Look out, Akai APC40. There’s another contender in the emerging Controller With Lots of Buttons And Also Faders and Knobs and Crossfader product category. Livid’s Ohm64 combines the light-up button grid with faders, knobs, trigger buttons, and most importantly, unique customization options and a lovely wooden case. What’s unique about this one:
- High-end materials: anodized aluminum faceplate, “immersion gold-platted circuit boards” (guess that’s circuit bling), an optional wooden body (aluminum is available, as well, but wood is more fun).
- Not mass-market: hand-assembled, small-production Austin creation.
- Fully class-compliant, no drivers (also true of the APC as far as I know, but nice – and ideal for Linux, too, in case you want to run this with a netbook or a Pd-running souped-up *nix laptop)
- Open-source, customizable MIDI talkback: when you’re ready to customize just how those LEDs light up, there are included open source tools and fully programmable MIDI mapping
Bonus: it comes with a powerful, full-featured VJ app in the box, Cell DNA, though of course you can use it with anything you like.
The real story to me is the customization. Whereas the APC40 is entirely proprietary in design, has evidently limited MIDI mappings, and a mysterious mechanism for programming two-way communication, the Ohm64 is open, open source, and software-agnostic. If the open source thing catches on, that could mean a community of friendly folk thinking of smart ways to reprogram this thing for different apps. Ironically, that means that in the long run, the Ohm64 could wind up with better Ableton Live integration than the hardware Ableton chose to back – though all bets are off until we get these devices in our hands.
I would say the APC is probably more direct competition for the Ohm64 than the Monome, despite the 8×8 light-up buttons. The Monome is much lighter and slimmer, it takes a minimalist approach (no big knobs or faders), and uses OpenSoundControl in place of MIDI. The Ohm64 seems likely to appeal to those who weren’t Monome fans, and visa versa. And some lucky bastards are naturally going to own both.
But the important thing is that the Ohm64 joins the Monome in its crusade for open-source customization of a commercial product. Whatever the Ohm64 is when it ships, it’s that question of what people can do with it that may determine its real value. I have no doubt people will be reverse engineering the APC40, too — starting with figuring out how to fake the hardware “handshake” it uses so other devices can emulate it in Live. But it’ll be interesting to see how these different philosophies pan out, so to speak.
I hope to sit down with the Ohm64 as soon as they ship to Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from me in Livid’s NYC-area offices. Stay tuned.
No pricing yet; the existing Ohm with fewer buttons is priced at US$599-699 on sale.