The Axiom Air Range, introduced at NAMM this year, now available. Designed to enhance and refresh the Axiom Pro Range of keys which have been a stalwart in the MIDI control arsenal - indeed we use an AXIOM pro 61 - it has a nice feel to it, though for drum programming, it's a bit heavy on the keys.
The Axiom Air is a major redesign of the Axiom concept, that being a MIDI controller keyboard with knobs, buttons, faders and pads. Previous models have given you multiple zones to assign across the keys as you see fit - ideally suited to the live performer who needs such splits and layers.
The Air range dispenses with that and instead focuses on the controllers. Thats not to say that the keyboard is secondary, indeed the Axiom Air 61 that we have for review has a lovely synth action with aftertouch, a great improvement over the Axiom 61 we've had in house for some years.
The entire form factor has changed too, it's got a more space-age slanted feel to it, the 8 assignable knobs have been moved to the right of the larger LED display and transport. The 9 faders are to the right, with associated assignable buttons, and then the 16 velocity and pressure responsive pads next to those.
What's new here is the banking- each section of controls (knobs/faders/pads) has a bank button which flips through three MIDI assignable banks - giving a total of 24 knobs, 27 faders and 48 pads - per setup. Additionally you get HyperControl - M-Audio's version of smart parameter assignments - think Automap and you'll be halfway there.
Unfortunately banking is a little indistinct to me, the colour coding (red/green/orange) shows up on the backlit knob caps and pads, is not very clear on the actual bank button - needs to be much bolder IMHO.
Aissgnment and programming is simillar to the other Axioms but has been made a little simpler to acheive, still not the beautiful intuitive experience I would like, but assigning pads has been made easier with a learn function, so edit/learn/desired note and your done.
The eighth knob is used to enter parameter data which is fine, although it is quite fiddly to hone a value to an exact amount - easy to over or undershoot - up/down keys would have been a welcome addition here. On the whole though an improvement - somewhat simplified by the fact that you are not dealing with multiple zones which was a concept too far for many in setting up simple MIDI control data iin the earlier Axioms.
The unit can be bus powered over MIDI which also gives you access to the various virtual ports - there's also MIDI in and out to give you a total of four inputs:
Control - the knobs/faders etc
MIDI - keyboard and Pad outputs
HyperControl - the control surface functions
External - from hardware MIDI in
External MIDI output
HyperControl - for communication with the HC layer
Youo need to install a driver to use HyperControl in some packages, Ableton Live seems to work out of the box, but Logic needs one and thats what I am using for the review.
A simple installation worked fine under 10.6.8 OXS X for me, though it does say 10.7.5 up in the online download centre.
Once installed as a control surface, the Axiom Air knows it can use HyperControl and your off - press the HC button by the transport and you get transport control, banking and faders/sends plus buttons toggle select/mute/solo/record. The track object names also show up in the LCD display much like a HUI surface. It is also possible to hit the Inst/FX buttons to call up plug-ins on your track, the knobs or faders (depends on which section you HC enable) correspond to the plugin parameters - you can page through if there are more than 8. Impressive that it does just work actually - no need for specially wrapped plugins.
Only issue is that you only seem to be able to access the first two plugin slots in the channel - or a virtual instrument and one plugin. I have confirmed that this is the case with M-Audio, perhaps this number will increase with future firmware/driver updates.
The bottom line is though that it does work and doesn't require any special sauce to do so. More preferable to me than AutoMap which I find rather takes over your system .
So, in conclusion, it's a great feeling keyboard with a lot of controls, not the lowest priced on the market, but the keyboard does feel good to me - makes you want to play, I most definitely prefer it to the original Axiom 61 we have which I used to think was alright till the Air came along. The lack of zones ands splits may put it out of the running for some people, but you can still get the Axioms - that range has not been discontinued.