SonicLAB Review: Akai MAX 49 Controller With CV/Gate

US Pads, faders, Mackie Control and more      06/12/12
    MP4 15:10 mins    

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First thing you notice when you get it out of the box, apart from it's REDNESS, is the weight - it feels like it's well built, the MAX49 controller keyboard from Akai Professional is also quite different. As well as the 49 key synth action keyboard with aftertouch and the 12 MPC-type pads, it has 8 touch faders - with backlit LED level indicators- a unique and pretty innovative way to work, especially as it has four banks of them.

The synth action keyboard has a reasonable feel to it and it does transmit aftertouch, but cannot be zoned split or layered in any way.
The 12 pads are backlit, with assignable channel, note and pressure per pad  - though  pressure only routes to aftertouch or poly aftertouch - no CC values per pad.
There are 4 banks  for up to 48. These pads also function as Arpeggiator and Sequencer mode switches which is a handy way to configure without using the menu system.

Faders are genius, using backlit touchstrips to show current fader value, making it simple to switch between the four banks of eight and still see where you are. Each fader also has a single assignable, backlit button.

The transport control is purely that, can be Mackie, HUI or MMC protocol. The Mackie and HUI protocols can be assigned to the faders and buttons too, for integration into the standard method of 8 faders at a time, and worked well with bi-directional control - moves in software were reflected on the fader/switch values.
Programs 31 and 32 are fixed as HUI and Mackie modes and have shortcuts from the front panel. these can be edited so you can set buttons to be other functions should you desire. I can't help but think that the pads would have been useful in these modes for additional commands, but they do not currently offer HUI/Mackie commands. However, I have been in touch with the engineers and they are considering it for an update - yay!

Akai Connect
This is a similar plug-in wrapper system to Novation's AutoMap. You select which plug-ins you want to wrap - they are copied and presumably modified in some way to allow the controls to be mapped. They then show up with an [AC] at the end, and when you are running the Connect server, the controls are mapped to the MAX49 faders and buttons - sort of.

In practice, you need to switch to Connect mode (prg 33), then your controls will work with the currently focussed AC plug-in. The software allows you to easily remap and save to suit your setup.  Perfect in theory, but I found that in practice it was a little cumbersome to switch between Connect mode, back to Mackie or HUI to control the sequencer,  then back etc. I also found some instances of  wrapped plug-ins were not all that stable. The other big problem is that currently it's for VST only - no AU or RTAS, which does rule out Logic and Pro Tools users.

Sequence and Arp
All the standard ARP modes are there with an extra pattern mode - up to 16 mutable steps for rhythmic variations. There's also a 4 pattern, 32 step sequencer with note values edited via the touch faders, plus an extra, assignable MIDI controller channel. The sequences are stored with each patch (there are up to 30) and can be triggered or transposed via the keyboard. I did find this a bit hit or miss with some strange, double time note triggering at the start of the pattern before settling down to the transposed values.
Both the ARP and the Sequencer can have the beat division set from between 1/4 to 1/32T against the master tempo for some real-time variations using the beat div mode.

Overall, I was impressed with the build quality, and functions of this keyboard, being able to hook up CV to a synth is a great idea, but the Connect system didn't really do it for me, though for some it will prove useful.

At £309/$399 Street price, it's not the lowest priced controller, but it does have an unusual set of features that will suit some setups perfectly.


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