iMPC Pro is the return of the Akai Pro and Retronyms team collaborative effort in reincarnating the famed and beloved MPC platform in mobile app form. As some of you may have guessed, recreating such a beloved machine for iOS is sort of tricky. To present the features that are at the core of the MPC’s foundation while fancying it up for the new technological platform is surely a delicate balance. Top that with the fact that MPC heads are the toughest crowd around and you can say that bringing the MPC to the iOS platform is a balancing act of sorts. Add cool new features like 3D performance effects to take advantage of the new technology but miss classic foundational MPC functionality and you lose the heads and the core audience.
None the less Akai Pro and Retronyms built iMPC Pro from the ground up to give you a viable contender for mobile beat making on the iOS device. They even brought the MPC Element into the fold for those of us nostalgic for the good ol’ tactile 16 pads, 4×4 grid. That’s a great plus for those of us that simply enjoy that tactile feel of beat making while on the go.
So, lets discuss the iMPC Pro app. While I think the iMPC Pro incarnation of the MPC is a step above the previous iteration of iMPC, I do think there is a bit to be desired. Still, and I know some will disagree, I think iMPC Pro is a step in the right direction.
Let’s get the basics of the design functionality out-of-the-way. There are 64 sequences, 64 tracks, a gang of factory programs which seems to depend on which disk you load when booting up he iMPC pro up. There is also the my programs section where you own programs filled with your own sounds should appear. True to form in this sense, iMPC pro allows you the option to tap the tempo or set it manually, same goes for the bars or length of the sequence go from 2 to 32 bars, which is set to 2 bars by default. Also, there is the time signature from 2/4 to 12/8 which is set to the common 4/4 by default.
The performance effects or Flux Mode are pretty fun.There are the 3D Perform features which turn on controls for the filter, tune, velocity and resonance to coincide with the iPad’s accelerometer. This means you turn on these 3D Performance effects, choose a parameter such as filter or tune (example below) for instance, pick up your iPad and tilt it side to side to affect the sound.
According to the features list iMPC Pro “All-new Flux mode lets you warp and glitch your beats in real-time or with automation”, “All-new 3D-performance mode lets your perform with your iPad’s accelerometer” I have to say I personally think this is the shining star of the app, in some ways anyway. Combining simple gestures and a few creative stuttering effects, filters and tape stop effects can take you to a place where you could very well lose time messing around. Like so…
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As for effects there are ways to add drive, reverb or —— to each pad in the program. At first I thought “oh that sucks” there is no delay ( for me life is incomplete without delay) but that’s only for the individual pads effects. Digging in a bit more I found that each track has the ability to add reverb, delay etc, so that was cool. The duck effect is one of the star components as well. It allows for some simple but fancy ducking compression effects.
Mixer & Program Edit Etc.
The Mixer gives you access to each individual track plus the master track. The master track allows control of the Turbo Duck feature, Gain and the compressor dial. Each of the tracks has a slider, mute and solo buttons, pan, Lo/Mid/Hi EQ dials, reverb/delay/chorus dials. Also, each track denotes the name of the program used on the given track. This certainly helps to keep things organized.
For further control over the reverb/delay/chorus FX, the mixer section has an FX page with more options for each effect such as amount, tempo etc depending on which of the three effects you choose to manipulate. This is also where you’d go to use and Inter-app effect.
Program editing is pretty familiar as well. Each pad affords you the ability to control volume, tune, pan, group mode (poly or mute), one shot or hold. There is the filter with resonance and Lo/off/Hi options controlled via knobs. The Velocity and Filter ADR (Attack Decay Release) allows for some nice touch control over your pad’s sample too. Touch the pad, hold level meter on the pad and the ADR markers appear allowing you to freely move them to the desired position.
Sampling & Sample Editing
Sample editing is much better than I’d previously seen on the first iteration of iMPC. Partially for the reason that the very first iteration didn’t have much of a chop facility if at all. The pro version incorporates a myriad of gestures to help you smoothly get around the chopping facilities.
According to the features list iMPC Pro “Supports Inter-App Audio in iOS7 for sampling from your other music apps” and “AudioCopy and AudioPaste for copying/pasting beats and sequences from compatible apps” The Inter-app functionality is pretty slick in the way it allows you to have your collection of Inter-app compatible synths at your disposal. Enabling the next rack in the list, going to program and choosing Inter-app takes you to the option to add and app. There is where your list of compatible synths pop up. Choose it and boom you can begin playing riffs that can then be sampled and chopped across pads. I did find it tad clunky at first on how to sample what I’d played in the synth app. But once you get used to the order of operations, things begin to come together.
A huge miss with this portion of the app is the ability to sample direct line in audio. There are enough gadgets out there like IK Mulitmedia’s iRig HD (I absolutely live by this thing especially for recording audio direct to iPhone for Instagram beat vids, certainly it would be incredible for sampling on the iMPC Pro) and Apogee’s Jam that allow you to get a
pretty clean stellar audio signal into the iPad. Why not take advantage of that technology for sampling? But all is not lost as you can otherwise sample from a variety of sampling options (mic, iTunes library, inter app audio). I made a pretty cool beatbox kit direct into the mic of the iPad. From there you can then chop into slices, move slice markers with precision with touch gestures or touch the wave for a context menu that allow for a number of options like reverse, delete etc and so on.
As long as we are on samples, I have to mention that the sample library isn’t bad. Looks like there was some effort and thought put into the sample programs included. Although I am not a fan of the Dilla kit I did like the Ambient Analog kit which includes samples with names that are inlcusive of words like Braids, Tip-Toe, Arp, Euro, Wavetable, Shape Shifter etc. For those of use that are into analog and modular, those words may ring a few bells and the samples sound good. So yeah, some kits are just OK but there are some gems in the included library of sounds without a doubt.
Hardware Integration: MPC ELEMENT
This device is not compatible with iPad Mini… that is the error. The reason this happens is because the iPad mini and iPad Air don’t put out as much power as their larger and even older counter parts. So accessories such as the MPC Element are made to comply with the lower voltage output of the iPad Mini / iPad Air. Luckily, Akai Pro was quick on the draw to point out the way around this. Don’t worry, its relatively simple. You just have to put the MPC Element into low power mode which makes it instantly compatible with the iPad Air / mini.
To put the MPC Element into low power mode. You simply have to hold down the tap tempo button on the MPC Element while you connect the device to the iPad Mini / iPad Air. Boom! Tap tap-tap and we are in there. It’s all connected.
Once connected I was pleased to see that the Akai Pro and Retronyms made certain that the integration was really tight between the MPC Element and iMPC Pro.
The MPC Element is a worthy partner for the iMPC Pro. It gives you all of the familiar MPC “elements” in a slim line portable controller that perfectly accompanies the iPad. The transport controls, bank buttons (with banks ABC&D), 16 level, tap tempo, note repeat and all of the buttons are instantaneous with control over the iMPC Pro. I only wish there was a little slider that mapped to the on-screen slider on iMPC Pro. It’s also worth noting that the MPC Element has a pad bank button and the first 8 pads are labeled A-H indicating that the MPC Element is capable of allowing access to 8 different pad banks. However, iMPC Pro only has the traditional 4 pad banks available for use. Not a big deal for old MPC heads but newer MPC users may see this as disappointing.
Another convenience is the track up and down buttons which i like better than touching the screen to navigate through the tracks on the main screen.
The MPC Element pads are classic “MPC pads” that seem to be taken straight from the MPC Ren or MPC Studio. They do the whole light from green to red deal and they are pretty responsive. As a matter of fact they are responsive enough that I didn’t feel any lag in operating the iMPC Pro. The pads feel nice and firm but comfortable. If you dig the pads on something like the MPC Studio, I think you’d like these pads.
Saving, Importing & Exporting
There are several options….So how does one share the audio from the completed master pieces from iMPC pro? Well there are a couple of options. There’s share sequence that throws your joints out to your soundcloud account directly from iMPC pro. There is export sequence which bounces the session to a stereo wave and stores it in your file sharing section of iTunes. Then there is audio copy, which allow you to copy and paste the joint to compatible audio copy apps. Multi track export??? No dice. But that would be a great add in the future.
As for saving projects… well yeah you can do that. It wouldn’t be much of an app if you couldn’t. You can also save your own program files with your own samples and program settings.
So, No it doesn’t support audiobus but it does support Inter-app audio in iOS7 (officially that is) but unofficially (only because it’s not yet mentioned on the app descriptions) as I’ve tested most recently in ios8. For those that don’t know,Inter-app audio is sort of like Apples rip of audiobus so as far as I can tell you have the similar functionality.
What would I add in the next few iterations of iMPC Pro? Well, there is not much of a MIDI implementation so a better midi implementation would be nice. Cloud storage options using something like iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive. This would be so much better or convenient for me. it would allow me to easily save to and from the cloud. Access to my personal sample library via cloud rather than iTunes share (hassle-ville USA… connecting to iTunes and such). Cloud storage and access would be killer. I’d also like to see more in the way of exporting options. Why not allow users to export songs and sequences to individual waves (multi-track export) rather than exporting to mp3 or wav only? That would be an awesome feature too. It would be so awesome and complete to have the ability to sample direct line in audio. But no dice there. I’m going to punctuate these wish list items with the simple word of encouragement “YET”… these items are there yet but I am hopeful that they will be in future iterations.
Overall, does iMPC Pro wow the pants off of the hardcore MPC heads? Probably not. but I think that’s because we are a very tough crown with very high expectations. I liken it to the hardware synth crown reluctance to soft synths and various emulations at the dawn of soft synths emulations of their favorite synths. It’s not the same as the classic but it’s not really meant to be. Its new technology with a classic entering new workspace. Is it a heavy weight contender for more mature beatmaking apps like Beatmaker 2? No, not yet. But it certainly has the best foundation and build as of yet to get there. Is it the worse beatmaking app? No! I think maybe, iMaschine covers that pretty well (didn’t dig that one much). Can you truly bang out beats that move you and others on iMPC Pro? Hell yes! Just be sure to know your way around it and understand your needs versus the pros and cons.
Pros / Cons
- Con – export only to wav/mp3. No exporting to other mpc formats or multi-track export
- Con – iTunes share is used to load sample library. Cloud would be better.
- Con – CPU intensive on older model iPads.
- Con – no midi implementation
- Con – no global program edit.
- Con – no velocity sensitivity when tapping the pads on-screen.
- Con – no direct line in audio for sampling. HUGE MISS!
- Pro – great chop facility with new gestures for chopping samples
- Pro – variety of sampling options (mic, iTunes library, Inter-app Audio)
- Pro – performance effects and flux mode is fun
- Pro – song mode and program edit more closely resembles what you may be used to with an MPC.
- Pro – Inter-app Audio. Great for sampling and interacting with other synths on your iPad or effecting tracks or the entire mix with available effects apps installed on your ipad.
- Pro – Tightly integrated with Akai Pro MPC Element. Perfect pair.