These days, even smallest MIDI keyboards packed to the gills with all kinds of bells and whistles, and these two latest efforts from M-Audio are no exceptions.
They´re both two-octave affairs, and while at first glance they appear to be pretty similar, they differ in terms of size, features and, of course, price. With the souped-up Axiom 25 costing half as much again as the more modest Oxygen 8 v2 (and taking up a fair bit more space), deciding between the two may prove challenging. Let´s start by looking at the updated Oxygen 8 and discussing how this new version compares with the original.
Many parameter options are available, and these can be accessed using the Enigma editing software, which can be downloaded from the M-Audio website - see Enigma with Attitude for more details. This program can be used to set up the keyboard as desired without having to resort to the Advanced editing mode, where the keyboard´s notes double as function and edit buttons. This mode does have to be used to make MIDI CC assignments, but everything is clearly labelled, and it takes just a couple of button pushes to access these or any other of the keyboard´s parameters. The unit has ten factory presets that cover a variety of synths, but these can be overwritten with your own custom setups should you so desire.
Despite its high level of sophistication and full-size keys, the Oxygen 8 v2 is pretty tiny. While it´s not as slim as M-Audio´s super-svelte O2, it offers a comparable level of portability and is certainly better to play. The keyboard is fully USB-powered and doesn´t feature any fragile appendages, so you could toss it into your rucksack without fear of damaging it.
The Oxygen 8 v2´s big brother is the Axiom 25, which is much larger and even more feature-packed. The most obvious difference (apart from the size and darker colour scheme) is the addition of eight drum pads. These have a good feel to them and can be assigned as desired using the same methods as the Oxygen´s controllers. The Axiom also has a much bigger display than the Oxygen.
Less obvious differences include endless rotary encoder knobs, semi-weighted keys, double the number of preset memories and the ability to split the keyboard into three zones. Each zone can be set to transmit data on a different MIDI channel, making the Axiom useful for those who want to play more than one instrument at once. However, potential Liberaces would do well to investigate the 49- and 61-key versions of the Axiom.
Both the Oxygen 8 v2 and Axiom 25 are fine controller keyboards that perform their duties with great efficiency. You may find the lashings of options to be a little intimidating, but sensible design logic ensures that once you´ve got your head around how the controllers work, you´ll be able to get them functioning as desired with ease. Although more supplied presets would be useful, the Enigma software makes creating your own a fairly pain-free and speedy process.
The Oxygen 8 v2 in particular fulfils its remit splendidly - it packs a great degree of functionality into a tiny space and is great fun to use. The Axiom is a trickier proposition, as it´s a little too big to be considered truly portable. However, the drum pads and weighted keys make it a good all-in-one option if you´re short on studio space. All in all, these are welcome additions to the MIDI controller keyboard market. Check them out if you want something small, affordable and feature-packed.