The AX80 was Akai Professional's first musical instrument
- an 8-voice analogue programmable, polyphonic synth. It had an
impressive spec and a unique user interface.
Each voice had two independent audio oscillators that
offered sawtooth and square waveforms and a 'mix' setting that
offered both simultaneously. The oscillators were analogue but
were 'digitally controlled' for better pitch stability and tracking.
Oscillator 1 offered pulse width modulation (PWM) with its own
independent LFO. It also offered a sub-octave that effectively
gave the AX80 three oscillators per voice. Oscillator 2 offered
similar facilities (except PWM and the sub-octave) but added cross
modulation (hard and soft oscillator sync), and variable pitch
modulation by one of the envelope generators. Naturally, both
oscillators had variable octave settings (16', 8, 4' for Oscillator
1 and 16', 8', 4' and 2' for Oscillator 2) and the two oscillators
could be detuned.
The lowpass filter used the same Curtis CEM 3372 chips
as the Oberheim Matrix synths and Prophet 600 and sounded warm
and musical. There were controls for cutoff frequency, resonance,
envelope modulation, keyboard tracking and velocity. The filter
also had its own dedicated LFO. The AX80 also had a static highpass
Three ADSR envelope generators were provided - one
for filter, one for the amplifier and one that serviced both VCF
and VCA. These could also be routed to Oscillator 2 for pitch
sweeps. The envelopes had variable 'key follow' so that overall
envelope times could be governed by keyboard position.
Each voice also had no less than three LFOs - one for
Oscillator 1, one for Oscillator 2 and a third for the filter
making it possible to create some very thick lead and pad sounds.
Each LFO offered square, sawtooth down, sawtooth up and triangle
waves plus a delay parameter and, of course, a speed control.
There were 64 factory preset memories and 32 user-programmable
Programming was typical of the day using 'parameter
access'. In the EDIT mode, you would first select a parameter
to tweak (using the same buttons that normally selected sounds)
and you used the large DATA ENTRY wheel to set that parameter's
value. On most (if not all) synths that employed this method,
this was a frustrating experience because you could only see one
parameter at a time and because of this, you couldn't see the
other parameters and how they interacted. The unique user interface
of the AX80 overcame this with the use of a row of a flourescent
displays that showed the value of each parameter/control very
The AX80 also had many convenient 'performance' facilities.
The mod wheel could be routed (with dedicated buttons) to either
pitch or filter cutoff (with a variable 'range' control) and the
DATA ENTRY wheel could also be assigned as an extra performance
control. The pitchbend wheel also (uniquely) had a dedicated,
variable range control. There were also dedicated level and tune
controls in the left-hand 'performance' area of the instrument.
The AX80 also featured a dedicated HOLD function (for hands-free
sustain of sounds) and a dedicated CHORD MEMORY button whereby
playing a chord could be 'memorised' and then played from one
Overall, the AX80 offered many new and unique features
not found on other synths of the time. It also sounded great!
In hindsight, some of the factory presets were perhaps not as
strong as they could have been but these were early days for us
- many AX80 users will provide testament to the broad range of
analogue synth sounds that can be coaxed from the instrument...
from fat basses to thick pads, searing leadlines and more.
If the AX80 had a problem, it was the timing of its
release. Akai Professional came to the market with the AX80 at
almost exactly the same time as the Yamaha DX7 was released. The
AX80 was similarly priced ($1,500) but, unfortunately (and like
so many other manufacturers of analogue synths at the time), the
AX80 could not not compete with this new 'flavour of the month'
synth. In all honesty, it didn't help that we were new on the
scene at the time!
However, the AX80 was a fine sounding analogue synth
with many unique features that elevated it above other similar
synths of the time. Fortunately for potential buyers of used AX80s,
used prices are low and because the AX80 doesn't enjoy the same
reputation as maybe other similar synths of the time, you can
expect a bargain for this underrated analogue polysynth.