Akai was one of the music manufacturers that stole the show at this year’s NAMM trade conference. The simple reason: the APC is a rare combination of a whole mess of colored buttons with a whole bunch of faders and knobs. Now, the APC’s big selling point is its out-of-box experience with Ableton Live. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are people who don’t exclusively use Ableton Live – including some Live users who use other software (drum machines, VJ apps) on the side. Looking at the APC’s layout, you see a combination of stuff that would work for lots of other tools.
The only question: would the APC actually work with other software, or would it be hard-wired only to work with Live? Aaron Liven writes with evidence from Akai technical support that suggests you can use any app you want:
The APC40 is designed to be a dedicated controller for Ableton with specific midi cc’s that are hardwired for Ableton. There would not be a way to remap this on the ACP40. However if you can manually map your sequencing software or plugin to other midi cc values, then you can match this up to what the APC40 is set to in order to have control.
The one catch is that, as this email notes, it doesn’t sound as though you’ll get a template mapping app to choose other templates for other apps. That’s too bad: the Novation ReMOTE line, for instance, also works out-of-the-box with Ableton Live, but if you decide you want to reconfigure it for something like, say, a Native Instruments B4 organ emulation, you can. (In the case of the B4, a template is included, or you can use the powerful Novation template editor.)
On the other hand, very often people do their mapping in software anyway – particularly with VJ apps – so this will mostly be fine. And if the APC does become popular as a music controller, you can count on some template maps elsewhere, too.
The more significant catch is that the APC has only a USB jack — no physical MIDI jacks for controlling outboard gear. And I suspect that some of the features of the APC work via System Exclusive messages, meaning it’ll be substantially less cool when away from Live. (You may have to hack a way of getting those lights to light up the way you want, for instance – though that may not stop anyone.)
CDM has a pre-release date with the APC, so stay tuned. And there are other button- and pad-strewn goodies to look forward to this year, as well (NI Maschine, monome, and new DIY projects we haven’t even heard of yet).