December 12, 2012

Akai MAX 49 Keyboard Controller Overview

inMusic, the parent company that owns Numark, Alesis, and Akai, has been pretty busy this year. All three of their leading companies have been releasing much of the gear featured at Winter NAMM 2012 and teased through YouTube videos and company press releases. Gear like the Numark 4TRAK, the Alesis QX line of MIDI keyboard controllers, and the very popular Akai Synthstation 49 and MPC Renaissance. In addition to releasing tons of new gear this year they also acquired formerly AVID owned M-Audio to round out their line of professional audio equipment. We will likely see more from inMusic this year at Winter NAMM 2013 in January and we will have plenty to report from the show room floor.

We first saw the Akai MAX 49 almost a year ago at Winter NAMM 2012 and our first impression was that the MAX 49 was a collection of improvements over their previous 49 key controller. The Akai MPK 49 is a popular keyboard controller but users have gripes with a few of the features. Akai looks to ameliorate those gripes with the MAX 49, a 49 key controller with MPC style pads, ribbon style touch faders, and the most talked about feature, its CV and Gate output for controlling your outboard analog synthesizers. The MAX 49 has all of the other usual suspects to get you performing right out of the box so lets just look at those key features which really stand out.

MPC Style Pads

The Max 49 has very responsive MPC style drum pads.

The biggest complaint on the MPK 49 was that the drum pads did not have a feel that was responsive to finger drumming and many users modified their MPK 49 by replacing the stock pads with other more responsive surfaces. With the MAX 49 the pads have been significantly improved. They are back lit and have all of the feel and functionality of an MPC style drum pad. The pads also house mode switches for both the sequencer and arpeggiator. With the 4 different bank selections located to the right of the pads, you have 48 different selections for the drum pads. The pads are velocity sensitive but the Full Level selection allows you to kill the velocity and bring all the pads up to the same velocity level even when the pads are touched at their lowest amount of pressure.

Ribbon Style Touch Faders

The faders are backlit touch strips.

Akai has replaced the former analog faders from the MPK 49 and opted instead for a design similar to the touch strip technology featured on the Numark 4TRAK. The faders are all digital and feature back lit LED lights to show how much of a particular function you are controlling. Each channel has their own select button and you can bang through up to 32 different presets with the back lit buttons to the left of the faders.

CV/Gate Output

CV and Gate out allow you to connect an analog synthesizer.

This has been the most talked about feature on the MAX 49 and for good reason. Connecting things like the Moog Slim Phatty Analog Synthesizer will turn this software controller into a performance keyboard with serious control and functionality. There are some pretty cool videos out there which demo this feature with everything from analog synthesizers to electric guitars. A very cool feature and likely to be the most emulated feature on other future MIDI controllers. The lack of more CV control did leave me a little disappointed but hopefully future controllers in the “MAX” line will include more inputs for control voltage.

Built in Arpeggiator and Sequencer

The incorporation of the built in sequencer and arpeggiator really helps to make the MAX 49 a controller that eliminates the need for even touching your computer. Making quick performance selections and optimizing your work flow will really help to speed the production process along and allow you to have fun while doing it. Getting the arpeggiator running is as simple as selecting the arpeggiator button and selecting a note. When Arp Mode is selected you can use the pads to select through different arpeggiator functions like up/down, 4 different octave ranges, chord, and note double just to name a few. With latch mode selected you can do some cool beat division effects as well. The sequencer is completely customizable and you can alter the sequencer with the LCD menu as well as when utilizing the touch faders.


The Vyzex controller editor allows you to adjust the functions of the MAX 49.

The Akai MAX 49 comes packaged with the Akai Connect software which allows you to control your VST plug-in’s parameters. In addition they have included a software called Vyzex. Specifically tailored to the MAX 49, the included version of Vyzex allows you to edit the various parameter setting within the MAX 49. The Akai MAX 49 also ships with Ableton Live Lite which is not only a great software for production, but its also a great software if you are trying to MIDI map all different types of controls to the MAX 49. In the video we mapped the touch faders and the modulation wheel to control our FX parameters within Ableton. Just a very basic control function but it helps to give you an idea of how creative you can get with the MIDI mapping with the MAX 49 and Ableton.

In addition to Ableton, the MAX 49 is compatible with many industry standard DAWs. Most DAWs also feature MIDI mapping functions so you can assign software to different controls on the Akai MAX 49 much in the same way as Ableton.

A couple other features of note:

  • Mackie/HUI Control
  • Rubberized Pitch and Mod wheels
  • 49 Semi-Weighted Keys with Aftertouch

The Akai MAX 49 comes in at a price point that is a bit higher than the competition but it also offers a lot more than the standard features on most MIDI keyboard controllers. Does the MAX 49 deliver in terms of an upgrade over the MPK 49? How does it compare to other MIDI keyboard controllers? What are your thoughts on the inclusion of Control Voltage? Gives us your thoughts, criticisms, or questions in the comments section below.



The Max49 is a midi keyboard controller from Akai Professional. The Max49 has 49 semi weighted keys, 12 pads with up to 48 assignable parameters, and 8 ribbon style faders with up to 32 channels of assignable control. The Max 49 is completely customizable and ships with the Vyzex Preset Editor as well as the Akai Connect software to control the parameters of VST’s and plugins. The Max 49 also ships with Ableton Live Lite so you can start making sounds and producing music, right out of the box.

A new feature different from previous generations of Akai MIDI controllers are the back lit LED touch faders. You can switch the touch faders between 32 banks with these four buttons. This is also where you can control the parameters when using the built in step sequencer.

The Max49 includes 12 velocity-sensitive touch pads. They are MPC style pads, they are rubberized, and respond really well to the varying intensity of your touch. When using the touch pads, the full level button allows you to kill the velocity and it brings every pad up to the most sensitive of touch.

So what I’ve set up here is just a basic synth lead and I’ve added a flanger to it and I can select the flanger here. Right now this is adjusting the high pass of the flanger and do some cool performance things with it too. Another thing I’ve done is added a phaser, this one is called Talkie. And you can control the wet dry with this parameter here. What I’ve also done is added the rate over here to the mod wheel so you can hear how that sounds.

The Max49 includes all of the features you would expect to find on any basic midi controller. You’ve got your pitch and modulation wheels, s-switches for engaging your mapped sequences, and buttons to control your octave. The transport section allows you to edit and record into your software without touching the mouse.

The back of controller features a USB port, a 5-pin MIDI in and an out, and inputs for an optional expression pedal or footswitch. It also includes a Control Voltage out so you can connect your analog synthesizers to the Max 49.

For the best price on the Akai Max49, visit the UniqueSquared website. For any questions you may have about the Max49, go to the blog link in the description below. You’re watching