Oct 2

INTRODUCTION TO TWO KEYBOARD USB INTERFACES

The M-Audio Axiom 25 mkII vs The Akai MPK25 (USB Midi Controllers)

Here are two USB/MIDI controller keyboards small enough to take anywhere with you, fit into limited spaces in your setup or take on a plane and use on your lap. I thought I would do a comparison between the two and make up my own mind as to which one I would choose. There are however a good dozen or so of these on the market nowadays (ranging from approx. £60 to £250) as more and more people begin making music on the move and need a compact 25-key two-octave keyboard. You only need a laptop and you have a complete mobile recording setup.

CONNECTING UP

Both keyboards are MIDI controllers that MIDI values over USB. They are bus powered and were recognized by my computer without additional drivers in Windows. I therefore just simply connected up using the supplied USB cable and they were also recognised immediately by my DAW. However, they do both recommend that you should download and install the latest drivers found on their websites.

THE M-AUDIO AXIOM 25 – LOOKS, CONTROLS AND KEYS

The M-Audio Axiom MKII is now a second generation USB MIDI keyboard controller and M-Audio /Avid seemed to have really improved on their already successful product. It is well built and chunky, with full size semi-weighted keys. It is larger than M-Audio’s own Oxygen 25 key interface. All the controls are solid and feel like they will stand the test of time and heavy usage. I like the idea of the rubber bumper ends moulded into a clever design pattern. I think that better still the rubber could have protruded a little more to prevent even more possible knock damage. This is one of those features (and I must make a list of these one of the days) that should be on every keyboard. It is packed with controllers and virtually everything on the Axion 25 is freely MIDI-assignable.

It has eight good quality pads (and these are just great for programming your drums), eight continuous assignable knobs, transport control located right above the keys, nice size blue liquid crystal display, and great big octave transpose buttons (excellent on a 25-key keyboard), one assignable fader and easily accessible pitch and Modulation wheels. The keyboard is excellent although a little noisy, I thought that this has got to be one of the best actions for this size keybed. Its 25 semi-weighted keys are touch-sensitive with assignable after-touch and they look like piano keys. It is also available in a 49 and 61 key version. It has twenty memory locations and comes with templates for Reason, G-Media, and Oddity etc.

It has three zones and three groups. The eight pads can either send note or control information but can also send pressure information. What would be nice is if the transpose buttons worked on the pads but unfortunately they do not. There are endless possibilities of MIDI assignment here giving you great control possibilities, that can probably satisfy the most advanced of MIDI demands required by MIDI professionals. The Axiom has something called ‘Direct Link’. Once installed and configured, DirectLink is activated by launching your DAW and this will automatically map Axiom controls to functions in your DAW. This is simple but at the same time you can go as deep as you want to. What I really like here is that the Axiom operates in two template driven modes when addressing DAWs. By pressing a single button – the Instrument Mode Button, you can switch ‘DirectLink’ functionality between ‘Mixer’ mode (default mode) and ‘Instrument’ mode whilst the Axiom is controlling the DAW. So in Mixer mode it is simply controller parameters in your DAW, whilst Instrument mode controlling particular parameters on your VST instrument. The disengaging of this ‘DirectLink’ functionality leaves the Axiom open to custom MIDI assignments.

THE AKAI MPK 25 – LOOKS, CONTROLS AND KEYS

OK so how does this compare with the AKAI MPK 25? The MPK 25 is the small brother of the very popular MPK 49 and is of the same solid construction; however it does not have the benefit of the rubber ends. Again all of the controls feel good and I was aware straight away that this was a quality build with more facilities than the Axiom. I found this to be a very clever design in that so much is packed in but it did not feel cramped in any way. It has 12 velocity – sensitive pads and 12 continuous knobs rather than the 8 on the Axiom.

The pads are also genuine heavy-duty MPC pads which can also send pressure information and can be programmed over 4 separate banks. I had a go at creating some drum patterns with them and they certainly had the right feel for the job. The LCD is good but the Axiom is larger and clearer. Again it is packed with controls and these are sensibly organised. The octave transpose buttons are much smaller than those of the Axiom. It is available as a 25, 49 or 61 key version. I did not like however the feel of the keys as much as I liked the Axiom. They were of the usual synth – type and touch-sensitive with assignable after-touch but they had too much spring back for my playing and did not feel natural. This is always the most annoying part for me and I wish manufactures would get this bit right first. To some it seems they work on the bells and whistles and the keyboard is a bit of an after-thought as though any 25 note keybed will slot in.

There were two technologies that came from the MPC series and these have been built into the MPK. These are MPC Note Repeat and MPC Swing. MPC Note Repeat enables the MPK to automatically play a rhythm pattern, like fast 16th notes on a hi-hat, whilst MPC Swing provides some human feeling into your music. The drum patterns I created were very easy using note repeat for the hi-hat. You may well like the idea of creating the hi-hat continuously without having to put the notes in individually but for me, I like the fact that you could take your finger off. This produced a more interesting feel with breaks in the hi-hat pulse. By
putting the bass and snare beats in first you could let your ears tell you where the breaks in the hi-hat should / could occur. The MPK25 also has its own arpeggiator and I found this very easy to create riffs with. It also has a Tap Tempo feature with an LED. There are 30 memory locations (10 more than the Axiom) and the first 16 come with useful pre-programmed templates for software including Sonar, Cubase, Reason and Ableton Live Lite etc.

SIZE AND WEIGHT

There is not a big difference between the two. The Axiom is slightly heavier at 3.5 kg to the AKAI’s 3.4kg but strangely the Axiom is a little smaller (475 x 296 x 73 mm) to the AKAI’s size of 477 x 359 x 88mm.

CONNECTIONS


The connections seem to be identical. They both have USB, MIDI IN and OUT, a connection for mains if you are not connecting to a computer and Expression and Sustain Pedal inputs. Annoyingly, as both are powered by USB, there are no mains adaptors included.

INCLUDED SOFTWARE

Both keyboards come with Ableton Live Lite or rather a link to the Ableton Site; http://www.ableton.com/live-lite where you can download Live Lite version 8 and then use the supplied serial number. This will certainly give you an opportunity to have a look at Ableton Live if you haven’t done so yet.

 

For the Axiom, you can also use the free software editor ‘Enigma’ that you can download from M-Audio’s web site. This is great because it makes the assignment of all the Axiom’s controllers, pads and zones completely simple. It also allows you to manage a library of patches should the on-board limit of 20 be insufficient for your needs.

 

The Akai MPK25 includes ‘Vyzek’, which is a preset editor and librarian application which gives you a useful interface for your preset-editing tasks. I found this worked well allowing banks to be written to and read from my computer.

CONCLUSION

This is a strange one for me. Weighing up the evidence, I have to say that the Akai MPK 25 wins with all of its additional features. I do feel however it is let down slightly by its looks in comparison to the M-Audio Axiom but in the main, it is very let down by the playability of its keyboard. The Axiom’s attempt to have full Piano-like keys is a great idea and whilst it is not the best playing action in the world, when you take into account this type and size of keyboard, it certainly seems one of the best I have encountered. So perhaps a difficult choice and is one that you would have to decide which features are most important to you and I would recommend you try the keys before you buy. For me, I am going for the M-Audio Axiom.

One Response

  1. Ben Coleman Says:

    Thanks for the good review. I’m trying to decide between these two devices. I’ve still not made my mind up! but the info here has been very helpful.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.