What is it?
Much of the concept behind the MPK has been borrowed from their MPC series. Akai has taken this one step further and added a keyboard to this series for even more performance and control capabilities.
This review is based on the MPK49; however, the MPK25 and MPK61 are almost identical, the only differences being how many keys and how many rotary controls/faders each has, limited by the overall size of the controller.
Out of the Box
The MPK49 features a bank of 12 MPC pads that are velocity- and pressure-sensitive. You also have 4 banks of 12 pads, for a total of 48 pads. The pads feel very solid, although the trigger level of the pads is a bit high. However, this seems to prevent accidental pad triggers and, in the frenzy of a performance, the pads feel like they will take some pounding. The pads feature “Full Level” and “12 Level” modes. “Full Level” mode means that the pad will always trigger at maximum velocity no matter how hard it’s pressed and “12 Level” mode assigns the last pad/MIDI note played to all 12 pads. The pads also feature “Note Repeat” - when activated, the note will repeat as long as the pad is pressed. This note repeat is based on the current tempo and Time Division settings; there are 8 Time Division settings assignable directly from the controller.
Also included are 8 infinite rotation pots, each with 3 banks for a total of 24 pots, and 8 full-sized faders, also with 3 banks each for a total of 24 faders. This allows for nearly total control of any recording program or audio plug-in available today. Right below the LCD centered on the keyboard (which is bright and very easy to read) are 5 system buttons to control the system software, change presets (30 possible presets with many already programmed to work with popular software packages and plug-in), edit keyboard behavior, preview controller settings, and send program changes.
Testing the Keyboard:
First, when playing with the MPK-49, the actual keyboard is my favorite part of the controller. Many controllers on the market have cheap feeling keys and weak action; I’d be afraid to really play as hard as I’d like for fear of breaking some of the keys. This is not the case with the MPK49 – they are full-sized, semi-weighted with after-touch, and provide a nice solid feel and resistance when you press them.
As with the keys and the pads, the faders and pots have a very solid feel to them. The resistance on each might be a bit much for some people but, as with the pads, it provides a little bit of protection from changing the setting on a neighboring fader or pot in the case of incidental contact.
Lastly, on the left of the keyboard are the pitch-bend and the modulation controllers, back light by bright yellow LEDs. The pitch-bend will only transmit pitch-bend data but the modulation wheel can be assigned to various control data.
I tested the software with Ableton Live 6 Lite and with Grand VJ Software.
The only problem I had with this keyboard was trying to get this version of Live to recognize it. Fortunately, Live 6 Lite also included a free upgrade to Live 7 Lite. After spending about 30 minutes double- and triple-checking my settings against the manual, I gave up and downloaded Live 7 Lite; when I launched the new version the first time, everything worked perfectly.
Working with Grand VJ, I hit a different problem. I tried to use the standard MPK49 Settings in Grand VJ but it just wasn't working correctly. Before calling tech support, I took a look around the Akai website and found some info about Vyzex editor but was still confused. I went to the Arkaos website and found a document about GrandVJ, Ableton Lite, and the MPK49 - but nothing specifically en pointe. Rather than call, I eMailed Akai Support through their website and Arkaos through a Support Ticket on their website. I was quite impressed that support from both companies came back with responses in under 4 hours; other hardware/software companies are not so quick to respond. I received a PDF with step-by-step instructions and an updated SQS configuration file. I had Grand VJ and MPK49 running smoothly in under 10 minutes with their help.
There are very few things I can find to criticize about the MPK-49. Sure I had an issue with installing the software, but after a quick upgrade or downloading a PDF and new configuration file, everything was working fine. The controller is a bit heavier than my other 49-key controller, but I think that can be attributed to how well it is built.
I’d have to say this is probably the best controller MIDI/USB controller that I have worked with. Everything about the controller feels solid and well thought out in the placement of the pots/faders and overall layout. It’s well-designed and well-built.
What is it: a MIDI controller for DJ/producer software
Who is it for: DJs and musicians that want to have comprehensive control of music/DJ software
How long does it take to set up: approximately 30 minutes, including software installation.
What is required for its use: a computer and software
Difficulty level: easy