My first impressions are that the Studio is striking. The brushed metal top is a good choice of finishing. Seems corny to say but I even found the look to be a bit inspiring. There is something to be said for the way the MPC Studio has a sturdy and substantial feel while maintaining a lightweight impression. This is without doubt Akai Pro’s most snazzy and modern design.
Let’s get started
MPC Studio Review
At first glance, the gang of buttons on the top panel of the Studio’s small form seemed a bit itty bitty and odd in the lab next to the MPC 5000 and MPC 60 II. The amount of buttons on this thing is almost overwhelming. With a closer look I realized that they’re all familiar and quite well laid out.
At the top right there is the Pad Bank sectionc with banks A thru D sharing buttons with banks E thru H and accessible via the shift button a few rows down.
Next section contains the Pad Mode buttons, Full level, 16 Level, Step Seq, Next Seq & Track Mute. Pad Mute is accessible by pressing the shift button and Track Mute. Similarly, pressing shift and Full Level allows access to the Half Level feature. Incidentally, I don’t recall a half level in previous MPC models. This is a cool new feature.
The next row is home to the Mode section. This section houses the Prog edit, Prog Mix, Seq Edit, Sample Edit and Song. In combination with the shift button these buttons turn into Q-Link, Trk Mix, Effects, Sample Rec and Other respectively.
In the next section, Data Select, there are buttons for Project, Seq, Prog, Sample, No Filter. These buttons double as Folder 1 thru Folder 5 respectively when selected using the shift button.
Moving further down the MPC studio we have the main button, which doubles as the track button when used with shift. As typical on all MPC’s, there is the data wheel, the data plus and minus buttons, the tap tempo button and the cursor buttons. Also bears a numeric button browser/save, window/full screen, and undo/redo. Lastly there are the locate buttons, step, go to, bar, along with the typical record, over dub, stop, play, play start.
Whereas the Ren has 16 Q link knobs with each assigned one to one (physical knob to virtual knob) as we move to the left side of the MPC Studio, we have 4 Q link knobs and one scroll knob, which is similar to the data wheel and is used to navigate through the 4 columns of Q Link parameters. This Q-Link set up can take some getting used to at first. Remembering to use the scroll knob to navigate thru the Q-Links is not my favorite thing but in an exchange for such a sleek design and portability I’d say it’s not that big of a deal after all. But one thing that proved to be a bit of a bother is the metallic surface of the data wheel, scroll knob and Q-Link knobs. These things are slick. Both in look and feel. It would be nice to have at least the outer rim of these knobs rubberized or something.
As for the buttons themselves, they look like hard plastic or metal with their metallic like finish. But to my surprise they are really comfy rubber buttons that click when pressed. Most of them even have an LED sort of window that allows the active buttons to illuminate or, in the case of Tap Tempo, blink.
Ultimately, no MPC review would be complete without mention of the 16 pads. The pads also double as the numeric keypad. The pads are classic MPC pads, firm but comfortable to touch (or pound on). When I tapped the pads it didn’t feel as though the unit would cave in the way some other dedicated software controllers feel. I immediately felt as though I could bang out beats with no worries on this piece.
Having used an MPC from nearly every generation (MPC 60 II, MPC 5000 and MPC 2000 XL), in addition to MPC Stuff aftermarket pads, the MPC Studio pads made me feel right at home. There is no beating (pun intended) the feel of these pads. I actually like them a bit better than my other MPC’s pads. The illuminating pads deal is pretty cool too. It’s nice to have a quick visual reference for what’s going on with the samples and such. A quick stroke of the “shift + other” buttons reveal a few under the hood features that allow you to change pad settings such as Pad Threshold, Pad Sensitivity and Pad curve. Akai Pro made certain that, even with the pads as nice as they are, you can adjust them to any playing style, lax or tough.
Just above the pads there are Function buttons (F1 – F6) and the screen. The screen is a 360 x 96 dot graphic LCD w/back light. I have to say I really wish it had a bit of a tilt. Making beats outside in the day light was uber fun, but it was not easy to see the screen at all. The one thing I kept finding myself wishing for was a tilt screen. Still, the MPC studio was pretty easy to tilt it up on the stack of records that I had handy. Even without the stack of wax it was just as easily tilted a bit on the computer itself. Perhaps Akai Pro could maybe take a design note from Apple’s iPad cover that folds under in a small triangle shape to give it a bit of a boosted angle beneath the screen (or maybe not). Moving on…
Other cool under the hood features include Footswitch 1 and 2, adjustable to the typical play, start, play / stop, rec or any number of a plethora of features by simply turning the data wheel. Also, there is the ability to switch the “Sampling Bit Rate” between 16bit and 24bit. I got excited when I saw this feature. I thought oh wow maybe you can change the bit depth to 12bit too. No dice. Still, this would be wildly cool feature. Being that the Ren holds it down with the vintage modes, this would be a nice treat.
Conversely, jumping into the program edit mode for “MPC” sample based programs provides access to both new and old features such as mod sources, filter and amp envelopes, play modes, LFO, audio route and pad insert effects. But one of the things that won me over is the MPC 3000 low pass filter. The MPC 3000LPF is the last filter in the list of many and I use it on entire programs of samples. It just sounds so nice and punchy but still with a bit of polish. I just wish there was a similar effects insert or a way to use more than one filter on a pad. I’d like to set the MPC 3000 LPF for it’s richness and warmth across an entire pgm. Then, additionally, I’d like to dig deeper on my kits to manipulate frequencies, making kicks punch like stupid and snares crack like concrete. The ability to use multiple filters as a software feature would be akin to the Ren’s vintage modes I guess. At any rate that ability on the studio would be a huge plus. Otherwise, having the option to resample is certainly workable.
Also in the program edit mode, for “MPC” sample based programs, there is the ability to easily layer samples and manipulate the velocity triggers, volume tuning and panning per each of the four layers. As an MPC 5000 user this is where the MPC software begins to win me over. The MPC 5000 is known for it’s “drifting” or “phasing” with layered samples. I, for one, kind of see it as a bit of character that I’ve learned to love (Word up, I know this is not the popular opinion). But, here in the MPC software layering and manipulating layers made me see exactly what I’d been missing.
One thing is for sure; this MPC Studio is thin with a small footprint. Less than 2lbs and nearly 11 inches squared, it only stands about as tall as a stack of 5 pieces of vinyl. Clearly, It’s size is a major attraction. The idea of making beats on the go is really appealing. If you are a traveler, not many other devices can compare, but then again I’d imagine it all depends on your needs. As a beat maker on the go, the MPC Studio makes it tough to fathom that there would be another boring business trip.
Software installation was simple enough but it’s worth mentioning that it took a while to complete. There is obviously a lot of data and content that gets installed on your computer for the MPC software to work properly. For those that don’t know, the MPC Studio comes with only 2 expansions as opposed to the four expansions shipped with the MPC Ren. The Ren comes with the Bank, the Wub, the Noise & the 809 while the MPC Studio comes with the Bank and the 809.
So, the installation of the MPC software was lengthy, as I mentioned, while the Bank and the 809 were smaller installations and took a bit less time. Here’s the gotchya with the Bank content never actually came over. The installation file was only 5.6MB and it only installed the Bank interface with no content. This was tricky. When the Bank installation is done is gives you a choice to finish or continue. Hitting finish will leave you with a nice Bank interface and no content while hitting continue and waiting for what must have been a minute or so will prove fruitful. The installation then goes into part two of the installation process to leave you with something like 5 or 6gb of content for the Bank.
So there I went to the back yard with my laptop (15″ MacBook Pro, OS X 10.6.8, 8GB memory, 1TB+ hdd space), my iRig Keys and the MPC Studio. The idea of not having to be in the studio and being able to move around the house or even be all out mobile with your rig is a big deal.
You may say “but you can rock an iPad with any number of apps for music making on it while on the go. I’d say my samples and sounds library, can obviously be stored on my iPad for on the go use but my waves plug ins and arsenal of soft synths can not. For this I felt like the world was in my hands with this set up.
Back to the beats, I grabbed a good break beat from my library and chopped it so easily in the Studio. I think this chopping facility is one of the best. There was no fusing with threshold numbers and dials. It just worked. No matter if the chop option was set to regions, threshold or BPM, it worked. Even if adjustments to the slice or region were necessary there wasn’t much to it. I felt just as comfy not looking at the computer screen for the adjustments as I did otherwise. Of course having a perfect 2 bar loop made it simple work as well. Also, once it was chopped I could instantly preview the chops, thanks to the ‘audition’ feature, by tapping the pads as if it had been laid out into a program already. This was golden. I was instantly digging the ease of use and quick workflow.
The same speedy workflow can be found in most tasks like initiating a soft synth on a track. Its as simple as main screen, track, type, scroll to your instrument. Go for it. How about adding effects / plug-ins? Its as simple as main screen, shift / effects, select master send 1 – 4, scroll to your desired plugin. Or would you prefer an insert effect instead? Press insert from the master effects window. But, even with all of the ease of use things can get as complex as you would like with the options for sends, pad mix, track mix and routing.
Click here to see the entire slide show of 90 pics from my time spent reviewing the MPC Studio
When all is said and done, your final mix is just a “File / Export” away. I was able to export sequences and programs for use on my MPC 5000 (the 1000 & 2500 are also options) and midi files. But the real gems here are the archive and mix down features. This makes things so simple. Archive packs the current project up nice and neatly for easy portability to a friends set up. Mix Down is, just as it says, where you select your parameters for final mix down. Whether your choice is Aiff, MP3 or Wav, stereo out or separated tracks, bit depth from 8 to 32F or sample rates up to 96khz, “File / Export” has you covered.
Even with the absence of the sound card and vintage modes, The MPC Studio is a solid piece for both the lab and on the go. If Akai Pro could see fit to add a tilt screen or some other screen accommodation (adjustable contrast maybe), a volume control and rubberized or simply less slippery knobs we’d have a perfect little 5 star MPC Studio. Hmmmm… MPC Studio II sounds pretty cool.
At any rate, I could obviously go on forever about the coolness of the Studio but the review has to end somewhere. It may as well be here. But one last note… I did however push the limits of my Mac laptop with having all of my plug-ins and soft-synths at my disposal so easily. This is the gift and the curse. It only reminded me of why I went all hardware again a few years ago. Still, that’s not an Akai Pro MPC Studio thing. I just have to have a bit more discipline or simply buy a more powerful mac.
Overall, the Akai Pro MPC Studio is a solid little sleek joint. Yeah, it could use a tilt adjustable screen and knobs with more grip but the fact of the matter is that there are some many good things about it that I have to admit that you get quite a bit of bang for the buck. I’m glad that I only began to use it at MPC software version 1.3.1. I think this is where it should have debuted, judging from feedback prior to 1.3. I’m sure that there are much many more cool features to come. Akai seems to be listening to their public. I’m happy about that because, I’d much rather them concentrate on making these cool new MPC’s even more cool and even more rock solid on the software side. This is a good sign of things to come as far as I am concerned.
For more information on the MPC Studio check out AkaiProMPC.com
Pros / Cons
- PROS – Light weight and ultra portable
- PROS – Looks great
- PROS – speedy and improved workflow
- PROS – easy and full featured chop shop facility
- PROS – 1.3.1 MPC software seems to be pretty solid
- PROS – MPC 3000 LPF
- CONS – data wheel, scroll knob and Q-links are slippery
- CONS – no tilt screen or contrast for those sunny outside beat making excursions
- CONS – no volume control knob
- CONS – no vintage modes. not even in the form of an effect plugin for inserts.
Listen to a couple sketch tracks from my time spent with the MPC Studio