Posted by admin on 2009 May 28

Akai APC40 vs. monome 64 / 40h

I have been looking for some hardware device to play my music live with Ableton, since the prospect of just using a laptop is not very appealing, so i was thinking about purchasing a used monome unit (since buying a new unit is pretty much impossible).
As i watched the price for used monome 64 units plummet on Ebay (due in part to the recession, i am sure) from $900 to around $500-600, and i was ready to bid on one, i read about the Akai APC 40 controller, which was built for, and integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live.
So let’s make a comparison between the monome 64 and the Akai APC 40.

monome 64
PROS
-built in the usa (you may think this is a con if you live overseas hehe)
-community supported via open source software. Tons of apps can be downloaded for the monome and run via MAX runtime.
-programmable
-good hardware documentation: can be extended, expanded and hacked
-Made of Sturdy Wood and aluminum. Strong enough to stand on (see pic below)

CONS
-Expensive (even when purchased used)
-Scarce, It takes months of waiting to purchase brand new.

Akai APC 40
PROS
-Cheap! ($399 with free shipping from some vendors in the USA)
-Available in most music stores. No need to wait for months to get a new unit.
-programmable (only using Ableton MAX $$)
-Has more controls and offers better Ableton integration than the monome 64
-hardware and software support from Akai

CONS
-Can only be used with Ableton.
-Need to purchase Ableton Max to program the unit.
-Build quality could be low (i am sure it is built in China)
-Closed architecture. Cannot be easily hacked.
-”Chassis” is supposedly made of “metal” but the whole thing is mostly made of cheesy plastic (see pics below)

After weighing the pros and cons (specially the price) i think (in my humble opinion OK?) the Akai APC 40 is a winner just because of the price, only if you plan to using Ableton.
If you are lucky enough to get a monome kit for cheap, i think the monome is the winner.

Either way the reviews for the APC 40 are good.
Check out this video review by DJ Tom Cosm which demonstrates some of the APC 40 features.
As Tom Cosm says at the end of the review, the APC40 is going to revolutionize Live DJ / music playing as thousands of artists will be able to afford and use one.
Disclosure: I am in not being sponsored by Akai and i am in no way associated with them.

apc40-.jpg
apc40-plastic2.jpg
monome64.jpg
monome.stood.on.jpg

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91 Responses to “Akai APC40 vs. monome 64 / 40h”

  1. admin says:

    salamanderdude, stop talking trash. If you are so sure about the build quality of your beloved monome, take a video of yourself standing on top of it with both feet and i will post it here. I am going to stand on top of my APC 40 when i buy it, just to prove a point that it is well built. (well, i hope it is well built, since Akai are known to build quality equipment)
    Otherwise STFU

  2. salamanderanagram says:

    hahaha you can’t take it when i point out your errors and delete my posts??? weak sauce, this website sucks

  3. admin says:

    Salamanderude
    can you even read?
    i’ve accepted that i made a few mistakes in my original post and i have fixed them. Sorry but your arguments are weak and insulting me is not helping your cause.
    byebye

  4. salamanderanagram says:

    my arguments are weak? you are claiming that you know the structural integrity of a device you’ve never even held.

    you clearly never even took a look at what the monome is before writing this. you clearly don’t know anything about max/msp.

    you delete comments.
    you print utter bull and act like an ass and tell people the “STFU” when they disagree with your demonstrably false BULLSHIT.

  5. admin says:

    One more time, if you are so sure about the ” structural integrity” of a device you have, why don’t you enlighten us and send me a video of your standing on top of your beloved monome.
    I may not know much about Max /msp but i can certainly run rings around you programming in Reaktor.. so what?
    are you so insecure you need to prove you are better than me? LOL
    You haven’t demonstrated any of your points, and you really have nothing to say but to attack me personally.
    You really don’t deserve any more replies, unless you can come up with something better.
    byebye

  6. salamanderanagram says:

    yeah, you’re right.
    i can clearly see i’m in the minority here and everybody agrees with you ;)

  7. admin says:

    the only reason why you are in the majority is because the APC40 just went onsale and very few people are using it.
    Give a year or two and we will see which hardware unit has more users.
    Why not just accept the fact that the APC40 is cheaper, and works better with Ableton than your monome?
    i am not taking anything away from the monome, just stating a few things, despite all the mistakes i originally made in my post.
    Hey at least i accepted the fact i made a few mistakes.. something you are not willing to do.

  8. salamanderanagram says:

    “Why not just accept the fact that the APC40 is cheaper, and works better with Ableton than your monome?”

    the fact of the matter is to use my APC with ableton the way i want to i would also need max for live. while pricing for max for live has not yet been released, it is likely to be around or in excess of $100; and right now is unavailable to the general public. i can program monome patches in processing, pure data, chuck (miniaudicle), and in theory any new language i learn that i can coax OSC out of… the apc, at $400 + max for live is not really cheaper. better for ableton, maybe, but my guess is you haven’t checked out sevenUp live since you didn’t ever look at the apps list before posting this.

    btw, i don’t have an actual monome, though i have spent some time with one (i wouldn’t be any more or less comfortable standing on it than i would any of my metal gear. the only piece of gear i own that i would ever stand on top of is an old wooden korg keyboard). i emulate one on my kaoss pad and it’s a very poor substitute but still very fun.

    i’m not attempting to attack the apc40 in any way. i do think it’s a good price and looks like a great controller. i would rather have all those knobs and sliders at my disposal than not have them. i just think you’re really missing the point – the monome is so much more than an ableton controller. it doesn’t even have to be a music controller. and it is not overpriced, nor is it significantly more than an apc.

  9. admin says:

    “the fact of the matter is to use my APC with ableton the way i want to i would also need max for live.”

    Sorry but you are incorrect, the APC works with Ableton out of the box, no need for Ableton Max. Have you even seen Tom Cosm’s video?
    Check it out. In the video you can see the thing works right out of the box with Ableton.

    As i said before, i never said the monome is not an awesome unit. If it wasn’t for the monome, the APC wouldn’t exists in its current incarnation. You can do amazing things with it, and it is much more than an Ableton Controller.. but as it stands right now, the APC 40 is cheaper and offers better integration with Ableton right out of the box.

  10. salamanderanagram says:

    the key part of that statement is “the way i want to” but maybe i am wrong about that, i’ll check out the video.

  11. admin says:

    Well, you have a point, to really customize the APC 40 you need Ableton Max $$$.
    Then again, to really use the monome the way i would like to, i would have to buy max / msp and learn to program it. $$$

  12. salamanderanagram says:

    vid is looking nice so far, but i’m not seeing any programming of the device.

    if all you want to do is control ableton and that it, no programming or attempting to do other things, yes an apc is a better choice.

    comparing these two things for this one task is not really fair.

    it’s like saying that an Xbox is better for playing games than a PC, and cheaper too! maybe true, but kind of a bogus comparison when you consider all of the other things that can be done on a PC.

  13. salamanderanagram says:

    max is the nicest option but i can’t afford it.
    i use processing which is pretty simple language to use with some good OSC libraries. chuck works good too but doesn’t have good GUI implementation yet. pure data is similar to max and also free. it’s a hard learn though.

  14. salamanderanagram says:

    i guess in theory you could program an apc with any of those too although not if you wanted to keep the tight ableton integration…

  15. admin says:

    Well, the idea is that once Ableton Max is released (i don’t think it has yet) you should be able to program the APC 40 to your hearts’ content, so it is fair to compare both units.
    The good thing about the monome is that you are not locked into using MAX, but to properly leverage (i.e. do your own programming, etc) the existing apps programmed in Max / msp you really need to purchase Max.

  16. Luke says:

    just to clear it up as well as it seemed a pretty contentious point, i think a monome would easily take my weight!

    if i hadnt sold my 64 i would take a pic of me standing (on a cloth!) on it

    i dont think my hacked tr626 enclosure would take the weight of my son even

  17. admin says:

    Well, as i said before, if someone wants to try it and prove me wrong, i will post a video / pics of anyone standing on top of their monome here.
    When i get my APC 40 in a month or two, i will post pics of me standing on top of the unit… i just hope the unit can take it :)

  18. graviton says:

    the only thing the APC does better than the monome in controlling ableton is the fact that it is works out of the box.

    for someone who has the technical know how, the monome could be for you. if you dislike setting up an instrument, maybe the APC is for you.

    anyhow, ill be back to post a video standing on top of my working monome

  19. David says:

    Seems like a hot topic….

    The APC40 is going to be a lot more popular than the monome, because there are already more units sold than monomes exits. This isn’t the point of monome.

    It was never intended to be a mass produced device. The whole ethos is to support local business and resource, with fair labour, that is a positive business decision not a negative one.

    There is no desire to mass produce the monome, especially not by outsourcing to china, support unfair working conditions, and wages, using potentially unethical, environmentally bad resources (parts).

    The monome is not a competitor to the APC40, neither is it a popularity contest. The fact that the monome will remian somewhat of a rarity in comparison is a good thing.

    I don’t see wood panels as a weakness, it’s a design choice, not one of cost, it actually costs a hell of a lot more to make the wood panels than it would to make it out of pressed steel.

    Wood isn’t a weakness, look at a number of modern synths and controllers that are using wood as a design aspect these days – the Access Virus Ti Polar for example, made from aluminum and wood….why? because it looks good.

    The point is that nobody is actually arguing that the monome is a better out of the box controller for Live than the APC40. The only thing people are arguing with are the incorrect, unresearched, and often weak arguments you make against the monome.

    As for a documented list of apps for the monome, there is one on the monome website: http://docs.monome.org/doku.php?id=app

    Also a list of other helpful documents here: http://docs.monome.org/doku.php

    Pricing: you can’t blame monome for the price gougers on ebay, they all jumped on a bandwagon due to the limited availability of the monome, and tried to make a profit from it. Most of these people weren’t monome users, just profiteers. This has nothing to do with the company, or the device itself.

    If you check ebay, you will find the same kind of people trying to profit on the current limited stock availability of the APC40 with prices over the actual selling price.

    High residual value on a second hand monome is a good thing, it means you can buy one, and sell it for the same money a year later, isn’t that a good thing? doesn’t it piss you off when you buy a new synth, and see that it is worth potentially half the price you paid a year later?

    One more thing, Akai did not steal the design of the monome, the APC40 is actually a mass produced, cut down version of the Monodeck, which was personally created by Robert Henke from Ableton.

  20. admin says:

    Hi David.
    Thank you for your thoughtful post.
    The usability of wood in electronic instruments is up for debate. I’ve seen enough old synths from the 70s with their wood paneling disentegrating to know better. Sure, wood looks good, but i would rather sacrifice good looks for durability.
    The best MIDI controllers of all time are made out of metal, built like tanks, like my KX88. You can’t argue against metal. It lasts. Wood doesn’t,
    Sorry, but i don’t see the monome’s wooden case as a plus.
    I look at the monome and APC40 as working instruments not as fashion statements.

    The monome does have good residual value, but i’ve seen the used prices plummet from $900-800 to $500-600. I am sure this is due to the recession, I think as the APC40 gets more popular, the demand for the monome will diminish. Why? because the monome, (before the APC40 was created) had pretty much a monopoly as a controller / instruments of its type, but not anymore.
    Competition will shift the attention away from the monome.

    You may be right about the APC40 – monodeck connection. Henke created the monodeck in 2003 and the monome was created in 2005.
    The thing is that the APC40 looks a lot more like a monome than a monodeck, so i still suspect the APC40 design was influenced (at least partially) by the monome.

  21. David says:

    Thank you for at least amending your original post in light of recent comments.

    The wood thing is, as you potentially suggest, a taste thing, some people love it, some hate it, one strength it does have against pressed steel is that it is, at least in reference to the monome, made from replensihable stocks, rather than environmentally harmful manufacturing processes.

    I still don’t think I would argue it as a weakness of the monome, but I understand where you are coming from with your point.

    Used price is still as good as new price, which can’t be said for most things these days, so if anything, this is a pro in favor of the unit.

    To be honest I don’t think the demand will diminish, the monome is more popular as a controller for the apps written for it such as MLR, and some of the step sequencers than as a Live controller, which continue to be its main appeal. The fact that people have started using it as a live controller is supplement to it’s main uses.

    I have actually ordered an APC40 a few days ago, specifically to be used as a Live controller, alongside the monome running other apps that I can then route the output of into Live for additional effects and processing, so for live use, with the monome running MLR, and a step sequencer, alongside the APC40 controlling levels, effects, and additional clips, it will be a lot of fun.

    As far as the APC40 being inspired by the monome, I’m still not convinced, if you look at the session view of Ableton Live, and the look at the APC40, it is basically a hardware version of the session view, with some alterations based on cost, and mechanical, and electrical considerations.

    If ytou want to look at a unit that is perhaps more comparable as an open source Ableton controller then have a look at the Ohm 64. There are a lot more comparisons and similarities that can be drawn between it and the APC40.

    They make them in all aluminum, or wood, which should satisfy either of the two camps we discussed.

  22. earthrise says:

    as far as the stability of a monome goes…

    i would never think of standing on top of my monome. i do feel as though it could take my weight but murphy’s law, i will break it if i do this, i’m sure. same goes for all my gear. i would stand on very few things i own and almost none of those are musical equipment. my gear goes in cases and is treated well because of the money i spent on it it. the fact that’ll you’ll spend 400 dollars and then post a video of you standing on it just to prove a point on the internet is insulting. just saying…

    ohhhh and as for standing up to the rigors of a touring musician, go stand on top of your laptop or turntables for a little while and see what happens to them. my monome is a lot sturdier then my macbook pro.

  23. earthrise says:

    and just to clarify, i agree 100% that the apc will be both more popular and a better controller for ableton. i do not think it will ever be an instrument in the way a monome is though.

  24. ro says:

    monome is where it’s at man. progressive thinking — ideals over consumerism. check the forums daily for purchasing. i love monomes. everything else? just kind of a scam. monome.org cares about you.

  25. julien says:

    wow

    there’s a lot of fighting here…

    sorry but i have the feeling you are comparing oranges and apples…

    apc: dedicated live controller

    monome: user customizable musical instrument + controller if desired

    the day you’ll show me an APC40 doing on its own some arpeggiated sequences in different scales or cutting loaded audio loops live, please forward your address and i’ll ship you some champagne!

    seriously, just because they have the same kind of buttons on the front does not mean AT ALL they are similar. it’s like comparing a 24 inch hdtv and a 24 inch iMac: oh yeah the tv is cheaper and might be of better quality, but it’s only a TV and not a computer at all…

    i can see myself very well with both machines, and i would not use them for the same thing at all

    cheers

  26. divonic says:

    I am the proud owner of both a monome 40h and soon a APC40 (I’m picking up the APC40 tonight 3 1/2 more hours) I am going to be using the APC40 to control Ableton Live. I am currentlly using the monome to control Live(on both mac and PC)

    In my opinion the APC will be a better controller for Live, you are right. And I think that you made a good choice under your original criteria even tho some of your assumptions about the monome were incorrect. I don’t think of the APC40 as a replacement for my 40h I think of it as freeing up my monome to be used as an instrument rather than a ableton controller; I’m gonna be using both; together.

    They really are apples and oranges; the APC button matrix is similar to the monome but that is the only comparison.

    Yes the monome is a little expensive but I remember 2 days after receiving mine feeling that is was totally worth it (and I still feel this way today over 2 years later). but you also have to remember that we are in a field where musicians will buy $3000 guitars.

    as for standing on stuff. I don’t think the wood on the monome would get crushed, ever stand on a wooden building block? the other advantage that the monome has in that regard is the it doesn’t have any knobs and faders which could get snapped off. But I don’t think I would stand on either or any of my gear for that matter.

    The biggest issue that I think you stirred up is saying that tehn is purposely causing the prices to be high by only making a few monome. The truth is that monome is a 2 person company that doesn’t have the upfront capital to invest in a manufacturing process that they feel is poisonous to people, the local community and the environment. They aren’t doing it out of spite.

  27. lukas says:

    one of my favorite synths, the minimoog voyager makes beautiful use of wood panels. And at work we have 17 Oberheim Expanders, from the 80s, and their wood panels are holding up just fine and still look good. the electronics are usually the first thing to go, or the keys/knobs.

    when i built my monome, i could have used other materials, but i chose to go with a wood enclosure because i liked the look.

    also, i think the resale value plummeted mostly because the supply is finally catching up with demand.

  28. chalkline says:

    I still struggle with the fact that you feel the monome is only a controller for live, what about the fact you can use it for lighting and video, so as far as a popularity contest goes it has nothing to do with that. The monome is a machine designed to do whatever you want it to do, as mentioned about 100 times already.
    And as far as wood just disintegrating over time, I just don’t see that at all. I have synths from the 70′s with wood panelling and the steel face looks much worse than the wood, it gets scratched and starts to look pretty rough, whereas the wood may get small dents in it, but still looks far nicer than the metal, I have seen some old synths start to show light rust from scratches and chips to the paint.

    And I have never seen wood disintegrate over time, unless you leave it out in the rain for a couple of years without treating it. Maybe I should be careful of sitting by my dinner table, that is made of wood and is over 100 years old, I am slightly worried it may just turn to powder whilst I eat my dinner.

  29. robb says:

    about the whole standing on something issue, i guess you overestimated the force of gravity here. I even tried standing on my edirol fa-66 firewire interface (which is not nearly as solidly built as a monome) and it did not crumble.

    anyways, enjoy your picture

    http://twitpic.com/6ho3w

  30. kokhlos says:

    There are quite a few natural wood enhancers to ensure the product will last well over your lifetime. Wood has the ability to last longer than your own body with entirely eco-friendly materials.

    Furthermore, whoever says processed steel affects the enviroment negatively is also incorrect. This statement is dependent upon the manufacturing mill. I have worked at a steel mill (and currently a metal fabricator shop) and can vouch that there are proper policies and disposal available, especially with ISO 14001 EMS approved facility.

    Regardless, structural integrity neither relies on materials alone nor factors into my instrumentational culling.

  31. admin says:

    Thank you for all your comments.
    A few people actually read and understood what i wrote, so let me clarify a few things:

    1-This is not a review.
    one more time: what i wrote was NOT a review.
    I never claimed it was, the word review is nowhere in my original article. How can you review something you don’t have?
    For those criticizing my review.. you obviously didn’t get it.
    What i wrote was a quick comparison, nothing else.
    A few of the points i made were incorrect and have been changed, thanks to all the people who left constructive comments.

    2-A few people wrote that i was comparing apples and oranges.
    One more time: Please read and comprehend what i wrote.
    I am not comparing the overall abilities of a monome vs. the Akai APC40. I never claimed this was a full review.
    I was just comparing the ability of both units to act a ABLETON CONTROLLERS. That is all. Get it?
    I know the monome can do a lot of stuff, but that is besides the point. I am not interested in the monome as a MAX / MSP / MIDI instrument, i am interested in the abilities of the monome as an ABLETON Live controller and how it fares against the APC 40.
    Why is this so hard to understand?

    3-I stand corrected, the monome is sturdy enough to stand on.
    I still prefer all metal cases to withstand the rigors of live playing and traveling. Yes, i know quite a few artists use the monome on tour.. but i still like the fact i can take an APC 40 and use it a weapon, ok? Just my personal preference.

    monome.stood.on.jpg

  32. David says:

    We are all looking forward to the video of you standing on your APC40 when you get it as promised ;-)

    Mine arrived yesterday, and there’s no way in hell I would consider standing on it….

  33. admin says:

    I will keep my promise, don’t worry.
    BTW, please note that i won’t be ordering the APC40 now as i am going on a trip overseas and won’t be back until late August, but i will post a pic as soon as i get the unit when i come back.

  34. admin says:

    I may not purchase the APC40 after all..
    the Ohm 64 look very impressive:
    http://enigmafon.com/2009/06/05/livid’s-ohm64-vs-akai-apc-40/

    But, worry not, if i do purchase the Ohm 64, i will stand on top of it as well. :)

  35. David says:

    You might like to know that the whole top cover of the APC is in fact plastic, not metal. …

    I have one here, and it’s certainly plastic.

  36. admin says:

    hmm.. Are you sure?
    According the Akai’s website the chassis is made of metal.
    http://www.akaipro.com/apc40

    The APC40 is built with a rugged, metal chassis and slip-proof rubber detailing

  37. David says:

    I just stripped it down for a paint job, so yes, I’m sure.

    Metal chassis means the underneath, same as the chassis on a car, not the body.

    Here, I took some photos to prove it: http://www.twitpic.com/6wvjb

  38. admin says:

    hmm.. interesting.
    I was convinced the whole thing was made of metal.
    I feel truly dissapointed.
    I will make corrections to the original post.
    At this point i think the Livid’s Ohm64 is a much better value for the money.
    Here are the pics:
    apc40-plastic1.jpg
    apc40-plastic2.jpg

  39. lostpoet says:

    Okay, this has been quite an enlightening comment thread. I was researching the APC40 for a post on my own blog. I think I will include a link to this post so that my readers can benefit from this debate. Thanks for all the info you guys.

  40. cruijff says:

    I tried them all …. and I kept a monome 64 and uc33 ….
    monome = for the buttons (switchable from OSC to midi)
    uc33 = for the sliders and knobs …

  41. admin says:

    Dorian left the following comment, which was accidentally deleted
    Sorry Dorian. Here is what he posted:

    Just to drop in my 10 cents on this horrifically old thread. I am about to build a monome 64 clone. It will cost maybe $150 and will have the best build quality (my own). For example, the faceplate is built from .475″ thick acrylic that was laser fabricated. I will also have an extra set of the components that built it so that I can always repair the device if I need to.

    Because the specs are entirely open I can program it to do anything that I want and interface with any application that I want (through midi if nothing else).

    However, I will not stand on it.

    I’m only posting this because it seems like the people talking about monome above don’t entirely grasp the benefits that it offers.

    The monome was an idea that was shared with the world so that people like me could build the device that they wanted. It’s not menu order rubbish that you find on a dollar menu. And as such people value them, that is why they are so expensive.

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