The AKAI Pro MPC2000XL was a sampler that could really hold its own. Sure, it was limited to 32mb of sample time which equated to about 40sec mono or 21.9sec stereo, it was big $$ to expand the RAM, get the 8 output board and the fx module, or to add a snazzy ZIP drive, let alone a compact flash drive. You knew you were ballin’ when you had it tricked out with all the options. Still some magic lay in the limitations and the flexibility of working so closely with one device. You would often happen upon a slice of audio when chopping things down to 16ths, like a snare roll, a dead bit of air or a reverb tail. These little things which seemed like nothing at the time often made the song tick, bang or swing.
I remember having an Akai S2000 (rack mount version without the sequencer) and dreaming of slapping away on those pads. Little did I know that once I bought the MPC2K I would spend the next 5-7 years crafting every beat I made on it, running my live show from it and knowing it like the back of my hand, so much so I now have a custom painted black one with no decals or annotations for the button functions.
Some might say the 16-bit sound contributed to a grainy sound but I never noticed it, in fact for the time it sounded quite good, if you drive the inputs with signal you could get quite a punchy sound with this unit and there was no shortage of bass. The filter is a dynamic resonant 12db/octave low-pass that is surprisingly useful; in fact I believe a lot of the filtered bass loop production that featured on J Dilla beats (MPC3000) included this. You could assign a slider to the cut-off frequency and use midi recording to automate your filter movements, pretty cool for a unit in those days.
As I said there is only 21.9 seconds of full stereo recording time via the 32mb (yes mb) 72pin simms when its expanded from the internal 2mb (Yikes!) but when sampling in mono you essentially double the sample time. Using this and a few other tricks like sampling a bass tone or a sample and chromatically assigning it across all 4 banks of 16 pads, you could have a playable tone that could be pitched, filtered and edited for some variation using the ADSR envelope.
The original unit was white and consisted of a floppy drive but later versions included a 250mb zip or an MCD card reader capable of SD, compact flash etc, and there are some third party applications for making programs on your PC like the http://www.mpc2000xlapp.com/
The Akai editors were pretty clunky and not much use. But I found in using the menu system in the MPC2KXL was perhaps one of its best advantages, you could easily sample something from a source, jump to the edit page, chop and assign it in the programs page then hit home and you were ready to record a sequence. Using the slice function you could easily chop up a break into 16 slices and automatically assign them to the 16 pads, this would give you a nice range of kicks, snares, ghost notes, hi-hats and so on that would be really conducive to creativity. Some of the best MPC beats I’ve made have included little snippets that at the time meant nothing but took on a whole new vibe when assigned and ready to roll. Sometimes I’d even find a little guitar chk or a bass or horn stab that I would then pluck out and assign chromatically to use as a melodic part across the 4 banks.
In performance you could do some cool tricks with changing assigned pad/programs to different sequences so your pads would change as your songs do, this combined with some NOTE REPEAT and live overdubs made the unit a great production centre of your live show. I remember my first live rig consisted of the MPC2KXL running individual outs (8) with 4 stereo banks, the elements I wanted to effect like pads, synths, samples etc, went out into a crossover and then the rest of the mix went straight out to the PA. After the cross over (which basically did a broad high pass filter when engaged) I had a Boss DE-200 delay feeding back to create tension and builds. This system worked great and was really fun to perform with. Thinking back now It was an easy way to make a simple but effective device run the whole live show and sound really punchy and solid.
You can pick these units up now pretty cheap and If you are after something that will inspire you but also make you work for it then I’d take a look at the MPC2K, it’s a beast that needs some love but it’s great to get off the laptop sometimes for inspiration.