As I read through comments, it seems worth some additional notes and clarifications on Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware/software drum machine combo and Akai’s APC40 controller for Ableton Live. (That’s not to say that the two are comparable – though I do hope to see them running side by side soon!)

Maschine: It Has Hardware MIDI (Sort Of)

I’m only going to say one thing about Maschine: it has hardware MIDI inputs and outputs. A number of folks missed this yesterday.

This to me is a big deal, because Maschine is a really strong sequencer. I still want software MIDI output, so I can drop Maschine as an instance in Kore (or Live, for that matter) and drive soft synths or Reaktor patches or whatever. But while we’re not getting that in 1.0, we are getting MIDI output, so it could be an excuse to drive hardware synths.

Unfortunately, here’s the current situation: the MIDI output ports are only used when the Maschine is in controller mode. You have to be plugged into the computer to use that mode, because Maschine relies on the computer driver for MIDI output. And the sequencer can’t currently transmit out on the MIDI jack. So you do get controller features – meaning you could use as a controller for a hardware sound source, which is good. But as with software MIDI, we aren’t getting real output yet for the sequencer. I’m holding out hope we’ll see this in an update, which is possible – that’s the advantage of doing everything in software.

Akai APC40: It Doesn’t Need Max, It’s Not a Monome … We’ll Test to See If You Lose Your Place

You do not need a copy of Max for Live to get bi-directional control of Ableton Live with the APC40, or even to create custom mappings. In fact, it also sounds as though you don’t need Live 8, though I need to learn which features may be sacrificed in earlier versions. (In fact, word is Live Lite 7 will ship with the APC.)

I think the confusion was that Max for Live will ship with a patch for the APC. The APC won’t ship with or require Max for Live. And Max for Live might as well ship with a monome patch. (I expect by the time M4L is out, monome patchers will have ported a few of those patches so you can use a Live-style interface. Or you can do it yourself.)

For a quick hands-on, Lee Du-Caine did get to try out the APC on the show floor for Computer Music / MusicRadar. It’s nice that he sussed the controls immediately.

This is not a monome. Yes, you can use an example Max for Live patch to perform some sequencing tricks on its pads, and yes, that’s cool. But the real win is Max for Live, not the APC necessarily. If you really want a grid of pads to use as a customizable sequencing instrument, what you want is a monome. You can pick it up easily, move it around (with accelerometers, if you like), and it doesn’t have lots of faders and encoders getting in the way. And my sense is, while monomes were ridiculously hard to get in 2008, that won’t be true in 2009 – particularly with work on the arduinome clone. No, the big news there is that all the features monome inherited from Max patches can now be ported to run “natively” in Live, and by the end of the year once Max for Live has shipped, we should start to see monome take on Live-controlling powers it never had before.

One area to watch in testing. I’m a little concerned about feedback as to where you are and what you have selected, which is critical in a device that selects clips and parameters dynamically.

Good: A red outline on your computer screen in Live Session View shows you which clip you’ve selected. This must have made it into the current build, as Lee notes that he saw it there. (I’m hoping, actually, we can do this even without the APC in Live 8 – I’ll find out.) Good: The new magnification option in Live 8 should make it easier to see what you’re doing on the screen. Not so good: My biggest concern is that one of the nicest features is being able to dynamically select a rack and map the eight parameter encoders on the bottom right to that Device. I use this all the time on my Novation ReMOTE, but I have to select racks with the mouse. Akai gives and taketh away. They give you the ability to select devices with buttons on the device – no mouse needed. But that means you need to know which device you have selected, and which parameters are mapped, and you can’t, because there’s no screen.

I’m holding out hope that the magnification feature will compensate, but it does mean you either need to limit your devices to a couple you can remember, or look up at your computer for reference. And even there, Novation wins again for me with their implementation – Automap now has a huge heads-up display to show you what you’re manipulating on the computer screen so you don’t have to squint at your laptop, but you can use it for feedback. Kore has something similar, in which just touching a controller tells you what it is.

Anyway, enough ranting about that – I’ll test it and let you know if my fears have some ground. The rest of the layout still looks fantastic, of course.

And I do think the APC could be amazing controlling software that isn’t Live – like visual software.