Smart keyboard promises next level integration with software studios

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The recent arrival of Native Instruments’ Kontrol S series of keyboards proved that there is definitely an appetite for dedicated, software specific gear. What Kontrol S did really, really well was integrate with Komplete to bring a level of tactile responsiveness to what is essentially a piece of software. And, to paraphrase the slogan of a well-known consumer electronics brand, it just worked. From the second it was plugged in, everything just fit perfectly. Every single sound, instrument and effect was mapped to the relevant knobs and controllers on the keyboard, allowing users to get on with playing instead of staring at a computer screen. Which was great, however, there was one huge caveat; what if you’re not willing or able to shell out the not inconsiderable amount required for both Komplete and the Kontrol S unit?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a keyboard which offered that same level of accurate mapping, functionality and features, but wasn’t limited to use with one specific software package? Step forward Akai, with its new Advance range of keyboard controllers. These attractive looking units are proof that Akai can still mix it with the big boys and produce gear which genuinely innovates and brings something new to the table.


Essentially the Advance range, which comes in the usual 25, 49 and 61 key variants, brings instant mapping ability to most major DAWs, along with a OLED colour screen to allow you to navigate your way around. It also has a row of MPC-style pads, which is something sadly lacking from NI’s offering, along with a ruck of included (and high quality) plug-ins and instruments.

Of course, auto-mapping isn’t itself new or particularly innovative, but Akai claims its Advance keyboards are among the quickest and most accurate and work with a huge list of software and third-party plug-ins. The accompanying VIP software host does all the hard work, mapping intelligently to the “smart” knobs and pads, taking out all the associated faff of ‘teaching’ your keyboard and DAW to play nicely together.

The colour screen, similar to that seen on NI’s Maschine Studio unit, will prove useful on dark stages, while the ace in the pack is the Advance’s ability to work without the computer, via MIDI, enabling it to control hardware synths and the like.

All told, the Akai Advance range look well built, full of useful functions and features which will aim to make your playing life easier. And for that alone it has to be worth a look.