Akai’s APC64 is much more than just a successor to the APC40 — in fact, it’s much more than just an Ableton controller...
Akai’s APC40s were physical manifestations of Ableton Live’s Session view, with a clip‑launching grid, faders and encoders, and even the crossfader cueing system. As such they were uniquely suited to live performance or DJ‑style sets. The APC64 is more like Novation’s Launchpad Pro or Ableton’s Push, with the focus shifted to instrument playing and sequencing, which probably reflects the way most people actually use Live. Vestigial faders in the form of touch sliders, and a bank of onboard CV outputs, mean the new APC still has some differentiating features.
The APC64’s pad grid features eight rows of square, velocity sensitive pads that generate polyphonic aftertouch. The grid is surrounded by mode buttons along the top, functions to the left, Scene launchers to the right and track controls along the bottom. The touch strips are split out to the sides. A single tiny display and push‑encoder combo to the bottom right provides limited but useful visual feedback when navigating settings or using the sliders.
The unit is, unsurprisingly, bigger than a Launchpad but is very light and portable compared to a Push, and needs only a USB‑C cable for connection and/or power. The lights are bright and colourful on the pads and indicator strips next to the touch controls. Along the back you have eight multi‑purpose CV ports, a MIDI input and two MIDI outputs, which mirror the same port. MIDI is via mini‑jack, and three DIN adaptors are included in the box. All in all it’s a solid, well‑built device, as you’d expect from Akai.
The APC64 is primarily an Ableton controller (the ‘A’ doesn’t stand for Akai) but can toggle between two modes: Ableton and Standalone. In Ableton mode the two primary grid views (Session and Note) control and mirror what’s happening in Live. Session view provides clip management and launching, using the familiar convention of displaying an 8x8 section of Live’s grid, with pads lighting up to indicate the presence of clips, showing their colours and their play/record statuses.
Along the bottom are track selectors (turning the encoder also moves track focus) and another row of buttons that can be set to Record Arm, Mute, Solo or Clip Stop. This is consistent with the Push and Launchpad, but is less immediate than the dedicated buttons on the APC40. The cursor cluster nudges the focus area of the grid around in sessions that grow to over eight scenes or tracks. By default it moves in single rows/columns while Shift moves in banks of eight. I missed the APC40’s ability to lock this option. One thing I did really like is that in smaller sessions the return and master tracks get justified to the right of the grid.
Note mode transforms the grid into a MIDI instrument controller, and is clever enough to alter its layout appropriately for tracks hosting Drum Rack devices or other regular instruments. In the melodic mode you can choose from multiple layout schemes, choose a scale and whether to display notes outside of your scale. You can, for example, have notes displayed diatonically one octave per row or laid out like your stringed instrument of choice. The pads are sensitive and responsive enough for expressive playing with instruments or drums.
Chord mode provides a selection of automatic chord shapes that can be triggered from the note view. This has the smarts to keep chords in key rather than blindly play preset intervals. Like most chord modes the limitation is that you’re always playing the chord type you’ve selected. More useful would be chord sets as implemented nicely on the MPC, or the really clever chord mode on the Launchpad Pro.
Other than Mute and Solo, all control of Live’s mixer is via the eight touch sliders. These have multiple modes selected from the left‑hand button strip. Volume takes control of the main faders, with tracks 1‑4 mapped to the strips on the left, and 5‑8 to the right. Colour‑coding of the level indicator strips provides a visual cue as to which tracks are in focus. Pan and Send modes do what they say, with multiple taps of the Send button stepping through all active aux busses. Channel Strip mode switches to a focused map that combines Level, Pan, Mute and Send for any selected track.
Device control on the APC40s was via a dedicated bank of encoders, but is now relegated to one of the strip modes on the APC64. The functionality is the same though, providing automatically mapped (or user‑specified) parameter control of Live devices and plug‑ins, with the ability to bank through sets of eight parameters, and jump between devices in a track’s chain. Again this navigation has been moved from dedicated buttons to a modified use of the cursors (requiring two hands). We’ve also lost the Device Lock button that let you park the controls on a device while switching tracks. One significant improvement though: the screen displays the parameter name of the most recently touched strip.
The layout of the sliders is unconventional, split into two groups of four out to the sides rather than following a mixer‑style arrangement as on the 40 or NI’s Maschine Jam . This decision makes sense: it keeps the sliders out of the way of the main grid,...