In the interests of full disclosure, I’m familiar with Ableton Live, but I’m not a regular user. The beauty of Live is that it’s a performance-based digital audio workstation rather than a studio-based version. I’m all for that idea. Much of the urban music scene springs from creative people who don’t play conventional instruments. So why not play software?
This is the fundamental behind the Ableton Push 2 DAW Controller. It’s both a control surface and a performance device. Designed to work with Live software — the Push is Ableton’s only hardware product — the device puts many features of Live editing and playing under tactile control.
For anyone familiar with Live this is a control surface that can keep your eyes on the performance gear and away from your computer. I’m not a DJ and not really aware of the unique challenges of these types of performance situations, however I know that when you’re forced to look away from your instrument, Murphy’s Law dictates that’s when you should be looking at your instrument.
Because of my non-familiarity, I did call on a buddy who is immersed in that world. I’ll call DJ Lazy Jeff, because, well, he hasn’t had a gig since last Christmas. The dirty looks he gives me are reward in themselves. He’s a self-proclaimed Live expert and owns the Push 1, so I will pick his limited brains when my own limits are taxed.
Setup and Usability
Setup is simple, since there are only so many routing options. This is technically a control surface. There are no sounds, bells, whistles or other noise makers inside the box. You can’t use the Push without connection to a computer running Live software. The Push 2 comes bundled with various versions of Live 9.5. Intro, Standard and Suite are the three versions available, which you can consider small, medium and large, respectively, with the appropriate price tags attached.
Technically, the Push 2 gets power through its USB connection. However, there’s not enough juice through the USB port to give you bright display. For that, you need to add the dreaded wall wart power supply. I don’t like them, just saying, but at least this one takes up only one spot on my already crowded power bars. There are also a complete selection of international power plug tips, so if you’re jetting over to a gig in Europe, you have the power connection you need for the Push. How about a roadie? Do you need a roadie? I’m free this weekend.
Connect the power supply and then the USB port to your computer. There are two more ¼-inch jacks on the other side of the rear panel. These are for footswitches, either sustain pedal, loop or recording control. The on/off switch sits beside these. That’s it, you should be up and running.
One of the nice things about a control surface matched to one software is that configuration isn’t necessary. You need not puzzle how to work things with the software you happen to use. One of the downsides is, of course, you’re tied to using Ableton Live. Were it not such an established and (almost) one of a kind DAW, I might cry foul, but the level of integration makes the Push 2 an almost inevitable extension of Live. Neither DJ Lazy or I have come across anything suggesting the Push can function with other software. Going through user reviews suggests everyone is pairing the Push with Live.
DJ Lazy has an issue with the fact that the controls are laid out somewhat differently on the Push 2 versus the Push 1, so users expecting a quick changeover may need to temper expectations. Having not seen a Push 1 in person, I thought the layout was logical, and in the limited time I had playing with the Push 2, there seemed to be no regularly used controls that “disappeared” on me. That speaks to a logical layout, but of course if you’re used to something else, there will be some transition period.
The box itself is solid and very streamlined. It’s apparently a bit thinner than the original, and the performance buttons that take up much of the surface are mounted closer to the box surface in the Push 2. The increased sensitivity of the buttons is exciting veteran Push users. The first version was great from beats, but didn’t really cut it when used with more delicate instruments. While user reviews raved over this, DJ Lazy simply raised his eyebrows. From him, that’s a rave. He earned his name.
The updated display is also earning raves. Larger than the original push and moving into hi-res TFT from the old LCD puts more information at hand. I felt the display could be bigger still. Keep in mind I am clumsy manipulating sound in the Live environment.
Other buttons and rotary controls feel positive and durable. I expect a Push will face some punishment with the adrenaline of live performance and to me, it seems up to the task.
All of the one-star reviews are dismissable. One is from a user who had no idea the Push 2 is made specifically for use with Live and expected it to be a sound generator by itself. Another had a bad USB cable and seems to have made no attempt to try another, thus complaints of connectivity issues heard nowhere else. Finally, a third user didn’t dig very deep into the licensing to know that Live 9.5 is a no-cost upgrade to registered Live 9 users. It’s the usual complain-first-ask-questions-later crowd.
Rule those out and the worst review is a three-star. That user just wasn’t that impressed. It may have been DJ Lazy. Nothing impresses him.
The four and five-stars love the integration with Live. There appears to be little appreciable latency, a key point with any USB performance device. Apparently, the Push 1 was a dust magnet, and the Push 2 stays fresher longer. Other users talk about the Push 2 refreshing their enthusiasm. That is an intangible that is worth noting when working in a creative field. I equate that with picking up a new guitar and finding all these new songs in it. It’s good to know an electronic device can create similar inspiration.
The Ableton Push 2 price tag is steep enough that I won’t be running out to get one, but then I’m not their target user. However, the feel and look of the unit impresses. While no means was I into the depths of the hardware/software combination of the Push 2 and Live 9.5, it was simple to get started and playing.
As a control device for Ableton Live, I doubt you’ll find a better or more intuitive match than the Push 2. Make no mistake, this is a device that is, for better or worse, exclusively connected with a computer running Live, but it does what it does very well.