I remember my sixteenth birthday. It was in 1984. By that stage I was obsessively into music and my parents has sacrificed and saved to buy me my first Hi-Fi. It was an Akai. It was teenage Nirvana: box after box: amplifier, tuner, cassette deck, turntable, a maze of cables and connectors to obsess about, theorising about which order to stack them in for optimal performance. It was the envy of my friends and I remember the pride in having a “professional” brand of Hi-Fi, not an entry-level one like a Sanyo “music centre” or a Pioneer.
When I left home and went to university, I needed something more portable to augment my new on-the-go lifestyle. It was the age of Generation X, and my peers were the first to block out the cares of the world with the now-iconic mini headphones worn in public. Of course I chose an Akai. Even in this age of iPods, the Akai buttons and sliders are imprinted on my muscle memory. We had many good years together. Of course I argued with friends who chose the Sony Walkman. Sure, Sony had established the trend, but was it the best player? No, it wasn’t. Of course, the Akai was.
Naturally I became a musician and when looking for a reliable stereo cassette deck to bounce my multi-track demos down to, I chose the Akai GX-M10, with its glass heads. I still have that deck in a cupboard, though now more than a decade into the digital era it is obsolete. But it still works! The quality I’d come to expect from Akai did not let me down. In an age where we cynically expect to have to replace equipment many times, my Akai machine outlived its useful working life and retired with dignity.
Today, my home studio is digital. Obviously, it will come as no surprise that when I came to choose a keyboard which was versatile enough for midi recording, use on-stage and as a bonus could connect to an iPad, there was the Akai Synthstation to meet all my needs. I was so impressed I told a friend, and he bought one too. When another friend asked me what keyboard I’d recommend he buy for his teenage son, I emailed him back enthusiastically with a link to the Akai Synthsation.
So why am I telling you all this? I can’t be the only person in the world who, through some key life-experiences, has developed a loyalty to a brand.
Well, when I was looking to buy a new USB audio interface for my studio, I asked around for advice from several of my friends in the business. Without hesitation they told me “Get a Focusrite!”.
So I went out and bought… an Akai. Why? Because I’m an Akai kind of guy and the look and feel of the Akai EIE Pro was so seductive. In contrast to the Focusrites I’d seen, it seemed weighty and serious. The glowing analogue VU meters made me feel secure and confident. That was, until I plugged it in.
I have soldiered on now for over a year, every few weeks checking to see if there has been a new driver or firmware update to finally allow this machine to live up to its potential. I’m always left frustrated and disappointed. The device is a nightmare which is so unreliable it has brought me to the brink of tears on several occasions. The crashes, the buzzes, the digital noise… it’s too much! The internet is awash with tales of woe similar to mine and Akai appears to be doing little or nothing to address the issue.
Creativity is a fragile thing. Musical ideas can be lost in an instant. Persistently unreliable equipment isn’t just an annoyance or an inconvenience to a musician, it interferes with something quite fundamental to his or her creative process. It is intolerable.
So, this weekend, with heavy heart, I’m turning my back on 30 years of brand loyalty and doing what my friends told me to do in the first place: I’m packing away my EIE Pro as an expensive mistake and going out to buy a Focusrite.
You cannot imagine how sad I am.