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Akai AX-80
Overall Rating
Submitted: March 13th, 2007
by nev-1A60v
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Sound Quality
Velocity sensitivity was in its early days when this synth came out, so it's not exactly astounding. But at least it's there. Ignoring the presets, it's possible to get some pretty good analogue sounds out of the AX80. Only snag is, with digital oscillators, the sound isn't very warm. You can detune osc2, but it's no OB-X. On the plus side, the filter resonates nicely - I used to have an SH-09 and this can squeal like that could. This synth is particularly good at doing bizarre modulation sound effects - the kind of thing Peter Baumann used to do in the 70s, but polyphonic. This is a synth that always has you reaching for the pitch and mod wheels!
Here's the Achilles heel. There's a common fault with AX80s and mine is no exception. The last 8 buttons can die on you. This means opening up the casing and re-soldering the bridge between two circuit boards. (There's a handy illustrated repair guide out there on the web for this - easy to find in Google.) Otherwise you have no control over the envelope generators and VCA, and can only access some of the memory locations via a pedal. On mine, there's also a problem in that some notes don't sound. It's not a keyboard fault (mine works fine as a controller keyboard, and external control still drops out) and my best guess is that one of the oscillators has died on me. Any suggestions for how to fix this would be greatly appreciated!) This makes it unplayable as a musical instrument, but fortunately for me I only use it for weird modular effects, so I get by. The AX80 looks like it's built like a tank, but the electronics aren't up to the strength of the casing. If you're planning on buying one, make sure you check it out first!
General Comments
If my AX80 disappeared, yes, I'd try to get another one, although it might be difficult as not many were made. If, like me, you rely on those three LFOs then there's not much else out there to touch this synth. Since I only paid żż82 for mine, then I'm quite happy to put up with its faults - my Yamaha EX-5 is pretty versatile and can cover most synth sounds, and I only use the AX80 to do things the EX can't. (I use an E-mu MP-7 for sequencing, and that has some interesting sounds too.) What do I love most about it? Those fluorescent bar graphs! (And did I mention the LFOs?) The nice thing about the AX80 is the price. It was never a popular synth - 1985 was a bad year for analogue synths - so it never built up a reputation for itself, and Akai soon moved into sampling. I've seen repair shops selling serviced AX80s for under żż300. You can easily pay five times this for a JP-8, P-5 or OBX/OB8. No contest! And no tuning problems either, with DCOs.
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