Watching a DJ punch buttons on a laptop is boring; no one wants to watch someone who looks as if they're checking their eMail. I've said and written that so many times, but it's the truth. Whether the DJ is playing CDs, records, or mp3s - it's about the show! If you are going to play music off a laptop, get a controller that lets you look like you are doing something.
In my exploration of the world of visuals and videos, I started with NuVJ, which included the software and the controller all in one. My progression to Grand VJ required my finding a new controller. Then the Akai MPD32 entered my life...
What is it?
The Akai MPD32 a is MIDI controller designed for musicians and DJs. The controller features 16 pressure-sensitive pads which function just like the pads on Akai's controllers for producers. The pads send different MIDI codes based on the bank - so with 4 banks, there are virtually 64 pads. At the top of the controller, there are 8 sliders with a toggle button. The lower right hand side houses 8 knobs that turn 360 degrees. Just as there are 4 banks of pads, there are 3 banks for the controls - meaning that there are virtually 24 sliders, buttons, and knobs.
On its own, the Akai MPD32 sends out signals and nothing else. When paired with software or a virtual instruments, that's when the controller shines. To test the controller, I installed it on my Windows XP laptop for use with Grand VJ software.
Installing the MPD32 was a breeze (both in MAC and XP). Plugged into a USB slot, the controller was instantly seen and software was loaded. It was instantly activated. The MPD32 comes with 16 presets for software such as Sonar, Cubase, Reason, and LiveLite, as well as 14 others that are user-customizable.
GrandVJ comes with a mapped template for the MPD32 so I loaded it. I tried the ArkaosVJ preset first with Grand VJ and it didn't function well. Switching over to the Generic 1 preset provided instant success, because it was instantly working. In mixer mode, controlling 8 levels of visuals, the faders are instantly responsive. The faders are smooth and insanely accurate. The software reacts instantly to every motion - precisely, no matter how minute.
Then I tried the pads... bam .. GrandVJ crashed. I restarted Grand VJ, reloaded the presets, pressed the pad and Grand VJ crashed again. Time to contact customer support. Based on previous reviews, I've learned that the speed of tech support response bodes well for the success of a product. Since GrandVJ is still not commercially released, I figured this was probably an issue on the Arkaos software side and not the Akai hardware side - but since this review is about the Akai product, I decided to email Akai. An eMail to Akai tech support brought a response within 90 minutes, not bad at all. The tech told me to clear the mapping and remap the functions I wanted to use. The tech communicated that this is a temporary workaround until the final version of the software is released.
This advice actually was a good test of how accurate the contoller was. I switched Grand VJ into mapping mode and was quickly able to map all the functions I wanted. Each pad, fader, button, and knob sends a unique control code which made mapping a breeze. I was able to customize the software exactly how I wanted. In under 20 minutes, I had Grand VJ working exactly like I wanted. What started as a bug/crash, ended up being a blessing. Rather than try and figure out how things were mapped with a preset, I was able to assign everything how I wanted to.
Up next was the torture test, a full night of use - which for me is an 12 hour set across 3 clubs. If a piece of gear works reliably for two nights of this - it passes the test. The MPD32 passed with flying colors.
The Akai MPD32 is a rugged, easy-to-use controller that works well with Grand VJ for mixer mode. It also has presets for several other music software programs. If you are a DJ who is looking for a controller that is not piano/keyboard-based, the MPD32 is a solid unit worth trying out. The pads are a definite strong point of the controller, sensitive to both the pressure and speed of touch, allowing more control of each function.
What is it: a MIDI controller for DJ/producer software
Who is it for: DJs and musicians that want to have better control of music/DJ software
How long does it take to set up: with presets under five minutes, mapping it yourself can take up to 30 minutes as you explore software features
What is required for its use: a computer and software
Difficulty level: 3.5/5 (1 is easy, 5 is difficult)