Akai Professional APC40 by vincentlepes
I purchased the Akai APC40 a few years ago and it has proven to be a great controller for Ableton Live. I bought it mainly for the grid on the left which correlates to Live's session view. For tracking in the studio, it has cut my time immensely and given me control of many parameters without using the mouse. The reason I bought it in the first place, however, is that I needed something to allow me greater possibilities than a loop pedal provides for layering up songs in a live environment. I am a multi-instrumentalist and have it set up so that I have eight tracks, one dedicated to each instrument. I use a Behringer FCB1010 to send commands to Live and act as a looping pedal and use the APC40 for re-arranging my loops, changing sections, mixing and applying effects.
The APC40 is a sturdy beast, the first thing I noticed when I got it was how much more solid it was than I had expected. Setup was easy but configuration is very flexible so there is definitely a learning curve to get it to behave just the way you want. Out of the box it is ready for most studio recording uses, it's only when you want to customize it to your needs that it becomes complicated. It is a lot of fun though, setting up racks of effects and having the knobs assigned for you to the current track's effects is really easy. The hard part is deciding how you want it to work for you.
I find the grid section to be very responsive and the color coding helps keep my eyes off the laptop. Having this area scrollable is a definite plus, as for what I do I end up with a lot of rows of clips. There are buttons around the perimeter that allow you to trigger tracks or entire rows of clips. This has been useful especially for my setup because I can keep songs sections layered up in rows and then with the click of a trigger I can go back to a previous section and add more tracks or play and sing another verse. It's like having a loop pedal that never runs out of scenes!
The faders at the bottom are useful with solo and mute for each track, and there is a replaceable crossfader for DJ types. I don't find myself personally down there that often in live situations, unless I need to adjust my mix, but in the studio you will spend a lot of time in this region of the controller. The faders aren't the best, they slide very easily which can be annoying when you bump them by accident, but I found the different modes helped a lot with this. You can set it so that the value only changes when you scroll past the previous value - that way vibrations and little bumps don't trigger a large jump if the fader isn't where you last left it.
The right side of the controller at the bottom is magic. There are knobs there that assign the the currently selected effects/parameters. Some forethought into what you want and you can set up an effects rack for each track so whenever you select that track you are ready to go. There are pans and sends above there that you can switch to as well, but I personally don't use them that often. I've actually been looking into some mods that will repurpose those areas for master effects.
Overall I've been very happy with the purchase. When this thing came out it was certainly a game changer for me, just check out what some people are doing with it on YouTube and you'll want one too. It seems to be very heavily tailored to a studio or DJ setup but I use it as a looper on steroids and can attest that it makes a great controller for Live users. I've had it since shortly after it came out and it has held up great and works as well as the day I bought it.