Apr 21

DO YOU PREFER THE AKAI MPC STUDIO OR NATIVE INSTRUMENTS MASCHINE?

After an exhausting long and fun time reviewing the very popular Native Instruments Maschine Mk2, I am now in a great position to take a close look at the recently released AKAI Studio MPC with its thin silver looks to tempt you into the world of groove and beatboxes, loopers and samples. There are lots of forum discussions and people comparing Native Instruments Maschine and different AKAI MPC products such as the AKAI Studio MPC and when you are trying to make the right choice it is difficult because both are fantastic machines. It is really your own personal preference. If you are very familiar with AKAI MPC products then the AKAI Studio MPC may very well be right for you. If you have never had a tap on either of these 16 pad wonders, then really you should try them both and make up your own mind as to how much you prefer both hardware and software.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE AKAI MPC?

The MPC was designed by Roger Linn and produced by Akai from 1988. You may have heard of the famous MPC60 their first MPC which was designs as an exciting and new power drum machine. Over time, the MPCs have developed and changed their functionality moving away from a MIDI Production Centre and becoming a Music Production Controller part hardware and part software with all the MPC sample software being loaded onto a PC so you ended up with a very powerful sequencer with the ability to sample and with creative fun and possibilities, load your very own individual samples onto your 16 pads creating kits and loops to make whole songs.

The other MPCs that have been with us since the MPC60 in date order are:- MPC3000, MPC2000, MPC2000XL, MPC4000, MPC2500, MPC1000, MPC500, MPC5000, MPC2000 and now we have the (very thin) MPC Studio, (the giant) MPC Renaissance and (for the iPad) the MPC Fly. Your first thoughts and considerations could very well be that if you were to buy an AKAI MPC, you will be doing so in the knowledge that you are buying a product from a company with a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area of drum machines, groove boxes, samplers and sounds but Native Instruments are not far behind, in fact many would say that they overtaken AKAI in some areas.

HOW TO THE UNBOX, LOAD THE SOFTWARE, SETUP  AND REGISTER THE AKAI MPC STUDIO

Native Instruments give you many extras and Akai do not disappoint. As I open the AKAI box the thin Silver beauty presents itself after taking out a bright red carrying case for it, which makes me think about AKAI’s thoughts on the Studio’s use. They obviously see that their biggest MPC – the MPC Renaissance they have designed for the recording studio, whilst the MPC Studio (which has the same software) is ideal for working and creating beats on the move. I am sure that those who can afford both will carry out their main work on the Renaissance and then transfer it to the MPC Studio whilst they are out and about. The measurements of the MPC Studio is 11.2″ x 10.1″ x 0.89″ which is 284 mm x 257 mm x 22.6 mm. Its weight is 1.96 lbs. or 0.89 kg.

Also in the box there is an A4 sheet to help you get used to the controls and layout. It has a picture of the Akai Studio on one side showing basic operations and on the other side you can see advanced controls. There is also a bag containing a USB cable, two MIDI breakout cable, a Quickstart guide and your Warranty , three DVDs; the main MPC Studio software, the Bank (which is all of the samples etc.) and one Expansion which is the 809.The Akai Renaissance comes with all of Akai’s expansions. I think I prefer the Maschine expansions but they are expensive at 49 Euros each.

It is easy to load the software and if your PC has no internet connection you have some extra work to activate it. The main software bank then loads without any codes or registration as do the expansion bank whereas the NI Maschine’s expansions all require registration and activation individually which can be a bit of a pain.

HAVE YOU PLAYED AN AKAI MPC STUDIO?

You have to quickly connect up and start playing, even though you haven’t read a thing in the manual, it is only natural to start to want to hear the sounds and feel what it’s like to play. If you put the Native Instruments Maschine and the Akai MPC Studio side by side you will discover that the MPC sounds smoother but the Maschine is louder. I quite like hearing the MPC samples on the Maschine.

I have decided that I prefer the hardware layout on the Maschine. The Akai MPC Studio seems to have a lot to learn and Maschine gives you two screens rather than one. The Maschine is also more colourful which helps with live playing. Like I have already said, the MPC Studio is designed for work on the move, whilst the Maschine is mountable on a stand for a live performance.

There are many controls on the MPC Studio. Excluding the LCD and the 16 Pads, there are 54 controls which is quite a lot on such a small unit. This means that some of the controls are small, however Akai have arranged them in a logical way. Like with the Maschine, most of the real estate is taken up by the 16 velocity-sensitive and pressure-sensitive pads. Comparing the two products in terms of Pad feel, I did not think there was much difference. Most people prefer MPC pads and it is possible to fit MPC pads on your Maschine.

On the left side of the MPC there are five dials to adjust the Q-Links which adjust various parameters and settings. These dials can control one column of parameters at a time. For example, when you look at the 4 x 4 Q-Matrix on the software you will see that Column 1 highlights Q1, Q5, Q9 and Q13. To get to the next column Q2, Q6, Q10 and Q14 you need to use the Scroll Dial above these to change which column of parameters the five dials currently control.

Under the Q-Link dials you will see the Q-link Trigger. Just hold it down and then touch one of Dials and you will make that dial’s parameter value jump to its minimum or maximum. Then there is the Erase Button. If you got the sequencer running, hold this and press a pad and it will delete the note event for that pad at the current playback position. Lastly on the left-hand side you have the Note Repeat / Latch Button. If you hold this button down and press a pad, you can retrigger that pad’s sample at a rate based on the current Tempo.

Above the Pads and under the LCD are six F-Buttons (Function Buttons) which correspond to the tabs that on the LCD. The LCD (360 x 96 dot graphic) is a little bit packed with information showing everything relevant to MPC Studio’s current operation. However you can see most of this information much clearer in the software on your PC or MAC. To use the LCD, you need to use the Cursor buttons, the Data Dial and -/+ buttons. You then need to use the Mode button to change what page is displayed and as I have already said use the F-Buttons to show what tab is to be displayed.

On the right where everything is tightly packed in, there are 20 controls (four rows of five). The first row contains 4 buttons for you to select the Pad banks A – H). You need to use the shift key to get to E-H. The fifth button is a Pad Assign / Pad Copy button.

The next row of five is a bit mixed. Firstly you have a Full Level / Half level button which when activated, the pads always play back at either a maximum velocity (127), no matter how hard or soft you hit them or at half-velocity (63). The next button is called 16 Level and is quite a feature and something the NI Maschine does not have. Apparently when you activate this, Akai state that the last pad that was hit will be temporarily copied to all 16 pads and the pads will now output the same note number as the initial pad, but a selectable parameter will be fixed at set values regardless of how hard you hit them.

On row 3 you have a button to view the Program Edit screen. Using the Shift key, you can assign a parameter to a Q-Link. There is also a button to view the Program Mixer screen, a sequencer edit mode button and a Sample Edit and Sample record button and a Song/Other button to view either the Song Screen or Other mode for things like pad threshold and sensitivity.

Row 4 provides five buttons that all relate to folders in the file browser. You have Project/Folder 1, Sequence/Folder 2, Program/Folder 3, Sample/ Folder 4 and No Filter / Folder 5.

Under these 20 controls is the main Data Dial with three buttons; a Main/Track button to see either the Main screen or Track view; a Browser / Save button to either view the file browser or save the current Project; a Numeric button to use the pads as a standard numeric keypad.

Next is the main Cursor control surrounded by four buttons; a Shift button, a Window/Full screen button, Tap Tempo and Undo/Redo buttons. Finally there are 10 buttons (two rows of five) giving you all the transport controls including an overdub button.

USING THE SOFTWARE WITH AKAI MPC STUDIO

The Software is in sections for the Browser, the upper and lower areas and the Grid. There are 12 modes; Main Mode; Program Edit Mode; Program Mixer Mode; Track Mixer Mode; Track View Mode; Song Mode; Next Sequence Mode; Sample Record Mode; Sample Edit Mode; Pad Mute Mode; Track Mute Mode and Step Sequencer Mode. You will see that many of these modes are visible all the time.

A Program in the Akai MPC Studio is defined as a file, containing a list of all samples used and their settings such as loop points, which pad they are assigned to, what FX are used and the pitch of the sample. If you go into Program Edit mode, not only can you edit your samples but you can assign them as well. Programs also make up projects and you can have 128 programs in a project – very impressive.

The Upper section of the MPC software gives you control so you can select Programs, Sequences and Songs whilst the lower section allows you to adjust BPM, which measure and the main transport controls. Lastly the Grid is the important section for you to record, arrange your song and carry out edits to sequences etc.

contains the MPC’s tabs as well as further control for selecting Programs, Sequences, Songs, etc. The Lower section contains the overall controls, such as the measure/tempo display and the transport controls. The Grid is the section where you can record, program and edit your sequences and arrange your songs. Main Mode gives you an overview of the most used functions. If you want to go to Main mode at any time you can either press the Main/Track button on your hardware or just simply select the Main Tab in the Upper section of your MPC software.

There is so much here, unfortunately you have a bit of a learning curve. You will find some elements of user-friendly aspects on both the MPC and the NI Maschine but some need you to reach for the manual. I found that on the MPC, I did not instantly understand the Q-Links and on the Maschine Scenes were not immediately obvious to me as to how they worked.

PLAYING SOUNDS AND ASSIGNING EFFECTS ON THE AKAI MPC STUDIO


The Akai MPC Studio has a quality sound to it and a vast range of sounds giving you every conceivable drum, percussion, noise, wobble as well as instrument sounds. In fact is has 9 GB of them which include sounds from their earlier models such as the MPC3000. You will find these in the 908 expansion bank in the box. The Native Instruments Maschine does not have such a large collection with 6 GB but it also comes with some synths that integrate with Maschine, such as their famous synth Massive. It also gives you a start into the world of Komplete where you could add on the full package (now Komplete 9 just released) and add 120 GB of sounds.

In terms of FX, the MPC software provides a whole assortment of effects so you can process samples and your programs. Add a touch of Mastering to this and again like the Maschine you can also use your own third-party plug-ins.

The effects you get are; Flanger, Flanger Sync, Chorus 4-voice, Chorus 2-voice, Autopan, Autopan Sync, Tremelo, Tremelo Sync, Phaser 1, Phaser 2, Phaser Sync, LP Filter Sweep, LP Filter Sync, HP Filter Sweep, HP Filter Sync, Auto Wah, HP Filter, LP Filter, HP Shelving Filter, LP Shelving Filter, PEQ 2-Band, 2-Shelf, PEQ 4-Band, Delay Mono, Delay Mono Sync, Delay Stereo, Delay Stereo Sync, Delay LP, Delay HP, Delay Analogue, Delay Analogue Sync, Delay Tape Sync, Delay Ping Pong, Delay Multi-Tap, Distortion Fuzz, Distortion Amp, Distortion Overdrive, Distortion Custom, Distortion Grimey, Transient Shaper, Compressor Opto, Compressor VCA, Compressor Vintage, Compressor Master, Reverb Large, Reverb Large 2, Reverb Medium, Reverb Small, Reverb In Gate, Reverb Out Gate, Decimator, Resampler and Frequency Shifter. That is a very impressive range of effects so that not only do you have over 9GB of sounds but you can add effects to them and change them into something new.

WELL WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE AKAI MPC STUDIO?

Perhaps it is not a good idea to compare the Akai MPC Studio with Native Instruments Maschine as they are really two different products designed for slightly different needs. If the price is a big factor in your decision as to which one to get, then the you will find that the Akai MPC Studio is cheaper.

If you are considering that you want it mainly for Live playing, I would recommend the Maschine. However, in a DJ setup. I am sure the MPC would do equally well (as I am sure it does) sitting alongside the DJ’s other music gear.

If you are not worried about portability or live playing then have a look at the bigger brother – the Akai Renaissance MPC. They are all great fun whatever you choose and they all provide you with an alternative way to make music, so what are you waiting for – give it a try, you will be pleasantly surprised as I was.

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