Akai APC40 MKII review
Akai has had an especially positive relationship with the Ableton Live MIDI controller community as of late, with their MPK line being some of the most popular MIDI controllers currently on the market. And the APC40 MKII represents the second iteration of the brands Ableton Live-focused controller that first released to massive fanfare in 2009.
The MKII builds on its predecessor in different ways, many of which serve to make the controller even more useful to those who run it through Live. The original product has seen widespread adaptation in studios all over the globe, and seeing the controller pop up on various stages and YouTube channels is not an uncommon sight.
To better help you break down the pros and cons of the Akai APC40, we’ve created a guide below where you can directly compare this MIDI controller to other popular ones currently on the market:
|Akai MPK249||Semi-Weighted Keys|
|Arturia KeyLab 49 MKII||More than 200 Multi Patches|
|Roland A-88||Dual and Split Keyboard Functions
|Novation Launchkey 61 MK3||16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads|
|Roland A49||USB Bus Powered|
And now, let’s break down what’s new with the APC40 MKII. From there, we’ll get into build quality and functionality.
While there are certainly a number of new features included with the MKII, users of the original APC40 will feel right at home playing with the various functionalities included. There’s been a complete redesign, so there’s plenty to learn, even with the new form factor alone, but all of the core functionality that made up the original persists here.
Considering the original’s reputation as one of the most functional and easy-to-use controllers around for Ableton Live, we’d say that’s a good thing. The controller is still unquestioningly designed for live performance, and there’s still very little to entice those looking for a controller that doubles as a production assistant.
There’s no step sequencer, no way to input notes, and Akai has been very clear about that with their marketing. In a time when controllers seem to be taking the “swiss army knife” approach to making products for electronic music producers, we find this to be a refreshing change of pace.
By far the biggest change that users will experience is the completely redesigned, 8 x 5 button matrix. The buttons now come fully color-customizable, instead of the the tricolor setup the old model employed.
The new pads are much larger, and the additional color options means that telling buttons apart just got a lot easier to do. The side effect, however, is that the way to tell if a pad is currently engaged has changed, as well. Now, a pad will pulse on and off when it is active, instead of simply lighting up green. This is a great solution in theory, but if you are the type to play frequently in bright or daytime conditions, you might find this to be quite a hassle.
It’s certainly still manageable, and having the addition of the full color spectrum is certainly more important in most scenarios, so there’s a fair trade off here.
Other new features for the MKII include:
- New, recessed clip stop buttons, addressing a long-running complaint that accidentally pressing this button was far too easy on the original controller.
- A dedicated tempo control knob now sits alongside the existing tap tempo and nudge options, which should come in handy for those who DJ live frequently while mixing on the fly.
- The device is now powered sole over USB, a huge improvement over the original’s reliance on a power supply.
- The rotary knobs have been relocated to above the channel strip, which is a much more accessible location. The knobs are endless, and are lit via LED’s around the ring.
There’s nothing necessarily revolutionary here, to be sure, but all of these small additions really add up to a more functional, intuitive product. There’s a lot of smart design cues that make the newest edition of the controller simply feel better to play around with, and many who understand this X-factor will appreciate it highly here.
The Akai APC40 MKII features 9 faders on the bottom of the device, 8 control knobs, and 8 device controls to interface with Ableton Live. Naturally, the bulk of the real estate is taken up by the new, LED lit buttons, of which there are 40.
There’s also a suite of other controls on the device face, like scene selectors, master controls, and a slew of tempo editing functions. The interface itself is laid out much more clearly and efficiently than the original products somewhat haphazard design, which should be a big plus for those looking for something that flows better with their live set.
The entire setup here feels much more fluid, which is a real testament to Akai. They’ve clearly listened carefully to feedback over the years on the hugely popular first model, and for the most part, it seems as though the brand has answered many of the most common complaints about the MKI.
Akai are not known to make flimsy products, and that absolutely holds up with the APC40 MKII. With that being said, one of my central disappointments with this controller is that it actually doesn’t feel as solid as the original did, build quality wise.
The smart layout aside, the thing simply feels more fragile than before, which isn’t necessarily true, but the feeling is worth mentioning that the device is now completely made of plastic. It’s actually a bit smaller, coming in at a full 3 inches shorter than the APC40 was.
One plus of the new plastic design is that it’s lighter, weighing in at nearly half what the original did. This extra portability will likely be more important for most than any perceived hit in the sturdiness department, so we are okay looking the other way on this one for the most part.
Overall, this is still a very solid product that looks great, and plays even better. The APC40 MKII is just plain fun to mess around with, and we found ourselves completely adjusted to the new design within moments.
Ableton Live has become the defacto DAW for electronic music production over the last several years, and with its rise, quite a few products have been released to work in conjunction with it, including some offerings from Ableton themselves.
Next, let’s take a look at two products from Ableton, and one more from Akai in order to decide which setup will be ideal for you.
Ableton Push vs Akai APC40 MKII
Ableton Push is the first ever MIDI controller made by Ableton. The company wanted to craft something that would be equally useful onstage and in the studio, and this was the result of that desire.
The original Push got a lot of things right, and had a rather fantastic workflow, seeing as every bit of it’s design was informed by Ableton Live 9. There were certainly several limitations when the product first came out that kept it away from the “perfect” scores all companies covet, but for any working Live user, it was about as close as you could get. That has all since changed with the release of the Push 2.
- You also might enjoy our article entitled: Ableton Live MIDI Controller Buying Guide
Ableton Push 2 vs Akai APC40 MKII
The Ableton Push 2 builds on the philosophy of it’s predecessor, bringing to the table a much larger and higher resolution display, eliminating one of the biggest complaints users had about the original device.
There’s far more power on display here than both the original Push and the APC40 MKII, especially when talking about it’s ability to meaningfully add to a studio setup. If you’re looking for a product that feels right at home live, but that also has a number of great features for playing around with different sounds and building betas, this is likely to be the better buy for you.
Being able to edit the waves of your sounds, sequence beats, and control Ableton Live flawlessly all come together to create a hugely powerful tool for writing and producing. This still isn’t a straight-out replacement for a MIDI keyboard, so you won’t be composing on it still, but there are plenty of keyboard controllers out there already that work great with Live.
All in all, this is a fantastic product that offers a lot for many different styles of music.
So, what’s the catch?
Well, the short answer is the price. The Akai APC40 can be found for roughly $400. The Push 2, meanwhile, will run you a cool $700; obviously a pretty huge difference. Ultimately, it’ll depend on what you’re looking for. If live is a priority, the APC40 MKII is a fantastic choice still. If you want depth, and you don’t mind shelling out for it, go for the Push 2.
Akai MPK Mini MKII vs Akai APC40 MKII
Akai’s bread and butter has always been functional and portable MIDI keyboard controllers, and the MPK Mini MKII represents the bleeding edge of their lineup for ultra-portable controllers.
The Akai MIDI controller serves a fundamentally different function than the APC40, as its primary usage would be playing MIDI notes, either in a live setting or in the studio for composition. This is one of the least expensive controllers out there, sitting right at $99, so if you’re looking for something to get into production with, this little thing won’t let you down.
It does feature 8 trigger pads and a two octave range, so triggering on this thing is possible, but it won’t even compete in the same league for sampling at the APC40 MKII.
- You can read our review of the Akai MPK Mini MKII here.
The Akai APC40 MKII is a solid, competent MIDI controller designed to be used in conjunction with Ableton Live in a live setting. The design takes bold strides forward from the original, adding in several features that continue to chisel away at the few weak points in the layout by adding powerful, new functionality and flow.
There are definitely products out there that are more fully featured, but very few of them can deliver this much value at this price point. Akai’s long history of providing quality, well thought-out products continues, proving that the company truly listens to its customers, supporting their products as best they can in the process.
We would have loved to see some motors, or even a way to play MIDI notes for recording purposes built in, but ultimately, Akai chose to focus on the live aspect for this product range, and we can’t fault them for that.
- Efficient and ergonomic new layout
- Full-color LED’s look great and add a crucial new element to the functionality of the device
- Fantastically tight Ableton Live integration
- Lighter and more portable than the original
- No way to write or perform MIDI notes
- A bit more fragile feeling than the original
The Bottom Line
The Akai APC40 MKII is an excellent MIDI controller for anyone looking for dedicated live functionality with a cohesive and well-thought out design. The popularity of the original should continue here, and this product should serve you well for years to come.
4 out of 5 stars
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