What do you say when it’s all been said? We felt it was time for a fresh perspective on the MPC phenomenon — one a normal review couldn’t provide. So we got the opinion of our friend, samplist/producer and Segue member Dave Dri. And the verdict: there’s still something about an MPC — even if it suggests why there’s also something about software, too. But it involves dust. Here’s his op-ed:

Recently I had the task of reviewing an MPC5000 for a local street press magazine. The MPC part of it was fine — the word limit was trickier. Over the last decade I have reviewed the MPC2000XL and the MPC1000, with a lot of time and gigs passing between them. From early days in a live breaks act to my current progressive house act, an MPC has been right under hand. In the week that I reluctantly handed the 5000 back to Musiclab, the drummer that guested in my band at the Big Day Out festival asked me to play keys and samples in his band at a local festival. [Ed.: Our own Jaymis filmed the Big Day Out gig if you want to check it out.] I found myself in a chance conversation with a friend from the live breaks act Bitrok and the very next day, somehow, I’m on stage with his MPC2500 — a unit which I have since bought. So why did reviewing an MPC5000 lead to me buying an MPC2500 after years of happy service from an invincible MPC2000XL?

If you’re reading this, you probably know what an MPC is, and you can readily review any number of link-bait Google results for the product mentioned in the title of this post. [Ed. Hmmmm, link-baiting MPC's, huh? "10 Ways an MPC is Like a Cupcake"? "15 of the Best MPC YouTube Videos Featuring Hot Women MPCers?" perhaps? -PK]

What you probably want to know is what it’s really like. So I will tell you.

Changes, Rants, and Internet Haters

I knew you wanted to know what MPC really stands for. Photo: crook_tooth.

It’s big. Really big. In fact, it’s so large that it couldn’t fit on the Jerker desk that forms the core of my studio rig, and spent its review loan period on a keyboard stand. In a particularly amusing moment I happened to glance at a nearby MacBook with an Akai MPD-16 controller plugged in to it and formed an unfounded suspicion that the sheer size was simply a ploy by Akai to appeal to some demographic that might use the MPC5000 as the core, if not entirety, of their studio. Would Akai deliberately oversize their hardware to appeal to bling-savvy producers?

It’s got a new screen. Getting past the size, the next comment is usually on the screen. Long-time MPC users with older models are delighted with the display being adjustable in both position and contrast. As one might imagine, navigation and editing benefits immediately, and the old Shift+Number menu system is replaced with context-sensitive Mode and Window buttons. By this point things are getting off to a great start. All the basics work as they should, and getting around the unit is old hat to anyone who has touched an MPC.

It’s a synth – but will it replace other synths? Then we find ourselves exploring the onboard synthesizer emulation that Akai claim “eliminates need for external analog synth modules or buggy software based synthesizers.” We will touch on the concept of buggy software in a minute, but I think we can safely ground the private fantasy jet that Akai seem to be flying around in with the notion that their VA emulation is somehow a replacement for external analog synth modules. As you would expect, the preset patches have a liberal use of the word “Moog” and sound nothing like one. Even worse, it soon becomes clear that you need to load a patch into memory to even preview it. As Just Blaze says on his MPC5000 rant, this is 2008. Having to spend studio time loading a synth patch just to preview to it is ridiculous, and was something that Yamaha seemed to avoid with their RM1X back in the mid to late 1990’s.

As to the marketing claims of “avoiding buggy software”, this is, of course, a point of instant ridicule for anyone who has owned first-generation Akai hardware. If there is any company deserving of an award for consistently disappointing software programming it would be Akai. Optimists like to say that 1.0 OS implementations are likely to have a few issues that soon get fixed, but that kind of logic in the automotive industry would cost lives. In the same sense, broken functionality or crashing operating systems can limit creative output. For a device that costs as staggering an amount as the MPC5000 (MSRP US$3500), it is inexcusable to release such a flagship product without appropriate testing and debugging. It’s not like the world was clamouring for a massive, heavy, expensive hardware sequencer with onboard virtual analog synth emulation. Again I will point to hip-hop producer Just Blaze and his rant at Akai for the state they released the MPC5000. [Ed.: This is not an official CDM comment or my comment on Akai's reliability, because, frankly, I haven't used one. So if anyone wants to add to the rants here or question them -- and perhaps comment on how firmware updates have settled -- I'm all ears; please do so in comments! -PK]

In Australia right now, for the same price as the MPC5000, one is able to purchase a rig such as an Asus laptop, Motu Ultralite audio interface (site | on CDM), Ableton 7 and an MPD drum pad MIDI controller interface. Then again, you couldn’t simply turn it on and start making music out of the box. Despite the need for hardware that simply works, Akai simply cannot afford to rely on Roger Linn’s (on CDM) clever idea from the 1980’s any longer without actually following through on their product promises. Akai commentary aside, this isn’t an outright attack on the MPC5000. Not by any means. The parent company may attract comments on internet forums like “they be smoking crack mangz”, but their products do have a place in the market. This is where anyone left reading can take a deep breath and bask in some hints of genius.

MPC5000′s Brilliant Bits

MPC, deconstructed. Photo: Luka Ivanovic.

The MPC5000 does indeed have enough promise to warrant its place on the shelves of your favourite music store or in the database of your choice of online retailer. For a start, the filters and Q-link faders are stunning. Noticing the in-built pre-amp (that Akai have finally copied from their competitors) included in the MPC, I hooked my trusty Vestax turntable and randomly grabbed a record – in this case, one of those James Last records you can’t but trip over in Australian record stores. With it spinning, I pushed record, grabbed a good 20 seconds, mapped the sample to a pad and the pad to a program. Going into sample edit mode, I enjoyed the large screen and multiple faders for adjusting start and end points without the 2000XL style scrolling or shift fader. On a whim, I bumped the resonance on the filter. It took about 5 seconds for me to fall in love with the potential of these filters. Sweeping low, I turned Tijuana trumpets into a resonant sub bass that swept up with my fader movements into the kind of pitched build-up that is still all over progressive house. Sample transformed.

Grabbing other samples from sources less dubious, I began to simply enjoy the hands-on creativity that sampling so effectively enables. Whether you’re a fan of the Sonalksis TBK filter or run your samples through an old Korg MS-20, there is something to be said for the creative aesthetic that comes with a simple sampler, some records and some decent filters. Do I see some heads nodding in agreement over in the French House corner?

Conclusion: Dusty Fingers

So, after a lengthy rant, I managed to say some nice things about the filters and the aesthetic of the MPC. Unfortunately, all specifications and feature sheets aside, the legacy of the MPC series is and always will be the elusive concept of feel, aesthetic, and groove. Once upon a time, this might have been currency to spend on lengthy, impassioned essays to enraptured audiences. These days, the proponents of the tradition of MPC groove tend to get short thrift amongst their contemporaries, who program the same boom bap beats in Fruity Loops, on Roland Grooveboxes and — lest we forget — Madlib’s infamous Roland SP303. There’s a certain element of buying an MPC that’s just down to being down with the MPC format. Plenty of internet forum arguments are waged over hardware versus software, Akai versus Roland, this versus that, purple versus magenta.

Ignoring the actual conflict, it’s obvious that there is something passionate about the range. For me, the MPC5000 reignited a passion that had fallen behind with the 2000XL’s user experience, compared to my workflow in Ableton and Battery. Despite relying on the old grey box for live shows, I had forgotten the unique outcomes of dusty fingers, hands on vinyl, samples on sampler. And it managed to do that in spite of its size, cost, weight and bugs. Once Akai iron out the last of the issues, there is no doubt that this will be a success amongst those producers who are set on hardware sequencing in the box with all the trimmings. For me, the MPC range has been an extension of DAW workflow more than an alternative. In that light, I am content in the MPC2500 bringing crate digging and sampling enjoyment back into my studio and replacing my trusty 2000XL in the flight case at gigs. If the idea of the MPC5000 appeals to you, then I would urge you to test it out for yourself. If you already have then let us know how you found it in the comments below!

Dave Dri is an MPC-wielding Samplist and Producer from Brisbane, Australia. He has been involved with a variety electronic acts running the gamut from Breaks to Jungle. His current project is Segue.

  • http://www.myspace.com/rawcoco RAW COCO

    i've had the mpc 2500 , and have played with the mpc 5000. and now i'm just waiting for linn drumm 2 . i cross my fingers and hope it will be all that i need.

  • Thomas Cermak

    I use an MPC everyday but they're seriously outdated. The recent explosion of interest in JJ's OS for the 1000 is a clear sign of this.

    Fortunately, the Linndrum 2 – whenever it's released – will further revolutionize the PAD-DAW market.

  • Hungry Antelope

    The MPCs aren't seriously outdated, they are just seriously overpriced compared to something like a laptop with midi controller.

    I like the Linndrum 2 a lot, but why did they have to go with the damn 2×8 instead of the standard 4×4? And why don't they support a hard drive?

  • Will

    I've used an mpc 1000 for about two years now (since i was 14) and i switched over to JJ OS and subsequently JJ OS 2, last January. so I've been running that OS for almost a year. And from what i can see after being a early adopter of JJ OS 2 is that the MPC 5000 is a direct response to OS 2 and really just JJ OS in general.

    Here are some examples:

    -the synthesizer in the MPC 5000 is almost a direct copy of the instrument programs in OS 2

    -the greatly improved mixer of the MPC 5000 and the track mixer is a direct copy of the track mixer and mixer window of JJ OS 2.

    -the grid edit is enhanced on the MPC 5000, but i'm pretty sure still doesn't have the graphical effect automation view, or "q-real" view that the JJ OS 2 has.

    the list goes on and on, as far as i see it, the only thing that the MPC 5000 offers are physical things, or hardware limitations of prior MPCs, especially the MPC 1000 with JJ OS 2 installed; or just JJ OS 1 for that matter. Things like, more sliders, knobs a bigger screen, more assignable outs, and more effect buses. These are legitimate pros to this device, but as one who has worked on an MPC for a relatively long time, i would take an MPC 1000 with JJ OS 2 on it anyday over this brand spankin' new MPC 5000. Akai needs to get with the times and start working to make new products, that aren't rushed, and aren't solely dedicated to competing with the alternative OS that will ALWAYS be there as a competitor. They need to do this while also keeping the same MPC feel, grit and grime that users have come to know and love.

  • lilith

    I miss the Yamaha Rm1x + RS7000. I always wanted them to develop those further, like make a portable model or let them take the PL-AN and DX cards which would let it be a real synth. Or one with a Tenori-On-like interface or just regular drum pads – the mere 2 pads on the RS were kinda crappy.

    I'm really anticipating the LinnDrum II however, especially the Analog. I'd rather it used the 4×4 layout too. I'm guessing Linn is copying the 2×8 layout of his old models, plus he said it made it useful for "techno people"

  • http://www.quikphix.org xonox

    Is the LinnDrum 2 has mutliple midi inputs and outputs like the MPCs and can sequence, i don't see why i would risk it buying an MPC since Dave Smith and Roger Linn have a far better track record at releasing updates for their products than Akai. It's a shame that Akai can't put more ressources on polishing up the OS of the MPCs…

    I've seen the MPC 5000 in a store this summer, it was big but didn't feel overly big. I mean if you spend this much on a box, it's most likely to use more than just the basic features. In my opinion the size makes sense so that the panel layout is comfortable. The panel layout seems good at first glance.

  • Damon

    I have the 2500, and it is heavy, and ponderous, and pretty, and a bit absurd in the routing, and way expensive, and very limited compared to many other such units, but it does have a feel and an immediacy that feels classic and timely and historic. The fact that it does not have a lot of features has forced me to be more thoughtful about creating songs. I could never manage an honest base line until I got the MPC. What it cannot do is consistently annoying, and what it cannot do is consistently inspiring. Point 2 of that being rather silly. "I love it cause it sucks enough to make me have to try." Guess you could say it is the Harley Davidson of music devices, though, some might argue that is more a mini moog.

  • http://xfader.com regend

    i bought an akai s1000 for 60 bucks and having the two XLR pre-amps was worth that price! now i just have to hook it up to a cheap midi sequencer.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I'd say some of this is an argument for the underlying importance of the MPC … and, in turn, why indeed you might want a LinnDrum II more than a new Akai. ;)

  • chris23

    I recently bought an MPC1000 used hoping to port some of my Logic work out to a portable pad interface. As interesting as it is I can't believe it only has 16MB RAM (expandable to a whopping 128MB). This is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I swear, my toothbrush has more RAM. The machine is near useless for my needs because of this limitation.

  • Brigend

    I have the 500, had a 2500 but now have the 5000. The 5000 is a lot better. The higher resolution sequencer makes live stuff sound live. The quantize strength is cool. The synth is very cool but it would be nice to have more programs onboard. It has a lot more voices so things don't cut off like they do on the 500 and 2500. I am using the Q-Links a lot more because they work as MIDI controllers now. Most of the effects are good. The reverbs suck but the distortions, compressors and filters are really sweet. The bigger display makes it much better to use and going back to the small screen of the 2500 or 500 is a pain. There are more features I'd like to see like better automation editing, a way to edit all the program filters and envelopes at once, using the Q-Links on sample programs like it does on the synth but the 5000 is a big step up from the 2500/1000 with or without JJ.

    I want to check out the Linn II but it doesn't seem like it's going to be an MPC. It looks like it's just going to be a drum machine. The analog drum stuff look tight though.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAKO1LhSxYg dptronz

    "Avoiding buggy software." HA!

    Running JJOS2 on the MPC1000 + Ableton Live + FAW's Circle synth is a modest yet robust synth/sampler creative toolset.

    Price-wise: if you already own a laptop, it would be cheaper to go this route rather than shell out for the 5000.

  • Starving student

    An mpc-1000/kaosspad 3 combo will change anyones Life.

    its all you need.

  • Chris

    I first bought a mpc 2000 xl.I sold it to get a mpc 1000.I wanted the 1000 cause it has like 24 minutes of sampling time fully expanded.And I want to be able to do my live show on it.Without having to use a computer.The 2000xl fully expanded only has like 7 minutes of sampling time.Each one of my songs uses about 2 to 3 minutes of ram.So a 2000xl just wouldn`t cut it.Then when it came time to start doing live shows my data wheel on my 1000 started not working rite.It would change the selection at random.It was such a headache!!So I started looking for the replacement part.And nobody has it.All the parts stores say they`ve been on back order for over six months.

    So I had no choice I had show coming up.I wasn`t gonna buy anothr 1000.So I was narrowing it down to the 2500,4000,and 5000.So after a few days I decided on the 5000.One of the main things was the ram.35minutes of sampling time!I can program like 12 tracks possible more,I haven`t tried yet.Also I like that it has 4 busses with 2 effects!And it has all of the effects I need for the type of music I make.I used to have to reason to make my drum samples.Reverb snare drums and distorted 808 kicks.So now I have it all in one.I don`t really like using soft ware anyway.So it keeps very satified.I use all gear anyway.I have a Roland svc-350 vocoder,Korg ms-2000b,Korg emx-1,Korg er-1,Korg dw-8000,Access virus A,Yamaha cs1x.So with all that stuff who needs soft ware.LOL NAh I no there`s alot more I could do with soft ware.Maybe one day I`ll intergrate into my music.But for now I happy with what I got.

  • mr. c

    I think the 5000 is a great mpc ive never tried the 2500 but I have owned the 2000xl the 4000 and the 1000 I think the 5 is the best one so far the only thing I wish akai would have done to this machine was to make it have the option like the 4000 to sample at 24 bit the 4000 had an extremely excellent sound to it and sampling capability but I didn’t like the sequencer of it the 5000 sequencer is excellent plus all the extra timing options