While Novation was refreshing their Automap software for NAMM, M-Audio was unveiling their own dynamic controller technology, called HyperControl. M-Audio has one (big) edge on Novation: their controller technology can access ASCII keystrokes – something I’d love to have in all keyboard control editors. And HyperControl sounds like it has some promise, at least on paper – especially with the absurd number of controls M-Audio has packed onto the layout.

There are just two catches. One, there’s the (ahem) styling on the Axiom Pro keyboard. To put it diplomatically, it’s not terribly … subtle. Two, you get support for some DAW/workstations (Pro Tools, Cubase, Logic, Reason) but not others (SONAR, Live, Tracktion, etc.) Now, that could change in future releases, but Automap has a significant running start.

Also, can we please get a moratorium on adding “Pro” to product names? (I mean, we don’t call the other model the Axiom Hobbyist or the Axiom Day Job.)

The keyboards: 25, 49, 61 keys, though sadly you don’t get controls on M-Audio’s 88-key models. The 49-key model lists for US$599.95, which means it’s in the price range of the Novation – though that also means the Novation is competitive. The keybeds are M-Audio’s semi-weighted “TruTouch,” which is one of the better semi-weighted actions out there.

But, seriously, this styling says “pro”? To me, it says this, minus the sportiness:

Separated at birth? Photo (CC) aranmanoth.

The features: One big graphic LCD (compared to the longer but narrower character Novation displays) – though that means the display is also not immediately aligned with the controls, so there’s a trade off. ASCII keystroke support so you can access keyboard shortcuts directly from a template. A ridiculous number of controllers, including function keys and keypad buttons the Novation lacks. Then again, if you go that far, you almost want a little trackpad while you’re at it.

Supported DAWs: Pro Tools 7.4 and up, Cubase, Reason, Logic. Now Reason is a no-brainer – it has terrific support for this kind of thing. But SONAR and Ableton Live also have lovely internal support for dynamic controller mappings. I hope that’s planned for a future update, but in the meantime, I’d have to recommend the extensive template support and track record on the Novation.

And then there’s the fact that you can get a more muted-gray Axiom 61 with most of these features – minus the whiz-bang HyperTransport you may not need anyway – for US$329.95 list instead of $599.95 (49-key).

But I am interested to hear more of the specifics of how HyperTransport itself works, because it sounds a bit different than Automap – same idea, different execution. M-Audio says, when working with DAWs and instruments alike:

The constant two-way link with your host DAW means the keyboard’s controls are always in sync with your software’s active parameters. The intuitive graphic LCD constantly updates the current values, which ensures seamless editing and prevents parameter jumps—even when plug-ins are closed. Toggle instantly between Mixer and Instrument control modes. Map buttons to send QWERTY key commands right from the Axiom Pro 61. Save settings to 50 memory locations—each with four profiles of quick recall via the intuitive graphic LCD.

The ability to control plug-ins when they’re closed sounds especially interesting. Stay tuned.

Axiom Pro Product Page

By the way, one other rival out there – albeit with traditional, non-dynamic controller maps – is Akai’s MPK49 and (new to NAMM this month) MPK25, in case you don’t like the fact that their new Ableton-centric APC lacks piano-style keys.

Akai Pro MPK25

Another advantage: the Akai still looks a little silly with so many pads and knobs, but somehow less so in black than white.