Because Push 2 is an update of Push 1 I will be giving a small review focusing mainly on the improvements and additional features over Push 1. If you are keen to know more about how Push works overall with Live check out my review of Push 1 since much of that applies to the new Push too.
Pros: Tightly integrates with Live, Many quality and usability improvements, Easy to read colour LCD display
Cons: High cost compared to MK1, very dim when used just from USB
Model: Push MK2
- 64 pressure and velocity sensitive pad matrix
- Pads support aftertouch
- Full RGB LED feedback
- Colour high-resolution LCD display
- 8 touch sensitive endless rotary encoders
- 1 touch sensitive pitch/mod strip
- 2 foot pedal inputs
- Metal faceplate for durability
- Dedicated browse, edit and set navigation buttons
- Tight Live integration
- Drum/Sequence/Clip Launch and edit modes
- Browse, load, edit live devices using Push
- Auto mapping encoders for quick tweaking
- Scales and Chromatic keyboard modes (now saves selection with project)
- Drum sequencer and 64pad drum machine
- Sampler loop editing
- On-the-fly sample to drum editing
- Channel mixer and VU feedback
- User MIDI mode (for use with any 3rd party software)
- Expandable functionality via user scripts and Max devices
- USB powered or externally powered
Release of MKII
I awoke to the news of a new Push controller and after reading of the updated improvements and features I was disappointed about the fact I wanted the MKII version but already owned the MKI. It was hard to justify since it really was nothing new, just an improved model so to speak so $900 was a little too much for me to justify. Then I noticed Ableton were offering a 30% discount if you purchased the MKII and sent back your MKI model. This was brilliant and I was straight on-board from day 1.
Ableton were offering all owners of the Push MKI the chance to "trade in" for an update to the MKII version and the returned units were then donated to music and underprivileged schools. This was something I was very impressed with which made the decision much easier even though the upgrade would still cost $600.
The ordering process was simple. Simply ordered the new Push direct from Ableton, free postage and free return postage of Push MK1. It took about 2 weeks for dispatch and the return process was very simple and hassle free. One of the best experiences upgrading a piece of equipment I have had.
MKII vs MKI
Push MKII is almost exactly the same in functionality as the MKI version with the obvious notable update of the green VFD display to a full high resolution colour display. A lot of small updates have happened that have been based on user feedback and it was great to see the overall layout was kept the same, only improved.
The question does come up a lot on the forums, "should I update... what is so better"? Well from almost every users point of view almost everything has been improved in some ways (but there are some things that will disappoint some users) and some of the additional features made possible by the full colour screen will certainly entice users new and old to consider the option. Price will ultimately be what helps decide.
One move from Ableton was to move the manufacture of Push 2 from Akai to in-house manufacture allowing more control over quality of manufacture.
The most obvious difference is the display. Push 1 included a very useful "scribble strip" display that offered real-time feedback and browsing capabilities direct from Live. It was a monochrome 4 line display. Push 2 upgrades this to a full high resolution colour display that makes good use of the large display space. Icons, coloured labels and dynamic displays show you a wealth of information that you can change at the press of a button. Browsing is so much more fluent too with smaller text allowing more information to fit on the screen and also allowing for scrolling names.
The display is very high in DPI so text is sharp and easy to read. The backlighting is also very bright (using the AC plugpack) and the colours really add extra functionality.
It should also be noted that in terms of "display" it is not just the LCD that has been updated but also the track selection buttons below the LCD have been updated to RGB LEDs. This displays the track colour along with a track name in the LCD making it even easier to see what is going on. As you step into menus the buttons will change function and also colour
One last comment on the display is how bright it is when powered only from USB vs using the plug pack. Push 1 was quite usable when powered from USB alone and was very bright when powered from the plug pack. MK2 can be powered from USB alone too but suffers from very dim display to the point it will not be easy to read in a lit room. Plugged into a wall though it is bright enough even in daylight.
Build Quality / Size
The quality of the original Push was pretty good for the most part. It was solid and felt like it could take some punishment and for users who used it in a studio it seemed pretty top notch already. Users who used it on the road and were constantly pulling it in and out of bags soon discovered some flaws with the design of the plastic shell where it would easily scratch and chip paint off making it look very used and old quickly.
The new MK2 version adds a metal top to Push which adds to some extra weight but vastly improves the durability. It also adds to the overall appearance making it appear as a very high quality product. Even unlit and all black it looks impressive.
Push 2 is a fraction larger than Push 1 being about 10mm longer and wider but it is also about 5mm slimmer and about the same weight. almost any old Push 1 stand will suit Push 2 but for those that have a decksaver cover it will not fit Push 2.
Pads & Buttons
The pads have been completely replaced along with the underlying LEDs. Almost all accounts from users state the pads are a big improvement offering a very good feel and expression with good adjustable velocity curves. Some users have reported some issues when playing very lightly using aftertouch. I have not suffered any issues and found the playability of the pads quite a bit better than Push 1. They appear even across the board and I noticed the difference straight away. The pads are also a lower profile than on Push 1 and don't stick out like they do on Push 1.
One of the most complained about things from Push 1 was the inconsistent light output from the backlighting of the pads especially when producing the "White Pad" colour. This affected almost all users to a degree with some users reporting wildly different shades over their pads. The cause was down to the fact the backlight LEDs had only RGB colours and needed to mix all of these to produce white. Due to slight differences in the LED colour mixing it produced differences over the 64 pads. This is a non-issue for Push 2 with backlighting very uniform and also very vibrant.
The function buttons for Push 2 have also been improved and with the buttons being almost flush to the top of Push over the raised rubber buttons.Some new buttons appear (such as Clip/Mix etc) and some buttons have changed position but for the most part, the same functions are available plus more. They also have a soft feel with a nice click though some buttons have more of a resistance than others but this is a small niggle. Some function buttons also have RGB backlighting to change their display based on what Push is doing. Again, all of this is just refining what was already nice on Push.
The new display, updated pads and improved control layouts are all nice but what does Push MK2 bring to the table in terms of new features and are these worth the extra cost?
Not really a "new feature" but certainly worth a mention. Browsing presets and samples from Push really makes it feel like an instrument and the new browser takes that to the next level with very smooth browsing. The browser lists are animated and fold out automatically. The track select buttons will now allow you to jump the selection to any column and it is super quick to get to any Ableton content or your own user files (user folder now at the top of the list). It is also possible to enable/disable file preview (though previews work only with supported Live content).
A new "Mix" button on Push 2 opens up a new mixer section displaying the current track level and volume including peak meters. You can then easily switch control of the encoders to volume, pan or returns. Selecting a track allows complete control over the entire tracks controls including individual sends and the display is very responsive.
Making full use of the new LCD screen the introduction of Clip Mode allows a user to load in a sample using Push then pressing the "Clip" button you can open the loops waveform and manipulate start/end play regions, loop length, gain, transpose and much more. It basically opens the simpler device on the Push screen.
Further to editing a clip you can also chopp or send the clip to drum pads allowing a beat to be chopped and changed directly using Push. Just another way to help inspire something new from something old.
Scales is not new but some new features around the scales feature is the ability to change how the scaled notes are laid out on the pads. Probably a more important update is your selected scale is now saved with your project so if you setup a scale it is reloaded on a track-by-track basis when you next open a project.
There is now a dedicated setup button that allows you to enter into the main controller setup where you can adjust the LCD brightness, pad brightness and pad response. Unlike the simple pad threshold and sensitivity on the original Push, Push 2 has a bit more control with a graph showing the overall setting of the pad sensitivity with adjustments. This helps to dial in just how you would like to play.
The Not So Good?
There will be some aspects to the controller that will hold some people off from even considering it as a purchase or an upgrade.
First off, the cost. This is $800 worth of MIDI controller which is pretty much tied to Live. While it can function as a normal MIDI controller it really is designed to work with Live and Live alone. It's great if you are a Live user but if you have another DAW you use, it's not even on your radar. Owners of the original Push could (until May 2016) trade in MK1 for MK2 but would still need to shell out $600 for the upgrade when the new sale price of Push MK1 is around $300 now.
Next is the fact it is a "pad controller" and not a keyboard. I personally find I approach writing music differently on Push and can create much more rhythmic music using Push, while I tend to play more piano and string based stuff on my keyboard. It's just how I like to play and the pad idea isn't going to suit everyone. Couple this with the fact you almost have to use a plug pack adapter to actually see the screen could be a deal breaker for some.
Probably the last thing that may affect some users is the fact any scripts designed for Push 1 (Such as the Native-Kontrol PXT scripts) are not compatible with Push 2 so if you were like me and invested in some fancy scripts to add extra functionality with Push then you will not be able to carry that over. This will probably be a non issue over time as the API of Push has been opened up for users to pick away at so we should see some interesting hacks and scripts available for Push 2 from the community.
Push 2 is fantastic and personally I had no regrets when upgrading. I enjoyed Push 1 for 2 years and loved the new features and improvements that it was an easy decision for me. The cost of Push 2 though is certainly a stumbling block and it requires Live 9 Standard or higher to work. Those that can justify the cost will not be disappointed and unlike the initial release of Push 1 the forums are almost all positive with feedback with some small issues affecting some users.
The new display, metal construction, improved pads and buttons and addressing of some common community gripes does help to drive home the fact Ableton are a company that listens to their users even though it may not seem as such sometimes. I have been a forum member since 2010 and in that time I have seen massive changes within Ableton with the introduction of a better testing and beta program, upgrades to 64bit software, more input from developers and what appears as an actual roadmap of releases even if we don't always get to see it. The Push 1 buyback scheme was a great idea and I watched their Workshop video last year when they announced the release and the work they put into it and it was a good insight into how the company operates and how they take pride in what they do.
I think Push MK2 will be very at home in any Live users studio. If you are a fan of Ableton Live like I am it will certainly be welcome but at the same time it does kind of lock you into Live so if you are not a real fan or like to drift between different DAWs then it may take up space better used by something else. I cannot recommend it enough and it really is one of those products you will either own or you won't. Not many people will sit on the fence for too long, something convinces you one way or the other.