Which Akai MPC should I buy?

There are a lot of Akai MPCs about. Not surprising since they’ve been in production since 1988. That’s 27 years and counting with many different models released along the way.

A friend asked me which MPC he should get. He didn’t give much in the way of what he wanted to achieve with it, so I send a rambling reply, which I figured would make a good blog post. If you’re thinking about getting an MPC, but you’re not sure which model to pick, read on:

The Old Skool models: MPC60, MPC3000, MPC2000, MPC2000XL

Awesome sound and vibe. Whatever you sample into these babies will instantly sound better. Limited in what they can do (by today’s standards), for example slicing loops takes ages and there’s no easy way to transfer a sample from your computer to the MPC (just sample it). The built-in sequencers are solid as hell. You’ll want to factor in the cost of a SCSI flash reader unless you’re happy to deal with floppies or ZIP disks. If you’re willing to put in blood, sweat and tears though, these models will reward you with vintage mojo aplenty.

The Beast: MPC4000

If you want a much more featured sequencer, this is the one. The timing is as solid as the early models and it’s way more capable of doing complex song arrangements because it’s much more like a linear track based DAW (the Song mode on all the other models is very basic, just pattern chaining). The 4000 also has an S6000 / Z8 style sampler inside it so much more sophisticated on the key mapping side of sampling. 96KHz / 24bit audio is impressive, but it doesn’t have the sonic magic of the old skool models. Sequencer is still rock solid. Oh, and it’s massive.

The New Skool models: MPC1000, MPC2500

Not as sonically impressive as the old skool models and the sequencer timing isn’t as tight as the models listed above (see Innerclock’s Litmus timing tests), but massive convenience and ease-of-use factor due to compact flash, USB, JJ OS etc. JJ OS is a big improvement on the Akai OS and is definitely worth a purchase (or even better buy a model with it already installed). JJ OS is only available for the 1000 and 2500. Don’t buy a blue MPC1000 as these had Pad manufacturing problems. Get a black one.

The Others: MPC500, MPC5000

Neither of these models have caught on massively since release. The 500 is a baby MPC. OK if you absolutely need something small and portable I guess, but I can’t really see any reason not to get a 1000, which fits nicely in a backpack and is much more fully featured. The 5000 was Akai’s last hardware-only MPC. It was the new flagship with lots of new features, but hardly any that played to the core strengths of sampling, slicing and beatmaking . Instead Akai tried to really make an all-in-one machine by including a 3 osc synth and an 8 track hard disk recorder. The synthesizer engine won’t win any awards for sonics. It would have been better for Akai to concentrate on the core sampler concept imho.

The Software models: MPC Renaissance, MPC Studio, MPC Fly

These are hardware controller for software samplers. If you’re into computer beatmaking then these are worth a look, but they’re very different to the hardware bretheren because you have to have a computer involved. The MPC software shares many of the concepts and terminology used by the classic hardware MPCs so it will feel familiar to any MPC user, but for me, it’s all about the hardware models. Using a USB controller to control software introduces latency which detracts from the immediacy you get from a hardware MPC. If you’re into computer beatmaking though, these may make a good alternative to the ubiquitous Native Instruments Maschine.

More info

This wikipedia page on the Music Production Centre has lots of cold hard facts and specifications and MPC-Forums is the place to go for MPC related chat.

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