What’s New: For years, the M-Audio Axiom line has set the standard for MIDI controllers with unbeatable quality, flexibility and keyboard feel, and the brand new AIR 49 is no exception. The AIR 49 is a 49-key, synth-action MIDI controller with an abundance of knobs, faders and pads, and “Hypercontrol” built-in smart mapping software. With the AIR incarnation of controllers, the Axiom line gets both a physical and internal overhaul that keeps all the great things about the original and adds a few pretty awesome bells and whistles.
Features: The keys, as expected, feel amazing and the piano-style keys make it ideal for both synths and piano. The orange backlighting is a nice change from the classic Axiom blue, and the screen is tilted up to make it easier to see the control screen from the front. The back port features an on/off switch, power supply in, MIDI I/O, USB and inputs for sustain and expression pedals. Eight knobs, nine faders, nine buttons, (including dedicated playback control), twelve pads, and pitch and mod wheels round out the control surface, which is beautifully laid out and labeled. Everything on the control surface can be assigned to 3 different MIDI banks, and the colors change depending on which bank is currently selected. The pads are velocity and pressure-sensitive and feel great for drum programming or sample triggering. Hypercontrol works just like it claims, mapping everything on the control surface to perfection on almost all the popular DAWs. One of my favorite features on the AIR 49 is that each rotary knob will light up one at a time when you turn it, making it easy to keep track of which knob you’re currently using. For example, if you’re using a knob to pan a guitar, then want to turn it up a bit and listen back, you can easily see which knob controls the guitar pan if you want to keep tweaking it during playback.
Build: At just under 11 pounds, the Axiom AIR 49 is extremely light (especially compared to my 16 lb original Axiom 49) but feels rock solid on a stand or desk. The white and aluminum finish is sleek and modern looking, vaguely reminiscent of the Axiom Pro series but making the statement that the AIR is a different controller entirely. The back even has a space to run cables under the keyboard to hide cords and prevent tangling. My favorite feature on the new look is that the faders are thick and flat, making them almost impossible to break off and lose (which happened to all but three of mine on my 8-year old touring Axiom).
Software: Included with the Axiom 49 is a copy of Ignite by Air Music Technology, ProTools Express, and believe it or not, an iLok 2 for Windows or Mac. Claiming to be a musician-centric recording software, Ignite looked more to me like a mini-fridge covered in multi-colored magnets at first, but after a few minutes, it proved to be a lot deeper than my first impression. First of all, the sounds are great. Whether you’re looking for a drum kit or string ensemble, all the sounds load fast, sound fantastic and work perfectly with the AIR 49. The workflow takes a little more time to get used to (especially if you’re used to working in a more traditional DAW) but makes perfect sense once you get the hang of it. Gone is the linear graph of ProTools or Logic, and in comes clip recording. In some ways, similar to Ableton Live, Ignite allows you to record different instruments and ideas without having to worry about tracks or MIDI channels, or bus sends. You record an idea, see it turn up as a brightly colored bar on your screen, play another idea, put them together and thus make a song by stacking all of these ideas together. While Ignite might not be a mixing substitute for ProTools 11 and Logic X, its fantastic sounds and intuitive interface makes it a perfect entry-level DAW, MIDI sequencer, or songwriting tool. More than enough to start making and recording music right away, the software bundle is a great value and a fresh look at organizing and capturing musical ideas. One note of caution, the software including Hypercontrol only works on Macs running Apple Lion or later, (and on PCs running Windows 7 or later) so Snow Leopard or Vista users will need an update to get the full experience of AIR.
Bottom Line:It’s the hands down the best we’ve seen. The AIR 49 is by far the best Axiom yet, and the feel, look, and control surface makes it our new favorite MIDI keyboard controller.
Church Use: If you’re looking for a MIDI keyboard that feels great for both synths and pianos, want to trigger loops and tracks, and have control over your entire DAW with a touch of a button, the Axiom AIR is a perfect controller for you.
For more information about the AIR 49 and other products by M-Audio, visit m-audio.com.