Akai Pro’s Force fuses the workflow and feature-set of the APC and MPC Live in a hybrid / standalone groove box.
Comes complete with CV, Audio tracks, Midi, Sampling, Chopping, Clip Launching and Plug-ins.
As many of you may know Akai Pro has embarked on a journey to give their customer base options in terms of workflow with the introduction of the Akai Force. That’s right! It’s not the APC Live as previously reported by leaks of the device. It’s officially the Akai Force.
So, what exactly is the Akai Force you might ask? It’s the fusion of the APC and MPC Live in one hybrid unit. It has clip launching, step sequencing, sampling, plugins – synths, CV and a 7-inch touch display. Yes, that is correct. It is a hybrid unit, which means the use of a computer is optional. Force can be used in stand-alone mode or in hybrid – controller mode very much like the line of hybrid MPCs (MPC X and MPC Live).
I was fortunate enough to get an early prototype of the Force. That said, I am happy to report that all of my Instagram beatmaking posts from December 23, 2018 until now have been the result of the Force in use with my many synths including the Make Noise 0-Coast and Moog Grandmother. Thank the Eurorack gods for CV on the Force – more on that shortly.
I’ll start by saying the layout is polarizing because there is nothing out in the market like it. Not in one device. What you have here is an standalone APC (bottom 2/3 of device) fused with an MPC Live (top 1/3 of device). The button layout for functionality purposes makes sense for the most part. I would rather the shift button be closer tot he bottom row of buttons because they are used in conjunction with one another a lot. Because of the distance between them it’s a two hand operation. I am right handed, so I prefer transport controls on the right side but i got used to the left side placement. Other than that the general layout is works out and you get used to it pretty quickly. I’m sure you may recall the same arguments surfaced when the MPC Live was announced.
Let’s talk about the build.
The Akai Force is a hefty beast. Can you pick it up with one hand? Yes, but not with ease. It’s definitely got some weight to it. Its heavier than the MPC X as far as I can tell. It is a solid build. However, I think the data knob is sort of cheap and less substantial than the unit itself would seem to dictate.
The pads are smaller than the Push pads but I found them very comfortable to work on. The feel like MPC pads but in a sort of Push format. The feature buttons are all rubberized as well. They feel like my MPC X pads as a matter of fact. That also means that they attract finger grime and dust really well over time.
The screen is fixed flat similar to the MPC Live’s screen. Its literally the same screen. The thing is that the Force seems to need a tilt screen similar to the MPC X. I found that I needed to prop the Force up on an Ikea laptop stand to make it comfortable in that regard. To that effect, XYFX are present and it works in the same manner that it does with the touch screen on the MPC line of devices.
The 8 knobs beneath the touch panel screen each have their own small screen, much like the MPC q-links. These knobs are touch sensitive and are configurable to a number of settings with the click of a button. That button is the knobs button to the left of the knobs themselves. Clicking the knobs button lets you set the knobs to Screen, Project, Sends etc. I have a template set up with a low pass filter and kill EQ. The knobs map to the low pass filters frequency cut off and resonance while the Kill EQ maps lo, mid and hi kill to their own dedicated knobs. This makes it such a powerful performance tool.
The transports, menu and navigation buttons sit to the left of the touch screen while the cross fader and cross fader A/B buttons reside to the right of the screen with the Data wheel. The cross fader operates in much the same way that the one of the APC 40 does. It allows for switching / cross fading between tracks. I personally think the cross fader would be much more powerful if Akai allowed modulation assignments to the cross fader. Imagine being able to assign A and B to different effects parameters or assign the entire crossfader to tuning of the entire drum program or clip. That’s where the real power lies. I can only hope that Akai takes us there.
Can you travel with it?
Yes, but it would be akin to traveling with the Push or MPC X, both of which I’ve done. It is not a portable device in the sense that the MPC Live is portable. It’s heavy and a bit larger than I expected. Still, producers will find it perfectly fitting for most DJ rigs, beatmaking set ups and studio sessions. I have to say though, I’d probably choose this to travel with over my other devices because of the sheer power under the hood for my beatmaking workflow.
So, will I actually travel with it? Hell yes. I already have a bag by MONO (Classic Kontroller Messenger Bag) that fits perfectly. Still, I wish this was the Force XL so that there could be room in the product line for a Force that is more travel friendly for the average backpacking beatmaker.
The front panel houses the SD Card Slot, Phones output, phones volume knob and cue mix for adjusting the balance between the Master and 3/4 signals in your headphones.
The back panel has ample I/O
- 4 quarter inch outputs (Main L/R, 3 & 4)
- 1/8″ (3.5 mm) MIDI in / out / thru (use the included 1/8″-to-MIDI adapter to connect a standard 5-pin MIDI cable)
- Input 1/2 (XLR or 1/4” / 6.35 mm) with phantom power and line/instrument switching.
- USB A and B Ports (A for flash drives etc. and B for computer connectivity / hybrid mode)
- 4 CV/Gate Outs
- Ethernet port
- Power input
For those with many midi devices
The Force has midi in / out / thru via the included 1/8″-to-MIDI adapter to connect a standard 5-pin MIDI cable. That means it has the ability to connect one midi device. Daisy chaining is possible via the Midi thru option.
Coming from an MPC work flow, I’m partial to having more midi devices connected but this is more of a hardware standalone limitation than anything. I’d imagine that the inclusion of 4 CV/Gate ports became a factor in how midi was physically implemented.
Additionally, I was able to test with making the Force master over my eurorack sequencer via midi over USB. The Force has the ability to send and receive midi clock and synch with other midi sequencers just fine.
Now about those CV/Gate outs…
I am happy to see that there are 4 CV / Gate outs on the Akai Force. It’s so convenient to have built in CV. There is no need for a separate Midi to CV converter module in the rack. Like the MPC X, the Force allows you to create a CV track for melodies, triggering drum modules and I’ve used the step sequencer many times to easily simulate clock out via CV. This is what the MPC Live was missing in its offering in my opinion.
I made quick work of throwing the Force’s built in Arp via CV to the Make Noise 0-Coast while running the 0-Coast’s output to the Forces input for sampling and recording the resulting audio into clips, audio tracks, looper and sampler. That’s what I really love about both the MPC X and the Force falls right in line there.
Clip Launching workflow
The clip launching workflow will be familiar if you’ve used Ableton before. If you have not, there will be a learning curve. Force doesn’t have sequences. It has tracks, clips and scenes. But it does have program parameters, mixer and pad mixer the same as the MPC line does.
With clip launching the grid layout is arranged with tracks in vertical columns and scenes in horizontal rows. At the right end of each row of clips there is a Launch button that allows for launching scenes of clips which contain loops, audio tracks, plug-ins, CV tracks etc. Scene behavior can be configured to allow quantization of clip and scene launching from ¼ note to multiple bars so as to keep your scene launching in time.
In note mode, you get the typical APC grid style notes with various scales, progressions and chords configurations via Note config.
The force also has a step sequencer similar to the MPC line of hybrid units (MPC X and MPC Live). The core of the unit is based on the Push style clip launch and scenes sequencing.
Where I think the Force will really shine, at least for my workflow, is in the marriage of internal plug-in synths. The included ones are actually pretty nice synths. I am typically a hardware synth guy but I must admit that I made quick and fun work of loading up the plug-in synths on a track, clicking Shift+Clip (clip edit shortcut) to see the synth GUI right on the touch screen for easy editing. That’s the reason I’d travel with this unit. It has everything I need to make beats and full compositions in standalone mode. The 64 pad grid makes it easier to play keys and notes without the need of a keyboard. Although, if I wanted to connect a midi keyboard its pretty simple to do so via midi or midi over usb. That in itself makes it a win for travel, despite its heft.
Another win is the Splice integration. Just going into the browser gets you into your Splice account where there are thousands of loops and such in Splice’s massive library of sounds. If that’s not enough, you have internal drive memory for storage of your own kits and samples library. Force also has the ability to be expanded with a 3rd party hard drive. Also, much like the MPC line, Force allows you to install expansions (such as Beatppl.com compatible sample packs) right into the unit for use in controller mode and stand-alone mode.
Standalone vs. Hybrid
At the time of publishing this article, the Force was still very much in development. I was only able to use it in Standalone mode. There was no software integration available yet. But I was able to turn my MPC X off and work with the Force as the center of my beatmaking, eurorack modbap and synthbap production rig with ease. I did experience some level of learning curve frustration but I attribute that to the fact that I am at my core an MPC head and this is indeed a different workflow with sprinklings of MPC features. I have about a year of experience on the Push 2 with Ableton, and a couple of months with the APC 40 as well, but that was years ago so I had some readjusting to get to do. That said, anyone that has experience with both MPC and Push2 should be able to dive in once they get their bearings on navigation.
I believe the Force is intended to eventually work with the MPC software in controller / hybrid mode just as the MPC line does. It will also allow for use with Ableton in controller mode judging from the Ableton control option in the menu. There is Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity as well for Ableton Link compatibility.
I know this device will be polarizing for folks. I suspect most will either love it or hate it, depending on the use case. I certainly have enjoyed using the Force. Even though the Akai Force still early in its development, I’ve found it very usable and practical – primarily as an audio capturing – sample / audio tracks / looper, clip/scene launching device with midi, cv and built in plug-ins. The fusion of the MPC and APC hardware workflow is a Force to be reckoned with (pun intended). This is a very powerful combination of features and workflow and despite its APC grid presentation, I think it’s a rather unique device that pushes the envelope. I am looking forward to seeing the maturity of its offering in the future.