When AKAI Pro first asked who wanted to review their new MPD MIDI controllers, I put my hands up for them quite excitedly. Fast forward two days later, and an unannounced notification of shipping landed in my inbox for Ableton’s Push 2. Understandably my head was turned and the next month or so saw me hardly touch the MPDs. So as to reach an objective point of view, for I put the Push 2 back in its box for a while and tried to exist solely with the MPDs. This plan was based on the idea that I wanted to give them a fair shout, after all when retail prices are compared they aren’t in the same league as Ableton’s flagship!
n each box came the obligatory USB MIDI Cable for hooking up to my Macbook, a MIDI breakout cable for hooking up to modular gear, a 13 page user guide, a copy of Ableton Live Lite and in common with recent AKAI Pro controllers I’ve owned a set of download codes for product from AKAI Pro’s partners.
Now normally I’d just move on past the included software but I felt for this review that it was right to take AKAI Pro up on their offer and download the lot. It is after all how they market the controller with large flashes proclaiming what’s provided on 4 of the 6 sides of the box. I’m assuming the premise is for the beginner starting out, maybe without a DAW (use the Ableton Live Lite provided) and a lack of samples (use the Big Bang Universal Drums), with the intent that with around twenty minutes of download time you can quickly begin mimicking AraabMUZIK twisting together the beats to drive the whole crowd wild.
Lay the MPD232 side by side with the APC40 MKII and much is recognisable, from the red plastic base to the recessed faders and clicky LED lit buttons. The overall feel isn’t one of a high quality boutique controller but one that’ll see you through a few years on the road without giving you much reason to worry. It’s not built like a tank, but then tanks are heavy, and when you’ve got a complex set up to travel with, sometimes light is best.
The MPC pads are legendary and they make their appearance here in their latest form, black printed with clear sides that let the LEDs show which bank you’re in control of. I prefer this approach over something like the pads on the LIVID base which let the LED shine through the surface, albeit unevenly.
As you’ll see Mark’s photos showing off the layout of the controller already it’ll be best to focus on what each area does. I use my Dad’s principle which was to not read the manual unless it was actually necessary. He always had my brother and I to figure out the hard stuff. Sadly my kids seem to be stumped when the power cable is pulled out of the Xbox so this was a solo mission.
You get a set of transport controls which (when the appropriate Control Surface is selected in Ableton Live’s preferences) handle the standard, stop play and record. The additional button is dedicated to Sequence Recording whereby you can define up to 32 steps and record what’s triggered on each step. Getting notes into the onboard step sequencer is a simple task of either clicking the row of 16 buttons beneath the faders (you can switch to enable access to the second set of 16 steps with the 17-32 labelled button), or alternatively you can play your rhythm directly from the pads. In each case the controller provides quantization to its output.
Once your steps have been recorded you can use the Global Dial and LCD screen to work your way through fine tuning the velocity for each step and note. This is a bit painful to be honest, and I’m not sure I’d be spending much time doing it from the controller. Most of the time I found myself laying down a rudimentary rhythm and then recording it to a MIDI clip for editing later.
After a long time of playing with the controller, it’s fair to say that I’m struggling to see the point of the faders as there appears to be no way to move what the focus is in Live beyond the first 8 tracks. There’s not even a Rec Arm set of buttons so you’ll have to map them yourselves. After grumbling about it for a while, I realised that one of the upsides of the unit is therefore its edibility, given it’ll send MIDI cc out of most of the buttons you can get to work in your DAW and start to define mappings that suit your own workflow.
In about half an hour I had two templates set up. The first used the Rec Arm buttons as above to select which track out of 8 would receive the notes from the pads and then I could cycle between the 4 Pad Banks to give me up to 64 drum samples in each track. The second was a more stripped down version whereby each of the Pad Banks would control a different track (each were permanently armed for recording) due to the nature of the unit sending each Pad Bank on a separate MIDI channel. In this second template I had a little bit of work remapping the notes sent out from the pads so they’d trigger the right samples in my Drum Racks, it’s true though that I could just have easily dragged my samples into the corresponding slots that were triggered but I appreciated the flexibility to do it how I wanted making my standard drum racks quickly and easily swappable.