Gear Review: Livid Instruments CNTRL-R

While laptop computers have revolutionized the electronic music world, the one aspect that is lost is the connection between instrument and performer. Controller interfaces have solved a lot of these problems, however not every controller is created equal. A lot of the interfaces available are built as a generic set of features that can plug in to any DAW and act as basic implement to control features on the screen.

When Livid started developing custom MIDI controllers several years ago, people started talking. With their unique approach to interfaces, these brilliant engineers set forth to not only develop the most customizable controllers out there, but to raise their product’s status to a performance instrument. The development of this unique interface was spearheaded several years ago by world-renowned techno godfather, Richie Hawtin, and has finally made its way onto the market.

After roadtesting their controllers for countless hours, Hawtin and several other artists from his Minus label have shaped this unit into an interface that plays and feels like the drum machines and groove boxes of yesteryear. Using aircraft grade aluminum, the highest quality faders, knobs and RGB backlit buttons available, Livid hand builds each unit in Austin, Texas. Livid also includes remote scripts for either NI’s Traktor and Ableton’s Live. The real magic that makes this controller so special is a distinctive Ableton Max For Live device that was built specifically for this unit. The Drumstepp-R and Synthstepp-R are Max devices that turn your CNTRL-R into a 16-step drum or synth sequencer. If Ableton was lacking one thing in its studio revolution, it would be the fact that a 16-step sequencer was never provided in its bundle. While Live functions like a vintage drum machine in a sense, this controller has now provided the ultimate missing element, making your studio workstation flow just like a traditional analog studio.

The set up was a bit challenging to get going quickly; it wasn’t as fast as some other units on the market. But once it was up and running it was easy to start creating and jamming in a matter of moments. At first it seemed that you would only use this unit to step-program drums and tweak their sounds, but after several hours jumping back and forth between controlling the Drum Racks and controlling Ableton’s main functions (via a single push button encoder), it is clear that this sturdy device may soon rule the roost in the Ableton controller world.

There are certainly easier devices out there to get running for basic Ableton control, but there are no other controllers that even touch the ability to map their DAW and perform music like the CNTRL-R. If your music has been lacking as you feel like you are playing without an instrument, then this stand alone, USB powered controller-instrument is for you.

Livid Instruments CNTRL-R (MSRP: $699)