Midi controllers are two-a-penny these days, but every now and then something special comes along. The Akai APC40 — designed specifically with Ableton Live in mind — is such a controller.
DJ Jon Carter and his studio and DJing partner Alex Blanco have just begun touring their new live and studio project Roosevelt High, using Ableton Live 8 throughout. So we armed them with two shiny new APC40 controllers to roadtest them for DJmag…
“The first time I met Alex was at Oliver Lang's place in Ibiza,” explains Jon. “Blanco was showing us how to use Ableton Live to make tunes, as well as DJing, and it blew us away that we actually came up with something cool — especially given the condition we were all in! Oliver even played the track at Bora Bora that day, but even then it was obvious we needed more than the little Midi keyboard ivories we were clumsily tickling.”
“The APC40 offers all of the controls found on the Ableton Live Session screen in hardware form,” explains Jon. “And it's all laid out pretty much the same way, with volume faders, mute, solo, record, clip stops, five scene triggers and a load of clip buttons, most of which light up the same colours as the software, except the clip buttons, which light up in three different colours.”
“There are a lot of buttons but, really, everything is pretty straightforward,” says Alex. “Eight channels are available at a time, with five clip slots for each — so that's forty clips. No light means no clip, amber means a non-playing clip, green means clip playing and red means you're recording into a clip slot. And the buttons flash the count-in when they're triggered.”
“It even shows up the new group channels,” adds Jon. “So what you see on the screen is what you get.”
“It's faster to navigate than using the mouse too,” says Alex. “The cursor keys work either by one channel or scene at a time or by complete blocks of five scenes or eight channels by holding down shift. And you can even hold down shift and use the clip slot buttons to jump around the whole matrix in Live, with each slot representing a group of eight by five clips.”
“And there's a red outline on the Live screen around the current block of 40 slots,” adds Jon.
SEARCH & FIND
“Intuitive handling is always a good thing in a controller and it extends to the APC40’s effects and other functions too,” reveals Alex. “I love the way it handles effects.
“There are two groups of eight rotaries. The bottom one is dedicated to any of the effects on the current channel and the controllers map automatically to the parameters in your plug-ins. This means I can scroll through the plugs too, which allows me to get to anything in seconds.”
“There are buttons for almost anything else you'd need live too,” Jon adds. “Like a button to punch an effect in or out, to open or close the track display or even to flick between showing the plug-ins or the clip editor on the screen in Ableton Live.”
“Then there’s the send and receive bank up at the top right,” continues Alex. “It all works so well and because it’s two-way Midi traffic, all the values shown for the knobs are the same as onscreen in Ableton Live.”
“Akai have missed one or two tricks though,” says Jon, “as I'd like to be able to engage clip loops.”
“And it would also be nice to select multiple channels without using the mouse so the send can be tweaked on more than one channel at once. But it wouldn't surprise me if that gets added in a software update.”
“But ultimately everyone who uses Ableton Live should buy an APC40,” claims Alex.
“When we do our live show I tend to be on Live 8 more,” says Jon, “as Blanco will be busy next to me scratching like a chimp using Traktor. With the APC40 I almost never actually need to look at the laptop, which is what makes most computer-based live shows look a bit boring. The APC completely transforms what you can do live and how it looks while you're doing it. I just couldn't give it up now.”
“It's ridiculously phat in the studio too,” adds Alex. “Ableton Live allows users to create real-time arrangements, which gives a spontaneous vibe just not possible laying out tracks block by block. But in reality it’s something you’d only do once in a blue moon, as so much time would be spent fucking about setting up all the parts and mapping controllers that it was a proper ball-ache, and never quite lived up to the promise. But now it really works and is piss-easy to do.
“So, yeah, everybody using Live should get one. It's not going to be nearly as useful for other bits of software, but since it's got a stripped back version of Live included, it might be the kick up the arse many need to get with the program!
“In the end, I guess the only thing you need to know, really, is that between the contacts Jon and I have, we almost never pay for studio gear,” Alex laughs.
“But Akai know they've got a winner here,” finishes Jon, “because all they offered us was a discount and we still bought one each!”
EASE OF USE: 5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5
SOUND QUALITY: 5
“The best controller we've ever used, period.”
“No looping controls.”
If you own Ableton Live 8 and use it live, you need an APC40 controller.
* PC/Mac compatible
* Live 8 and Ableton Live 8 Lite (APC40 edition) compatible
* 12V DC powered
* Weighs 2.64 kgs
* 429 x 334 x 67mm
* USB MIDI connection
* 2 x Midi footswitch inputs
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.