Serato DJs swear by their software. But one thing they haven’t had lately is a lot of choice in DJ controller hardware. Sure, there’s now a range of hardware getting updated for the latest software. But even after a transition to the new Serato DJ platform, almost all of this hardware is of the “really wide with two big wheels” variety.
That big hardware is a big problem. It leaves out Serato DJs working with vinyl who just want some added control of the software. It adds two big platters, which are arguably something you don’t need in the first place. And it gives you hardware that’s tough to fit in a bag – and sometimes impossible to fit in a booth. It works for some people in some situations, that is, but not all. And to add insult to injury, Allen & Heath’s beautiful XONE:K2 controller supported almost every DJ tool except Serato (even competing head-to-head with Native Instruments’ own hardware for Traktor).
Well, now there’s release, in two inexpensive, versatile-looking controllers from AKAI. AKAI, for their part, seems intent on world domination of every category (with InMusic comprising that brand as well as M-Audio and Alesis).
The AFX is a US$199 slim USB controller for effects, cueing, and loops. The AMX is a $249 control surface and audio interface.
There’s an obvious parallel to Native Instruments’ X1 and Z1, respectively. (It’s worth mentioning that, because NI has just announced that it’s including Traktor Pro for free with the purchase of either one, for the month of August.) But for Serato lovers, there’s no real comparison. Not only do you get extensive Serato integration, but the AMX gets you the latest full copy of Serato DJ – meaning, if you’re looking to upgrade (or, cough, get a legitimate copy), this is a smart buy.
- Custom layouts with Serato Flip
- 4 decks of control
- 9 touch-activated knobs
- 8 velocity-sensitive RGB-backlit pads
- Different pads modes: trigger hot cues, loops, or slices.
- USB powered
That controller is also driverless, so you’re not limited to Serato here. You could even map it on Linux, if you really wanted.
Actually, having said there’s no comparison, let’s compare. The AFX has velocity-sensitive pads and 4 decks of control; the NI Kontrol X1 has only trigger buttons and 2 decks. (Switches at the top of the Akai give you the second two decks.) They both have touch-sensitive strips. But the trade-off is, the X1 gets a much cleaner layout than the AFX. Also, if the AFX feels anything like the new Ableton controller hardware from Akai, I’m suspicious you’re likely to prefer the more-solid feel of the NI gear – you don’t get anything for free. And, I’m sorry Akai, the NI box is just better looking.
Then again, maybe it’s not fair to compare these two for a second reason – with the slicer, sampler, roll, and velocity-sensitive pad features, the Akai is more about live controllerism than the NI box. The question I have is whether you just want a dedicated pad controller at that point – and, if so, Akai will happily sell you one.
The AMX is more of a no-brainer – and a portal into upgrading to Serato DJ. The NI Z1 has the advantage of seamlessly switching between desktop and mobile (working with the iPad version of Traktor), and it still covers the bases for audio. But the AMX is a different story: it adds separate LEDs for each track for cueing (absent on the Z1), it has two inputs so it can be used with Digital Vinyl systems (key for a lot of Serato’s market), and built-in browse and cueing. So here, the comparison between the two is a little more superficial.
The big question is whether the AMX/AFX duo can cure Serato Face, the disease of laptop DJs (regardless of software maker) glued to their computer screens.