M-Audio Axiom Pro 49 USB MIDI Controller

The Axiom Pro line of controllers offers semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch, a numerical keypad, eight velocity/pressure sensitive drum pads, eight "endless" encoders, function keys, an LCD display and nine sliders.
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Today's keyboard MIDI controllers have moved far beyond their bare-bone counterparts of just several years ago. MAudio's Axiom Pro 49 ($599 MSRP/$479 MAP) provides just such evidence, with a host of useful features and a new bi-directional communication system, HyperControl, which automatically configures the Axiom Pro to control many aspects of your host software.

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Features

The Axiom Pro line of controllers — which includes 25-, 49-, and 61-note controllers — offers semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch, a numerical keypad, eight velocity/pressure sensitive drum pads, eight "endless" encoders, function keys, an LCD display and nine sliders (only on the 49- and 61-note models).

What makes this controller truly valuable to the working musician, composer, and/or creator is the incredible ease with which it automatically controls knobs, buttons and transport keys for programs such as Pro Tools, Reason, Cubase, Logic Pro and others. ["With HyperControl," clarifies M-Audio's John Krogh, "the Axiom Pro's knobs, sliders, and transport buttons are automatically mapped to mixer channels, pan and send controls, and the transport. The knobs will also automatically map to plug-in parameters."—Ed.]

To begin with, the unit has some beef to it. The semi-weighted keys are comfortable to the touch, and you can choose from multiple velocity response curves to suit your style. The 128 x 64 graphic LCD dynamically changes when navigating around your session and operating keyboard controls, letting you know what parameters and tracks you're working with. The LCD is flush with the surface of the controller, but I would prefer it to be angled to make it easier to read the items at the bottom of some pages. The nine 40mm sliders have a tight feel to them, and the transport controls don't feel cheap; the same applies to the rotary encoders, Pitch/Mod wheels and various Zone/Group/Mode soft keys. The rear panel features Expression Pedal Input, Sustain Pedal Input, MIDI I/O, a USB port, 9V DC power socket, power switch and a cool Kensington Lock Connector.

In Use

My first test was with Pro Tools 8 LE on an Intel Mac Pro. Hooking it up via a USB cable, I selected Axiom Pro HyperControl in the Peripherals>MIDI Controllers >Type menu. That's it — Pro Tools bidirectionally followed the Pro 49 (please note that HyperControl requires Pro Tools 7.4 or later).

The amount of control offered right out of the box is substantial. Transport keys do what you expect, and the sliders automatically assigned to banks of eight faders in the Pro Tools Mix window. The current eight under control are then outlined in blue on the Pro Tools screen. Fader 9 is permanently assigned to the Master Fader (if you have one) — a nice touch I came to rely on quite a bit.

Using the dedicated F-keys, you can do things like Bank left or right through the tracks (F6 and F7), Mute selected channels (F4), Solo (F5), etc. You can also send QWERTY keyboard shortcuts from the AxiomPro, allowing you to operate your DAW using your favorite key commands without having to use a QWERTY keyboard. (Assigning key commands to the Axiom Pro is separate from HyperControl.) You can create presets of your favorite key commands for recall (a total of 50 memory locations are provided), and it comes with 20 presets for compatible DAWs.

The big picture here is the Axiom Pro 49 is far more than just a keyboard, it becomes an extension of your software. Since each software program is controlled differently with the Pro 49, I decided to test it out with Reason (4.0 or later is required for HyperControl). I simply chose the Axiom Pro 49 in the Preferences>Keyboard and Control Surfaces submenu.

With Reason, the functionality of the sliders and buttons vary depending on which Device is selected and assigned in the Reason sequencer. For example, with a Subtractor, you can use the Pro 49's soft keys in the LCD window to easily select Oscillators, Filters, LFOs, etc., and tweak them with the rotary encoders. It takes a few minutes to learn to navigate each device. Keypad numbers 5 and 6 zoom in and out, and the minus and plus (-/+) keys decrease/increase tempo and so on.

Summary

The Axiom Pro 49 is almost too useful not to have. It's not just a keyboard, but also a flexible, full-functioning control surface in one compact unit. While it at first seems bit pricey at just under $500, you get more than you pay for.

Contact: M-Audio | 866-657-6434 |www.m-audio.com.

Rich Tozzoli is a producer, composer, sound designer, and the software editor for Pro Audio Review.