I have made it very clear over the reviews I have written for DJWORX that I believe we, as DJs and producers, are better served by having more control over the tools at our disposal. While many people have preferred the need for plug and play over mappability, there are still undeniable advantages to customizing the mapping for your controller to fit your workflow. Some manufacturers, thankfully, have made it a point to allow the user to have as much granular control over how their products work while still providing compelling plug and play functionality. One of the most reliable names in that camp is Livid Instruments, having released some beautiful DJ and production controllers over the years.
It was with great delight that I checked my mail one day and saw a box from them holding their new-ish controller, the Livid Base. Touting touch control and a grid of 32 velocity sensitive RGB pads it definitely comes packed with features, and provides a very powerful web-based mapping tool. Let’s dig deeper, though, and see how it can add to your DJ and production rig.
While many controllers have come across my desk, I have never seen one packaged like a Livid controller. All I was greeted with was a simple brown box, a letter thanking me for my purchase and explaining Livid’s mission, a certificate that the unit was hand checked by an actual human being, a USB cable the controller, and the most important piece, stickers. So many boxes have come across my desk with what feels like pounds of paper and flyers and… things that just quickly go into the garbage, this direct approach is very welcome.
The controller has a great feel to it. It has a solid weight of 3lbs which never feels overwhelming at its size at 10.25” x 11” x 0.75”. The body is made entirely of aluminum with an extruded aluminum frame, and four chunky rubber feet make sure it won’t move around on my desk. The only available port is a single USB port on the back corner of the left hand side.
There are 32 velocity sensitive pads and they are tight, very tight. They have absolutely no give to them, and when I press as hard as I can they barely sink in. The Livid Base has a very different feel to the Maschine Mikro MK2 and the Akai MPC Studio I have sitting next to it. There are 9 touch strips, each with 8 RGB LEDs, with a similar feel to the old SCS3 touch strips. Above each touch strip is a touch sensor used for button triggers with an RGB LED in the middle and another RGB LED in the upper right hand corner to show you when it’s being pressed. There are 8 thin rubber buttons on the right hand side, each with two RGB LEDs in each corner. Above the buttons there is a 14 character LED display that will read your current preset and MIDI channel.
Based only on feel, the Livid Base controller is very professional. The silk screen is non-existent, speaking to Livid’s open source, open ended use cases. There are no expectations about what you can do with this controller, and you are provided with tools to take advantage of all the MIDI controls provided.
As a note before I get this started, you don’t need to use the MIDI mapping tools Livid provides. If you want to just load this up with Traktor or Ableton the Livid Base will work perfectly. If, however, you want to take advantage of the options available to mapping the Base the tools provided are extremely powerful. This is a nice way of saying you don’t have to read this section if you aren’t interested in hacking the Base (so yeah, plug and play – Ed).
I have a few MIDI editing applications on my computer for various controllers floating around, like the Controller Editor by Native Instruments or the Tweaker Editor for the Electrix Tweaker. Livid has created a very powerful editor as well, but they have moved it to the browser instead of requiring another application to be installed. I had a few issues getting it to recognize my Base at first, but after a few restarts I was greeted with a virtual representation of my controller and all the different pieces I could edit.
There are tons of commands and control parameters you can change. Every pad, every button, every touch control can be edited to send more or less information. Editing most controls was intuitive and simple, but the learning curve for MIDI is very prevalent. When you initially activate the editor, if you are not particularly comfortable with MIDI controls and vernacular you can easily find yourself lost in modes, output types and presets. Livid provides a very detailed, robust WIKI for the Editor and the Livid Base, though, making it easier to understand what you are doing.
Editing a controller in this way requires a more complete plan than building a MIDI map in most application. What’s nice about it, though, is you can edit it while you’re creating your mapping and keep pushing it to your controller to save it. You can create as many preset files as you want, but they need to be accessed via the editor. You can edit your Livid Base offline by downloading their editor, but you cannot save or recall presets; that requires internet access. So, if this is the direction you decide to go make sure you have the correct preset loaded before you go to your gig.
Each preset can hold up to 7 banks internally. These banks will change how the LEDs appear, as well as what channel the controls send on. The banks will not change what messages are sent, but instead what channel they send on. While this sounds limited, with a good enough set up you won’t really lose anything. To toggle through banks, though, you need to assign a command to it, which forces you to give up a button or two, and since real estate is prime on this controller I found this frustrating, though I know there is no other option. If you are going to take advantage of the various banks then be sure to assign it to one of the side buttons, not the touch controls.
The only feature I wish it allowed was setting individual LEDs in the fader strips to individual colors. I’ve always wanted a good RGB VU meter on a controller like this, but it seems that I could only get single color LEDs. This isn’t a make or break feature, but it would have been really nice.
As I said above, if you are just going to load the Livid Base into Ableton and use their scripts you won’t need to do anything with the editor. You should be able to get away with most things in Traktor as well, but if you’re going to want to do anything more advanced you should look into the editor so the controller reads out exactly what you want. I did have some issues changing commands back and forth and had to reset the device, which was frustrating, but the editor is a powerful tool.
Reviewing a controller like this can be difficult. There are so many things it can do that are unique to each person that it can be overwhelming. Livid provides mappings for Traktor, Ableton 8 and 9 and Reason. The robust community, though, already provides more mappings for the software you’d expect, and I’m sure more will be coming.
I loaded the Livid Base in to Traktor with the mapping they provided and gave it a whirl. The mapping is serviceable to get a feel for the controller, but I would completely change it for my needs. As a primary deck controller I find the Base lacking, similarly to most other utility or grid controllers I’ve reviewed. A mapping, however, that means to sit next to a minimal controller like the Z1 or the MM-1 would be great. Since the faders are touch sensitive you can create really compelling super “knobs”, and there are a lot of features you can cram into the pads.
The pads feel very different from what I’m used to. When compared to other pad controllers around my apartment they are extremely firm, more akin to the Push’s pads. They have almost no give to them whatsoever, which is annoying when using them as buttons, but the response as drum pads or cue triggers is fantastic, better than everything I have available to me. The aftertouch response is perfectly accurate and the velocity and trigger capabilities feel more than expressive. Other manufacturers should take note, this is how drum pads should respond.
The LEDs in the pads are clear and bright in dim light, but they do not fill the entire pad like the Maschine Mikro or the Push, and in bright light are difficult to see. They are clear hot spots in the middle, and then almost nothing. At first this looked really unattractive, but when I dimmed the lights it was bright enough, just not as polished as other controllers.
Loading the controller into Ableton proved very simple. Livid provides an installer on their website to download all the remote scripts for all of their hardware and it quickly installs everything for you. The mappings are really in depth and will require a little bit of study on their wiki, but they are very powerful and integrated into most of the features of Ableton.
And the integration with Ableton 9 includes a lot of the features that the Push includes. You can set your key and scales, split the controller into MIDI notes and clip launching, and you have access to all the standard tools as well. Giving up the readouts of the Push can be hard, though, since there is so much information you have to glean from memory, but once you understand how it works it becomes much easier to navigate.
The Livid Base is a very unique controller in the current market. It’s well built, well featured and has an extremely powerful MIDI editor. If you want something that is plug and play in Ableton and don’t want to drop $600 on a Push this is a great solution. If you want an additional controller to sit next to DVS in Traktor, there is so much you can do here that it can fill almost all of your requirements. And with Serato opening up MIDI editing, this would make a great Sampler and FX controller.
I am always hesitant to use touch control, mainly because my experiences in the past have been so negative. The Base has a host of power under its touch control while being simple enough to utilize. There are as many layers as you want, and the provided mappings are pretty damn powerful. While I was not a huge fan of the feel of the pads to be used as buttons in Traktor, as expressive drum and key controllers they were fantastic. The after-touch made playing key parts much easier, and the velocity sensitivity allowed me to create pretty expressive rhythms.
The Livid Base feels great, has heft to it and feels like it could take a beating and then some. I think it goes a lot further as a performance tool but it definitely has the chops for creation. At $400 the price tag isn’t too high, but it is just outside an impulse buy. The question is not necessarily whether or not you have anything in your arsenal that can do what it can. It’s more whether or not you have anything that can do everything it can do as well as it can, and at this price there is almost nothing out there.