Times change, but some things do stay the same. Take the MPC1000 ($1,499), the new junior member of the Akai MPC drum sampler series. Though it’s about the size of a high school math textbook, it packs some serious punch both sonically and operationally. This new MPC has some pretty heavy tradition to live up to considering that the MPC series is considered the standard when it comes to sampling drum machine/workstations. Product Points
Applications: Live sound, Project Studio
The original Akai MPC units were designed by Roger Linn, whose machines were/are renowned for their musical timing and feel, and this trend has continued through the various MPC iterations. Akai MPCs are also well known for their stable operating systems and their “in your face” punchy sound. It’s likely that the original cause for the MPC’s sonics were due to the not-so-hi-fidelity digital converter technology that was available at the time. Nevertheless, that reputation (and trait) has stuck, and is an important part of why urban music pros like the MPC series so much. The other essential feature for an MPC machine is that it have comfortable and expressive pads. Does this new MPC measure up?
Although this latest MPC series is quite a bit smaller than its brethren, it is laid out in an effective way that makes the most of the space available. Packed on the surface are essentials like a large 240 x 64-pixel backlit LCD, 16 soft rubber, velocity-sensitive pads which become multifunctional via dedicated shift and mode keys, a big data-entry dial, dedicated left/right and up/down scroll keys, and six soft keys directly beneath the LCD.
Audio specs of the MPC1000 include standard (non-upgradeable) 32-voice polyphony, 16 MB of RAM, which is upgradeable to 128 MB, and a fixed sampling rate of 44.1 kHz 16-bit (standard CD quality) . A limited amount of RAM is built in, allowing users to load a default sample set upon start up.
Thoughtfully, a Flash memory port is included on the MPC1000 that provides an easy and inexpensive method for storing and importing samples. In a departure from previous MPC machines there is no SCSI port, which means that you won’t be connecting your legacy peripherals to this MPC. On the flip side, the inclusion of a USB port means that you can easily transfer sounds from a PC or Macintosh to the MPC’s Flash memory card (which appears as a generic storage device on your computer). This is really handy for loading straight ahead samples, or perhaps customized sounds directly from your audio editing software.
For sampling purposes a pair of 1/4-inch jacks are provided. Resampling (the MPC can sample its own output) is available as well. Outputs include a single S/PDIF digital output, a master stereo output, as well as two additional stereo outputs (all on 1/4-inch connectors). There’s also a headphone output located on the front panel. I found the output to be a tad bit on the low side, requiring the volume control to be set relatively high when using a pair of Audio-Technica M40 headphones
If you are planning on using this unit in a live (or just plain loud) environment, you will want to make sure you are using efficient headphones.
Dual sets of MIDI ports are included on the rear panel, and dual front panel footswitch inputs are available to be mapped to control specific pads, tempo or start/stop functions.
Unlike the MPC 1000’s older stable mate, the MPC 2000, standard onboard effects are included in the base unit. There are two effects busses available for use comprising effects such as: compressor, tremolo, reverb, panning, bit grunger, parametric four-band EQ, chorus and flanger. Surprisingly there is no delay function, which seems like an odd oversight. The quality of the effects is quite good, comparable to the expansion card effects processors of previous MPC units.
When building “kits,” up to four samples can be assigned to a pad — each having its own velocity range, tuning and level. In addition, two filters are available per pad, with low-pass, band-pass or high-pass functionality.
With 64 tracks and a total of 100,000 events, choice of step or real time operation, there are many options open to the MPC 1000 user. Now is as good a time as any to ask why anyone would use a hardware sequencer, when there are so many amazing software sequencers available. There are three main reasons that many users still prefer to go the hardware route: stability (the MPC 1000 never crashed or glitched in any way during the time I used it); ease of use (limited menu choices, hardware buttons and sliders to manipulate) and feel (remember the MPC is the great grandchild of the original Linn Drum!).
Integrating the MPC 1000 into my studio flow was a pleasure. I used it as a sound source for sample playback whilst driven by Nuendo 3 and a Yamaha RM1x; on its own as a drum machine and as a full-blown sequencer. I found the sound of the MPC 1000 to be aggressive yet not harsh in any way. Although I didn’t do any measurements, the MPC unit seemed to have a slightly larger-than-life midrange presence region, which I believe contributed to its ability to cut through (and dominate) a mix.
It was a simple process to import samples from my PC to the MPC 1000 via USB, and having the ability to back up sounds onto Flash cards makes much more sense in this day and age than previous MPC units which backed up to floppy disk drives.
Although I’ve used MPCs in the past, it did take me a little while to learn the ins and outs of the sequencer section and I will admit to opening the manual more than a couple of times! Still, compared to learning a new software program, learning to use the MPC’s sequencer was a walk in the park.
The pads are (as expected) excellent. Users that are used to traditional drum machines will be amazed at the level of expressiveness that can be coaxed from the MPC’s pads. There is also just a certain “something” about the sequencer section that makes the MPC a natural for urban and dance music. Though hard to describe, the MPC units have always had a different temporal feel than machines from Korg and Roland, and the MPC 1000 carries on this tradition in no uncertain way.
The addition of an additional data slider (as compared to the MPC2000) added a nice element of extra control while using the MPC to build sequences. I’d love to see some other controller feature similar to Roland’s D-beam, or even a ribbon controller, for applying less “linear” control as well, but at this price point it’s hard to gripe!
The MPC1000 is one of those products that is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. The MPC1000 manages to provide almost all of the functionality of its larger and more expensive stable mates (with a couple of new tricks thrown in for good measure), in a compact, sturdy, and easy-to-use package. For users that need a sampling and sequencing machine that is portable, stable, and plays nicely with the computer world, I’m not aware of a better choice.
Pentium 4 3.0 PC; Audix D6, Shure SM-57, Audio-Technica 4040 microphones; Fostex NF-1, UREI 809 monitors; Yamaha P2201, Bryston 3B amplifiers.