NAMM 2015: Akai Advance MIDI keyboards promise "unprecedented" plugin control

NAMM 2015: Are MIDI keyboards getting smarter? First came Native Instruments' Komplete Kontrol S Series, which offers tight integration with the company's own Komplete software bundle, and now Akai is claiming that it can 'unite' all of your plugin instruments with its Advance range.

This includes 25, 49, and 61-note models, each of which features a 4.3-inch colour display. The idea is to "fuse the power of software instruments with the live playability of a keyboard workstation," giving you a more hands-on experience than in the past.

So how does it work? The theory is that all of your plugins are controller by a single application - Akai's Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) - which itself can operate as a plugin in your DAW or be used standalone. This, it appears, is in charge of mapping controls to those on the Advance hardware: each keyboard comes with eight endless and continuously variable knobs, eight backlit velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads, and a range of other controls.

The screen itself promises "1:1 access" to your selected instrument, while dedicated buttons enable you to browse your catalogue of sounds. The VIP software, meanwhile, offers plenty of performance-friendly features, and comes with a large library of content (you'll be able to buy more from the VIP store).

The Advance 25, 49 and 61 will be available in the Spring and have retail prices of $400, $500 and $600 respectively. Find out more on the Akai Pro website.

Advance keyboard series highlights

  • Keyboards for advanced virtual instrument performance
  • Integrated 4.3-inch high-resolution full-colour screen with dedicated interface buttons
  • Screen provides 1:1, real-time feedback of plugin parameters
  • Available in 25-, 49-, and 61-key sizes
  • Includes Virtual Instrument Player software for unprecedented virtual instrument preset management, control mapping and multi patch creation
  • Premium, semi-weighted velocity-sensitive keybed with aftertouch
  • 8 large, endless and continuously variable control knobs
  • 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive MPC pads with RGB illumination
  • Dedicated pad bank, transport control, octave, and performance buttons
  • Note repeat, time-division, pattern arpeggiator, and tap-tempo buttons
  • Rubberised Pitch and Modulation wheels
  • Expression pedal and footswitch inputs
  • USB and 5-pin MIDI Input/Output for use with any MIDI capable software or hardware
  • Also functions as a standalone controller
  • Includes a 16GB download with more than 10,000 sounds from leading virtual instruments from AIR
  • Music Technology, SONiVOX and Prime Loops.

Virtual Instrument Player software highlights

  • Plays virtually every VSTi-compatible plugin
  • Operates as a standalone virtual instrument player for your computer
  • Also operates as a plugin within any AU, VST, or AAX compatible DAW
  • Organizes your plugin collection with intuitive browsing by plugin, artist collection, instrument type,
  • timbre, and more
  • Access, edit, and mix up to 8 virtual instruments at one time
  • Setlist feature lets live performers switch between patches from any plugin instantly from the
  • keyboard
  • Extensive keyzone splitting, custom mapping, and instrument mixing options
  • Pre-mapped to hundreds of industry-leading virtual instruments
  • Unlimited instances of VIP may be run in a DAW
Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.