November 20, 2012

Akai Synthstation 49 Review

We first saw the Akai Synthstation 49 at Winter NAMM 2011 and surrounding this keyboard controller was all the buzz about the future of production and the integration of iOS devices. The public has been waiting patiently, filled with questions and anticipation for the keyboard controller that looked to take the most advantage of integrating an iPad with a keyboard controller. We were finally able to get our hands on one, play around with some different apps, and take it for a test drive when performing and using it for production. For those of you that have been holding out and waiting for the Synthstation 49, here are the things you have been waiting for:

Layout and Features

As the name implies, the Akai Synthstation 49 is a 49 key controller with selections for recording and playback, selecting instruments, and selecting between sequences, octaves, and songs. There are 9 MPC style pads for adding percussion. You have a knob for volume and very responsive pitch and modulation wheels when performing. There is nothing groundbreaking about the layout here but we did like the fact that the transport controls when using the Synthstation App were very intuitive and provided a nice work flow operation.

Both the keys and the pads are velocity sensitive providing you with total control of your performance. There are certainly better feeling keys and pads for controllers out there but for a keyboard controller under $300 that also connects to your iPad, the Synthstation 49 really stands out in the crowd.


I/O for Production or Performance

On the back of the Synthstation 49 you have connections for all the usual suspects like headphone out and two 1/4 inch jacks for stereo out. You also have the option for connecting a sustain pedal which will be great for those players looking to get the most use out of the Synthstation 49. The USB connection on the back allows you to connect the keyboard to your computer as a MIDI controller. A really great addition so this keyboard can be used for more than just playing with apps.

One important thing to note is that the Synthstation 49 has the 30 pin connection found on the iPad, iPad 2, and the 3rd generation iPad and not the Lighting connection found on newer iPads and iPhones. If you have a newer iPad and want to use the Akai Synthstation 49, then you will need to purchase a 30 pin to Lighting adapter. We assume this should work but Akai has neither confirmed or denied that this is in fact possible. As of now they are highlighting the fact that it works with those iPad’s which have the 30 pin connection. If you were in fact going to go the route of getting a converter for your newer iPad, you will have issues with your iPad sticking out of the side of the dock instead of being flush. If you connect your newer iPad version  with the adapter, you will not be able to lay it completely flat like you can with iPad 1, 2, and 3. This is of course not taking into account whether the newer iPad’s will in fact work with the Synthstation 49. Keep checking Akai’s website for more details on that.

Using Apps

Akai Synthstation App

The Synthstation 49 works best with the Synthstation app which we first used when we showed you guys the Akai Synthstation 25 iPhone and iPod Touch keyboard controller. The reason it works best is that the transport controls, instrument selection controls, and the ability to use it as both a performance and production controller are synced perfectly with the Synthstation App. You are limited to the sounds within the Synthstation App library which will leave you bouncing around to other Apps to get some different presets as well as abilities to alter those sounds. We were able to use Moog’s Animoog App and the GarageBand App with no issues as far as control or latency. There are other performance and production Apps out there that will integrate with the Synthstation 49 which is what makes this keyboard most appealing.

The Verdict

It looks like not much has changed since we first saw this at Winter NAMM. The design has stayed the same from the demo unit featured in Anaheim and the App that accompanies the Synthstation 49 has all the same functionality. Considering the length of time that has passed since the Synthstation 49 was unveiled, we would have liked to see more in the way of line level faders or FX controls. Having some extra knobs or faders would have really made this keyboard a viable option when performing live or provided a streamlined work flow when crafting stems or entire tracks.

While the Synthstation 49 does charge your iPad there is always the fear of an App suddenly shutting down as Apps occasionally do. This may be something to consider if you are interested in using the Synthstation 49 in a performance capacity. Apps like GarageBand and Animoog do work with the Synthstation 49 but certain features are only selectable through the iPad touch screen, even when you have controls on the keyboard itself. We would have liked to see better integration with the transport controls and Apps like GarageBand, but perhaps there is a firmware update on the way.

Despite these minor hangups, the Akai Synthstation 49 is a really fun, innovative, and useful controller at a very affordable cost. For those of you that have been using Apps to make music seriously or just for fun, the Synthstation 49 is something that will help get your hands on some actual keys while still playing around with those cool Apps you paid for.

What do you guys think about iOS integration into your performance or production? Do you think its a trend or is this the future of instruments? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below.



All you Akai users know the quality of your keyboards or for those who don’t Akai Synthstation 49 has got that bounce in the keys, resistance in the mod and pitch wheels and the highly responsive grid of backlit drum pads which are all characteristic of a well make keyboard. The Synthstation 49 will control any Core Audio compliant application you’ve got on your iPad. I’ve got it working with Animoog and Garageband on mine but it really integrates best with Akai’s synthstation app which you can get for just two dollars at the app store. Let’s take a look at the app.

We’re in performance mode right now. We can navigate to our four different sounds here on the keyboard. We’ve got drum, polysynth, monosynth 1 and monosynth 2. We can then cycle between the voices within each sound category using the program buttons. In drum edit mode we can tune and pan the samples on each pad. We’ve got full control of the synth editing in each of their respective windows as well. Then there’s the standard octave shift buttons and controls for the step sequencer just to the right of that. We can play grooves into the step sequencer just by hitting record and playing. They’re quantized and stored automatically. We can also edit a groove in the grid utility. Then finally we’ve got the utility window where we can change our metronome and bpm settings. We can also export a finalized groove here by hitting the record button at which point the synthstation will playback your entire song while recording it. Then just enter the URL displayed below into a browser on the same wifi network and you can download an audio file as well as a midi file of your entire performance.

The Synthstation 49 works with all of the first three iPad generations and it can also be plugged into a computer to be used as a midi controller. It can work with an iPad 4 as well, it just needs a Lightning to 30-pin converter. To get the Synthstation 49 for yourself stop by where we’ve got the best prices on pro audio gear. To leave a question follow the link below to the related blog. You’re watching