There’s something about an Akai MPC sampler/sequencer/workstation that is conducive to making great programmed drum tracks. I know that’s not exactly a newsflash, but it’s no coincidence that almost everyone who is anyone in the urban music scene uses an MPC for at least some of the rhythm programming duties. To my way of thinking, it’s at least partially due to the great feeling pads that MPCs have always featured.
Now computer-based (and other hardware module or sequencer based) users can get in on the fun, without needing to purchase a full blown MPC workstation. The new Akai MPD 16 ($399) provides a set of the familiar MPC pads for use with any MIDI software or hardware sequencer.
The MPD 16 has (surprise) 16 1.25-inch rubberized pads arranged in four banks of four. To the left of the pads are four buttons, each with a status LED, and a single slider to send continuous control midi information.
The “Full Level” button defeats the velocity sensitivity function, defaulting all pads to maximum (MIDI 127) velocity operation, while the “16 Levels” button assigns a specific velocity value to each pad. The “Bank” button toggles between Bank A and Bank B pad assignments, offering control of up to 32 different sounds. The “Active” button switches the MPD’s slider on and off.
Pad sensitivity is adjustable via the included utility software that is included on a CD. Both Windows and Macintosh (OS 9 and OS X) operating systems are supported.
The MPD16 offers both USB and MIDI outputs, making integration with both computers and traditional hardware sequencers a snap
There is also a DC input for a external power supply (not included) which you will need if you are using the MPD16 via MIDI rather than USB.
I used the MPD16, via its USB output, to trigger drum, percussion and sound effects programs in Gigastudio 3 and X-treme FX running with Steinberg Nuendo 3 on a Windows XP workstation. I found that the MPD16 was easily adapted to the various note assignments and velocity sensitivity curves that I needed via the included utility software. While it did take me a little while to get everything set up to my liking, I had absolutely no crashes while using the MPD16 or the included utility software.
While it is possible to make note assignment and other changes via the MPD’s front panel, but without an onboard display, some sort of external MIDI device is necessary to “see” the changes that you are making. Perhaps a later version of the MPD might include an onboard display?
The MPD16’s pads are terrific, and I found that sequences that I programmed using it, seemed to have more life than sequences programmed using my standard keyboard controller. Cymbals especially were much easier to control in a natural manner. Once correctly mapped to your sequencer, the slider works great for controlling high hats.
I appreciated the MPD16 even more when using it with a Yamaha RM1x sequencer. Although the Yamaha unit has a clean interface and logical menus, it does suffer from the limitation of small nonvelocity-sensitive pads that are laid out in an awkward arrangement. The MPD16 changed all that, and allowed for a level of expressiveness while using the RM1x that I had previously not experienced.
One of the really cool features that MPD16 users will certainly enjoy is the polyphonic aftertouch, which was especially effective when controlling some particularly evil sounding patches from within X-treme FX. Although you could accomplish the same type of effect with a good keyboard controller, there’s just something about the feel of the MPD’s pads that make it seem more “connected” to the sound source, more along the lines of playing an actual instrument.
The MPD16 greatly enhances the experience of working with percussion soft samplers and synthesizers, as well as traditional hardware sequencers. With its compact form factor, great feeling pads and affordable price, the MPD16 is a excellent addition to your sequencing rig.