As I read through comments, it seems worth some additional notes and clarifications on Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware/software drum machine combo and Akai’s APC40 controller for Ableton Live. (That’s not to say that the two are comparable – though I do hope to see them running side by side soon!)

Maschine: It Has Hardware MIDI (Sort Of)

I’m only going to say one thing about Maschine: it has hardware MIDI inputs and outputs. A number of folks missed this yesterday.

This to me is a big deal, because Maschine is a really strong sequencer. I still want software MIDI output, so I can drop Maschine as an instance in Kore (or Live, for that matter) and drive soft synths or Reaktor patches or whatever. But while we’re not getting that in 1.0, we are getting MIDI output, so it could be an excuse to drive hardware synths.

Unfortunately, here’s the current situation: the MIDI output ports are only used when the Maschine is in controller mode. You have to be plugged into the computer to use that mode, because Maschine relies on the computer driver for MIDI output. And the sequencer can’t currently transmit out on the MIDI jack. So you do get controller features – meaning you could use as a controller for a hardware sound source, which is good. But as with software MIDI, we aren’t getting real output yet for the sequencer. I’m holding out hope we’ll see this in an update, which is possible – that’s the advantage of doing everything in software.

Akai APC40: It Doesn’t Need Max, It’s Not a Monome … We’ll Test to See If You Lose Your Place

You do not need a copy of Max for Live to get bi-directional control of Ableton Live with the APC40, or even to create custom mappings. In fact, it also sounds as though you don’t need Live 8, though I need to learn which features may be sacrificed in earlier versions. (In fact, word is Live Lite 7 will ship with the APC.)

I think the confusion was that Max for Live will ship with a patch for the APC. The APC won’t ship with or require Max for Live. And Max for Live might as well ship with a monome patch. (I expect by the time M4L is out, monome patchers will have ported a few of those patches so you can use a Live-style interface. Or you can do it yourself.)

For a quick hands-on, Lee Du-Caine did get to try out the APC on the show floor for Computer Music / MusicRadar. It’s nice that he sussed the controls immediately.

This is not a monome. Yes, you can use an example Max for Live patch to perform some sequencing tricks on its pads, and yes, that’s cool. But the real win is Max for Live, not the APC necessarily. If you really want a grid of pads to use as a customizable sequencing instrument, what you want is a monome. You can pick it up easily, move it around (with accelerometers, if you like), and it doesn’t have lots of faders and encoders getting in the way. And my sense is, while monomes were ridiculously hard to get in 2008, that won’t be true in 2009 – particularly with work on the arduinome clone. No, the big news there is that all the features monome inherited from Max patches can now be ported to run “natively” in Live, and by the end of the year once Max for Live has shipped, we should start to see monome take on Live-controlling powers it never had before.

One area to watch in testing. I’m a little concerned about feedback as to where you are and what you have selected, which is critical in a device that selects clips and parameters dynamically.

Good: A red outline on your computer screen in Live Session View shows you which clip you’ve selected. This must have made it into the current build, as Lee notes that he saw it there. (I’m hoping, actually, we can do this even without the APC in Live 8 – I’ll find out.) Good: The new magnification option in Live 8 should make it easier to see what you’re doing on the screen. Not so good: My biggest concern is that one of the nicest features is being able to dynamically select a rack and map the eight parameter encoders on the bottom right to that Device. I use this all the time on my Novation ReMOTE, but I have to select racks with the mouse. Akai gives and taketh away. They give you the ability to select devices with buttons on the device – no mouse needed. But that means you need to know which device you have selected, and which parameters are mapped, and you can’t, because there’s no screen.

I’m holding out hope that the magnification feature will compensate, but it does mean you either need to limit your devices to a couple you can remember, or look up at your computer for reference. And even there, Novation wins again for me with their implementation – Automap now has a huge heads-up display to show you what you’re manipulating on the computer screen so you don’t have to squint at your laptop, but you can use it for feedback. Kore has something similar, in which just touching a controller tells you what it is.

Anyway, enough ranting about that – I’ll test it and let you know if my fears have some ground. The rest of the layout still looks fantastic, of course.

And I do think the APC could be amazing controlling software that isn’t Live – like visual software.

  • lematt

    i don't really agree about "If you really want a grid of pads to use as a customizable sequencing instrument, what you want is a monome."

    the APC has a fairly nice grid of pads (3 colors ! ) and it can be enough to developp a max patch to use it as a sequencer. add to this the fact that the APC has knobs, faders, and for a large number of persons it beats the monome features.

    in the grid style, monome is the best, but it's grid only.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, clearly the APC should be fantastic if you want to do a little grid sequence manipulation, a little mixing, a little effects manipulation, etc., all on one box.

    But the monome has evolved into this performance interface, where people are really making it into an instrument. If that's the sort of experience you want, I just think the APC becomes the opposite of what you want, with all of these other functions and bulk.

    They're just very different designs.

  • eisnein

    ahhhhh! thank you so much for the quick and helpful comparison!

    midi for the mashinemachine!

  • http://covops.org Andreas Wetterberg

    I believe that one of the very first things we'll see for Max-for-Live, apart from the slew of boring effects and 16-step 16-slider sequencers (aka, max 101) is heads up displays – at least, that's one area where we are focussing our attention – note in the "extend" video there's a floating max window? Imagine that, but with big waveforms, big device name scrollers, that sort of thing.

    Another thing we'll see a LOT of is APC40 hacking. And I mean a LOT. Because it basically behaves like a thin client, we'll see an abundance of things much like what we've done in the past with the PadKontrol, only to the nth degree – it's not just 40 buttons, it's 40 buttons, plus faders, plus 3×8 buttons below the 40, plus encoders, plus crossfader (you get the idea)

    Comparing the two is still valid though, up to a point. I suspect it should be fairly straight forward to port the monome apps to the apc40, in some shape or form, at least.

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Bill Van Loo

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    "all the features monome inherited from Max patches can now be ported to run “natively” in Live"

    I have this feeling that many, many more of these kind of revelations will hit me (and many others) in the run-up to Live 8 / Max for Live being released.

    I stopped doing Max/MSP/Jitter work about 3 years ago, and my license for Max 4.6 still sits on a iLok. This may be the push that makes me dive back into that environment.

    For my own setup (not planning on buying an APC40 or Maschine anytime soon), I'm imagining TouchOSC, haplome, etc controlling custom patches, devices and sequencers inside Live, and my head is spinning…

  • http://bauerindustries.com chris_in_london

    <blockquote cite="Andreas Wetterberg">Another thing we’ll see a LOT of is APC40 hacking. And I mean a LOT.

    i hope so! teh APC is a direct descendant of the MPD/MPK series. akai has been very bad at supporting these (the mpd32 has a couple of major firmware bugs that still haven't been fixed – and the things been out for about a year).

    hopefully people hacking the APC will help me to hack the MPD and give it the functionality it deserves. here's hoping.

  • PDX

    So the maschine is a sequencer too? Or at least, has a hardware midi sequencer in it??

  • A

    Peter, I think Maschine DOES have Software MIDI out; in one of the vids on the NI website they trigger Ableton Live samples from the Maschine hardware while control mode is activated.

  • vinayk

    So if I upgrade my Live7 to Live 7 suite NOW. It will cost 319 and i'll get a free upgrade to live suite 8? As compared to waiting until live 8 is out and paying 349.

    (both prices minus my coupon value of course)?

    So I should upgrade now to save money (provided our exchange rate doesnt get better =P )

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @A: Sorry, let me be totally clear:

    Available now

    Controller > Hardware (MIDI out port on the device)

    Controller > Software (using the USB connection, as a controller)

    NOT available now

    Software > Software (using the sequencers in Maschine software to output MIDI to, say, a soft synth like FM8)

    Software > Hardware (using the sequencers to control an external sound source)

    That means you can use Maschine hardware as a controller, and use Maschine software as a sound source, but you are limited in the latter case to the sound capabilities of Maschine.

  • A

    OK thanks for clarification… Yeah that's sounds like an important deficit. Let us hope they'll fix it in an early software update… For the time being, I am kinda enthusiastic about all the other possibilities of Maschine, though.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, and actually, I'd rather have stability than have every feature I wanted but not have thorough hardware/software implementation or reliability. :) Let's at least say they're aware I (and now others) want these specific items.

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  • tezi

    the apc is like a mini monodeck with only 2 effects blocks

  • http://www.myspace.com/tooltablist Mudo

    For maschine: Roland SP555 is the soultion.

    For APC40 vs Monome vs Arduinome:
    http://www.hangar.org/wikis/lab/doku.php?id=start

    Arduinome RGB