Exterior and Looks
The AKAI APC 40 gave me a nice first impression. It is a little bit bigger then expected, especially when I’m sitting behind it but does look well-ordered. I do wonder if there is a 19 inch rack mount possibility for it, didn’t find one during a quick search. Don’t think much people would be interested in it, but since it can be used for more then just controlling Ableton Live, you might want it to fit into a 19 inch setup.
The housing is from some hard PVC and should survive all the gigs when used normal. In the end it are the faders and encoders that are vulnerable.
Connectivity is simple, power via a full range adapter and MIDI via USB. I find the USB cable a little bit short with 1 meter, although most people will connect this to a laptop that is right in front of them just like the AKAI APC 40. I got mine connected to my Windows Desktop in my home studio and need a little bit more cable to keep things organized.
Buttons, Faders, Encoders
The buttons on the left section (Matrix, Track Selection, Activator, Solo/Cue, Record Arm) feel like those old Denon buttons. A silicon soft surface that you can push in pretty hard. I was expecting harder buttons but I heard that this is how more AKAI controllers are build. There is nothing wrong with the buttons except that they tend to worn-out after a while and if you hit them a little bit too far to the side they don’t register your push.
The remaining push buttons are hard plastic and feel a little bit unstable and cheep, but I guess that AKAI will simply keep up his name and quality. Except for the navigation you will use those buttons probably less.
The endless encoders are click less and can be turned endless of course. They feel solid and provide a good level of resistance to make sure you can also fine tune parameters from effects or what ever you are mapping them to. The led rings provide good feedback to give you an idea on how much to turn. The led ring doesn’t seem to work quick and smooth when playing back recorded envelopes. The led’s then seem to update slow but this looks like an issue of Ableton itself.
The channel faders feel also very good, although from a DJ point of view I have to get used to having the faders so close to each other. Normally I grab a fader half from the side fro easy movement. You can now only grab them from above. For producing and most of the usage scenario’s not a problem. If you do a little more traditional DJ-ing and you want to use the AKAI also for a lot of volume controlling and need to be able to grab the faders quickly this can be an issue. At this moment I also think that the resistance is a little but to much, however I do recall that I had this also with my Pioneer DJM-800 and that it is a matter of time before they slide more easy.
I’m not a cross fader user at all, I most of the times only touch it because it is in the way on a mixer and needs to move to the other side. The cross fader on the AKAI APC 40 slides smooth enough for usage and the surface is free from any holes. That is because the replacement is done via the back of the AKAI APC 40. I can image that people might like that.
Power on is done quickly, within a second it is ready for operation. Long startup times of equipment can be annoying when you are having a power failure while playing live. Although at that point there will be more equipment that needs some time to recover. If not connected via USB it will start to do the snake effect with the Led’s like was shown in the original promo movie.
Installation doesn’t require an additional driver so it is just play and pray. I use the AKAI APC 40 on a Windows XP 32bit SP3 computer with Ableton Live 8. The controller needs to be turned on and plugged in before starting Ableton Live. During the running of Live it doesn’t get detected. I think this can be an issue if you are playing and the AKAI loses USB connectivity. It will require you to restart Ableton and thus pause the music. I guess this is more an Ableton issue than an AKAI issue.
The way the controller is used by people will be depending on what you do with it and what your preferences are. At this moment for myself I have already multiple usage scenario’s:
- I use the APC 40 for creating mashups in Ableton Live. The controller just provides easy access to a lot of functionality that is much harder to control via mouse and keyboard. I don’t need to spend much time setting up the environment since the APC 40 does almost anything I want it to do. This is the basic controlling of Ableton Live in the way AKAI and Ableton meant it and how it out of the box works.
- When I’m DJing I load a lot of acapellas into Ableton and fire these when needed. I use some effect channels for the return and use my DJM-800 for finalizing the mix, eqing and pre listening.
- Creating a mix works the best for me if I can mix the main line together in one pass. Then I remain in the mood of the mix. With keyboard and mouse this was never working out for me while with the APC 40 this does work.
- I’m planning on using it also to control Traktor Scratch Pro while at the same time controlling Ableton Live.
There are some limitations of which a few can be overcome by simply remapping buttons and encoders. Like the missing tempo control, that a lot of people talk about. AKAI could have used the nudge buttons in combination with the shift button to increment or decrement the tempo. There is a little trick that gives some control, if you hold the nudge buttons and press at the desired tempo moment the Tap Tempo button Ableton Live will set itself to that tempo value. But with the default nudge setting this doesn’t work accurate.
Another thing that surprised me and a lot of other people was the missing ability to focus on a Return Track. I use them for having an effect available to all Tracks. And with the APC 40 I can control up to three send buttons for each Track out of the box. To access the parameters of an effect the Return Track needs to be focused. So I did a remap of the Scene Launch buttons which I never use to focus directly on the effects of the Return Tracks.
The Bank Select buttons do work Ok, but it would have been nice if holding them down would have also worked. Now you need to either press many times or use it in combination with the Shift button to navigate in increments of the Matrix Size. I did find a video on YouTube from someone who did implement this, so also that is fixable.
I’m very pleased with the result of the cooperation between AKAI Professional and Ableton. The controller gives a nice added value to Ableton Live. But this applies to more MIDI controllers when programmed right. The difference is just that the AKAI APC 40 does it all out of the box and can take it just a little further then many other controllers. As a user you do probably want to adjust the APC 40 to your needs, like everyone is doing.
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