It's an MPC you can take with you to the laundromat.

It’s an MPC you can take with you to the laundromat.

Can you squeeze an MPC onto an iPad?

Years later, the MPC still represents a comfortable way for many people to get producing music quickly, across a variety of genres. What began as the constraints of a few physical pads led to a way of working that, at least for some, can unlock creativity. So even though the iPad looks nothing like the original MPC, the tablet’s mobility and its emphasis on sampling make the MPC approach a good fit.

Akai’s iMPC Pro isn’t the first app to try to get MPC-style workflows on Apple’s tablet. But the “Pro” in the new version of iMPC does fit a lot of powerful sampling features into something you can use on the go. It sits somewhere between the nearly-a-DAW, do-everything approach of Intua’s BeatMaker 2 and the more slimmed-down Native Instruments iMaschine for iPad. And what it does exceptionally well is load a lot of sounds and combine them with MPC-style performance options – even if you only use the touchscreen.

The app launches right now, but I’ve had a chance to take it for a spin and get some first hands-on impressions. I can tell you straight away that the app doesn’t deliver everything on everyone’s wish list. But fresh design will make up for that for some.

First, a quick run-down of what iMPC Pro offers:

Sampling, iOS style: use any Inter App Audio-compatible app as a source, easily.

Sampling, iOS style: use any Inter App Audio-compatible app as a source, easily.

  • 64 tracks, organised on those familiar pads, for sampling, pattern-making, automation and mixing.
  • Sampling, slicing, effects, and audio routing, with multi-touch controls for edits and performance.
  • Inter-App Audio support so you can use iMPC Pro to capture the sounds of other iPad tools.
  • iTunes Sampling.
  • MPC Swing, Note Repeat, 16 Levels, and familiar pad-based editing from the MPC hardware.
  • A big sound library, including 1400+ samples from Richard Devine.
  • Support for MPC Element, MPC Fly hardware if you want physical pads.
  • Effects: Turbo Duck side-chain compressor, Boom Room reverb.
  • Performance options: Precision Knobs and Faders that let you use your fingers to “zoom” in on parameters, Flux Mode to automate effects with X/Y touch.
  • Share via SoundCloud, Twitter, wav export to your computer.

Now, right away, you may notice some things missing – as I know readers asked specifically about these features as AKAI and Retronyms were teasing the app.

For hardware control, Akai supports only the MPC Element and Fly. (Update: Oddly, readers are telling us that other MIDI controllers do at least send notes and velocity, so it seems Akai led us astray – or at least doesn’t official support other hardware. BeatMaker 2 and Nanostudio support any iOS-compatible USB MIDI device, and, of course, so do desktop computer-based drum machines.)

There’s no Audiobus support, either – only Apple’s new Inter App Audio, which isn’t quite as well supported (yet). File exchange is limited to WAV files – you can bounce patterns, but that’s it. You don’t get MIDI export (as in BeatMaker), or project file exchange with a computer app (as in Maschine and iMaschine – even if you use AKAI software). You don’t get MIDI with other apps or MIDI sync or WIST (KORG’s inter-app sync) options, as in BeatMaker. In short, BeatMaker remains the gold standard for interoperability.

Instead, think of iMPC Pro as a companion to Fly and Elements for those who want integrated hardware, and as a strong standalone option with robust sampling capabilities and an exceptional sound library.

You can load up tracks from iTunes – also a good way to import audio files from your computer – and sample and slice them quickly. And best of all, you can do the same with Inter-App Audio. iMaschine might be worth a purchase just to have an easy way to mess with samples from other iOS apps. (You’ll just want to consider BeatMaker, as well, as it supports Audiobus.)

Also, the MPC-style pad controls make many operations a whole lot faster, and they pair really nicely with touch controls – in case you don’t want to bother with something like the Fly or Element. With 16 Levels, you can control a parameter across the 16 pads. There’s also Note Variation, which allows you to control parameters with a fader. Using those two options, you can add nuance to your performances even if you don’t have access to velocity-sensitive pads.

It’s also great to have MPC-style swing and note repeat handy, and the X/Y effects are terrific.

The other strong suit here is clearly the sound selection. You might feel a bit like you’ve been dropped into Richard Devine’s studio, with a broad selection of great-sounding pads across genres. With four banks each, you aren’t overly restricted in what you can make, either. It’s pretty extraordinary just how much breadth is packed into the download.

The developers at Retronyms have also produced an app that’s pleasing to look at. The flattened iOS 7-style graphics clear a lot of visual clutter, and this is perhaps the nicest-looking iOS drum machine yet. Some of the edit options get a bit confusing: iMPC seems unsure of whether it’s trying to behave like software (as in the sampling and slicing screens) or hardware (hiding other edit features under hardware-style buttons). And that isn’t just conceptual – it’d be nice to layer more performance options in playing, but it’s not possible to use the Note Variation at the same time as one of the effects, and so on. Still, on balance, this is a very approachable app.

Let’s take a visual tour to see how it all fits together.

You're first presented with an on-screen tour. iMPC is a very discoverable app - you'll find most functions right away.

You’re first presented with an on-screen tour. iMPC is a very discoverable app – you’ll find most functions right away.

Skeuomorphism just won't die when it comes to music. Yes, you get these silly floppy disks for project management. iMPC does offer a wide range of sounds and templates to get you started, though, and you can always begin with a blank session - perfect for sampling.

Skeuomorphism just won’t die when it comes to music. Yes, you get these silly floppy disks for project management. iMPC does offer a wide range of sounds and templates to get you started, though, and you can always begin with a blank session – perfect for sampling.

Edit options are tucked away in the corner. Unfortunately, file exchange is fairly limited. There's Audiocopy support (missing in iMaschine), and you can export to audio for your computer. There's also integration with Retronym's Tabletop (pending an update). But MIDI is missing, and you can't use iMPC Pro with, say, AKAI's desktop software.

Edit options are tucked away in the corner. Unfortunately, file exchange is fairly limited. There’s Audiocopy support (missing in iMaschine), and you can export to audio for your computer. There’s also integration with Retronym’s Tabletop. But MIDI is missing, and you can’t use iMPC Pro with, say, AKAI’s desktop software.

If you do want to use iMPC as a sketchpad, export to WAVE is your best bet.

If you do want to use iMPC as a sketchpad, export to WAVE is your best bet.

It's really the pad controls where iMPC is most powerful - and where it's most indebted to MPC hardware. On the bottom left, you get MPC-style pad options that help you add details to performances and patterns - even if you don't have velocity-sensitive pads connected. On the top left, you can add live effects using multi-touch gestures.

It’s really the pad controls where iMPC is most powerful – and where it’s most indebted to MPC hardware. On the bottom left, you get MPC-style pad options that help you add details to performances and patterns – even if you don’t have velocity-sensitive pads connected. On the top left, you can add live effects using multi-touch gestures.

Variation controls let you use the fader at the bottom to control details of your pad performances. It's powerful, but it also reveals iMPC Pro to be a bit conflicted in how it wants you to play. Are you using hardware-style buttons, or X/Y controls, or hardware-style faders with things at the top left that act more like buttons?

Variation controls let you use the fader at the bottom to control details of your pad performances. It’s powerful, but it also reveals iMPC Pro to be a bit conflicted in how it wants you to play. Are you using hardware-style buttons, or X/Y controls, or hardware-style faders with things at the top left that act more like buttons?

You don't get the full-blown DAW editing you find in BeatMaker 2, but iMPC Pro does have advanced pattern editing and 64 tracks - still quite a lot of power in a mobile app.

You don’t get the full-blown DAW editing you find in BeatMaker 2, but iMPC Pro does have advanced pattern editing and 64 tracks – still quite a lot of power in a mobile app.

Dive into individual program controls on the pads, and you can add beautiful-sounding effects and other fine-grained controls.

Dive into individual program controls on the pads, and you can add beautiful-sounding effects and other fine-grained controls.

Sampling is really what makes these apps fun for a lot of us, and iMPC Pro has a convenient sampling feature that puts it on par with iMaschine - then takes those samples and lets you play them via its excellent pad performance interface.

Sampling is really what makes these apps fun for a lot of us, and iMPC Pro has a convenient sampling feature that puts it on par with iMaschine – then takes those samples and lets you play them via its excellent pad performance interface.

Sampling works with your iTunes library, too.

Sampling works with your iTunes library, too.

Slice and dice and edit pads quickly, either choosing in and out points alone, or dividing a sample across your pads. Just be aware that to hear the results, you'll need to tap the controls at the bottom of the screen.

Slice and dice and edit pads quickly, either choosing in and out points alone, or dividing a sample across your pads. Just be aware that to hear the results, you’ll need to tap the controls at the bottom of the screen.

Oh, yeah – and all of this is yours for US$12.99 (intro, before reverting to a standard price of US$19.99.)

At that price, there’s no real reason to complain. iMPC Pro has a lot to offer in the way it treats sampling and pad performance, and it sounds great, and it works well with Retronyms’ own software and AKAI’s hardware as well as any app that supports Inter-App Audio — I’d buy it just for that feature alone, even if only to use to sample those apps.

Native Instruments and Intua, meanwhile, retain their niches. If you really want an all-in-one mobile workstation, BeatMaker 2 remains the app to beat. And if you want a quick mobile sampler, or you want a mobile sketchpad to use with a desktop app, iMaschine (with Maschine) is a winner.

Updated: Yes, readers are right – I should add Nanostudio. The app that was on the scene first also scales to old devices (even first-generation iPad and older iPod touch and iPhones left behind by these others). MIDI file import/export is there, Audiobus, third-party MIDI (even using Line 6′s MIDI Mobilizer), and more, and it adds a powerful sequencer to the usual complement of sampling and drum machine functionality.

Here’s an irony, in fact: Nanostudio has better support for Akai hardware (like the Synthstation) than Akai’s own app. And when you’re done on mobile, you can use Nanostudio on Windows and Mac, too.

Whichever you choose, the ability to work with samples and patterns like this on the go is a real winner – even if the serious work on arrangement and sound design means returning to your laptop.

And all for the price of dinner.

– even if I keep wishing for more sync and interoperability.

I’ll be curious to hear how you wind up using this if you give it a go.

akaipro.com/mpc

  • richarddevine

    Hey Peter, glad you liked the sounds, it took me months to get all the content right for this app, but I feel there is a good variety of stuff in there for everyone to have fun with :-)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, really beautiful stuff!

    • AreWeNotMen?

      Whoa. Not everyday you see a comment from a sound design legend. Great sounds in there Richard!

    • Rapbobvilla

      Sounds are great Mr. Devine!

    • Fash

      Hey loving the sounds richard, and to tell u the true i spent the whole week watching. Over and over your modular sessions in youtube!

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/2beeps Matt Verzola

    Does the inter-app sampling work with things like youtube and spotify?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No. You need apps with IAA support built in.

    • http://www.soundcloud.com/2beeps Matt Verzola

      :( Ok, thanks, Peter!

    • dv

      first to allow youtube sampling will be a real game changer. easy ways to get around it, but making it super simple lets you stay in the flow.

    • leolodreamland

      you need ‘beat time’ app

  • lala

    The laundromat around the corner does Midi, too. And it syncs, lol

    • lala

      wtf is wrong with inmusic?

  • inspector norse

    Retronyms make pretty looking apps (apart from the horror that is Stryke) and luckily for them they have an amazing go to sound designer to fill their apps full of great samples. In terms of ‘usefulness’ on iOS they just keep getting it wrong. They purposefully choose not to be a part of the bigger, more useful collective of music app devs for unfathomable reasons. They release apps full of bugs and seem to have a condescending robot at their customer service desk.
    Yes, for the price of a pizza their apps can be ‘fun’ but like all pizza they go stale just as quickly. You are basically buying a good sample pack wrapped in eye candy. Go for it – atleast now you really know what you are getting.

    • leolodreamland

      stryke is great fun! i really like it’s ridiculous but still musical ballsiness.

  • Brent Williams

    I would love to love this. It looked promising. No real hardware support is mind boggling, as is no midi sync. Why is it every company feels the need to create a new paradigm with every product? Just make stuff that works with other stuff your customers like, PLEASE! I blame Steve Jobs…

  • http://melodiefabriek.com Marco Raaphorst

    what kind of iPad are you using for it Peter? might buy one too :)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Third-gen iPad – with dock connector. Not a bad buy if you get a deal on it, but if you’re investing, get the Air. It’s an order of magnitude faster.

  • bluebear

    Had a look at the Akai website but couldn’t see what iPad hardware it will run on. Over at iTunes it’s no clearer with the requirements being just iOS 7 and iPad; guess that rules out my original iPad 1.0 (no iOS7), but will it work on my iPad Mini? Comments on iTunes are already (only three reviews) throwing up issues with snap, crackle and pops which suggest to me that it might be affected by the iPad hardware you use…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I can tell you it’s pretty heavy on memory and CPU consumption. I don’t know how accurate the internal CPU meter is (I should try plugging into Xcode), but it certainly seemed to be pushing my third-gen iPad. On the Mini, I’d consider one of the other options here. Nanostudio will work particularly well.

  • SmoothD

    According to the Akai website iMPC Pro does support export to the Akai desktop software:
    “Export tracks to MPC Software for use with MPC Renaissance and MPC Studio”

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, but just plain audio tracks, unfortunately.

  • ITB_Trustfund_Beard_Guy

    Pretty sure this is what Dilla used to make all of his stuff, only the iPad has a better soundstage in the low to high mids and can upload to facecloud and twit. Also the iMPC pad has lightning connector for Beats headphones, not geriatric minijack limited to 7khz and mono. Try doing that on your ancient MPCs you old fossils get with the times, EDM is the PHUTURE!
    PAST NOW IN THE FAR DISTANCE! PAST! 2015 #swag duckface

    • Hurryupw/mydamcroissants

      >2014
      >listening to EDM

      Do you even know how to post-witch industrial yeezus-core?

    • ITB_Trustfund_Beard_Guy

      Dude, I even lift compressors. Have to be AAX format though, directX 2Haevy!
      Inmusic y u no real mpc no more? [jackie chan memeface]

    • I_Dont_Work_For_Akai

      I think you’ll find the iMPC Pro app for iPad will contain all the features of a flesh and plastic MPC at a fraction of the cost. Also you can’t post to SoundCloud on a MPC 2000 XL. Get with the times.

    • bernie eccleston

      i dunno why you think bob dillan used an mpc????

    • bernie eccleston

      i think you will find bruce lee had a meaner face than jackie chan

    • bernie eccleston

      i dunno why you think bob dillan used an mpc???? explain yourself

    • Rock Castle

      he said Dilla. If you don’t know….. and it’s Bob Dylan, Burnie.

    • ObiWonder

      Dylan, Dylan, Dylan!

    • coolout

      top 3 of all time

    • leolodreamland

      Bob Dilla Yolo

  • Ben

    When you say it works well with Retronym’s other software, do, you mean Tabletop, because they are having to release an update for Tabletop to let iMPC Pro work with it. It doesn’t fill me with confidence when they showed it working in their teaser videos and then forget to check it before it is released to the paying customers.

  • haszari

    If we’re talking about iMPC, and iMaschine, someone should mention good old NanoStudio too – it has a pretty dang good MPC-style instrument built in, and the rest, it’s still top dog from where I’m sitting.

    http://blipinteractive.co.uk/

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Good point – major oversight on my part. Nanostudio is actually more compatible with Akai hardware than Akai’s own app here.

  • coolout

    i find it odd that iMPC Pro doesn’t support 3rd party midi since the original iMPC app works great with my Alesis iodock and numerous controllers, including a korg padkontrol. i affectionately call that setup “fakeMPC” and have it sitting next to my 2000xl. for some reason iMPC doesnt record velocity input inside tabletop though.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      See other comments… it seems it *does*. Now I have to try this out, because I was told it doesn’t.

    • coolout

      gotcha. one other question. i remember reading years ago that one of the iOS apps found a way to have velocity sensitive pads on the ipad screen by measuring the amount of surface area created by the touch point. anyone know which one?

    • Jeff

      I’ve heard all kinds of schemes used to get velocity on the glass. I know this much, the best one I’ve used so far is GarageBand, which has surprisingly good velocity response.

    • grubby beats

      Orphion

  • Lloyd Barrett

    Well i’m already disappointed. On bootup it doesn’t recognise my iS202 interface – have to re-hot-plug it. Then if I set up an IAA it drops the interface out again. Also Spotify won’t run in Djay2 through IAA so there’s that bright shiny idea discarded. Just another sampler then. :/

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Hard to know if those are IAA bugs… there are still some issues with compatibility there on Apple’s end, too.

  • papernoise

    Ths just remnds me how sad it is that AKAI discontinued their actual MPC line (or is that just a rumor?) when I say actual MPC I mean the instrument not the controllers. It seems like we’re now left with a bunch of controllers and an app that is really lightyears from what it could be.
    I realize that the problem is both my expectations and the app market that somehow forces you to make simpler and cheaper software, but the actual potential of the iMPC app was to replace the old MPC line (you know the MPC 500, 1000 and those) with something self contained that you can treat like an instrument.
    Though I guess you’d still need a controller for it, since the touchscreen is not really replacing a velocity-sensitive pad, but on the other handyou get all the cool advantages of multi-touch controls.

  • Karl

    Hmm, any thoughts on its support for “Tabletop-Ready Apps” vs lack of support for Audiobus? (leaving the size of each ecosystem out of the discussion for a moment, I should also point out that being an iOS music newbie I’m not familiar enough with the latter and not at all with the former).

    Also, on Retronym’s website it’s said that “Now you can use your favorite Hardware MIDI Controllers with Tabletop. Connect with USB or over the air from a desktop computer. Take advantage of “MIDI Learn” in Tabletop—the most painless control mapping you’ve ever done.” Not sure if there’s a theme here or not? Any thoughts? Would this work also with iMPC Pro?

  • Robert Chambers

    I’ve got mine hooked up to PadKontrol and it’s going swimmingly. No MIDI CC, but the pads work a treat.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, really? Correction in order then. Akai told me that third-party apps weren’t supported.

      And you’re doing this directly, not running in Tabletop?

    • Robert Chambers

      Yes, mine is right in the app, I don’t even have tabletop installed. They told me on twitter before it was released that QuNeo “should” work, so it seems they’re aware that people will be using hardware that isn’t their Fly or whatever it’s called.

    • Benjamin Weiss

      Ok checked the MIDI further: iMPC Pro sends & receives note data on channel 10. Also sends some CC-data on channel 1, but it´s not really clear what for. And no MIDI-Clock received or sent…

    • MJR

      What Channel and Notes are you sending to trigger the pads? You are the second person I have seen who claims this and then does not offer up the details on how they set it up.

      What I found is the iMPC Pro does send MIDI info out while playing… on Channel 10 I think. the notes for each pad are identical to the notes for the original iMPC found here http://www.akaipro.com/kb/article/1459

      I was not able to get the pads inside iMPC Pro to trigger though using those notes on any midi channel. I used a Beatstep set to a step length of 1 to just send notes and then just scrolled though all the notes to see what would trigger…. things like the help menu would pop up, the play button would go off and on… but did not hit the right combination to ever trigger a pad… it was not very scientific, but I figured it would get me to the ballpark.

      So yeah, iMPC Pro is sending and receiving MIDI… just not sure what and those who claim to have found the magic are not sharing anything more than fish tales.

    • MJR

      There is a Quneo template that works… just tested it… had to close iMPC Pro and restart and then it recognized the Quneo. It looks like the pads use MIDI Channel 10. this is where the template is… it is just a text file, so maybe you can sort through it and use the data for other controllers….

      http://forum.audiob.us/discussion/comment/72252#Comment_72252

      if that link does not work, just google Quneo “iMPC PRO” (with quotes) and it was the first link.

      Long and short… YES iMPC Pro works with third party MIDI controllers.

      I did notice there is no velocity response though… will have to see if that can be added.

    • Robert Chambers

      The mapping for the pads is the same as your link, but everything is an octave too low. Pad 1 should be C#2, pad 2 is C2, etc.
      Midi channel 10. I haven’t gotten control change to do anything.

  • Scott Kilpatrick

    will the app offer an easy way to export stems that I can import into my daw?

  • Jerome

    Another big build-up and let-down from Akai. Should I be surprised any more? Sure, it’s kind of like an MPC. But this thing is missing a laundry list of crucial features that Beatmaker 2 has had for over 2 years! I was excited for this app because they had advertised the ability to create a project, then continue working on it in your MPC Ren or Studio. Uhhh…didn’t make the final cut I guess. Add the lack of midi compatibility and what you have is a 3rd or 4th place finisher in the MPC-style app race. What a joke.

  • leolodreamland

    wist will work in tabletop. yet to try with padkontrol but imlc worked nicely

  • Karl
  • rdg

    I’m disappointed. Some most basic features are missing or implemented badly. I mean, no sample preview in the browser? And tune knob is not in cents but in a MIDI 128 step format, how shall I tune my samples like that?

  • grubby beats

    when you said that the impc pro was on par with imaschine that gave me a hearty laugh, thanks for the chuckle