Top 3 Features: Akai FORCE 3.0.5 Firmware Update
By Mike Acosta for BPM Supreme
In early 2019, Akai Professional released a powerful standalone instrument with step sequencing, sampling, synths, a 7-inch multi-touch display, and more called FORCE. Targeting the live performance market and those who wanted to move away from needing a computer on stage, FORCE was initially thought to be like Ableton Live in a hardware box. And while this theory is pretty much on point, FORCE also boasted a dedicated control surface with lots of features taken from their iconic MPC beat making software.
Fast forward to today, FORCE has received steady improvements and now arrives at the latest firmware update, version 3.0.5. This update brings lots of user-requested features and improvements that really make it a force to be reckoned with for live performance (no pun intended).
There is a lot to cover, so I’m going to list my top 3 features along with a few other noteworthy mentions that got myself and the team at BPM Supreme excited.
You can now record your clip performance or live input into a linear timeline like most DAWs. Previously working within FORCE was very much like working within Ableton Live’s Session view, where you loaded clips of audio or MIDI sequences within a scene and then could trigger those scenes to play in any order you like.
Once you have your session view all setup, you can record your performance of playing those scenes into Ableton Live’s Arrange view, which is the standard linear view of your song from left to right like most DAW’s such as Logic Pro X, Cubase, and Pro Tools.
With FORCE 3.0.5, you can now capture your live performance with automation and edit, and then arrange your song in a linear format just as the previously mentioned DAWs. After finalizing your arrangement, you can now export stems, which is great for finishing your project in another DAW such as Pro Tools where you may want to record vocals and other live instruments.
Besides the exporting of stems, you also can render out a complete stereo mix of your song or performance with some added polish from the included AIR plugins and even export to an Ableton Live format. What!
With FORCE 3.0.5, you can now connect up to 32 music devices via USB Hub. Within the last few years, lots of new micro synth products have hit the market. These micro synths are very popular due to their small footprint and running off batteries or a powered USB connection. Most of the devices use a Micro USB connection, which can power the device, act as a MIDI interface, and in some cases even function as an audio interface.
Most of these smaller devices lack the traditional 5 pin MIDI connection and this is where this new 3.0.5 update comes in handy. By simply connecting all these USB music devices into a USB hub, which then gets connected to the Akai FORCE, FORCE can recognize all of these devices individually and now send and receive MIDI from all of them on their own independent MIDI ports. Traditional 5 pin MIDI connections can also be added on with a traditional 5 pin MIDI to USB converter. With these devices connected, you can now set a master keyboard such as an Akai MPK series to play and control all the connected devices.
Plus, with this Multi MIDI addition comes the ability to now send program changes to all your devices at once, which is great if you’re performing a longer set with multiple songs that use different sounds from each device. If you have various drum machines and external sequencers with their own patterns, FORCE can be set as the master to control and sync all external MIDI clocks.
Ableton Project Import
Coming in at #1 for me is the ability to import Ableton Live projects. It only makes sense at this point since FORCE and Ableton Live are very similar in how they handle live performance, but only one does not require a computer to do it.
Personally, I’m much faster in Ableton Live as I’ve been using it since version 1 released back in 2001, so the ability to now be able to import an Ableton Live project is heaven-sent to me. With the new 3.0.5 update, you can now easily import Ableton Live’s .als file format. The Akai FORCE will import all audio files from the Ableton Live Session view, Drum Racks, Impulse Instruments, Simpler & Sampler Instruments, and even import the entire Ableton Live Arrangement right into the Akai FORCE Arranger view.
For me, this is literally a mic drop, but I’ll elaborate a bit more on this. Essentially FORCE can make a copy of what you had inside Ableton Live and convert it into a FORCE project keeping all your audio files in the same exact places you had them within Ableton Live. Your Ableton Live Drum Racks, Impulse Instruments, Simpler and Sampler Instruments get converted into Akai’s drum and instrument formats (Key Groups & Drum Kits). This is a huge time saver for many as you’ll be able to quickly set up a performance, import audio files, edit and arrange everything within Ableton Live on a massive computer screen, and then simply import that Ableton Live .als file right into FORCE and be done.
The most you would need to do inside FORCE is add custom FX chains, maybe set up some macros, and refine the mix a bit. FX Chains & macros you ask? I’ll touch on this in just a second in my noteworthy additions section.
- Sample Chopping Improvements – With 3.0.5, you can now use FORCE’s pads to edit, trigger, and chop samples easily. This is great for on-the-fly chopping and generating ideas quickly.
- Advanced 16 Levels – This feature almost made my top 3 list! Essentially it is Akai’s most iconic MPC pad features all accessible from one pad mode. Since the Akai FORCE has a total of 64 pads that are accessible in a 4×4 matrix, this means you can now have the famous Akai multi-pitch mode on a set of 16 pads in the top right, the multi-velocity mode on another 16 pads in the top left, and the multi-filter mode on another set of 16 pads to the bottom right. These modes are visible and accessible all at the same time, which in my humble opinion is a beat-makers dream. This is a massive time saver and it keeps the inspiration flowing by not having to stop and enter different pad modes to try out ideas.
- FX Racks – Another feature is the addition of FX Racks. In 3.0.5, you can now insert a series of effects on a track such as Beat Repeat, Tape Stop, or Reverb Wash Out and then save this chain as an FX Rack that you can name and use in the future. These effects can be triggered via the Q-Link knobs, XY Pad, Pad Grid, Envelope Follower, or even by the Crossfader.
- Macros – If you really want to get creative with how your effects are triggered or you want to be able to engage multiple effects at the same time from one pad or knob, then you are going to love the new Macro function in 3.0.5. The new Akai FORCE Macro function allows you to assign multiple parameters from various effects and functions within FORCE to any Q-Link Knob, Crossfader, X-Y Grid, or Pad. For example, you can have 1 Q-Link knob that engages a Reverb at a quarter-turn as you pass that quarter-turn that knob now engages a high-pass filter. Once you hit 12 o’clock with that knob, a delay can now be engaged for a nice wash-out effect. The possibilities are endless with macros, not to mention really fun when experimenting with effect combinations.
Additional improvements within the new 3.0.5 firmware update include Timing Correct enhancements, Sample Editing improvements, Pull Down menus, and more. To see a full list of stability and reliability improvements, click here.
Overall, I think Akai has brought many of the user-requested features to FORCE, and just as they have kept up with constantly improving the MPC line, I think it’s safe to say that there’s more on the horizon for this product. I was really hoping that Akai would have addressed one of the biggest issues for many on the fence about FORCE and that is the ability to stream samples directly from the SD card. I do know that Akai is aware and they are working on that so hopefully we see that very soon.
Although I don’t do much live performance with musical gear (as I mainly DJ and may incorporate a drum machine or sampler from time to time), I literally could have a secondary DJ type set loaded up on FORCE with all these new features. With a little nerd tech, I could easily sync the clock between Serato DJ Pro and FORCE for a killer set. For those who have a Roland DJ-808 or any other Roland DJ controller, syncing the MIDI clock between Serato DJ Pro and FORCE would be a piece of cake.
I do have to say that if you’re looking to perform live but are hesitant about incorporating a laptop into your rig, then the Akai FORCE is definitely worth a look. Akai has historically played a major role in Hip Hop music production, and now with FORCE 3.0.5 it seems they are looking towards the future of live performance.
FORCE is currently available for $999, and the FORCE 3.0.5 firmware update is free to all FORCE users. To learn more, visit Akai Pro’s website.