With their APC40, Akai Professional has been causing quite a stir lately, but can their latest contribution, the APC20, equally impress the Ableton Live community? Juno Plus scribe Ben Daly investigates.
Out of the box, the APC20 looks very slick and stylish indeed, with its matt black finish, appealing wedge-shaped edges and uncluttered appearance. Housed in a metal casing, the APC20 feels solid enough to withstand the rigors of repeated gigging without any problems. The 87 buttons, nine faders and single knob also feel solid and sturdy enough for repeated heavy-handed use without failing or coming off in your hand. The 87 rubberised buttons are backlit and either light up in green, red, amber or blue depending on their status or function. The buttons all feel firm and responsive without being too stiff or sticky. The faders move smoothly and don’t feel too loose or wobbly to the touch as does the knob, which is an incredibly robust endless rotary pot.
The APC20 is essentially an APC40 with the right-hand side chopped off, so is therefore much smaller, lighter and indeed a lot more portable. On the downside, this means 16 knobs, a crossfader and a whole host of buttons are missing from the APC20 but as it costs less than half the price of the APC40, it’s still an attractive prospect.
A nice desktop size, the APC20 will easily fit alongside or in front of a laptop while in use, and should have no trouble fitting into a laptop bag. The weight of the APC20 is substantial enough without feeling heavy so is perfect for gigging with. The layout is orderly, clear and logical. White line markings on the faceplate clearly divide the controls according to function and make the unit very easy to navigate, especially in the dark.
“In use, the APC20 is incredibly fun and intuitive. The backlit buttons offer a much needed representation of which clips are playing on screen and whether they are loaded but not playing, playing, or recording. The faders respond well to the touch, as does the rotary knob, making the APC20 an extremely tactile, well-made and user-friendly controller”
The APC20 is incredibly easy to setup, only needing a USB lead (for connecting to the computer) and the included power supply to operate. It would have been nice if the APC20 was USB powered so you wouldn’t need the power supply, but as the power adaptor switches automatically and operates with any voltage from 100-240V, it can still be used worldwide if you have the correct travel plug adaptor.
The APC20 comes bundled with Ableton Live Akai Professional APC Edition software, which is a fully functional but stripped down version for performance and production. The APC20 is pre-mapped for instant use with the software, which is great for users who don’t want to spend time mapping the controls beforehand. Experienced users needn’t worry, as every single button and fader on the APC20 can be re-mapped and completely customized to their taste. As the APC20 is plug and play, you don’t need to install drivers and getting up and running is as simple as loading the included Ableton Live software, plugging in and powering up the APC20, and selecting the APC20 as Ableton Live’s controller.
“It doesn’t feel as if the APC20 has been cut down too much from the APC40 and if anything, the APC20 is a much more practical option over its older brother”
In use, the APC20 is incredibly fun and intuitive. The backlit buttons offer a much needed representation of which clips are playing on screen and whether they are loaded but not playing, playing, or recording. The faders respond well to the touch, as does the rotary knob, making the APC20 an extremely tactile, well-made and user-friendly controller.
It doesn’t feel as if the APC20 has been cut down too much from the APC40 and if anything, the APC20 is a much more practical option over its older brother. It offers much greater portability than its predecessor and if used alongside a controller including knobs such as the Korg NanoKONTROL or Akai LPD8, the issue of less knobs and buttons no longer exists. The APC20 is great for controlling everything in Ableton Live and offers much more for your money than any other controller. Financial concerns aside, the ideal solution would be to have an APC40 just for studio work and an APC20 for gigging with. The APC40 still has its place and is a fantastic controller, but being heavier and more cumbersome makes it less appealing for globetrotting, meaning the APC20 is a much more realistic option for travelling with.
Currently, Akai’s APC20 and APC40 are the only real all-in-one solutions for performing with Ableton Live and until somebody else comes along with a better solution, they’ll more than likely remain on the top spot.
Review: Ben Daly