To continue our series of reviews on the new Akai Professional MIDI keyboard controllers, the 49-key version of the Advance models brings us the most popular solution in terms of key counts. If you read our Advance 25 MIDI keyboard review, you’ll have learned that the most important highlight of these new controllers is their VIP software. It allows you to seamlessly control your VST’s and plug-ins. Akai has done a great job at pretty much eliminating all ‘extra moves’ you’d need to make in order to sync your sounds with your controller. This is especially nifty for those who perform live, but it can be beneficial for studio use as well. Aside from that, there are some other decent features that it comes with that may make it worth it for you. Let’s check the details on the Akai Advance 49 MIDI keyboard controller.
Main features of the Advance 49 MIDI keyboard
- 49 semi-weighted keys
- 8 multi-colored drum pads
- 8 assignable knobs
- 4.3″ display LCD screen
- Pad bank\transport\octave\performance buttons
- Rubberized pitch and mod wheel
- Expression\footswitch inputs
- Powered via USB
- VIP software included
- Compatible with most DAWs
- Comes with 16 GB of sounds
Overall design and features
At first glance, you’d think Akai was coming out with a brand new MIDI controller to compete with the rest (including theirs) of the popular keyboards in the market. Although this is true, when you first look into buying one of these, the most important factor to keep in mind is the fact that it’s made specifically for controlling virtual instruments and plug-ins. That is why the price is so high, and why the software makes or breaks the purchase for you.
We will get into the software later. As for the design and features, you get the standard (and necessary) assignable drum pads, knobs, and buttons. You have a pitch bend wheel to mess around with, as well as a mod wheel next to it. The back allows us to plug in an expression pedal or footswitch if you’re into that sort of thing. We have no complaints when it comes to the controller features; they didn’t leave anything out. So if you do decide to buy this for a mere controller to work with, you’re good to go.
Stability and build
As we had compared the two, you need to note that the Advance series has the same keybed as the new MPKII keyboards. This definitely isn’t a bad thing — the MPKII Series has a very solid key feel and although they’re not fully-weighted like some want, it just isn’t a big hit within the MIDI controller realm. If you’re looking for more of a piano emulation, you need to look into digital pianos for that. Semi-weighted and velocity sensitive with aftertouch (especially with the after touch here) feels great for the entire range of VST sounds — synths, strings, piano (of course), and hell, even drums.
The drum pads are of decent quality, and although not necessarily built like an MPC, get the job done. The pitch and mod wheels work well, buttons click as intended and the knobs…well, turn as they’re supposed to. No complaints about the overall build. If you grab one of these and take care of it, you’ll be invested for quite a few years. Unless of course, Akai comes out with another brand new controller in less than a year! (sarcasm)
You need to note that if you’re buying an Advance 49, you are buying it because of Akai’s new VIP software (pictured below). This is what it’s designed for. You have 1:1 immediate access to any virtual instrument, regardless if you’re even in your DAW or not (it can operate as a standalone VST player). This is especially huge for those of us performing live; save presets and mapping so you can easily pan out a show. You can merely create setlists for on-demand access and the browsing is super quick. Other features included are key zone splitting, layering up to eight VST’s at a time, and although we don’t want to speak too soon, it may replace our workflow for live performances with Ableton. Time will tell. We’ll have a full review on it when we get a real copy.
It integrates with most digital audio workstations flawlessly; in fact, it has presets for some of the more popular software.
As far as the sounds go, unfortunately we were only able to hear a few. They were actually pretty impressive and natural-sounding in our opinion — not necessarily within the caliber of Komplete, but it will definitely be a nice addition to your sound library. Here are some notable sounds in it, mostly by AIR Music: Velvet and Transfuser, Hybrid 3, Look, and Xpand!2. If you add it all up, it’s worth more than $300+ in savings. You can also buy some more sounds from their ‘VIP Store’ (yes, more money to spend, but at least it gives you some options if you’re looking for more sounds).
The final word on the Akai Advance 49 controller
In terms of upgrading from your new MPKII keyboard (we feel your pain, trust us), it’s not a must at all. Many have been complaining about Akai not allowing the VIP software to be sold separately; however, you have to look at it from their standpoint and what they were trying to make of this new series. It’s like comparing apples to oranges; the MPKII is a high-quality keyboard that is very versatile, while the Advance is strictly for controlling VST’s and plug-ins. If they did release the VIP software separately, people would also be using it with other brand’s controllers, which would kind of defeat the purpose.
In our opinion, if you’re not planning on using the VIP software much or don’t need the 16 GB of sounds, we recommend on sticking with an Akai MPK249 MIDI keyboard instead. It’s slightly cheaper and has most of the features in the Advance 49 besides the software and different aesthetics.
Another comparison we can obviously make is the Native Instruments Kontrol S49. Same aesthetics, around the same price, but with a few more additive features. However, don’t let the “same price” statement fool you. You’re going to need Native Instruments’ software to use it to it’s fullest potential. If you don’t have that yet, you’ll need to factor the price in since it’ll cost you more money. I mean, there are people out there who swear by using only NI gear and software, and others who’d rather pick and choose their DAW, keyboards, and other controllers. That’s your call. Us personally? We mix and match. I need an Akai keyboard not only because I”ve had good experience with their gear in the past, but because I like having a wide variety of choices, especially for future upgrades. Relying on just one brand for the software and gear makes me feel handcuffed.
All in all, the Akai Advance 49 MIDI Keyboard Controller is of high-quality, especially if you plan on using their new VIP software to control your VST’s and plug-ins. This is especially great for those who play live or simply like jamming in the studio. It’s not a waste of money.