AF’s Weblog

October 5, 2010

Akai APC 20 Review

With the APC40, a control surface fully dedicated to Ableton Live, Akai created an extremely successful tool, so the launch of the APC20 comes as no surprise: an APC40 amputated of its right section and sold at half the price, to beat all competitors.

Because Akai has serious competitors: also targeting Ableton users, Novation didn’t try to compete with the APC40 on the features front but rather, on the price side, with its more basic Launchpad (only pads, no faders nor rotary controls) for under (the psychological price barrier of) $200. It wasn’t a surprise to see that anyone who didn’t have the money for the big Akai controller jumped at the Launchpad. This was enough to get on the nerves of  MPC’s inventor who decided to answer with the APC20 available for less than $200. Let’s have a closer look…

No Surprises

Akai APC20

Once you take it out of its big box, the APC20 makes a quite good impression. Made out of metal, it’s neither too heavy to be transported in a backpack nor too light to keep steady on a table (thanks to four wide rubber feet). Plastic is only used for the pads, the switches, the faders, the encoder, and the removable sides of the housing. The latter are held by six screws and thus can be easily removed for rack mounting purposes. We can easily imagine it between two turntables and a small mixer to rock the dance floor with hot loops.

The APC20 features eight channels, each of them with the following controls (from bottom to top): fader, “Record Arm” button, “Solo/Cue” button (for routing the solo track to the monitoring bus), and “Activator” button (for channel on/off). Next to the eight tracks, on the right, a fader controls the master volume while an encoder adjusts the monitoring level.

Above this section, nine pads give access to the main controls: play, stop, record, MIDI overdub, left/right/up/down buttons to navigate within the tracks and the scenes, and “Note Mode” to determinate the operation of the 8×5 pads on the top section of the APC 20. Although their main use is as clip triggers, they can also be used as a “MIDI keyboard” in Note mode, in which case each pad is assigned to a note. Even though it can’t replace a real master keyboard if you want to play melodic instruments, this feature is very convenient to program Ableton’s Drum Rack on the fly.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Yes, the APC40 is much more comprehensive than the APC20! But if you have only $200 for a Live controller, the APC20 has only one competitor in the form of the Novation Launchpad. The latter is less expensive but doesn’t have any faders, which makes it less interesting. However, its larger pads make it more comfortable to use. The perfect product doesn’t exist, even if the numerous pros of both competitors provide unprecedented comfort of use with Live.

Advantages:

  • More comfort of use with Live
  • Plug and play
  • Attractive price
  • Manufacturing quality
  • The faders offer a small advantage over the Launchpad

Drawbacks:

  • It would be better with rotary controls, like on the APC40…
  • Backlit pads hardly readable in bright environments

To read the full detailed article see: Akai APC 20 Review

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May 5, 2010

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 Review

Native Instruments has been announcing the launch of Traktor Kontrol X1 for several months now and it was even possible to pre-order it on the NI website, if you wanted to be one of the lucky first owners. Was the waiting worth it? Does the Kontrol X1 fulfill our expectations? We’ll see… but let’s unpack it first!

Unpacking

Traktor Kontrol X1The packaging is good quality and all parts are well protected. The box contains a USB cable, a 37-page “Getting Started” document in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, an installation CD including Traktor LE, the drivers, the full user’s manual as well as alternate mappings for the different Traktor versions (Duo, Pro, Scratch, etc.), and the Traktor X1 unit with an overlay to rename the buttons manually if needed. On the CD, you’ll also find the Kore 2 Player software (available for free on Native Instruments’ website) as well as the Controller Editor software that allows you to customize the assignment of each button for MIDI applications.

Traktor LE v1.2.4 was already installed on my computer (the X1 driver is already included in the software ever since version 1.2.3 came out), so I just needed to connect the Kontrol X1 and it was immediately recognized without the need for any further installation (however do notice that if you have an old computer you will not be able to use the controller given that it requires a USB 2.0 port!). The Kontrol X1 is USB powered so you only need to do that one connection! I had already experienced problems with other hardware controllers for Traktor, but this one is really plug ‘n’ play. It’s a joy not to have to spend hours before the controls light up.

How Does it Look?

Traktor Kontrol X1When you switch it on it looks like Knight Rider’s KITT… The dark design is sober but well-achieved, all buttons and knobs feel sturdy, pleasant and they seem to be good quality. The Kontrol X1’s layout is symmetrical and almost all controls are mirrored so that you can control both decks (A and B) independently. The only buttons that aren’t doubled on the X1 are Shift and Hotcue.

The unit is light (1.5 lb.) and slim (4.7″x2″x11.6″). If you play live with a full DJ set, you’ll have to buy the optional Kontrol X1 Bag so you can raise the Kontrol X1 to the same height as a mixer or turntable. The Kontrol X1 includes four anti-slip pads.

All buttons have two different backlit levels: dimmed when inactive and bright when active. This feature is very convenient to find a specific function in dark environments. Both brightness intensities can be adjusted in Traktor. The knobs are not backlit but you can find them pretty easily thanks to the buttons around them.

Each button has different colors to distinguish the different functions:

  • Effects = orange
  • Browsing and loading = orange (it would have been nicer if it was a different color)
  • Loops = blue
  • Transport = blue (a different color would have been nice)
  • MIDI = green
  • Shift and Hotcue = white

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The Traktor Kontrol X1 is a well-manufactured and excellent-quality product that seduced us. It is extremely easy to install: real plug ‘n’ play. The backlit buttons look great and are very practical in dark environments. So, yes, the Kontrol X1 looks really hot! But it is almost impossible to use it as a mixer with a notebook, which is a pity because it would be a real plus for this slim and light controller which fits my carrying bag perfectly along with my notebook. It only lacks two controls for Native Instruments to be able to target DJs using compact systems.

Advantages:

  • Plug ‘n’ play
  • USB powered
  • Great design and finish
  • Lightweight and compact without compromising operation
  • “On” button in the filter section

Drawbacks:

  • No track volume control! Requires an additional mixer!
  • Price ($199)
  • Additional products required to make full use of the Kontrol X1: Traktor Pro ($199) and Kontrol X1 Bag
  • Unfortunate names on some buttons with Traktor LE

To read the full detailed article please see:      Traktor Kontrol X1 Review

September 4, 2009

Novation Remote Zero SL MKII

Filed under: Control Surfaces — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:09 pm

When Novation announced Automap Universal at the 2007 NAMM many were instantly intrigued by the concept. Many producers and long time fans of MIDI control were eager to get this revolutionary product integrated into their set up. Now with the Mk2series and Automap 3 available, Novation seems to have taken their product to a new level. Does it live up to expectations?

The software that arrived with my original Remote Zero SL (MK1) back in ’07 certainly didn’t disappoint. Plug-ins and virtual instruments that would have usually taken a substantial amount of time to map were instantly displayed across the unit’s two displays. The ease and speed of further customisation was also impressive for a version 1.0 product.


Since 2007, I have been an avid user and regular beta tester of the Novation Remote SL line and their associated Automap technology, so when the chance to review the new Mk2 version of the Remote Zero SL came up I was more than happy to take delivery of the unit and give it a test run…

Conclusion

This is no doubt one of the best dynamic midi controllers out there. With its slick design, innovative touch-sensitive, illuminated panel and mature software you can’t go far wrong. This is certainly an improvement on the last model and shows a step in the right direction when it comes to hands on control of production software. It’s a shame that the second display has been dropped and that there aren’t more endlessly rotating knobs on the unit but as I said before this isn’t the end of the world. Also it might be worth throwing this in a flight case if you want to take it on the road, though the plastic case, although well made, might not stand up to the rigours of regular gigging.

To sum up, I really love this device, in fact so much that I have hung on to the review model and it has become my controller of choice in the studio … And this comes form someone who has used, Mackie, Euphonix and Jazz Mutant products.Clear innovative touch sensitive controls

Advantages:

  • Illuminated buttons for clear feedback

  • Crossfader for digital DJs

  • Competitive price point

  • USB powered

  • Awesome, mature regularly updated software

Drawbacks:

  • Plastic casing throughout may not strand up to live shows

  • Only one display as opposed to the previous models two

  • No power supply as standard for use with low power USB hubs

To read the full detailed article see:  Novation Remote Zero SL MKII Test

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