Akai was one of the music manufacturers that stole the show at this year’s NAMM trade conference. The simple reason: the APC is a rare combination of a whole mess of colored buttons with a whole bunch of faders and knobs. Now, the APC’s big selling point is its out-of-box experience with Ableton Live. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are people who don’t exclusively use Ableton Live – including some Live users who use other software (drum machines, VJ apps) on the side. Looking at the APC’s layout, you see a combination of stuff that would work for lots of other tools.

The only question: would the APC actually work with other software, or would it be hard-wired only to work with Live? Aaron Liven writes with evidence from Akai technical support that suggests you can use any app you want:

The APC40 is designed to be a dedicated controller for Ableton with specific midi cc’s that are hardwired for Ableton. There would not be a way to remap this on the ACP40. However if you can manually map your sequencing software or plugin to other midi cc values, then you can match this up to what the APC40 is set to in order to have control.

The one catch is that, as this email notes, it doesn’t sound as though you’ll get a template mapping app to choose other templates for other apps. That’s too bad: the Novation ReMOTE line, for instance, also works out-of-the-box with Ableton Live, but if you decide you want to reconfigure it for something like, say, a Native Instruments B4 organ emulation, you can. (In the case of the B4, a template is included, or you can use the powerful Novation template editor.)

On the other hand, very often people do their mapping in software anyway – particularly with VJ apps – so this will mostly be fine. And if the APC does become popular as a music controller, you can count on some template maps elsewhere, too.

The more significant catch is that the APC has only a USB jack — no physical MIDI jacks for controlling outboard gear. And I suspect that some of the features of the APC work via System Exclusive messages, meaning it’ll be substantially less cool when away from Live. (You may have to hack a way of getting those lights to light up the way you want, for instance – though that may not stop anyone.)

CDM has a pre-release date with the APC, so stay tuned. And there are other button- and pad-strewn goodies to look forward to this year, as well (NI Maschine, monome, and new DIY projects we haven’t even heard of yet).

  • Polite

    That is one sexy piece of gear.

    Total geargasm.

    Shame it's live only. I can totally imagine some monome-esque sequencing with that, mixed with some sample/loop triggering that would make some live situations alot less static than i usually have to make them.

  • poopoo

    monome apps should be possible if the APC implements sysex or some kind of midi for the LED's. You would need to write an application to replace the monomeserial application with something that speaks APC sysex.

  • I find Akai's recent release of the EWI USB model and this as reassuring evidence that finally at least ONE of the major manufacturers is finally realizing that midi is out and computer-hosted processing is in.

    Perhaps Dave Smith needs to hold another standard-creating summit with these folks. SysEx and no software patch editor? It's like communicating with your mp3 player with Fortran. I really wonder about these companies sometimes.

  • wah?

    no midi? are they insane?

  • ilan

    I can definitely see how in the VJ 'market' this controller would be very attractive. Take away the logo and it easily falls in direct competition with the VMX VJ from Codanova that I have already seen being used for controlling live. The advantages over it are numerous. The primary one being the more compact design.

  • <cite>CDM has a pre-release date with the APC, so stay tuned.</cite>

    Looking forward to that!

  • "The APC40 is designed to be a dedicated controller for Ableton with specific midi cc’s that are hardwired for Ableton."

    So does this mean I won't be able to remap the functions *in* Live? I'm sort of confused by this statement.

    All I want is a hardware step sequencer for Live. I would assume something that's built for Live could be modified to do this, but it sounds like the APC40 is hardwired to specific functions.

  • yourk

    “The APC40 is designed to be a dedicated controller for Ableton with specific midi cc’s that are hardwired for Ableton.”

    This means there will be NO monome crossover. No customization and possibly not even a REAL DRIVER for this device.

    Akai doesn't have any software programmers who can do drivers and they constantly put off exploring the professional capabilities of their gear to third parties. All they care about is the good demo at guitar center and getting the sale.

    The same Numark/Akai/Alesis ltd conglomerate has YET to put out a decent editor for the Micron or Fusion synth. The MPD16/24 and Multimixusb, used generic drivers and lost latency because of it. The Photon series NEVER had a decent driver and half of them were broken out of the box. They also got their ass kicked by JJOS DOING THEIR JOB FOR THEM.

  • Hi Guys,
    The APC40 sends simple MIDI messages and has simple firmware — one button, one message. You won't need Sysex messages to access the APC from other apps (however, other controllers won't be able to access the same type of functionality in Live that the APC40 has). All banking and Session view control is done internally in Live. This provides the most possible flexibility for people who want to hack things and customize what it sends for to other applications via Max/etc. Obviously, we were concentrating on functionality with Live, but we weren't trying to handicap the controller if you want to use a different application.

    You can remap in Live using Live's regular MIDI mapping, but for custom things like a step sequencer, or drum rack control, you'll need Max for Live (which will have a preset for step sequencing, with many more to come I bet).

    Some more info here:

    And looking forward to you visit Peter! (when?)

  • bliss

    The dude that writes JJOS used to work for Akai, so I've heard.

  • GrievySteve

    according to their product guy, Eric, at NAMM. It uses MIDI CC's and MIDI note data, not sysex. everything can be remapped using the MIDI map in LIVE, I saw him do it. It will have a generic mode where it will send notes and CC and you can send this data back to it to give it whatever feedback you want. no midi ports? Who cares, I'm not going to control my prophet 08 with this thing. The monome doesn't have MIDI ports and it's like $500.

  • Adam Smith

    I'm pretty sure I need one of those.

  • Vanceg

    I think some of this speculation about the MPC being limited pre-assigned functionality in Live is misplaced. Even at NAMM (and I believe online right now at the Ableton site) we can see a video of a step sequencer written in Max for Live being controlled by the APC-40 with what appears to be bi-directional data communication between Max for Live and the APC.

  • Vanceg

    Here's that link: APC-40 segment is near the end.

  • Pretty neat, might have to look at this as an addition to the studio.

  • Gamma

    it seems to me that this thing looks better than it is/)

  • Gamma

    and why only 8? and what about the usb latency?

  • ehdyn

    Got to spend a lot of time with this at NAMM and was really impressed.
    The build quality seems very tough, and the knobs have a near perfect feel. Tougher case than say the MPD32. Even the lights look good-if they were bright enough to be seen on the well lit NAMM floor-they'll do great in a darkened room. Pads are obviously not as good as MPC, but you smack em around a little.
    I guess the driver might be the only issue, because there was an easily perceptible latency to input. If it remains proportional you'll be able to compensate for the lag easily. Hopefully they will tighten it up before shipping.

    Could see myself buying this before something like Maschine, but only if it can be used with Logic, SC, and Reaktor.

  • Hi Jesse — I'll be around soon.

    But just to be clear, that's not any bi-directional communication with the APC outside of Max for Live?

    I mean, this is a significant difference. The monome supports bi-directional communication and all the software is free and open source. You can use it with Live and Max (and it should inherit these same new features of Max for Live), but you can also use it with a variety of other tools – whatever you choose.

    Even the Korg padKONTROL supports multiple templates and has been hacked so that you can transmit data to those lights.

    I'll be honest – my prediction is, unless the APC uses audio stream messages for output (and I think it uses MIDI instead), people may find a way to control those lights. 😉

    I do agree with others here that not having physical MIDI jacks isn't such a big deal, in that I don't see controlling hardware with the APC and you probably already have a MIDI interface on your audio box (and your keyboard, etc.) But the lack of control over the feedback you get on the APC outside of Max for Live to me makes this less suitable as a general-purpose controller.


  • @Vanceg: thanks so much for linking to that movie. Somehow I missed those before. Seeing the integration of this device with Live as a step sequencer has totally convinced me of its awesomeness.

  • Vanceg

    Well, Jesse is _the_ authority on the APC-40, but extrapolating on what I saw at NAMM and Jesse's comments here, I am GUESSING that the lights under the pads and knobs may be controllable by simply sending standard MIDI commands from computer to APC. Perhaps no messing with Sys-Ex needed.

  • That's a nice piece of kit. Definitely waiting to see it in action

  • im pre ordering it.

  • yourk


    "The dude that writes JJOS used to work for Akai, so I’ve heard."

    I used to work at Akai during the Numark Admin

    My time was at the company when the JJOS guy first released his OS.

    I can tell you that nobody in the company had heard of the JJOS guy before he came in and Drank Their Milkshakes.

  • Awesome – we have been using the MPD24 – Upgrade in order!

  • I'm very interested in how this could be used with Apple's MainStage product as a sophisticated controller or effects system.