Hands-On Review:M-Audio Axiom Pro with HyperControl Technology
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
A keyboard and mouse are great tools for Googling, but when it comes to recording and mixing with a DAW, give me a control surface any day. As a musician and engineer I instinctively relate to faders and knobs for controlling virtual mixers and synths. Apparently M-Audio agrees because their latest line of USB MIDI keyboards combines a highly programmable controller keyboard with all the functionality you’d expect from a dedicated control surface. Available in 25-, 49-, and 61-key models, the Axiom Pro controllers help you manage all of your critical DAW parameters without losing your creative flow.
Using M-Audio’s proprietary HyperControl technology, the Axiom Pro automatically maps track, transport, and plug-in controls from your specific DAW (currently Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Reason, or Live) to the Axiom Pro’s sliders, knobs, buttons, and pads. Track names, plug-ins, and their associated parameters instantly show up on the Axiom Pro’s large LCD, so you know exactly what you’re tweaking without having to look to your computer screen. In other words, anything you would do in the normal course of recording or mixing on your DAW can be done directly from the Axiom Pro. Instead of being trapped in front of the computer screen clutching the mouse and tapping the QWERTY keyboard, you can stay involved in your music. The ingenious part is how the Axiom Pro assigns the various functions to its arsenal of onboard controls. Let’s dive deeper.
Touring the tactile treats
The Axiom Pro controllers feature TruTouch semi-weighted keys that serve up one of the most satisfying actions I’ve felt on a controller keyboard. The keyboards also boast a comprehensive array of buttons, sliders, and rotary encoders that can be programmed to send just about any kind of MIDI data—even QWERTY keyboard shortcuts. Dedicated transport buttons are also on hand for easy DAW navigation. Despite the dizzying number of controllers packed into the Axiom Pro, its operation remains smooth and uncluttered.
Becoming a HyperControl freak
HyperControl is a technology that automatically maps the Axiom Pro’s sliders, knobs, and other devices to the most logical corresponding parameters in your DAW. HyperControl is automatic, intelligent, and transparent—you don’t have to do anything to set it up (no going through "MIDI learn" routines, etc.). It’s all done for you already. For example, with HyperControl enabled, Axiom Pro’s eight sliders automatically map to the first eight channel faders in Pro Tools. (You can bank through to subsequent groups of eight channels.) The buttons underneath the sliders can be used for a variety of functions including toggling between arming/disarming channels for recording. Thanks to constant two-way communication between Axiom Pro and the host program, the track name on your computer screen also shows up on the Axiom Pro’s display. In my Pro Tools session, for example, I had named Channel 1 "Jon’s Big Guitar." It was reassuring—and cool—to see that name reflected on my Axiom Pro controller.
Functionality continues from there, including pre-mapping of the rotary encoders to pan and send levels—the typical parameters you’re most likely to use at this level of tracking and mixing. HyperControl’s intelligent parameter mapping is dazzling: Once you select, say, a send effect for the first slot (Slot A in Pro Tools), the first rotary encoder will control that send for all eight channels. This is a very quick way to work—faster even than working directly on the computer screen. The moment you touch any slider, knob, or other controller, the screen automatically jumps to that parameter, showing you the value. To back out, you can either touch another controller or use the soft keys under the display. Having two ways to navigate makes things versatile and fast.
The mapping functionality continues if you decide to drill down into the parameters of the effects or virtual instruments themselves. Open up, say, a reverb, and you see the first eight adjustable parameters spelled out on the first page in the Axiom Pro’s display (you’ll have as many pages as there are groups of eight parameters—e.g., 9 to 16 parameters would occupy two pages, which you can bank through). The parameters lay out on the page in order of the eight encoders and the encoders are then active for the effects appearing on that page.
One key advantage of working in Pro Tools 8 is that you can reassign plug-in parameters that are located on different pages to the same page. This becomes even more useful if the parameters are dynamically linked (i.e., changing one influences the behavior of the other—which then requires its own tweak). There are also benefits when playing live and recording on the fly: Reassigning parameters to the same page means that in automation mode, you can simultaneously record certain moves—one knob in each hand—that would otherwise be impossible if these parameters were on different pages. Cool!
The Axiom Pro is many things. It’s a first-rate semi weighted-action keyboard that can be used as a standalone MIDI controller onstage, utilizing its many tactile controllers to drive synth modules and trigger drum samplers or sequences. It serves complex MIDI setups, not only because of its ample controllers, but because they can be decoupled from the DAW operation and reassigned to drive other gear in your stage rig or studio. When hooked up to a computer via USB, the Axiom Pro becomes both a MIDI controller and a control surface.
It’s these control-surface features—and HyperControl’s automatic, intelligent mapping of parameters—that will most impact your workflow. The Axiom Pro and HyperControl blur the line where a MIDI controller leaves off and a control surface begins. Under the command of the Axiom Pro, the two activities merge, becoming a seamless blend of technological control and creative flow.