Review: Zerodebug touchAble Pro
The ultimate touch controller for Ableton Live reaches iOS and Android touch devices. We get touchy-feely with the touchAble Pro…
- Touch controller for use with Ableton Live
- Minimum system requirements: iPad or iPhone – iOS 10
- Android touch devices – Android 4.4 KitKat
- Mac OS X 10.7
- Windows 10
- Ableton Live 9.7.2
- Reviewed using 2018 MacBook Pro 13″, macOS Mojave, 2015 iPad Pro, iOS 12.1
Launched eight years ago, touchAble has risen to the top of the touchy Ableton Live control pile. Here, we’re looking at the new touchAble Pro. It brings significant developments, including split-screen, full MIDI editing, a waveform view, automation drawing, icontrol of Live’s Devices, and customisable templates for non-standard devices.
Communication with a computer is via wifi, or via a standard iOS Lightning/USB cable. After installing the app, you have to install the server application, and follow the simple instructions for how to set up Live’s Control Surface prefereces. Once that’s done, it’s great to see the iPad screen populate with clips and colours from the current Live set… One of touchAble’s killer features is immediately evident – it shows clip and scene names. No hardware controller does that. That’s not new in Pro, but it’s useful.
The main bar at the top equates to Live’s Control bar, with controls for transport, metronome, monitoring level, quantisation, tempo and capture, but also with a browser button (yes, you can load content straight from here, as well as creating or deleting tracks, clips, Scenes or tracks), connection management, and a split-screen button. The bottom bar handles zooming, navigation/view options and more, depending on what you’re doing at the time.
There are two vertical bars at the right. The outer is where you choose which module you want to view – Clips, Mixer Device, X/Y, and Custom. The inner contains context-specific icons relating to the chosen module. Select an audio clip, and you can see the waveform and interact with it just as you can within Live, or open Simpler and be rewarded with seeing the the audio in there. Use the MIDI clip editor to draw notes, with a full range of editing options available.
In the previous version of touchAble, Live Device templates required an in-app purchase, but now they’re included, covering all of Live’s ‘factory’ Devices, as well as core Max For Live Devices such as the DrumSynth instruments – even Live 10’s more graphic-heavy devices, such as Echo, translate well. Splitting the screen is great. Want to see two waveforms at once, from different tracks? Done. Two MIDI clips? Session view and Device parameters? You get the idea.
This is killer on a larger iPad: you can change what’s appearing in either half of the screen at any time, in either orientation. Combo view also lets you stack up a set of shortcuts to chosen Devices.
There are a few different methods of sending MIDI notes and CCs to Live using touchAble, beginning of course with a keyboard, and including an isomorphic grid, or drum pads. Scales can be selected from the app, and velocity set to a specific value, or determined by whereabouts the key or pad is touched (and with aftertouch, if you want it). There’s also a cool note-repeat function in there, and vertical pitch and mod sliders can be positioned at either side of the screen, or set to pop up.
The large ‘Chaos’ X/Y pad can send MIDI-mapped commands, or be assigned to specific Live elements from a list, as can the four balls in the other X/Y pad, where they can also be given a degree of ‘gravity’; so when swiped with a finger, they’ll go flying around the pad, ricocheting off the boundaries of the box, which is excellent fodder for the dedicated randomisation fan.
The Editor module is useful for building custom interfaces, but coming soon as an in-app purchase is a Device editor, which will let you build custom templates for your favourite third-party plug-ins. Currently, if you load an unsupported plug-in, you’re presented with a series of vertical sliders relating to the plug-in’s controls and if there are more than eight parameters in the plug-in, bank buttons let you navigate through so you can see the whole lot.
There’s comprehensive track management – a long tap on a track name brings up commands such as insert track, duplicate, delete, change colour, and so on. The mixer module in touchAble shows levels in real time, and there’s a neat option to limit all faders to 0dB – handy for live gigs.
And of course, you can view pans and sends, as well as mute, solo, and arm tracks. The Mixer module also contains the IO view and toggle view for managing inputs and outputs. More than one instance of touchAble can control Live at the same time, offering the possibility of two or more people jamming with the same computer, or one user viewing different layouts across a number of devices. You can even control touchAble’s parameters from external MIDI inputs.
Overall, touchAble Pro is easy to configure, fast to use, and engages with the software like nothing else. Also, it doesn’t exclude the use of hardware controllers alongside it, such as Push or APC40, or whatever else you have. The Device control is outstanding, and the ability to view two modules together is the icing on the cake.
It’s not truly tactile, and using a glass surface for a controller isn’t for everybody, but other than that, I have no quibbles about this at all. This app is the reason I have an iPad Pro. It’s ultra-mobile, too; a small laptop and a tablet take up little space… just add headphones.
Do I really need this?
If you own a compatible touch device, and you’re running Ableton Live, you owe it to yourself to try touchAble Pro. It might not provide a tactile pads ’n’ keys experience, but it does offer a huge amount of interactivity and visual feedback in a compact package. Nothing else on the market can control Live like this – you could use it in the studio to compose melodies and beats, or at gigs to control clips, scenes, and effects.
Everything you need is there, including the out-of-the-box control of Live’s device parameters that we’ve come to expect, thanks to Ableton’s Push controller. It’s not an either/or situation, though. There’s no reason why you can’t use touchAble and Push or, say, an Akai APC40 together.
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