so you can add additional hardware controllers like the 8-fader XPC-8F, the 4-knob/4-fader XPC-4K4F and the dual joystick/4-knob XPC-4K2JS, without consuming an additional USB port. All Livid Instruments products are made in the USA, and the controllers are bus powered from USB, so you never have to worry about power supplies.
Here’s a breakdown of some of Livid’s noteworthy offerings.
Designed in collaboration with minimal techno artist Richie Hawtin and members of his cadre, the Livid Instruments CNTRL:R is likely one of the most well-executed commercially available controllers for creating electronic music live and in the studio. All of the buttons on CNTRL:R are backlit RGBs, and the faders, push-button encoders and rotary knobs are all of the highest quality. Perhaps the most striking feature on this model is the two rows of 16 RGB buttons that run along the base of the unit. They can be programmed and assigned to do anything you please, but they can also be used for the Drum Stepp:r and Synth Stepp:r software devices that were created specifically for CNTRL:R. Ableton Live 8 and Max for Live are required to use the Stepp:r devices, and they enable you to create and manipulate complex sequences on the fly. It’s also possible to change the MIDI mapping right from the controller. CNTRL:R was intentionally designed to be as compact as possible, and it easily fits into a backpack. Two foot-pedal jacks enable you to incorporate foot controls into the mix. In addition to the Stepp:r devices, there’s also a healthy library of free controller apps for various Livid Instrument models available for download on the manufacturer’s site.
The OhmRGB Control Surface is another excellent controller for live electronic music, DJ’ing or any other creative pursuit you can dream up. It features a centrally located 8 x 8 grid controller that offers 64 RGB buttons for launching clips, controlling software instruments, creating sequences and more (there are 81 buttons total). The OhmRGB features the same high caliber of construction found in all Livid products, and attractive wooden end caps give it an instrument-like presence. Like the CNTRL:R, the OhmRGB features standard MIDI In and Out ports (MIDI is also transferred to the connected computer through USB), bi-directional communication with software, and the ability to change MIDI settings straight from the hardware. Ohm Editor software is included, which enables you to set up custom LED talkback programming and MIDI editing. A downloadable copy of CellDNA video mixing software is included. If this sounds appealing, but you don’t think you’ll need the standard MIDI ports, you can opt for the slightly more compact OhmRGB Slim. The wooden end caps are not included on the Slim (to make it a little more travel-friendly and cost effective), but it has all of the control power of its bigger brother.
Some people can never have too many LED-ringed push-button encoders, and the Livid Instruments Code Control Surface supplies you with 32 of them in a space-efficient footprint. The LED rings provide visual feedback from the software running on the connected computer, and another LED is featured at the base of each encoder to inform you of its status. The additional LED and the push-button action of each encoder makes it possible to use Code as a grid controller. The body is made of anodized aluminum with wooden end caps, and it weighs only 2 pounds (0.9 kg). In addition to the encoders, Code also features 13 non-RGB backlit buttons. Code is an extremely powerful controller on its own, and it really expands your possibilities when coupled with other controllers.
|Encoders/Knobs||32x programmable push-button encoders (talkback and interactive performance)||16x knobs||16x knobs||12x programmable push-button encoders (talkback and interactive performance), 24x rotary knobs|
|Buttons||45x programmable backlight buttons (talkback and interactive performance)||81x programmable backlight buttons (talkback and interactive performance)||81x programmable backlight buttons (talkback and interactive performance)||48x programmable backlight buttons (talkback and interactive performance)|
|Faders||None||8x faders, 1x crossfader||8x faders, 1x crossfader||8x faders|
|MIDI||MIDI In and Out ports, bi-directional communication (talkback), programmable MIDI mapping (change MIDI settings on the hardware)||Bi-directional communication (talkback), programmable MIDI mapping (change MIDI settings on the hardware)||MIDI In and Out ports, bi-directional communication (talkback), programmable MIDI mapping (change MIDI settings on the hardware)||MIDI In and Out ports, bi-directional communication (talkback), programmable MIDI mapping (change MIDI settings on the hardware)|
|Construction||Aluminum and wood||Aluminum body, custom finish||Aluminum body, mahogany wood endcaps||Aluminum body with durable black finish|
|Compatibility||Class compliant, no drivers required for Mac, Windows and Linux. Compatible with any software that supports MIDI learn||Class compliant, no drivers required for Mac, Windows and Linux. Compatible with any software that supports MIDI learn||Class compliant, no drivers required for Mac, Windows and Linux. Compatible with any software that supports MIDI learn|
|Software||Open source software (create your own LED talkback interaction)||Open source software (create your own LED talkback interaction)||Open source software (create your own LED talkback interaction)||Open source software (create your own LED talkback interaction)|
|Power||USB powered||USB powered||USB powered||USB powered|
|Dimensions||6.5 x 11.5 x 1.75" (165 x 292 x 45mm)||16 x 9 x 1.25" (406 x 229 x 32mm)||16.5 x 9.5 x 2.25" (419 x 241 x 57mm)||14.5 x 9.75 x 1.75" (368 x 248 x 45mm)|
|Weight||2 lb (0.9 kg)||5 lb (2.3 kg)||6 lb (2.7 kg)||5 lb (2.3 kg)|
Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any questions, or would like to share your thoughts on advanced MIDI controllers, we encourage you to submit a comment below.