For songwriters, creating arrangements and producing demos has gotten easier with each generation of digital recording software. As the quality of home studios has improved, the price tag to produce great recordings at home has gotten smaller as has the equipment itself. Gone are the racks of gear, but you still need something to enter midi information that’s more real than a computer keyboard. M-Audio’s Axiom keyboard controllers have been the solution for a few years now and their latest models, like the Axiom air 49, are found at the heart of home studios and for good reason: The Axiom keyboards provide a lot of control for midi-friendly recording software, as well a good feeling keyboard for recording tracks and inputting data.
The latest Axiom air has a sleek, white and brushed-aluminium face-plate with an orange backlit screen angled forward for easy reading—an improvement over the ‘flat’ screen on the older Axioms. On the left you’ll find eight assignable, lighted rotary dials and, on the right, nine good-feeling faders, each with their own backlit buttons. Further to the right, the unit’s 12 drum pads are backlighted, as well. Below the control panel, you’ll find the usual pitch bend and mod wheels and 4-octave keyboard. Octave -/+ buttons are conveniently located just above the wheels. As you touch each control, the assignment and value for that control appear in large characters on the display.
On the back panel you’ll find the standard MIDI In/Out connectors along with a USB port that provides both MIDI messaging and power for the unit. There are jacks for sustain and expression pedals, as well as a 9-volt DC jack for power.
The two most important features for a MIDI controller are the control surface and the keyboard feel. If you are a keyboard player, or plan to put the controller in front of one, this can make the difference between an expressive keyboard part and one that sits ‘flat’ because the keyboard doesn’t feel like an actual musical instrument. The new Axiom controllers have a more responsive and firm touch than older versions and have a good feel for most keyboard parts. It responds to velocity and aftertouch as keyboard players will expect, but they can also customize velocity curves to their playing style.
On the control surface, M-Audio has added toggle switches to the control panel. This gives you the flexibility to use the sliders and the rotary dials to control what you need to, making it possible to assign both HyperControl and MIDI functions to the knobs and the sliders. There are also dedicated HyperControl buttons for both Mix and Inst/FX for the faders and the rotaries. Along with transport controls, once configured through the edit menu, it’s possible to drive a recording session completely from the Axiom Air itself.
Axiom air comes in 32-, 49- and 61-key versions with Air Music Technology’s Ignite package as a free download. In addition to hundreds of onboard instruments, Ignite supports two tracks of simultaneous audio recording and effects can be added to any audio track. Ignite features some software technology to help jump-start your creative sessions including a chord player that generates a chord pattern from a single key, and a phrase player with dozens of useful patterns.
The Axiom air 49 is a great choice for a controller that provides extensive MIDI control for tech-savvy songwriters and producers along with a good-feeling compact keyboard with drum pads.
Street price $399.99