Ableton Live-specific controllers just got another addition. You probably could have guessed this would come out, following the APC40 and Novation’s grid-only Launchpad last year, but the Akai APC20 is the new, smaller sibling to Akai’s APC40. The APC20 does basically everything the APC40 does on the latter’s left-hand side — it’s a grid of buttons, a set of mixers for your tracks, buttons for activating tracks (and solo/cue/record), and shortcuts for moving around and triggering the transport. Using the buttons, you can trigger clips or notes, with additional buttons for scenes and stopping clips around the outside of the 8×5 array.

The “Note Mode” is new, officially, but I believe hackers may have gotten the APC40 to do that. Hopefully it’ll be rolled out to the APC40 in an update.

What the APC20 doesn’t do is everything on the right-hand side of the APC40: you lose out on additional shortcuts, the crossfader, and most importantly, the controls for pan, sends, and Device Rack macros, though the controls seem to suggest you get some control back via control pages, as on Novation’s Launchpad. That makes the APC20 less appealing as a standalone to me. It gives you mixer faders missing from the Launchpad (which relies on buttons for the job), but it loses the ability to control devices and effects. And unlike the Launchpad, it seems the APC20 still requires external power rather than bus power.

Instead, it seems that Akai hopes you’ll buy the APC20 as a companion to your APC40, for, uh, 60 worth of APC. (I think we have a new unit of measure.) With what Akai calls “Combination mode,” you can add the 40 and 20 together for control of 80 buttons and 16 tracks. In Akai’s press release, it also seems that Akai thinks customers might add an APC20 to an existing rig with other gear — though that puts it in competition with the Novation Launchpad for the same job.

You can also buy six APC20s and use those together, and if you buy that many APCs, I recommend two things: one, seek professional help, and two, definitely send us photos.

This does still trigger the concerns I’ve been trying to raise since I reviewed the APC40 last year. Why should something as simple as chaining multiple devices together for control be a feature specific to a certain product? Haven’t we been chaining devices together as a standard feature all the way back to the invention of MIDI, now over a quarter century ago? (For the record, you can combine multiple control surfaces in Ableton Live. But the moment one set of controllers does that and another doesn’t, based on support in the software itself, that ceases to be a standard feature of Ableton.)

That said, for APC fans looking for some more control, the APC20 should appeal. But if I had to recommend a first APC, I’d still strongly recommend the APC40. Having a controller with built-in controls for everything Live does – clip triggers, mixing, cross-fading, effects, and device control, with all the shortcuts – really is a nice luxury.


Pricing: Not yet announced Estimated US$199 street

Availability: Second quarter 2010

Now, it’ll be interesting to see if this is the last Ableton hardware controller news from this year’s NAMM or not; time will tell.

  • DumaisAudio

    Not impressed in the slightest.

  • Retail Price: $299

    Street PRice: $199


  • Interesting, but I already have a Launchpad, a Korg nanoKontrol, and a Nocturn for macro controls & crossfader. With the enormous discount I managed to get on the Nocturn (50% on Amazon + xmas gift cards), the total cost of all three of these was less than one APC40, and together they do pretty much everything the APC40 does, and more.

    I'm not an Akai hater, but rather than making a crippled half of an APC40, they should be thinking of some new, original control surface that is different from anything else out there. For that matter, so should lots of other companies. For example, why doesn't Korg make a controller with, say, a BUNCH of Kaoss Pad style X/Y pads? Maybe a grid of small ones, which are velocity/pressure sensitive.

    That said, what COULD be interesting is actually a "step-up" from the APC40 – maybe with additional buttons and/or pots, and motorized faders?

  • @Mike: Yes, it'd seem that it uses pages to access these other parameters as well as custom user pages (as in, for Max for Live). I'd be very surprised (and disappointed) if that functionality did not also appear on the APC40 in an update. I can't confirm that yet, however.

    I'd call that, erm, marginally interesting. I don't understand why that can't be an open API that works with any bidirectional hardware, why you have to have an Ableton logo on your gear and/or Max for Live to program control of Live. That seems fundamental to me.

    Oh, well — there's more to come from NAMM.

    And it's very possible this isn't the only Akai announcement in 2010; it's just the one that happens to be out now.

  • I will note, the Akai release also assumes this may be targeted at people who own other gear:

    “The APC20 is perfect for performers who like to customize their setup with multiple controllers, or just want a more compact setup,” said Adam Cohen, Director of Business Development, Akai Professional.


    So, that isn't targeted at capsaicin, but maybe if someone had just *one* of those, the APC20 could make sense.

  • @Byron: That'd make sense, right? But that's the problem; if Ableton is doing this on a controller-by-controller basis, then the answer seems to be no. On the other hand, if they would just make a standard implementation that anyone could use, you could use all kinds of things to navigate clips — old Trigger Fingers, your computer keyboard, foot pedals, whatever. You can do some of that now via MIDI, but not all of it.

    So the short answer is, I don't know, but I'd likewise be interested to know.

  • Incidentally, for an example of what this kind of implementation can look like, have a look at Reason, which integrates pretty seamlessly with a wide variety of hardware.


    Unlike Ableton, Propellerhead will give any interested party a license, and they don't charge for it — even for the logo.

    Of course, in my ideal world, this functionality would be publicly documented. But at least Propellerhead is a step forward, and as a result, there's more hardware support and more consistent support across hardware. Imagine what this would look like if any developer had open support, built on something like OSC which made it easier to specify control messages than MIDI does.

    This is a bit off-topic — it's really a question for Ableton more than Akai. It's in Ableton's hands how this support looks in the future. The APC and Launchpad are quite powerful; it's a matter of whether that kind of power extends to other hardware.

  • Well, if Ableton is unwilling to change course, I guess one option would be to ask Propellerhead to go further: document Remote publicly, even without the developer agreement, so someone could build hardware from scratch and make it work with Reason.

  • add motorized faders on that and you have a winner.

  • I think it would have been vastly more successful if Akai had gone with an 8×8 grid and 8 endless rotaries instead of faders. As it stands now, there's really not much there to drive people away from the APC40, or save their money and go with the 8×8 on the Launchpad.

  • Might get one of these to accompany my axiom25pro and evolution uc-33.

  • Might get one of these to accompany my axiom25 pro and evolution uc-33. Might be a really good companion.

  • I agree. It is confusing to me that Ableton isn't more open with their interface implementation. It seems like something out of the AVID/Digidesign playbook, which is not how I'd thought of Ableton as a company…

    As you also say, MIDI-learn in Ableton can get you some of the way there, but clearly lacks the flexibility and ease you see in the APC40 implementation. As Ableton and AKAI clearly have a solid relationship with these APC interfaces, it seems like some broader Ableton integration across the AKAI line is opportunity they could both do well out of, without having to invest much more in R&D.

    I really like AKAI's MIDI controllers. The layout and design is informed and the materials and build quality of their stuff stands out in an ocean of plastic crapola. They seem to be trying to maintain the quality they established back in the day with MPC60's and the like. If you're a person who's fairly portable and/or playing lots of shows, you know how much this stuff counts. I've gone through several other interfaces of the plastic kind and they just fall to pieces and start breaking after 12 months of decent use. (Yeah, I'm looking a you Korg, Novation and M-Audio…!)

    If this APC/MPK integration existed, I'd have no problems at all in parting with the dollars. It would be a really great combo!

  • @Tarekith I agree – which is another reason why I'm surprised they're not integrating the AKAI MPK stuff – it would help to make more sense of where the APC20 sits in their product line.

  • What's up with these non-motorized faders anyway?

    You can't use it on studio for mixing and using some "pan, send A, user.." features is really hard if don't know your knob positions. Really bad in live situation.

    Non-motorized fader are only good in live as pre-set fader for track volume or for some FX, send etc. Something that does not change in the middle of the set.

    How common is a 8 fader DJ mixer?

    Sure this is not for a common DJ application, but I'm pretty sure that most of the Ableton users prefer endless rotaries over faders. APC40 is way too big to be portable controller.

    If this would be 99€-149€, i might find some use for it. 199€-299€ is way too expensive.

  • Woieyr

    Akai once again too stupid to realize that an 8×8 matrix is the real reason the ap40 sold.

    I guess next year they will do what they do with every one of their products…..they will slap an IPOD port into it.

  • Hi Guys,

    Non-motorized faders are for turntablist technics over this. I think this is the way that Akai is taking.

    If you want motorized faders go for BCF2000 and launchpad but try to do crabs with it… XD

    To me APC20, Numark X7, Numark V7 and new Kaosspad are a true good tooltablism set.



  • While it might not have dedicated controls like the APC40 if you look closely at the picture it has little red text saying: Vol, Pan, SendABC and more interestingly User1,2,3, aka something the APC40 doesn’t have at all. So it might actually have a few more tricks up its sleeve than the APC40 itself. Interesting…

  • wa

    it's a pity… but I guess it's to sell more stuff.

    Until someone in the industry is willing to do something special that really stands apart.

    It wasn't until a few years ago that any of the manufacturers realized there could be interest in grid-like controllers… after the monome they're now everywhere.

    the fact is that doing something similar to the monome, but cheaper than the monome it's easy for a manufacturer. It's not the same when you try to put endless encoders, lcd or even oled screens, motorized faders and so on.

    If you want all this stuff just have a look at

    Euphonix. It has surely some interesting controllers around that fulfill what most people think real/complete controllers should look/work like (all the endless encoders, screens, motorized faders plus OSC-like protocol). The fact is that if you buy all the three artist series 'childs' you end up spending around 4 thousand dollars (without even having some kind of audio interface thing), and you still end up somehow dependent on application support.

    So… the APC20 it's surely made in a way that 'doesn't hurt' APC40. I think their thoughts should have been something like:

    If we put 8 or 9 endless encoders on the APC20, how many people will still buy an APC40?

    Instead, if we put another 8 faders with relative channel buttons and clip launch grid… maybe:

    – all the ones complaining about lack of motorized faders on the APC40 will upgrade to have 16 tracks/channels control, and to use some controls like 'extra controls'. I'm thinking uses like the extra StopClips Button working as Shift, the extra cue working as scene scroller, the extra master select and scene launch buttons working as mode selectors, etc

    – all the others that do not own an APC40 will still get a bunch of controls in a layout that it's simply different from the pure 8*8 style grid that you find on monome/launchpad…

    So… I understand why they made an APC20…

    anyway… anyone capable of offering in a relatively cheap and compact package something that has:

    – monome/launchpad/APC grid-like button-packed area

    – BCR2000/MackieC4/PocketDial/RemoteSL/Nocturn/APC multiple banks of endless encoders mit led and/or screen feedback.

    Has a winner.

    Don't you agree?


    I’ll be not so much surprised, but definitely more than disappointed, if APC20 functionality won't appear on the APC40 in an update…

    but that wouldn't be a problem if they open their API!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    …That seems fundamental to me too…

    There should have been a petition and someone to submit it to the abletonians at NAMM…

  • Hey Peter,

    In regards to what you mention in your last paragraph:

    But if I had to recommend a first APC, Iā€™d still strongly recommend the APC40. Having a controller with built-in controls for everything Live does ā€“ clip triggers, mixing, cross-fading, effects, and device control, with all the shortcuts ā€“ really is a nice luxury.

    Any idea if AKAI might have some software or that’ll push this stuff over to their MPK controllers?

    I think the combo of an APC20 and MPK keyboard would be very appealing. If you have an APC40 and MPK you’ve got some double ups of faders, knobs, transport, etc. However with an APC20 and MPK, you’ve probably got most of what you’d get from an APC40 along with drum pads, a piano keyboard, pitch and mod wheels, and an LCD display.

  • wheel

    Peter (or anyone) – do you have any specifics about this 'combination mode' ? I've been to the AKAI site, and the APC20 thread on the ableton forum, and can't seem to find any info at all ???

    for me this thing stands or falls on the level of integration with the apc40 that the combi mode brings … if it really integrates to become one big machine with a 16×5 grid (eg nice for a step sequencer) and with the 'doubled up' buttons (all clips off etc) available for remapping, then at $199 it seems pretty nice … (even though personally i'd have preferred an APC100 with 8×8 grid and longthrow faders)

    btw – I haven't taken my apc40 apart yet …anyone know if it is possible to take off the wings so as to stick two apcX0s together ?

  • It’s too bulky.

  • Let's see what Behringer releases in NAMM. BCR and BCF are the best affordable controllers with knobs and faders. As they are copyists of other companies products maybe we see APC ripoff šŸ˜€

  • The kicker is that even the Novation and Akai products do it using MIDI. The “proprietary handshake” to light the LEDs is just a stream of standard MIDI note on/off and velocity messages. The only reason you can’t get the intelligent mapping in the session view with other grid controllers is because… Ableton won’t let you. Frankly, I don’t understand why, because it only stands to hurt, if anyone, Akai and Novation. Increased openness in controlling their software will only serve to make it more popular and sell more copies.

  • genjutsushi


    I totally agree re: motorised faders. Akai really should have included this feature in the APC40 so that users could run it as an all in one studio and live performance tool. I was eyeing one up, but in the end went with the launchpad in tandem with my Korg Nanos. If theyd had motorised faders, (and a Kaoss pad!) they would have had me at 'hello'

  • griotspeak

    @peter – rewire is pretty well documented if you open up a couple of the scripts in a text editor. the mappings are tab delimited (iirc) but pretty easy to understand. and if you look at a pretty robust implimentation, you have most of the controls you would want.

    the biggest hint is to actually look at the 'generic' mappings in other.

    some of my earliest kludgery. good times.

  • griotspeak

    o, and a quick search turned this up


  • Vehical Driver

    Motorized faders are VERY EXPENSIVE if you don't want them to suck.

  • s0undc10ud

    i just wish its faders were motorized! But i guess that was built to hit the novation launchpad. .

  • Lord Toranaga

    I would buy this, over the launch pad any day.

  • ed

    motorised faders!!!LOL it would cost

    so much money…would be sweet though

  • Moogatiu

    The Numark/Akai/Alesis/ION corporation has a long history of not making proper software and drivers to support their hardware. People are still waiting for them to release the NRPN's for the Micron from 2004.

    They had a huge amount of monome software already in place and due in no part to Akai and due in EVERY part to third party efforts by others that library of monome software became adaptable for their APC40.

    So what does Akai do?

    They release a screwed up version with the APC20 that has too few buttons to be compatible or at least easily usable with this whole library of software that was already there.

  • Phillip W

    When I play a live set I am playing a pre-made arrangement and tweaking. What I really need is the APC without the button matrix. Faders, knobs,transport.

  • myfriendtheZebra

    @Philip W

    Wouldn't it have been cool if the APC was originally completely modular?

  • Which Grid?

    Been debating between Launchpad and APC40 for a while but I figured that I should wait until after NAMM. SO, here we are. Leaning toward LP due to all of the great code being written for it but there are a few nice things about the APCs. Any user opinions from people who have used BOTH? Thanks!

  • Brian

    As an apc40 user this doesnt appeal in the slightest, i would either buy a launchpad for the cheap monome factor and bigger grid extension or buy another apc40 if i wanted to extend my apc.

    To me it just seems stunted without the right hand control section and even if you used it with an apc it would be irritating not to have control for the extra 8 tracks beyond volume when producing.

    In my opinion i would have prefered a apc80 16 tracks 16×16 knobs and a HUI and some more dedicated buttons, for producers.

    It wouldn't be a huge market but i would fork out for one over a mackie desk.

    i know im odd

  • Brian

    p.s. the only thing that could have made this a choice over the apc is it using usb power over a power adapter

  • and here i am wishing they would chuck out the whole of the nigh-monome buttons and endless knobs, and sell me a usb strip of their faders. The non-motorized so theyre _smooth_, these arent for subtle pitch shifting, theyre for banging around with crabs and twiddles during performance. I cant think of another device on the market with good quality midi faders, baring the vestax faderboard, but thats long out of availability…

  • @Vehical Driver: The Behringer BCF2000 retails for under $200 and has 8 motorized faders and 8 endless encoders (with LED rings to boot.) They are pretty good build quality. Tim Exile uses one of these in his live setup (and two BCR2000s, which are similar but have a bunch of extra encoders instead of the faders) and tours the world with them. Clearly it's possible to offer a quality product with motorized faders at a reasonable pricepoint.

    Speaking of which, I've always been a Behringer fan. They may not always make the absolute greatest gear, but the stuff they make is generally WAY more affordable than competing products, and still pretty high quality. Can't wait to see what they come out with at NAMM this year.

  • wa


    Tim Exile maybe use three behringer in his setup… but he can easily afford to bring nine more as 'spares' if one gets broken.

    Sure Behringer makes stuff more affordable but I wouldn't call their stuff 'pretty high quality'. At the risk of sounding biased I'll insist that something like Euphonix's MC Mix could be considered pretty high quality. (Oh and it doesn't hurt that they are not as ugly as the behringer's, they are actually 'pretty')

    Ugliness aside, I'll never buy anything from behringer anymore. One BCR2000 and one FCB1010… both broken in a few months of life.

    I still have my Peavey PC1600x (something like ten years or more… and counting…). I gave the PocketDial to one of my friends something like seven years ago and still works perfectly.

  • readysetgo

    Is it just me or does that have no navigation buttons?

  • emery

    I don't know why everyone is hating so bad. It's a product that akai decided to make and that's the way it is. Personally i wouldn't buy it but it will fit into someones setup. And that person will probably end up killing that device. or not? Whatever, I think it will fit in just nice with the new ableton/serato collab. I'm not going to buy serato (just yet), but everyone needs to get over it and get on with it.

  • db

    @readysetgo It does have nav buttons. Just not the same layout as on apc40.

  • the question is what they are trying to do here. are they trying to expand the setup of an apc40 user? are they competing with the launchpad?

    if they would have knobs on this thing, i would see them competing with the launchpad. but with the faders, it seems like they are more looking towards existing apc40 users.

    anyways, i am too pondering which way to go and lean towards the launchpad.

  • speaking of the launchpad .. just stumbled over http://www.midikatapult.com/ .. i am in love

  • esol esek

    I bought the APC40 and while it showed me some things, I sold it. I had greater functionality with my scenes and effects mapping to no-cost QWERTY, than scrolling that monster up and down and figuring out where I was. Five scenes sucks. The effects sends area was also useless.

    No likey. Akai go back to drawing board.

  • midihendrix

    motorized faders would be the bomb…

    im a turntablist producer who bought this thing thinking it would take my live performances to the next level….but actually ive hardly seen anyone doing really creative stuff with this live.

    however, making it the centerpiece of my production rig has brought my creativity to a new level…my production process now is sort of a live performance where i record into clips, chop them and jam out on the apc. the apc20 seems like a nice solution for when i run out of tracks. however, motorized faders would be much nicer!

  • groovelastig

    hmmm. .. owning an MPD24 and looking for a nice LED-matrix controller to complement it, the APC20 was exactly what I was looking for. I can't say losing 8 encoders (effectively the same as on all MPDs) and cutting the price tag in half was such a bad move by AKAI.

  • TJ

    groovelastig, definitely not. I just picked one up, it's perfect for me as i already have maschine. Maschine is also a great controller so i only really needed the clip matrix but i can definitely use the dedicated controls as well. I see them both been great in tandem, using maschine to create the beats and then using the apc20 to fire off the clips in Live. There's a lot of maschine heads out there and i can see the apc been the perfect fit for their live setup. šŸ™‚

  • Justin Reed

    peter – sorry for the LATE post – do you know if it’s possible to chain 2 APC 20s together to make a horizontally continuous 16 step sequencer? Is this a function of the proper Max4Live patch? hope you’ll see this as i can’t find the info anywhere…

  • Justin Reed

    peter – sorry for the LATE post – do you know if it’s possible to chain 2 APC 20s together to make a horizontally continuous 16 step sequencer? Is this a function of the proper Max4Live patch? hope you’ll see this as i can’t find the info anywhere…