The Akai Pro AFX is a neat and powerful modular controller, designed to be integrated into an existing Serato DJ set-up to give more control over various aspects of the software, such as effects, loops, samples, cue points and more. It works with Serato Flip (Serato’s basic re-editing function), and will be attractive especially to: DJs looking for a minimal set-up, perhaps alongside the Akai Pro AMX; those with a larger DVS or HID set-up; and those with basic controllers wanting to add more advanced features. Just needs a couple of software anomalies ironing out and it’ll be even better.
First Impressions / Setting up
It’s a small, vertically laid-out modular DJ controller, similar to the Akai Pro AMX, which launched at the same time and can be seen as a sister device, and also controllers like the Traktor Kontrol X1, and the Allen & Heath Xone:K1 and Xone:K2. In other words, the perfect form factor to slip unobtrusively between mixer and CDJs etc. in your average DJ booth – unlike all-in-one controllers, of course.
It is relatively lightweight and made of plastic, but feels well constructed, with a rather jolly red underside complete with four rubber feet, and a more sober matt black top plate. There are eight mini pads at the bottom, hard plastic backlit buttons up the sides of the top plate, and two sets of four touch-sensitive knobs down the middle (three centre-indent pots, one endless rotary), along with a large endless push-to-click rotary in the middle, directly underneath a two-digit LED readout. Meanwhile, there’s a touchstrip at the top with deck switches (one AFX can be used with up to four Serato decks). There are no audio ins or outs (it’s purely a Midi control device) and the only socket on it is a USB socket, plus there’s a Kensington lock hole too.
Setting it up is just a case of plugging it in, Serato DJ then responds instantly to the various functions on the unit. Worth pointing out again that it is designed to integrate into any existing Serato set-up; it cannot be used on its own without a Serato audio interface, controller, mixer etc.
The performance pads
The eight performance pads are high quality, the Akai Pro type: rubberised, backlit and velocity sensitive, something that is only really useful for the sampler trigger function. They control all the things you’d expect Serato pads to control: Cues, loops and loop rolls, slicer/slicer loop and sampler (both non-velocity sensitive and velocity sensitive), as well less obvious functions like manual looping, deck transport, and the new Serato Flip function in the box as a bonus.
The pads are clearly colour coded, and the cues in particular work well with the same colour coding within the Serato DJ software itself. Along with the Quantize button, they make for tight loop and cue based performances. The big knob centre middle, by the way, is a beat knob, which you’ll use for halving/doubling the loop length, and also a library select knob when you’re in transport mode. In beat mode especially it’s awesome; just like the Traktor controllers, having that value on an LED by your fingertips definitely helps to reduce screen staring.
The FX knobs and buttons
While laid out vertically, the FX sections are pretty standard Serato fare, except for one nice touch: touch-sensitive controls (switchable on/off) so you only have to touch a knob to trigger its parameter. These were first used on the Numark NS7II (Numark is a brand in the same family), and they work well. You can switch between single and multiple effects per FX engine in the usual way, and either let the software auto BPM your music for tight sounding echoes etc, or tap out the BPM yourself.
The touchstrip has three functions. The first is a simple search, with LEDs showing you where in the track you are; you touch it to jump to that position in the track, and – although the manual warns against sliding your finger along it to scrub – it just about works.
The second is a pitch function, that slows down or speeds up the pitch of the currently playing song momentarily so you can nudge beats back together or introduce a little syncopation, etc. Unfortunately at the time of writing, when a track is paused, it doesn’t revert to a “scratch”-style nudge as with all of the other touchstrips controllers I can think of, so it can’t be used to set a quick cue point, which will be a dealbreaker for some DJs. Happily, that’s a planned fix at some point soon in a forthcoming version of Serato DJ, we’ve bveen assured.
The final function is “S-FX”, which is a performance feature that controls parameters of any currently switched on effects, and is expressive and fun – a nice extra use of the touchstrip. By the way, the buttons around the touchstrip are deck switchers (you can control four decks with this), FX assign buttons to decide which of the four decks each of the two FX engines is assigned to, and switches for Absolute, Relative and Internal modes if you’re using this in a Serato DJ DVS-enabled system.
Used alongside the AMX (which has pitch controls), the AFX delivers an almost perfect modular control set-up: Small, light, bus-powered, and DVS ready if you want it. It’s just the lack of a scratch-style function for quickly setting cue points in the AFX’s touchstrip that lets it down if used as a “minimal” set-up without DVS.
Used away from the AMX, when paired with just a Serato DVS sound card and with turntables/CDs for DVS, you can pair it with any mixer you like for a great minimal DVS set-up. Without some kind of DVS control though (or the AMX) it’s not so good, due to the lack of pitch controls and touchstrip vinyl emulation (at present).
So is it for you? Well, if you DJ with Serato in the clubs using DVS or HID and want a controller to unlock Serato’s advanced features, it’s great. If you want to use it alongside the AMX as a minimal DJ set-up, again, it will be great once that promised touchstrip “scratch” function appears in Serato at some point in the future!. And if you want to use it alongside the AMX but with DVS control via vinyl or CDJ, it is again pretty much perfect. Finally, if you have a very basic controller and would rather add what you’re missing with one of these, again it’ll do the job fine, although you might want to consider the Reloop Neon too, which may have less overlap of controls.