Today we review the Akai Professional MPC X MIDI controller. The MPC range has gone through many changes over the years, but Akai’s decision to keep the fundamental workflow within the MPC X as familiar as possible, is a testament of loyalty to their core users. Dispensing with the notion of radical overhauls to suit an increasingly cloud based user set, Akai have taken the hardware bull by the horns and have produced, arguably their finest flagship digital music workstation. The MPC X does away with the need for any computer interaction whatsoever, but that being said, it also seamlessly multitasks as a USB controller and audio interface for the MPC2.0 native software, or controller for most 3rd party plug-ins within your DAW, all with the flexibility to move projects back and forth on the fly.
Moving on from the MPC Live, we find a lot of commonality here with the MPC Touch. The main focus of which, being the beautifully responsive 10′ AMOLED touch screen in the centre of the console. The screen has an adjustable viewing angle, and can comfortably maintain its position upright thanks to a sturdy metal bracket, or it can just as easily be laid flat into the recess of the console. This makes it perfect for live use when you’re standing up, and the screen’s brightness and accuracy won’t let you lose sight of what’s happening, even for the more physically enthusiastic.
One of the main things I found striking while test driving the MPC X, was how much less I was distracted by what was going on in my computer. After years of editing samples within my DAW, I had become fully accustomed to the less ‘hands-on’ approach, since the last iteration of the MPC range I actually owned was the MPC200XL, and comparatively, working within my DAW was considerably faster. The sample editing within the MPC X is an absolute boon. The UI doubles down on the standalone aspect of the MPC range’s lineage, and the 16 perfectly weighted Q-Link controls in conjunction with the razor sharp interface within the touch screen, allows for immediate and hyper-detailed snapshots of your sample data to be summoned on the fly, speeding up the workflow no end.
One of the best things about the MPC X is how many devices you can connect to it. As well as the standard USB-B port for computer connection, the MPCX has two USB-A ports for peripherals going into the unit, and the USB ports can connect to standard CC MIDI keyboards, pads, and controllers.
Not stopping for a breath, the addition of eight CV outputs represents a real breakaway for modular synth enthusiasts The MPC X, using a CV Program, lets you feed any two of the eight CV output to notes and gates, transforming it into a MIDI-to-CV converter that you can utilize on any track. You can sequence four synths simultaneously, and you can also convert velocity/mod wheel data to CV outputs. Controlling the CV outputs directly from the Q-Links, comes with voltage display on the OLEDs, allowing you to modulate CV and automation in a intuitive fashion. Patching audio back in from your synth to the MPCX is a nice touch, providing simple and straightforward routing, allowing you to sandpit everything back into the core effects, record and sample functions.
The MPC X has two XLR/TRS mic/line inputs on the back panel with another two TRS line inputs and additional phono inputs for hooking up a record deck. For MIDI connectivity, there are four MIDI outputs and two MIDI inputs, and the audio output section boasts a handsome eight TRS outputs – 6 were all that available on the MPC Live. The front panel has two jack inputs for use with guitar or bass and features a very solid mic pre. The myriad of connections all route into to four input channels. The main M/L inputs share pathways with the instrument inputs, and the selections are made through the mixer section on the front hub, where you can also find parameters for gain controls, phantom power switch, master level and a mix control for combining dry input signals with the MPC’s output.
Also on the connection front, we have the ‘long time coming’ addictions of both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The Bluetooth can pair the MPC X with wireless MIDI controllers, and in true Ableton fashion, you can even connect with your QWERTY keyboard. The Wi-Fi aspect gives us Ableton Link, which is the simple-yet-affective tempo-locking system that’s being rolled out at a fast pace across many different platforms.
Despite all the new bravado, I still had a few minor quibbles with some elements of the MPC X. The new style of hard plastic pads are obviously in place to lend a feel of Native Instrument’s ‘Maschine’ to them, but in this regard, they don’t lend themselves as easily to expressive playing as the classic rubber pads – this may well be an issue of taste, but I don’t think I’m gonna be entirely alone in this regard . . . Also, the 16GB internal SSD drive seems somewhat tight-fisted given the price tag on this unit, and considering that it comes pre-loaded with 10GB of that taken up by factory sounds, even more so! The option to install a SATA drive in an internal bay is a comfort, but I still can’t help but feel that this should have come pre-loaded with at least as much internal storage as you would get on a high-end smart phone – say roughly 120GB.
Within the MPC2.0 software, you can custom assign your project controls over the Q-Links for master control over any parameter within your project. This is amazing for live use, and the wealth of controls at your disposal are deep. You can switch between controls for the current program, or you also have a page entirely for the currently selected pad. These overviews are only stored within the project or programs, so you need to get busy making templates to recall your settings.
If you’re an old school MPC user and have felt slightly sidelined by the current rash of alternatives, I’m telling you, you are gonna fall in love with this machine! It is simultaneously the classic MPC we all know and love, designed to keep you tethered while it makes an enormous leap forward into the new school pond. Try it, and you won’t regret it.