SonicLAB Review: Akai MAX 49 Controller With CV/Gate

Pads, faders, Mackie Control and more   06-Dec-12

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15:10 mins    

First thing you notice when you get it out of the box, apart from it's REDNESS, is the weight - it feels like it's well built, the MAX49 controller keyboard from Akai Professional is also quite different. As well as the 49 key synth action keyboard with aftertouch and the 12 MPC-type pads, it has 8 touch faders - with backlit LED level indicators- a unique and pretty innovative way to work, especially as it has four banks of them.

The synth action keyboard has a reasonable feel to it and it does transmit aftertouch, but cannot be zoned split or layered in any way.
The 12 pads are backlit, with assignable channel, note and pressure per pad  - though  pressure only routes to aftertouch or poly aftertouch - no CC values per pad.
There are 4 banks  for up to 48. These pads also function as Arpeggiator and Sequencer mode switches which is a handy way to configure without using the menu system.

Faders are genius, using backlit touchstrips to show current fader value, making it simple to switch between the four banks of eight and still see where you are. Each fader also has a single assignable, backlit button.

The transport control is purely that, can be Mackie, HUI or MMC protocol. The Mackie and HUI protocols can be assigned to the faders and buttons too, for integration into the standard method of 8 faders at a time, and worked well with bi-directional control - moves in software were reflected on the fader/switch values.
Programs 31 and 32 are fixed as HUI and Mackie modes and have shortcuts from the front panel. these can be edited so you can set buttons to be other functions should you desire. I can't help but think that the pads would have been useful in these modes for additional commands, but they do not currently offer HUI/Mackie commands. However, I have been in touch with the engineers and they are considering it for an update - yay!

Akai Connect
This is a similar plug-in wrapper system to Novation's AutoMap. You select which plug-ins you want to wrap - they are copied and presumably modified in some way to allow the controls to be mapped. They then show up with an [AC] at the end, and when you are running the Connect server, the controls are mapped to the MAX49 faders and buttons - sort of.

In practice, you need to switch to Connect mode (prg 33), then your controls will work with the currently focussed AC plug-in. The software allows you to easily remap and save to suit your setup.  Perfect in theory, but I found that in practice it was a little cumbersome to switch between Connect mode, back to Mackie or HUI to control the sequencer,  then back etc. I also found some instances of  wrapped plug-ins were not all that stable. The other big problem is that currently it's for VST only - no AU or RTAS, which does rule out Logic and Pro Tools users.

Sequence and Arp
All the standard ARP modes are there with an extra pattern mode - up to 16 mutable steps for rhythmic variations. There's also a 4 pattern, 32 step sequencer with note values edited via the touch faders, plus an extra, assignable MIDI controller channel. The sequences are stored with each patch (there are up to 30) and can be triggered or transposed via the keyboard. I did find this a bit hit or miss with some strange, double time note triggering at the start of the pattern before settling down to the transposed values.
Both the ARP and the Sequencer can have the beat division set from between 1/4 to 1/32T against the master tempo for some real-time variations using the beat div mode.

Overall, I was impressed with the build quality, and functions of this keyboard, being able to hook up CV to a synth is a great idea, but the Connect system didn't really do it for me, though for some it will prove useful.

At £309/$399 Street price, it's not the lowest priced controller, but it does have an unusual set of features that will suit some setups perfectly.


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8 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

Derek    Said...

Great and entertaining review as always. :)

Nick has a little Chick Corea moment at 4m21s ;)

06-Dec-12 01:35 PM

Onimpulse    Said...

Would really appreciate, if you would more stuff about modular, perhaps even some tutorials.

06-Dec-12 03:19 PM

BLN    Said...

Great idea to add CV out, I would definitely buy it if it had more, and not only V/oct but also switchable Hz/V. Also a much more advanced arpeggiator and step sequencer, I love Sunrizer's arp (It's called arp but it's more like a step seqencer)and I hate that i cannot control analog synths with it...

07-Dec-12 05:16 AM

gridsleep    Said...

Very nice, especially the faders. I think I'll hang on to my Cyber6 for now.

07-Dec-12 06:14 AM

ExitOsc    Said...

BLN - The Step Sequencer on the Max49 is awesome! Not only can you direct your chromatic note choice with the touch faders, but there are also options for scale modes, which is excellent for harmonization.

07-Dec-12 10:01 AM

enossified    Said...

I don't agree with BLN at all.

Here in the 21st century we have a master keyboard that can works as a MIDI/CV converter as well a step sequencer and arpeggiator usable in either domain.

Seems to me a very slick way to merge hardware of all stripes into the DAW world.

If this sells like hotcakes, then maybe a MAX 61 with more CV will arrive, eh?

The glass is half full here, not half empty.

10-Dec-12 11:56 AM

Currious    Said...

It doesn't mention AU support. Does it integrate with logic's instruments? I'm at a toss up between this and novation, but like the overall build/design of the Max better.

11-Dec-12 01:10 PM

Ash Dando    Said...

I'm amazed that nobody has noticed a major flaw in the MAX49 - equal power hits on white keys versus black keys result in majorly different velocities. If I alternate between Bb and B with the same strength of hit, for example, I get 127 velocity on the Bb, and about 80 on the white keys. It's the same across the whole keyboard, and in fact it's extremely hard to get 127 velocity on the white keys without using so much speed/strength in your hands that it feels like you are going to damage the keys. My first MAX49 went back to the retailer with a mostly dead Bb2, the replacement one went back to the factory when the Bb2 started clicking/clacking (especially with quiet playing) and several keys had differing velocities (you could hit B1 and C2 - adjacent white keys - and the velocities would be markedly different). After 2.5 months of waiting they sent me a brand new one, and now I find that there's still this major difference in velocity between all black keys and all white keys. The problem with this is that under normal playing conditions, black notes sound way waaaay louder (especially with say an inexpensive multisample piano patch which has an obvious difference between the 60-80 velocity samples and the 90+ velocity samples). I'm stunned that nowhere on the internet has anyone else complained about this....

10-Apr-13 08:20 PM

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