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Just how important Digital Audio Workstation software is can be deduced from that fact that almost every music production job today is done using such a program.
When it comes to electronic music, the situation is even more clear. In today’s day and age, you need to have practical knowledge of a DAW of your choice if you want to create electronic music. It’s simple as that.
There’s a lot of different DAWs on the market. However one has managed to break through to the top of the list thanks to its qualities that many grew to appreciate. Ableton is probably the most popular DAW when it comes to electronic music production.
This popularity quickly prompted hardware manufacturers to create dedicated devices for Ableton. These products were supposed to be a hardware extension of software controller that came with the Ableton. And they definitely managed to create a new segment of the market.
One such controller, actually one of the first of its kind, was APC20 made by Akai. This grid based hardware controller came out it in late 2000s, but is still very much relevant to this day.
Those of you familiar with Ableton Live, know that many users spend the majority of their time in the grid session view. This prompted Akai to deliver a hardware controller that would allow users to use this grid quickly and easily.
Naturally, this appeals the most to those who use Ableton during a live performance. Akai APC 20 may be old by now, but it still has a lot to offer.
Akai’s first dedicated Ableton controller was the APC 40. This device was very successful in terms of market response and user reviews. However, it didn’t hit the target audience they were aiming for.
So, what Akai decided to do is completely eliminate some of the features on the APC 40, and create a lightweight version of this controller that is simple, easy to use, and most importantly, works great with Ableton live.
APC20 can be described as a reduced APC 40 that has the whole right side completely missing. What you are left with is the clip matrix, the supporting buttons for navigation, and a set of 9 faders including the master volume fader at the bottom of the device.
Since it’s missing the track and device control you can find on APC 40, APC20 now relies mostly on the Shift button to achieve somewhat similar results. This button allows you to program each of the pads with two tasks, and switch between them easily.
In terms of build quality, Akai really went all out with the design and materials used. APC 20 is built like a tank. It is rugged, and heavy enough to inspire confidence but not too heavy where it is a nuisance to move around.
The buttons are very responsive and and feel great under your finger tips. They are not mushy, and they definitely don’t stick. This is probably the most important thing when it comes to quality control of devices such as this one.
Akai APC20 is connected to the computer using a USB cable. However you will need an additional AC adapter to power the device thanks to the back lit nature of the buttons.
You are probably wondering why they didn’t simply route the power through the USB cable like many other manufacturers do today, but you need to remember that this device came out long time ago, and that converting it to USB power would take a lot of overhauling.
So how is this thing performing in actual use? Well, for the most part it works like a charm. If you are using Ableton Live that is. Akai designed this controller for Ableton, and they mapped the buttons accordingly. Making this thing compatible with other DAWs is borderline impossible.When you plug this thing in, and launch Ableton Live, you get 100% compatibility right away. That is what makes this APC20 so awesome to use. It’s literally a plug and play device for Ableton.
Everything is mapped perfectly for the Grid session view, so using this controller comes almost natural. The shift button helps with the functionality a great deal, although it’s hard to know which template you are using since there’s no indicator to let you know.
What we like
APC 20 is a great grid controller for anyone who uses Ableton Live. It’s build like a tank, while retaining the perfect balance of mobility and functionality. It is simple to use, easy to set up, and just overall pretty intuitive grid controller. Even after all this time, APC 20 is still one of the best options on the market.
What we don’t like
Aside from all the good stuff it offers, APC 20 is still a hacked down version of APC 40. They tried to compensate this with the Shift button, but it’s just not good enough in all honesty. The fact that it isn’t USB powered is also a nuisance, however it’s not that bad.
By and large
If you are looking for a dedicated Ableton grid controller, Akai APC 20 is something you should have on your list of options. It is an old device compared to what is available on the market today. However, it offers a performance that has been proven many times by now.
Its simplicity, build quality, and price are just some of the reasons why this controller is still a good choice. On the other hand, if you want something that is versatile and usable across different platforms, you should look somewhere else. APC 20 is locked down to Ableton Live.
Speaking of which, if you are out looking for an Ableton Live controller, APC 40 is still a real contender. If you don’t mind the extra size and lack of mobility compared to APC 20, this older Akai model comes with a lot more controls that we think make it more practical and versatile.