The dedicated drum machine is at a crossroads. Computer hybrids are simply capable of more than dedicated hardware – and that, in turn, has changed user expectations. You can go retro, as analog machines have done. You can go small, as boxes like the volca beats and upcoming Akai Rhythm Wolf do. You can stay the course, as Elektron does with their boxes. You can go hybrid, as Native Instruments’ Maschine, Arturia’s Spark, and Akai’s Renaissance and MPC Fly do.

Or, there’s one other option. You could put the soul of a computer – and the touchscreen interface – in that dedicated box.

A surprise revelation of the Microsoft Build developer conference was that Akai appears to be going that way with their flagship product. The MPC was onstage, sporting a traditional MPC form factor but with a UI augmented by touch. And De:bug Magazine (German) reports on a leak on the MPC Forum with details from a developer that suggest that the next MPC will have Intel – and Windows – inside.

Oh, hello. That's not a Windows Phone.

Oh, hello. That’s not a Windows Phone.

KOMMT DIE NÄCHSTE MPC MIT WINDOWS EMBEDDED?

This could be a big loss for Apple, too, in this sector. Sources tell me that Apple is getting more restrictive about hardware accessories they’ll let run on their devices. I can’t confirm specifics, but it seems logical to me that some vendors would gravitate toward an OS developer that offers an embedded platform they can build on – and iOS, in many ways, isn’t it, not once you graduate from simple apps.

In the video from Build, you might assume that this is just a Windows tablet augmenting more conventional music hardware. But the developer suggests there’s more to it than that:

The prototype was running an Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) with a core i5. It did not require any external PC. TBD what the final device runs, nut I’d expect something similar. Performance was excellent because the device is optimized to so one thing, not to also serve as email device, etc. You can even hook a keyboard, mouse, and external display to the MPC if you want. That said, I was able to do all the sample loading just using the touch screen and a thumb drive.

Other companies: I’m not going to name names, but we’re working with several tiers from most of the big names that produce software and hardware down to a selection of some of the smaller companies that create unique or impactful software. I’ve been in the room or on the phone with each of these. InMusic (Akai/Numark) was included when one of our field folks pointed out to me that they were doing cool things with embedded and their next gen of products.

It’s a hood enough sample to make sure we have feedback covering the spectrum of requirements for creative/pro audio.

A slide also shows a Numark DJ device, integrating a control surface and displays. It looks as big as a truck – but it also looks like hefty competition for Pioneer’s CDJ.

numarkembedded

Now, this is Windows Embedded, not Windows. That means you couldn’t, say, run Ableton Live on the same box – but, on the other hand, there’s no OS to maintain, and functionally the experience should be the same as running dedicated hardware (see the performance comment above).

But what it could resolve is satisfying growing needs from users who want more functionality, better displays, and better interaction, accustomed as they are now to desktop computers, iPads, and the like.

In fact, this same path was suggested by none other than original MPC designer Roger Linn. In a series of designs, he tried to find ways of combining PC and drum machine, as in the image here. Some used a controller (a “Surface,” ironically sharing a name with Microsoft’s product), but some proposed an embedded machine running an OS like Linux. In fact, he told me specifically that part of his thinking was to answer this greater sense of user demands for features.

LinnDrum_Surface_with_computer

In the end, that design was shelved, and I look forward to seeing Roger demo his upcoming Linnstrument 3D surface. The Roger Linn – Dave Smith collaboration turned into Tempest, a more conventional drum machine with an analog architecture (and no sampling, even), and the rest is history. But InMusic (Akai) seem to be betting on every possible alternative, from small analog hardware to iPad products to, now, this.

And this could at last answer a burning question. Many MPC die-hards have felt abandoned by the company, absent a flagship, all-in-one production machine. Some do turn to products like Maschine or Renaissance. But others may want the experience of making music without the distractions, performance issues, and added maintenance of a desktop computer. (I love my desktop, but … well, I do also hate it, so I feel their pain, and can’t really argue with them.) If the software is good, this new MPC could offer the best of both worlds. Time will tell.

And there’s a similar possibility in the DJ market, too.

mpcbuild

  • whiteblob

    if they get it right it could be a major break through in standalone hardware, just think of the expansion possibility’s (software and Hardware) you could implement through a flexible OS that is open source. Akai never really got the MPC 5000 right because of the sheer size of the OS needed to run all the functionality it promised. Now you can have the functionality and a more with a stable operating system that will run of the latest processors, memory ect. could be fantastic BUT they have to get it right!

    • Mutis Mayfield

      OPEN OS?
      If win8 embed will be open (not only API) maybe but if not… Why not to use a beagleboard or new Arduino intel/arm?

      These devices are capable (even raspi is getting uldated in this way), cheap and community based (most imoortant to avoid earlier fails like JJoS history…) so,
      Why to stuck with a “futurable” instead to work in “present”?

      Surface was a fail and embed win8 could be another. Maybe the CEO changes in MS bring us some fresh air and better market implantation… But ww have still dealmwith Numarkai which has a bugfilled history of forgiven devices…

      I see more reliable an ipad+mac mini (waiting for new appletv with apps…) setup with some vnc/lemur custom template and some physical control via cck/musical docks (alesis/behringer, iconnectivity, the new apogee for summer…)

      Optimized OS? First implement something like coreAudio interAPP (audiobus) and native modular Apps (sampler, recorder, synth…) like garageband and then we start talk. Numark is not the best software developer for this “revolution” (and one of the points to feel a fail in the air…)

    • just passing

      > Why not to use a beagleboard or new Arduino intel/arm?

      If I had to guess, I’d say because they already have MPC software working on Windows. It’s the path of least resistance, R&D-wise.

      > But ww have still dealmwith Numarkai which has a bugfilled history of forgiven devices…

      *glares at the Fusion on the keyboard stand* …yep. inMusic is certainly, um, careful with its R&D spend.

    • Mutis Mayfield

      Good points from the side of money/effort but not so much from expected accuracy/stability…

      About inMusic maybe they do the homework like Torq 2.0 or so… But I still prefer the other solutions availiable…
      If closed => iOS/OSX
      If open => arduino/beagle Arm/x86 boards (there are a intel too) and linux (with bitwig now in the game…)

      If I can’t control/code the system I trust more in Apple than Microsoft to code/setup things…

      Meanwhile others wait until dreams come true I prefer come true my dreams by myself with the help of the better tools availiable at this moment… Until I could develop my own better than them (maybe never but I still work hard everyday in it…

    • Mark Stewart

      I am still waiting for functioning windows 8 drivers for their flagship traktor controller (4TRAK) ……. it’s almost a year without use now …… c’mon Numark you can do better!

    • Mutis Mayfield

      You could expect a “chair” as best answer from numark to these kind of issues…

  • http://sequadion.com/ Sequadion

    Interesting to see this new use of Windows Embedded. I’m clearly not the target audience of MPCs, but will keep an eye on it from the technical perspective.

    What is the current state of real-time audio on Android? I know it used to be problematic, but I can’t help but wonder if that could be used for similar desktop devices.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Good point. Windows as such is certainly capable, but maybe, this is a specific version of Windows Embedded, focused on audio processing?

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    This is an interesting proposition, indeed. I have always struggled – and still am struggling – with the optimal workflow, i.e. computer vs. controllers vs. dedicated noise making devices. Especially, when it comes to beatmaking.

    I appreciate the focus that e.g. a drum machine like MFB Tanzbär has, where you can only make beats and nothing else – just as much as it is nice to have something like Maschine or MPC Renaissance, where you’ve got a great controller and a screen as large as you want to. Also, with Maschine, running it inside your DAW can mitigate some of the workflow issues, but it is still not optimal in my opinion. You *are* changing environments (since e.g. Maschine can do so many things these days that it is _almost_ a DAW on its own.)

    So, here is the thing: An MPC with an OS that contains (almost) a full DAW could indeed solve the workflow problem in some way, simply by providing the tactile and the visual user interface in one environment. And of course (!) it should not cover your email account or whatever. But then it might require an OS and an application (technically, it would still be two things) to be scalable and maintainable. Not sure, if it would make the process more complicated using Windows as the OS, instead of an own OS as they’d done with the original MPCs?

    On the other side, when you’re already using a DAW (I am using Reason for pretty much everything), why would you want to change to a separate environment? Well, because it could do something specific in a better way than how your DAW could do it. But then, you’d have to struggle with breakpoints in your workflow again… Catch 22?

    I have tried using Maschine as a controller for Reason (with MaschineR from RetouchControl), which works fine once it is set up, but it is not integrated as well as Reason’s own controller interface setup, which again makes it cumbersome to use…

  • optimus

    these interfaces are kinda tired. more horsepower will make them tired on steroids.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      What exactly is your point?

    • jerfer

      Is the guitar tired yet? The piano? That 4X4 pad is forever.

  • jerfer

    I wouldn’t mind having a go at this thing. My set up has evolved from sp404 and turntable to an Octatrack and youtube on my iPad. This looks like fun and along those lines. Sampling youtube is a dream except for those bloody ads!

  • Martijn Way

    So, as I understand this is a new MPC wich has it’s own OS..

    Just like all the others in the past (60, 2000, 3000, 4000). Wow, exciting…..

    Looks like a controller connected to an integrated tablet running windows 8… Nothing special to me..

  • coolout

    Interesting that both of those Nukai (Numark/Akai/etc) prototypes are using previous controllers. The real head turner will be once new designs and form factors come into play. Ones that perhaps take more advantage of touch screens. As far as drum machines and embedded computers it’s worth noting that the often derided and controversial Beat Thang used embedded Linux and even could access LADSPA FX plugins. Of course I read somewhere the developers had some trouble since they were basically including open source plugins into a commercial product..

    • http://sequadion.com/ Sequadion

      Wow, somehow I completely missed the fact that the Beat Thang is running Linux. Thanks for bringing that up!

  • vaikl

    InMusic, especially their Alesis daughter, isn’t even able to get one of their flagship products, the DMDock iPad docking station for their DM edrum line, on the market, even after three years of ongoing announcements. It’s pure vaporware, same as their DMTouch iOS app. So i don’t think that playing with other OS’ses would be a serious or effective future development field for Akai.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      It is not that easy, dismissing their efforts. I get the idea of using a readily available OS to “just” develop an application for it that will then run seamlessly on it. All other approaches require to build an OS *and* the application, which I guess is a much more complex effort.

  • drnemmo

    It’s a sad thing that Android isn’t even a contender in this situation.

    • Kwipper

      Because Android still has audio latency issues… to which I hope get squashed out soon.

  • toma

    Great now my MPC can get viruses too. Maybe they should leave Windows out of it…