Akai Professional MAX25 by Grovestand
I originally bought the Max 25 for the sequencer and the CV/Gate ports. I still use it mostly for that. It is definitely better as a live controller. It doesn't replace a computer or a workstation, but it makes jamming without one a lot easier.
I've broken down the review into subsections addressing the different parts of the keyboard, but suffice it to say that it is a very nice keyboard. My verdict is, if it has the features you're looking for you probably will not be disappointed (with a few, non-deal-breaking, exceptions).
I'm not the best player, but I do love the feel of a good keyboard. The keybed on this keyboard is excellent. In fact, the keybed, pitch/modwheel, aftertouch and pedal inputs alone make this worth the $300 that I paid for it. It is literally the best feeling non-weighted keyboard I have ever played, I highly suggest testing it in a store because this is such an individual thing.
To give you an idea of my own preferences, I love the Nord Lead 3 keys. I hate the Korg M3-61 keys, I hate the Akai MPK keys, I don't like the Prophet 08 keys. These keys don't feel like any of those, but they are closest to the NL3.
It has a very good spring to the keys. My main complaint about the Akai MPK series was that the springiness didn't feel even. The keys feel very even throughout the whole range of motion. There is enough resistance that one could probably play piano parts on this keyboard, but it shines on synth stuff.
The keys go from initial touch into aftertouch without requiring too much pressure. The after touch pressure isn't too light. It feels just right, I never hit it by accident but my hands don't hurt after using it a lot (if you've used an old Roland you know what I mean). I can also hit a much larger range of CC numbers than I can with most keyboards, so it has a good dynamic range.
The velocity is very responsive. I haven't done extensive testing, but I haven't had any experience with notes playing too loud or soft.
Historically I am a drummer. I have an Ableton push. I had an MPK. I have an Alesis drum pad. I've modified E-Drums. I've played MPCs, Launchpads, APC 40s. I am no greenhorn to the world of finger drumming controllers. These are among the best pads I've felt. They feel just like the MPC pads (unlike the MPK pads, which were terrible). I love that they are backlit. The note repeat function is a lot of fun. I like controlling my MFB 522 by starting the sequencer on a simple beat (using the MAX 'play' button) then I add fills using the pads. I do wish that there were 12 or 16 pads, but then the controller would be bigger, so it's a fine tradeoff. I would not want to use this keyboard as a replacement for a dedicated drum controller. ALSO a HUGE negative is that you cannot program the foot pedal inputs to be Note Numbers! I would love to be able to plug in a kick pedal and a hi-hat pedal and use them!!! Anyone reading this at Akai, please implement this!
I wish they were backlit like the ones on the MPK. Otherwise they're great.
I prefer the big solid faders of the MPK. I do like that these can be set to reflect values in the DAW (like motorized faders), but without the physical component, I don't find them useful for mixing.
I would have liked to see the option of converting a MIDI clock to Trig or Gate signal. You can do this with the sequencer or the arpeggiator, but you cannot use the keyboard while doing this, so it's sort of pointless. I do often use it as a modulation source in my modular, but I find myself usually resorting to the Minibrute for pitch/gate output. I would also liked to have seen more CV options. Built in LFOs (this can be done with the sequencer + slew, but has the same issue as sending MIDI clock, no keyboard).
I bought the Akai Max 25 because I liked the touch faders and the sequencing approach on the Max49. The 8 faders on the 49 provide a much better experience in that regard. I have requested the ability to control the sequencer note values using an external controller, and they told me that it would work using Sysex. I don't really care enough to follow up on that.
It is NOT possible to have the sequencer transmit note data to the CV/Gate port and without having the keyboard transmit note data to the CV/Gate as well. This is a huge oversight, as the whole purpose of me getting this keyboard was to sequence my modular with the sequencer while playing the Prophet 08 with the keyboard and my drum machine with the pads. So far the best solution that I have come up with is to have the Sequencer send MIDI note data (for example on channel 12) and send that data back into the in port of the Max 25. Then set the CV/Gate output to receive on MIDI channel 12. This would be a fine solution, except that there is no MIDI thru on the Max 25, so then I cannot control the drum machine and prophet! The workaround is to use an external MIDI splitter (or have MIDI thru on all of your boxes) but it sort of removes a lot of the convenience factor. The absence of a MIDI thru port is unfortunate.
I really like that you can set the CV/Gate to V-Trig or S-Trig and adjust the trim. It's cool to be able to switch between V/Oct and Hz/Oct, though I don't have an MS20, so it doesn't help me. I'm not sure why they did not use 1/8" jacks considering the popularity of the Eurorack Modular format. I also don't know why they didn't add more jacks for CV. Onboard LFO + Envelope would be amazing. The capability is there, because the sequencer is capable of creating an LFO if you turn on the slew.
No CV/Gate when powered over USB. This is kind of annoying, but if you are interfacing with a CV device, you probably have a power source of some kind handy.
It's nothing special. It does most of what I want it to (and quite a few things that I would never use).
It's a great controller. It's a pretty good replacement for a clock source, but I would not expect it to take the place of a dedicated sequencer.
It's definitely live performance focused. I think it's worth a look! Would love to see a 61 key version with more CV outputs, faders, and pads.
I would also love to see some more features added in a firmware update. I won't hold my breath.