Akai APC40 First Impressions

My APC40 came yesterday, and I spent a few hours fiddling with it last night…

The build quality is impressive. Almost absurdly so — the knobs are big and solid, the faders are smooth. The hard rubber end cheeks are some designers wet dream — they seem to have no purpose except to enhance the ‘stealth bomber’ profile. The case proper is sheet metal with smooth bends. It’s not really a criticism per se, but a plastic case would have made it more transportable — it’s heavy. This plus a laptop in a bag, and you’ll not want to be lugging it all over Berlin.

My only criticism of it design-wise has nothing to do with ergonomics: The faders and knobs will be vulnerable during transport, and the box it came in is pretty bulky. They need to come up with a padded bag with foam ribs at the side so you don’t break off sliders or knobs. If they made one with room for a laptop, I’d buy it — something like the M-Audio Oxygen8 bags…

In operation, there’s very little to write about; it does a good job of taking your head out of the computer screen, and if you’re comfortable with Live, it will make complete sense after about 5 minutes of use.

The one thing I found sub-optimal is the Device Control section. If you select an instance of a Live Instrument, the knobs are automatically mapped to … whatever the first 8 parameters the instrument exposes. These are almost never the most useful parameters to be tweaking, and in the case of Collision you have to hunt around the instrument panel to try and find what they’re changing.qqqq

So in order to mess with a Live instrument’s parameters you have to put it in an instrument rack and assign the macro knobs to something meaningful. For VST instruments and FX the new Live 8 parameter mapping UI makes it a little better — you choose which parameters are exposed and you can rearrange them. But the Device Control knobs are pretty useless for Live Instruments and FX unless you wrap them in a rack.

But all in all it’s a very nice controller for Live, and very nearly the perfect controller for live performance. It’s not revolutionary or amazing, but it solidly does what needs doing, and makes interacting with live a lot more tactile. Just being able to trigger or turn off multiple tracks is huge — it’s something I was always trying to do with the mouse, and it’s not a natural move.

Oh, and tried to look at the top secret MIDI handshake between Live and the APC40 with MIDI-OX and failed. They’ve set up the MIDI driver for the APC40 so it’s single client (meaning only one program at a time can access it) — so if I load MIDI-OX and try and run live, Live won’t talk to the APC 40, and if I try and load MIDI-OX after Live, it won’t be able to open the ports. Given that the only connection is USB, someone will have to use a lower-level tool to try and figure this stuff out.

4 thoughts on “Akai APC40 First Impressions”

  1. I’m totally with you regarding the device control… clearly selecting 8 parameters for each plugin that are “the Eight” is a nearly impossible task, and it really does force us to build racks of our own, to fit our workflow.

  2. @Andreas — I don’t mind having to do the mapping to set up ‘the eight’ — but given the way the ‘next/previous’ device buttons work, it gives you a pretty useless and mystifying set of controls for each device.

  3. Hah Matt, that looks like just the ticket. Though I’m thinking I’m not THAT interested in reverse engineering the APC40, I was just mildly curious…

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