Austin-based Livid Instruments has become one of the hippest controller makers in the industry, with artists ranging from Bassnectar to Richie Hawtin praising their highly customizable MIDI control surfaces. A few months ago, they showed me a prototype of the Alias 8, and as a fan of M-Audio’s old Evolution UC-33, I nearly fell out of my chair. The UC-33 has a cult following among DJs and laptop performers because of its flexible design and gig-bag friendliness. Its downsides were fragility and mere USB1.1 compliance, but as a live controller, the UC was one of my all-time faves. The Alias 8 is a similar beast, but with tank-like construction that inspires confidence, class-compliant USB, and a collection of knobs, faders, and rubberized backlit buttons that make it a shoo-in for controlling DJ rigs of all shapes and sizes.
PROS: Knobs, sliders, and pad-buttons feel great. Rugged construction. Backpack-friendly size. Two expansion jacks for Livid XPC controllers. USB-powered.
CONS: Short-throw faders. Hardwired MIDI CCs mean you need to do all assignments in the receiving software. USB-powered only, and not all laptop ports output enough voltage—you may need a powered hub.
Bottom Line: A vastly more rugged redux of a DJ and controllerist favorite, the Evolution UC-33.
$299 | lividinstruments.com
Since my UC-33 bit the dust, I’ve relied on a smaller controller that has half the flexibility but is much more easily replaced in a pinch—an important consideration when on the road. That said, swapping that unit for the Alias 8 was a no-brainer, as more knobs and buttons means more fun at gigs.
Setting up the Alias 8 is generally a breeze, as long as you’re using software that has extensive MIDI learn capabilities, since the CC assignments are hardwired. A single clickable knob has an associated two-digit LCD, but that’s essentially for dialing up the master MIDI channel out for the device, though you can also use it as an additional CC knob when it’s in “clicked” mode. Since I use Ableton live—and every major DJ app and DAW includes elaborate MIDI learn functions—this wasn’t an issue at all for me, though it may be if you’re expecting the automatic mapping and extensive soft synth templates found on today’s better keyboard controllers.
I did hit a small snag while setting up the Alias 8, but it’s not really Livid’s fault. My MacBook Pro has two USB ports and, while it’s a known issue, one port outputs more voltage than the other. Since the Alias 8 is USB powered, it wasn’t getting enough juice from the USB port I’d originally selected and I thought something was wrong. After a call to Livid, I changed ports and was back in business with smiles all around.
In use, the Alias 8 feels wonderful. The knobs and faders have a slight resistance that gives it a professional vibe, the backlit buttons are a godsend in pitch-black DJ booths, and the overall construction feels like it can withstand everything but a direct nuclear strike. Yeah, I would’ve liked longer faders, but I quickly got used to the short-throw faders on my old controller, so again, no big. And if I truly needed those—or a pair of joysticks—the Alias 8 includes two proprietary connectors that let you add from their stable of XPC mini-controllers.
I’ve got to say it: I’m smitten with the Alias 8. Everything about it reminds me of my long lost UC-33, only more rugged and modern. The bottom line is that the Alias 8 will be my new primary gig controller when DJing—and that speaks volumes.