M-Audio Axiom Review

The M-Audio Axiom USB MIDI controllersfrom Avid are some of the most successfulon the market thanks to theirstraightforward setup, reliably accuratecontrols, and inexpensive price. Deliveringwhat Avid calls a “workflowupdate,” version 2 of the Axiom controllershave returned with gentlyimproved hardware and software that works exactly as intended, improvingworkflow while keeping things simple.
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The M-Audio Axiom USB MIDI controllers from Avid are some of the most successful on the market thanks to their straightforward setup, reliably accurate controls, and inexpensive price. Delivering what Avid calls a “workflow update,” version 2 of the Axiom controllers have returned with gently improved hardware and software that works exactly as intended, improving workflow while keeping things simple.

The most noticeable physical change is the rearrangement of the front panel. Previous models had the LCD screen placed at the far left (next to a numeric pad that has been removed in lieu of numeric entry via the top keyboard octave). Version 2 of the Axiom has its readout at the center of the control panel, making it easy to see pertinent information. The outer case has been changed from grey to a stylish black and has been given strong rubberized sides. The angled top-panel gently slopes toward the player for improved ergonomic handling; previous models had been criticized for their flat surface. The angle and new color also help reduce glare, making the LCD display more visible under stage lighting.

Many of the mechanical elements have also been altered or improved. The wide, rubberized Pitch/Mod wheels have been replaced with more traditional plastic ones, though the rubberized octave buttons remain. The nine faders now reside on the left side of the panel and have been updated from thin sliders with breakable nubs to 40mm plastic faders that have a low, vertical profile. While this design makes them slightly less comfortable for use as organ drawbars, they''re much more comfortable for nearly every other task. The nine circular, lighted buttons remain unchanged.

The eight rotary encoders have a smooth motion that feels great and makes it easier to gauge distances on long turns. They are brightly colored and easier to see on a dim stage than previous versions, and after the rearrangement of the front panel the knobs conveniently reside much closer to the eight drum pads for easier combined use. The pads themselves remain unchanged, as do the lighted Transport controls.

One useful new feature is Controller Mute, which attempts to end parameter jumping by muting a controller''s output until it passes through the current setting of the parameter; it''s very useful in live settings and when switching control maps on-the-fly. Alternatively there is also a Snapshot function which sends the current physical settings of all controllers to your DAW, making it reflect the Axiom''s actual knob/fader locations.

Though the keyboard specs are the same as the original (61 Velocity-sensitive, Aftertouch-enabled, semi-weighted keys), the actual shape and feel of the new keys has been tweaked gently. They are still much lighter than fully-weighted keys and a far cry from hammer-action, but playing version 2 of the Axiom definitely feels less like playing a synthesizer and more like playing a pro keyboard.

The other big news with the second generation Axiom line is the addition of DirectLink technology. Akin to Novation''s Automap or Ableton''s Device Mapping, DirectLink allows the Axiom to automatically re-assign its physical controls as you work. There are online instructions for using DirectLink with most DAWs at the M-Audio Web site, but for the most part the instructions aren''t really necessary; DirectLink is designed to be plug-and- play easy. There is even a dedicated Instrument button that toggles the entire control panel between DAW controls and virtual-instrument controls (when in DirectLink mode) so you can turn your synth filter and then decrease it''s associated track level, all without having to touch the computer to change modes.

What''s even cooler are the Group Enable buttons. When disabled, each group is released from its DirectLink assignment, returning to its current Axiom patch setting (there are 20 available onboard patches). That way you can have your custom assignments and DirectLink running at the same time and manually switch back and forth; pretty smart. And although Axiom version 2 is just as simple to manually assign as its predecessor, there is always M-Audio''s Enigma software for setting up custom patches from inside your Mac/Win computer. Like the original Axiom, version 2 has four unique Zones for stacking or splitting on separate MIDI channels, each with a dedicated enable button. There are separate Velocity, Set Velocity, and Step Velocity Curves for the keybed and drum pads. And of course the rear panel has all the requisite USB, MIDI In/Out, and power connections.

I would recommend the new Axiom keyboard controller to just about anyone needing a new input device: MIDI controllers this powerful just don''t get any easier to use. The new Axiom series retains the simplicity the line is known for, while delivering on Avid''s goal of workflow improvement

Overall Rating (1-5) : 4
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