All Upgrades Should Work Like Ableton’s Push 3 Upgrade Kit
Tech News

All Upgrades Should Work Like Ableton’s Push 3 Upgrade Kit

If you thought computers and smartphones were bad for repairability and upgradeability, you should take a look at music gadgets, where locked-down feature sets and non-user-replaceable batteries are the norm. The Oberheim MC2000 MIDI controller, for instance, has a standard-size CR2032 battery (cool!) but to change it, you need to desolder the battery and replace it with a whole soldered unit (less cool!). Which makes Ableton’s Push 3 an even more impressive product. 

Until now, the Push has been a fancy MIDI controller that you plug into your computer and use to control the Ableton Live software. Like Apple’s Logic, Live is a digital audio workstation (DAW), for recording, playing, and processing sound. Want a custom drum loop? Want to record yourself singing and playing the guitar, then mix the tracks? Want to sample a noise your dishwasher makes and build a song around it? Or to layer a zillion tracks full of audio clips and painstaking effects, like Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas? You need a DAW, and if you want to do all that without clicking your mouse over the screen the whole time, you probably want a MIDI controller to keep the show running smoothly. The Push 3 is more of the same—a deeply integrated controller that makes Live feel like a hardware instrument—with one big difference: It can now be used without a computer. It does almost everything a desktop DAW can do, only it’s in a box with touch-sensitive pads, a bunch of knobs and dials for real hands-on control.

I use mine around the house, playing and composing wherever I fancy, but for professional musicians, not being tethered to a computer means one less expensive box to take to a beer-soaked gig, and many electronic musicians don’t like to be hidden behind a laptop, where the audience might suspect that they’re just doing their email or taxes.

Here’s a video to show you the possibilities, with iFixit bonus points for the artist, Rachel Collier, wielding a nail gun while she builds her own studio.

The Push 3 comes in two versions. The controller version, which requires a Mac or PC running Live, just like before, and the standalone version, which adds in an Intel NUC PC, a 256GB SSD, Wi-Fi hardware, and a big battery. 

Now, here’s the revolutionary idea: you can buy the controller version, and then upgrade it later to the standalone version with a kit. Even better, the final cost is the same, whichever route you choose.

I chose the latter route. I’ve been using the Push 3 for some months now and decided I wanted to be able to use it on my lap. So I ordered the kit and a few days later got to work. 

Neat Package

First, the box. The entirety of the packaging is cardboard and paper. Even the screws come in little paper envelopes. This mirrors the Push 3’s own packaging. 

As you can see, each section is labeled, and there’s a QR code that takes you to a step-by-step instructional videos. Ableton says the upgrade process takes around 30 minutes. I watched the video before tackling the project, and it took me around half an hour in total, including taking photos. Experienced folks could probably do it faster. 

I have one request at this point. It might help to have the boxes numbered in the order they will be used. And I also want to call out the best part of the entire process: The kit comes with its own repair mat!

This fold-out mat supports the Push when it’s face-down, keeping the protruding knobs and jog-wheel from getting damaged. Between this and the tool box, which doubles as a place to keep loose screws, it’s beautifully-thought-out packaging.

Plug and Play

To complete the upgrade, you remove 14 screws from the back, and remove the back plate. The kit includes a screwdriver and a back removal tool. Then you plug in the NUC CPU section, route the Wi-Fi cables, plug in the SSD, and add the battery. 

There are no fiddly connectors. Everything just slots into place. The CPU requires two screws, the SSD clips into place with a small barbed post that sticks through its screw-hole, and that entire battery requires just one screw. The Wi-Fi antennae can be routed by hand, but it’s a little easier if you have a spudger or similar to poke it into the channels. The ends of the antennae are held in place by plastic tags that slot into the body.

The only tricky part for me was that the thermal pad on the back of the CPU assembly wasn’t stuck down very well, so when I peeled off the protective cover it tried to move. 

Upon reassembly, there’s one last job: you have to fit the heat-sink to the back of the case, and screw it into place. Then you’re done. Ableton recommends letting the battery charge to 100% the first time you use it, then draining it down to zero, and back up again, to calibrate the battery meter.

And that’s it. The first time you switch it on, there’s a built-in setup process, and you have to join your Wi-Fi network and authorize the Push to continue (you need an Ableton Live license to use it, and a basic one is included with the purchase).


Ableton claims that the Push is designed to last a long time. This means software updates but also hardware updates. In the future, when a more powerful computer is required inside, you’ll be able to buy a new kit and swap it in, as long as it comes in Intel’s NUC form-factor, or perhaps something that is compatible with it

It’s easy to promise these things, but Ableton has a track record. It still supports the Push 1 and Push 2, for example, adding features and fixes to both in recent software updates, and the Push 2’s software has been significantly updated to inherit several features that were exclusive to the Push 3 at launch. 

“I think having upgradeable components is probably the best thing we did on Push 3. We intend to support it for a long time, and we hope this could help the product grow in the future if/when Live 16 or whatever requires more processing power. This also applies to Push 2, we want to make sure Push 2 is continually updated as well,” Ableton’s hardware chief Jesse Terry told music tech journalist Peter Kirn last year.

Right now, separate spare parts are not available. Ableton won’t sell you just a battery, for example, but they say that is coming in future. Fortunately the SSD is a standard part, so you can easily upgrade that yourself. In fact, I’m in the middle of doing just that. You can clone the SSD to a larger one (I’m going from the included 256GB drive to a 1TB version), repartition the disk, and drop it back in. 

Replacing the computer is harder. One Reddit user tried and failed. Ableton’s documentation states that “The chip’s BIOS settings must be configured properly; this is not a ‘plug-and-play’ upgrade scenario.”

The Push 3 standalone runs on Linux. We’ll see how often they push official upgrades and how quickly Ableton announces the availability of replacement parts.

The entirety of the Push 3 is well conceived and executed. This is the right way to create a sustainable, long lasting product. The only downside is that it’s expensive, around $2k for the whole setup, or $1,000 each for the Push 3 controller and the upgrade kit. That’s a lot of money for a commodity PC, SSD, and a battery. On the other hand, given Ableton’s track record of supporting older hardware (it’s still updating the Push 1, although it would be nice to get official word of the support timeline ), this looks like being an excellent long-term investment. That’s a rarity in this age of short-lived, disposable electronics. Good for Ableton.