Akai's original MPC60 music production station was the size of a small guitar amp and equally heavy. Trying to find space for it on your desktop amid computer keyboards and controllers was always a challenge. Fortunately, advances in technology keep shrinking music production gear without sacrificing features or power, and Akai's venerable MPC units are no exception to the trend; a case in point is the new MPC1000, the smallest MPC unit to date. But despite its compact size, the MPC1000 has a full-feature sampler, a comprehensive sequencer, internal effects, plenty of quality I/O and lots of hands-on controls — and it's ready to rumble with the big dogs.
ALL THE SPECS FIT TO PRINT
Measuring a mere 2.75-by-13-by-8.25 inches, this wee unit shouldn't cause any space problems on your desktop. Nevertheless, its front panel is well-designed and packs plenty of amenities. A large 240×64-pixel backlit LCD makes viewing information in low-light situations easy on the eyes. The unit has 16 soft-rubber, velocity-sensitive pads, and every pad can be assigned to one of four different velocity curves and a sensitivity setting from 1 to 16. The pads feel good and are ideal for laying down beats. Most buttons, as well as the pads, are multifunction 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 make navigating menus and entering data a breeze.
Internal memory comes stock with 16 MB but is expandable to 128 MB. (That's more than 25 minutes of monophonic 44.1kHz sampling time). Sample rate and bit resolution are both locked in at 16-bit, 44.1kHz. Considering most manufacturers' never-ending quest for higher sample rates and wider bit depths, the absence of 24-bit, 48kHz sampling seems shortsighted. The sound is decidedly CD-quality, and although I missed the ability to record and play back higher-resolution samples, this machine does have that fat, round classic MPC sound that everyone has come to love. Standard Flash memory cards (32 MB to 2 GB) can be used to store additional samples and sequences.
Polyphony is 32 voices, which isn't much when you consider that a single preset Program in the MPC can hold as many as 64 sounds. Having a polyphony of 64 voices would seem more appropriate. A Program comprises four banks of pads, 16 sounds per bank. Dedicated Pad Bank buttons allow you to toggle swiftly through the banks of pads for quick access to any pad. A maximum of 24 Programs can be stored in internal memory. The demo Programs and their sequences are pretty weak, but keep in mind that this is a sampler, and with a bit of work, you can make it sound like just about anything you want it to.
On a unit this size, it's a pleasant surprise to find, in addition to the main stereo outputs, two additional stereo outs. From the Mixer screen, the sound of a pad can be assigned to any one of these three stereo pairs and then panned to taste in the stereo field. All of the jacks are ¼-inch unbalanced. One S/PDIF digital out is also available, and it mirrors the output of the main stereo out. The headphone jack is conveniently located on the unit's front panel. The Main Volume dial provides level control for the main stereo out and the headphones.
In keeping with the MPC-series tradition of multiple MIDI ports, the MPC1000 sports dual MIDI ports. Using both ports, the unit can send and receive 32 MIDI channels simultaneously or output MIDI Clock on one port and MIDI notes to the other port without the need for an external MIDI patch bay — very handy. Two footswitch jacks on the front allow you to control a variety of functions — including start, stop and record operations; switching banks; triggering pads; and tempo — from standard, momentary footswitches.
MAKE YOUR OWN SOUNDS
For sampling, the MPC1000 has a stereo pair of ¼-inch balanced jacks. The input level is set via the dedicated Rec Gain dial on the unit's face. Alternately, you can use the S/PDIF digital input for going direct digital in. The MPC1000 can sample its own main stereo out, which is great for turning the sounds and beats you create inside the unit itself into concrete samples and loops.
Quite a decent waveform display is available on the LCD, making trimming and looping your samples a snap. As many as four samples can be assigned to a pad — each with its own velocity range, tuning and level — for building expressive velocity-layered sounds. For that extra sound-sculpting edge, two filters are available per pad, each with a choice of lowpass, bandpass or highpass. MIDI note assignment can also be set independently for each pad and includes mono/poly operation and mute group (for programming sounds that are exclusive to each other, such as closed and open hi-hats).
Two onboard effects are available at a time. No new groundbreaking algorithms are present, but most of the basics are covered: Chorus, Flanger, Bit Grunger, 4-Band EQ (parametric), Compressor, Phase Shifter, Tremolo, Flying Pan and Reverb. But what happened to delay? A bpm-based delay effect is key to great drum production. The effects can be set for parallel operation, or FX1 can be routed to FX2 to create a short effect chain. Pads can be assigned to either FX1, FX2 or Off, and send levels can be adjusted independently for each sound from the Mixer page. The Master Out features the 4-band EQ followed by the Compressor, which are both nice for giving that little extra sparkle to your beats. A handy Bypass key is available for each effect from the Effect page, letting you quickly compare your sounds processed and unprocessed.
A USB port on the unit's rear allows communication with both Mac and PC computers. With a Flash memory card loaded into the MPC1000, you can easily transfer WAV audio files back and forth between the card and your computer. Your computer doesn't actually see the MPC1000, but instead recognizes the Flash memory card as a generic USB Mass Storage Device. Once your samples have been transferred to the card, they can then be loaded from there into the MPC1000's internal memory. I love this feature because I much prefer to create my sounds in the computer, using the superior effects and editing tools of software programs, and then transfer my samples to the MPC1000 for its sound and feel — truly the best of both worlds.
The MPC1000's onboard sequencer features 64 tracks and a total of 100,000 events. Sequencing can be performed in real or step time — though given such great-feeling drum pads, I don't know why you would want to enter a beat in step time. A maximum of 99 sequences can be created and chained into as many as 20 songs, with each song containing as many as 250 steps. The transport controls feel solid and responsive with dedicated Rec, Over Dub, Play (pause), Play Start (play from start) and locate keys. Incoming MIDI Clock can be recognized at either port for slaving the sequencer to an external master clock.
I do all of my sequencing with computer programs these days. But after working with the MPC1000, I'm reminded that there's nothing quite like programming beats on a well-designed drum machine. Every significant drum-programming parameter is present, including that all-important classic MPC-sequenced “feel” (its swing quantization). Because I have yet to find a computer application that exactly emulates drum-machine-style programming, for now, this is one feature for which there is really no comparison.
WE ARE LIVE
MPC machines have been used live for years. They're dependable, they sound great, and one-shots and loops are easily triggered from their large pads. However, two areas that have made the MPC machines less than perfect for live performance are a lack of onboard real-time controllers and the need to load samples from an external storage device each time the unit is powered on. Both of these issues have been addressed to some extent in the MPC1000. Flash memory of 5 MB is now available for storing a few samples when the power is turned off. Although this is helpful, and certainly better than nothing at all, more Flash memory would be sweet — I hate loading samples before a session or a gig. If you do need to have a collection of sounds available as soon as you turn the machine on, it is possible to create a file folder called Autoload that will load automatically and be ready for use.
Q-Link sliders have been added to provide real-time control of a variety of parameters: Tune, Filter, Layer (velocity layer), Attack and Decay. Including sample start (which is a cool parameter to sweep over a series of repeating notes) among the control targets would be a nice touch. Each pad can be assigned to one or both of the sliders for lots of real-time parameter-warping fun. I especially enjoyed twiddling with the Filter and Tune settings but did yearn for some knobs to twist in lieu of the sliders. An After key located above each slider lets you enable real-time control of a parameter that has already been recorded into the sequencer.
A nifty feature for creating quick fills and builds is the Note Repeat function. Hold down the Note Repeat key, and press the pad that you want to repeat; the note value of the repeats is determined by the sequencer's quantize setting. Volume for the repeats can be modulated by varying the amount of pressure with which you're pressing on the pad, which is very important for creating expressive fills. The Note Repeat key doubles as a Tap Tempo key, which, of course, is a truly invaluable tool for beat matching. The pads can be switched to a Track Mute mode, in which pressing a pad mutes its associated sequencer track. This a great function for remixing your sequenced beats on the fly.
MPC = MAD PRODUCTION CHOPS
Although it doesn't look like an MPC, being so small and blue, it does sound like an MPC in terms of both audio quality and sequencer swing. The new real-time controls are dope, though I really wish it had some real-time controller knobs, as well. The Flash memory is a nice touch, but three or four times the amount would be so much more useful. There's no lack of connections — audio, MIDI and USB — making this machine an extremely flexible piece of gear. Overall, programming beats with the MPC1000 is a real joy: It's almost too easy to cook up killer hip-hop grooves. If you've been searching for that classic MPC sound and feel in a compact package, the MPC1000 is a must-have.
MPC1000 > $999
Pros: Classic MPC sound and feel. Internal effects. Cool new real-time controls, Q-Link sliders, Tap Tempo and Note Repeat. USB connection for computer.
Cons: Only 32 voices. Sample resolution is set at 16-bit, 44.1kHz. Unbalanced outputs. No delay effect. No real-time control knobs.