The LPD8 (top) and LPK25 are surprisingly versatile and playable for their compact size.
One company refining another''s idea is a common occurrence, so it''s not a huge surprise to see Akai stepping out to refine Korg''s idea of the low-cost, miniature MIDI controller. The company''s new LPD8 and LPK25 (Mac/Win, $69.99 each) are surprisingly solid, reasonably affordable, and, though not as small as Korg''s Nanos, undeniably portable. But the units'' biggest selling point is that they are more playable than their competition. This focus on playability is evident throughout, and it makes them fun to use.
You Can Take It With You
I found the 25 piano keys on the LPK25 to be significantly more usable than those on the Korg NanoKey; the black keys are raised, and the mechanism doesn''t feel like it''s going to snap. The keys are similar to those of a Hohner Melodica in size, and anyone used to playing a Melodica will feel right at home. The keys are also surprisingly responsive, with a gently increasing resistance as the key descends, offering a nice imitation of a real action. That helps make the dynamics more reliable and makes it a lot easier to play by feel. Lighted Octave buttons on the left of the unit let you quickly navigate to whatever note range you desire, and a Sustain button offers basic pedal functionality.
The LPK25 includes an arpeggiator with eight beat divisions, six patterns, and four octave settings. With the included software editor, you can sync the arpeggiator to your host DAW or to the LPK25''s internal clock (controlled by the Tap Tempo button), and you can set a default latch position. You can save these settings, as well as arpeggiator parameters, global MIDI channel, transposition, and the number of taps required to set a new tempo, and then load them into one of four preset programs. You access these programs on the fly by holding the Program button and pressing one of the top four keyboard notes. A USB port lets you save and load presets on your computer. On Mac OS X 10.6, I was able to do this in the background while Ableton Live was running, thereby swapping presets on the fly.
New Pads on the Block
The LPD8 is similarly focused on playability, with eight drum pads and eight knobs just begging to be tweaked. The pads feel great, offering an even response across the pad, just the right amount of give to keep your fingers in time when playing quickly, and bright backlit rings that illuminate when the pad is triggered (or latched, depending on the pad setting). I wasn''t thrilled with the choice of knobs; the LPD8''s low-profile plastic knobs are too squat and wide for making quick, precise movements. They are passable for basic use, but endless rotary encoders with LED rings would have been fantastic. But the eight drum pads are of high enough quality to justify the unit''s price.
I was hoping the LPD8 would include roll and flam settings like Korg''s NanoPad (which lets you play rolls and flams using its X/Y pad), but sadly this feature was not included. The drum pads each have three modes, switchable on the fly by pressing the buttons for pad, MIDI CC, or program change. Using the included software editor, you assign each drum pad a custom MIDI Note, CC (output value determined by velocity as you play), or program number, and you set their default to be momentary or latch. Similarly, you can assign each of the knobs a MIDI CC number and value range. As is the case with the LPK25, you can save this data, along with a global MIDI channel, as a preset and load it into one of four preset banks.
I found both the LPK25 and LPD8 fun to play, and I was able to create far more usable results than with their Korg counterparts. I was a little disappointed with the LPD8''s knobs, as well as with the confusing design decision to have the pad numbers count up from the bottom left but the knobs count up from the top left. These complaints aside, I would recommend both units to anyone looking for an inexpensive, ultrasmall MIDI controller that they can carry around without sacrificing playability or sturdiness.