AKAI Professional Fire Test

AKAI Professional Fire Review

AKAI Professional has developed the first DAW controller for FL Studio aka Fruity Loops in cooperation with DAW manufacturer Image Line . If you work with Fruity Loops, you know that the Fruity concept – just because of the Step Sequencer – is different than other DAWs. Accordingly, there was no controller that is tailored to the specific workflow of the fruity DAW – with the AKAI Professional Fire that should now change.

The controller has a 4 x 16 matrix with velocity-sensitive RGB pads that allow the Step Sequencer to program and play notes. In addition, the sections Channel Rack, Browser and Mixer can be called up and also the opening of samples, plugins and project files should be possible directly on the controller. There are also four touch-sensitive controls that allow control over mixer parameters such as volume, pan and filter in four banks, but can also be assigned to any other parameters. What else the controller has in stock to control Fruity remotely, and how well software and hardware harmonize, we have found out with this review.

AKAI Professional Fire User interface

In the middle of the controller is the generously arranged 4 x 16 matrix, which has large, backlit buttons whose look is clearly based on FL Studios Step Sequencer. Directly underneath are the mode buttons that let you choose what exactly the matrix should control. In addition to Step Mode, Note, Drum and Perform are added, which can also activate the second functions Accent, Snap, Tap and Overview via the Shift key. Next to it, the controller has a transport section, with Start, Stop, Record, Pattern / Song Switch and the secondary functions Metronome, Wait, Countdown and Recording. Tracks to the left of the matrix can be selected and mute or soloed.

AKAI Professional Fire UI

The user interface is clearly structured and closely interlocked with the DAW features.

Directly above are the four rotary encoders, which can control the Volume, Pan, Low EQ / High EQ and Filter / Resonance parameters for the selected mixer channel. In addition, there are two additional user modes, in which the controllers are self-definable according to their own wishes. Patterns can be switched to the right of the knobs, the grid can be changed and the browser can also be called up. For a clear overview of the controller, the adjacent OLED display shows current parameter values, browser categories and more.

Externals

The controller comes in AKAI’s current MPC and controller design: A red bottom plate is combined with a matte black user interface. All function buttons are made of plastic and give a slight cracking when pressed, which is perceived more as haptic feedback than that it is annoying. The 4 x 16 matrix, on the other hand, consists of softbuttons, which is unusual when programming in comparison to conventional drum machines, but quite pleasant when programming. The knobs offer a light but comfortable resistance and are therefore suitable for slower parameter driving. The entire controller looks solid and robust for a controller in this price range. With dimensions of 316 x 43 x 166 mm (W x H x D), the Fire can easily on the desktop and is also travel-friendly with only 760 g weight. The back panel contains only the USB port to connect to the computer and a Kensington slot to protect against theft. Although there is no power button, the controller automatically turns on and off when you start and close FL Studio.

AKAI Pro Fire

AKAI remains true to its MPC and DAW controller design.

AKAI Professional Fire

The controller is connected to the computer via USB and also supplied with power.

 

Includes FL Studio

To be able to get started even as a newcomer, a FL Studio Fruity Fire Edition is included, which is compatible with Windows and macOS. This is a slimmed-down version of FL Studio, tailored to the controller, allowing access to 500 tracks, equipped with 18 virtual instruments, and also allowing third-party plug-ins to be integrated via VST, AU and DXI interfaces. As with the usual FL Studio versions, all updates are free for life. An upgrade from the Fruity Fire Edition to a more complete FL Studio version, such as FL Studio Producer Edition , is available later.

 

AKAI Professional Fire Unpack and install

The scope of supply includes the controller, a four-page manual, cheat sheet, download and safety instructions. If you already own a FL Studio license, it is sufficient to download the update 20.0.5 (or newer), whereupon the controller is automatically detected and ready to start without further configuration. If you want to use the included Fruity Fire Edition, the controller must first be registered on the AKAI website, after which the DAW can be downloaded from the Image Line website. If Fire in FL Studio is not detected automatically, the MIDI settings should be checked – the “User’s Guide” (two pages per language) will provide sufficient assistance.

AKAI Pro Fire Unpack

The scope of delivery of the AKAI Pro Fire

A special FL Studio Controller

Anyone who has hoped to use the AKAI Fire as a step sequencer with other DAWs, unfortunately, will be disappointed. Controllers with Step Sequencer that are compatible with all DAWs, such as the Arturia BeatStep Pro, are already available. The Fire is tailored exclusively to the fruity DAW, which is noticeable in the workflow. Let’s take a closer look at this below.

Small browser bugs

In the test, it often happened that in Browser Mode, when trying to add a sample or plug-in, the controller displayed the normal file menu instead of the context menu. If you route a track in the channel rack to a mixer channel, then the browser can no longer be controlled via the controller. Only after a restart of the DAW it works again as expected. These are teething problems that will surely be fixed with an update.

Simple browser operation

The browser operation I would have presented more difficult, but it is simple and workflow-oriented solved. By clicking on the button you open the browser and navigate through the tree structure with the rasterized encoder. Their folder can be opened and closed by pressing the encoder. The selected files (folders, samples, plugins, etc.) are displayed on the OLED display, the view to the computer is therefore not absolutely necessary, albeit clearer. The desired elements are loaded into the selected channel of the channel rack via the encoder. I was particularly surprised that you can not only replace samples of a track, but also easily add new tracks. If you have selected a sample or plugin in the browser and press the Select button, a corresponding context menu opens, in which various insertion options can be selected. Including “Replace”, “Load to new track” and also the import into the FL Studio Sample Editor “Edison”.

Intuitive navigation and workflow-oriented beat programming

The user interface of the AKAI Fire is very clearly arranged for a DAW controller – you will not be killed by countless labels or controllers. On the contrary: The controller is familiar from the very beginning and enables intuitive operation of FL Studio. Assuming you know the DAW and know what the terms mean. The training period is correspondingly short and one wonders why this controller has not been given before.

AKAI Professional Fire Steps

The steps can be programmed in the sequencer and edited with the graph editor features.

By default, Fruity is in step mode and can immediately start programming the patterns. Four tracks are displayed simultaneously and can be filled with steps. Tracks 1 to 4 can easily be scrolled through using the Select knob (5 to 8, etc.) to program the other tracks as well. The pattern buttons are used to create or create new ones. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to duplicate existing patterns. This would speed up the workflow even more so as not to reprogram an empty pattern every time only small deviations of a previous pattern are necessary. Of course, this does not prevent anyone from using the keyboard shortcut on the computer keyboard. If you want to extend the steps from the standard 16 to, for example, 32, this works quite simply by navigating to other areas of the Step Sequencer with the Grid buttons. On the controller display you can see the range (16, 32, 48, 64 etc.) and in the DAW the selected area is outlined in red. This makes it easy to see where you are in the Step Sequencer – clearly arranged!

The individual steps can be edited with the features of the Graph Editor, which was really easy to implement on the controller. To do this, you select and hold the steps you want to edit while using the five knobs to edit the parameters Volume, Pan, Filter, Resonance, and Select. What I miss in Step Mode is the ability to set other Snap Settings, for example, to program triples. Unfortunately this does not work in the DAW (still) in the Step Sequencer, but only in the piano roll. If you want to program the steps in Accents with different velocities, that is also possible (Shift + Step / Accent-Button).

Live play in note and drum mode

With the four round buttons to the left of the steps, the tracks can not only be muted or soloed, but can also be selectively selected with the “Alt” button pressed in order to chromatically play the sound, for example, in Note Mode. If you hold down the Alt-Button and scroll with the Select-Button, instead of four only one track will be jumped. This makes it even easier to navigate the channel rack. In note mode, the 16 x 4 matrix represents a keyboard in which notes can be played over three octaves. Further octaves can be selected with the grid buttons. This is well implemented (as far as the functions are concerned), as there are no pitch and mod wheels and the pads are not touch-dynamic in touch mode (not even with activated accent),

AKAI Professional Fire Note Mode

The note mode holds many scales and allows fast octave and transpose.

In addition, the pads for step programming, although sufficiently large, for live recording but a bit small. Unfortunately the DAW does not switch to the piano roll when selecting the note mode, but continues to show the step sequencer. In order to be able to edit (quantize, move, etc.) the recorded notes immediately after recording, it would have been quite practical to have the notes directly in front of you. But since you have to use the mouse to edit anyway, it’s not going to be any further. In addition to the chromatic keyboard, the default FL Studio scales can also be selected so that you never play the wrong notes. Unfortunately, it is not possible to fire the given chords as well.

In Drum Mode, there are two 4 x 4 matrices to play sounds like an MPC. The drum mode is basically just a chromatic keyboard, just in 4 x 4 arrangement in duplicate. If one selects the drum mode in a normal sampler track, in which there is only one sound, one plays this only in different pitch, as well as in the keyboard mode. To make the most of the drum mode, it is worthwhile to load the FPC plugin and fill it with samples so that each pad can get its own sample. Again, the pads are (for my liking) to play live a bit too small and close together. An additional MIDI keyboard, possibly with drum pads, is probably not a bad addition to the setup.

AKAI Professional Fire Drum Mode

In drum mode the AKAI Fire offers a 4×4 matrix in duplicate.

Performance Mode

To arrange MIDI patterns or audio clips live, use FL Studios Performance Mode, which is similar to Ableton Live’s Session View. With the Fire Controller you can control the Performance Mode. This makes it possible to create live performances in which targeted project content (audio clips and MIDI patterns) can be played directly on the controller. In the Performance Mode, the pads get the same color of the clips or tracks as they are in the DAW, so you can quickly find your way around. With the Select Encoder you navigate intuitively through the tracks and with the step buttons the clips are fired – that’s it!

I personally do not have a playlist mode that lets you arrange the clips to a song. Anyone who does not want to build a live performance with FL Studio, but simply wants to produce beats in the studio, can only do half the work with the controller. That you can build patterns, is fine and good, but eventually you want to arrange this synonymous to a song. Unfortunately, this is not possible with the controller and you reach for the mouse at the latest. It would certainly have been feasible with a 4 x 16 matrix, at least the paint tool could certainly have been implemented to add clips and delete them again.

AKAI Professional Fire Mixing

The four encoders above the matrix are permanently assigned to the labeled parameters. Once you have selected a channel, you can edit it directly with Volume, Pan, Cutoff Filter, and Resonance. Of course, the display outputs the current parameter values ​​so that everything is also in view at the controller. By default, the channels are edited in the channel rack. If you switch to mixer mode, the corresponding parameters are controlled in the mixer instead of in the channel rack. Instead of filter and resonance, Low EQ and High EQ are controlled. The shift button can be used to select the mixer channels via the Select Encoder. Mixing also keeps the workflow on the controller intuitive. The very small mixing jobs can be done on the controller; the direct control of AUX channels or even loading and controlling effect plugins is unfortunately not possible without further ado. You will not be able to pull through proper mixdown sessions on the controller. But the controller is not really meant for that, because Beat Programming and Performing is clearly at the forefront of Fire.

In the two user banks, the controls can be freely occupied, which works as usual in FL Studio: Press the mapping button in the DAW, select parameters, move the controller on the controller, done! If you save the project as a template, you do not need to do it again every time. For example, I took the swing control, master tempo, and other parameters to better match the controller to my workflow.

Conclusion (4/5)

Thanks to the cooperation between AKAI and Image Line, a DAW controller developed especially for FL Studio has been created, with which the step sequencer concept from DAW finally becomes tangible. This is noticeable in the workflow with an excellent interaction between DAW and controller. The interface of the AKAI Fire is very clearly arranged and allows an intuitive navigation in FL Studios Browser, Channel Rack, Step Sequencer and Performance Mode. The pattern programming is fluent and familiar to old Fruity rabbits from the beginning. The individual steps can be edited with the features of the Graph Editor, which allows you to program lively beats without further ado. In note mode, melodies can be played chromatically and in scales; Unfortunately, the FL Studio Chords can not be fired. Although the controller offers the control of Performance Mode, it does not offer the possibility to create arrangements in the playlist. With the rotary knobs, the basic features of the channel rack and mixer are controllable, for the really big mixing jobs, the controller is not intended. Rather, the AKAI Fire provides you with a controller with which the most important FL Studio features are at hand, in order to build grooves on the hardware and perform the detailed work as usual with the mouse in the DAW.

Pro

  • tightly meshed DAW controller concept
  • short training period
  • intuitive and clear navigation
  • workflow-oriented beat programming
  • chromatic keyboard and preset scales
  • including FL Studio Fruity Edition with upgrade option
  • automatic shutdown when terminating the DAW

Conta

  • no clone pattern feature
  • grid values ​​(snap settings) can not be set
  • no default chords in Notes mode
  • rudimentary mixing
  • no playlist fashion
  • no dynamic velocity in note mode

AKAI Professional Fire Conclusion

Features

  • DAW controller for FL Studio
  • Plug-and-play with FL Studio
  • 4 x 16 matrix with touch-sensitive and backlit pads
  • Step Sequencer Mode Graph Editor Features for editing the steps
  • Note mode with chromatic keyboard and preset scales
  • Drum Mode for playing notes in 4 x 4 matrix
  • Control of FL Studios Performance mode
  • Browser mode for loading samples, plug-ins, projects and more
  • 4 encoders to control Volume, Pan, Filter and EQ in Mixer and Channel Rack
  • 2 user banks for creating your own controller mappings
  • direct navigation in the sequencer, channel rack and mixer
  • transport Section with Metronome, Countdown, Wait, Start, Stop, Record
  • power supply via USB
  • OLED display
  • includes FL Studio Fruity Fire Edition
  • system requirements: Windows 7 or newer, macOS 10.11 or newer, 4 GB RAM, 4 GB free hard disk space

AKAI Professional Fire Price

EUR 199,

AKAI Pro Fire Unboxing and First Look

AKAI Professional Fire Complete Overview Tutorial

AKAI Professional Fire Tutorial #2



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