Expectations. Everyone has their own. Some are reasonable, some not so much. We’ve talked about the reasons why Ableton Live inspires control surfaces in other product reviews. The Akai Professional APC Mini Ableton Live Controller is another such device. It can only be described as basic and affordable in function and cost, but it does provide a very seamless work surface that expands the way you can use Live.
At under one hundred bucks, that’s best called “cool,” a technical term we use in the music biz. Is the APC Mini built like a tank? Nope. Does it make Live sing, giving you access to every function? No way. Does it let you add a new dimension to the performance capabilities of the Live platform? *DING* We have a winner, folks.
Some user reviews, looking down their long, aristocratic noses, call the APC Mini a “toy.” If there’s any merit to that, and there probably is, there should be a requirement that “fun” should be appended. This is a fun toy. It does what it does, and if you expect that, it does it just fine. When you play with a fun toy for an hour in a music store on a quiet afternoon, laughing away along with a couple of jaded music store clerks, the dollars-to-giggles ratio makes itself clear.
The APC Mini is a fun toy, and it’s a valid addition to an Ableton Live setup.
Setup and Usability
There’s exactly one connection on the APC Mini, the USB cable which runs to your computer running Ableton Live. Inside the software, you’ll need to select the Mini from the list of control surfaces under the MIDI/Sync Tab. Then… you’re ready.
The APC Mini is a MIDI-based controller mapped exclusively for use with the Live DAW software. There’s no pretending this is a universal controller, but because it’s MIDI-based, you may get some control over parameters in other DAWs. It won’t be perfect or predictable, but then that’s not the point.
Once you’re connected to Live, you’ve got those 64 buttons in an 8-by-8 matrix to trigger clips. Each button has three colors to inform of the status: loaded, playing or recording. It keeps your eyes on the APC Mini, not your computer. Handy for a performance device. The faders are multifunctional. As well as volume, they control panning, effects, filters and can be configured to do what you want as well.
The APC Mini package comes with Live Lite and a variety of production software, so you can be up and running quickly out of the box. True, what you can control only scratches the surface of what Live can do, but remember, the APC Mini only scratches the surface of your wallet. Simple to set up, very usable. Fun toy indeed.
While some users want to give the APC Mini a hard time for its construction, I was genuinely surprised after my fun hour playing that this is even a concern for anyone. It’s not going to win awards for durability, but the build is completely in line with devices of its price range. It was probably even better than most. All I know is that I didn’t even give the construction a thought while I was using the APC Mini.
This is a really mini device too. It’s smaller than a sheet of paper in footprint and only an inch high. There should be no problem finding desktop space for it. The portability is hard to beat too. Just the device and a USB cable and you’re ready to hook up to your laptop. I could see electronic artists using nothing else to do a show. Plug the laptop into a sound system and go nuts triggering loops and clips while controlling them in real time. If the APC Mini isn’t up to the task of nightly gigs, it doesn’t cost so much that a backup unit is a burden. I really don’t see the build as a problem for this device.
When you turn to the 5 star reviews, there’s lots of good news. While my perception was that the APC Mini didn’t really delve into Live’s abilities, one user who owned the Mini’s big brother, the APC40, estimated that the Mini has 90 percent of the larger unit’s functionality. Considering it’s one-third of the price, that shows a little value, now, doesn’t it? I’m not a big Live user, so I’d be inclined to believe someone who knows the gear and the software.
The consistent surprise in reviews was the ease of setup. Some users were sure they had a defective product until they opened Live and saw the APC Mini detected and ready to go. Users have combined the Mini with other DAWs. Heck, one guy is planning to use it to control a home lighting system! Talk about drift from intended purpose.
The 3 star and lower reviews show a litany of complaints borne of unreasonable expectations. Oh, this device works well only with Live. APC stands for Ableton Performance Control. Oh, I can’t figure out how to stop looping. Page 3 of the user guide, dude. One rather honest user gave it a single star because “it did not meet my expectation.” I’d give the expectation one star and leave the APC Mini alone.
I was not particularly impressed with the APC40 MKII (That review here). But I am quite impressed by the APC Mini. Go figure. I’ve got to attribute it to vibe, or maybe my caffeine intake for the day, but the Mini has some serious fun in it. Again, I have to re-state that I’m not a Live user. That may have everything to do with why I prefer the Mini.
If you’re new to the Live DAW, or if you have experience running it only on your computer, then the Akai Professional APC Mini Ableton Live Controller is a no-brainer addition to start really appreciating the performance aspects of the Ableton software. Advanced users may like the simplified control layout or they may miss features of more complex controllers. I don’t think you can go wrong at this price. The APC Mini is no hassle and a lot of fun.