AKAI MPC500 Music Production Center

Remix reviews the Akai MPC500 sampling, sequencing drum machine. This review includes hardware specifications, lists and descriptions of features and company contact information.
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Click here to listen to the Banger 500 mp3 file

Working with the MPC500 was like being a kid in a candy store. In composing the track, I used three of my own custom made programs, along with a preloaded stock program from a 128 MB compact flash card pre-packaged with the MPC500.

Through the USB connection, I was able to drag and drop sounds for my program library to create custom programs within the MPC500. Ten separate sequences were used.

I assigned top base (lives in the top set program) to the slider to add some of the cool effect in the song.

In keeping the drums raw and hard, I used other MIDI capabilities with external modules for additional sound and music.

-- Stoni

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Mini-interfaces, mini-controllers and now mini-drum machines — life just gets easier. Akai has decided to drop the new, battery-operated MPC500, making a claim for the slogan “don't leave home without it.” Much smaller in size than its predecessors (even the MPC1000), the MPC500 is designed to fit in all places, with a new, smaller 12-pad surface and ultrablue fluorescent screen.

Small and compact in design, the MPC500 drum machine gets the job done with its sequencing, sampling, effects and mixing. This mini-monster has the ability to work in a studio environment as well as on any airplane or in a hotel room. The MPC5000 can also work with computer-based systems.


Weighing in at 2.95 lb. with a stylish black-and-grey color scheme, the MPC500 packs a big punch when it comes to having the most useful features in a compact-size drum machine. The 12-pad set is the beginning of a new era, but the touch still reminds me of the classic feel of a 16-pad MPC drum machine. The pressure-sensitive pads are used to trigger sounds from assigned banks A, B, C and D, which are easily accessed by using the pad bank section, giving you 48 sounds. After sounds are loaded, the 12 pads can be set at full Velocity for that punchy feel.

The LCD screen is smaller in size, with a viewable area of two 16-character lines. If you have always been a member of the MPC club, having a smaller screen might take some getting used to. It also features a cool fluorescent blue backlight with a handy on/off switch for extending the battery life. For maximum portability, the MPC500 can be powered using six AA batteries, which provide just as much juice as the DC power adapter. My working time with the batteries was approximately six hours.


Very similar to the MPC2500, the cursor buttons, data wheel and control settings are positioned on the right-hand side of the LCD screen and the 12 pads. The step-edit feature can be viewed using the Locate Step and Event buttons. When navigating through the different editing pages, the Data wheel rotates quietly without making the usual clicking sounds.

Holding down the Note Repeat button causes repeated playback of a note, sample, etc. The rate at which the note is repeated depends on which rate you choose in the Timing Correct menu page. The Timing Correct button is located right underneath the Note Repeat button. Some producers don't quantize when they want to achieve a more natural feel, but for those who want to achieve a tighter feel, pressing that button will display values for eighth note, eighth-note triplets, 16th note, 16th-note triplets, 32nd note and 32nd-note triplets or “off” for no timing correction. The Tap Tempo button makes it easier to find the tempo of a beat when you are looking for the original tempo of music or an a capella project.

The Numeric button is located within the control section on the right side of the workstation. Using the Numeric button is a much faster way to enter numbers; you hold down the Numeric button and tap the corresponding pad for 0 to 9. The corresponding number for each pad can be found in the upper right-hand corner. The Erase/Undo button deletes events in a track in real time; simply hold down the Erase button and the pad that you want to erase while in Record mode. When the Full Level button is engaged, the MPC500 plays back at maximum Velocity (127). The Full Level button is stationed to the right side of the workstation, beneath the Cursor buttons. When using this function to program my drums, I get the necessary dynamics of a hip-hop track. When doing an R&B track, I prefer to disengage the Full Level button, so I can play the entire MIDI range (0 to 127) and get the feel of live drums.


The Q-link slider is positioned to the left of the pads. Acting as a fader, its movements can work as recorded automation for manipulating the sounds. Pressing the Mode button and then Pad 1/Slider gives you access to the filter, tune and level functions for the slider. The filter function controls the cutoff frequency of the filter. To get the best effect of the filter, you must play with the range of the value, which is from -50 to +50. The tune function works like a MIDI pitch bend to control the sample's pitch. The range of the Q-link tune is from -120 to +120. The level function controls sample volume, and the range is from 0 to 100. Each of these functions is automatable. When engaged, the After button, which sits above the Q-link slider, acts as an override for any prerecorded note-variation sounds.

The memory-card slot is embedded in the bottom-right corner of the machine and supports Compact Flash cards Type I and II (2 GB maximum). The cards can be used to save audio sound files and song-sequence data or to upload the same.


In Program mode, you can assign WAV and SND sounds to the pads. The pads also navigate to different functions when using the Mode button, such as sequence edit, step edit, song, MIDI/sync, effect, record, trim, program, slider, load and save. The pads can also work to mute or solo tracks while in Track Mute mode. Individual samples can be edited in Trim mode. When editing samples, the MPC500 carries the same numeric-editing features as the MPC3000.

Sequencing is one of the most important features of the MPC500. Performance data can be recorded from the 12 pads or from a MIDI controller. Unlike other editing pages that have to be navigated, the main sequence page can be accessed easily by pressing the Sequence button. The main sequence page is where you would record and play back sequences. In the sequence page, you are allowed as many as 99 sequences. Events can be copied, pasted, moved and deleted. From within the sequence page, the tempo field sets the tempo of your track from 30 to 300 bpm (measured to the tenth of a beat). Song mode allows you to take multiple sequences and play them in a song format. A maximum of 20 songs can be added, with 250 steps per song. Pressing Mode and Pad 12/Song simultaneously gives you the option to create a song. Once you've made your song, it can then be converted into one long sequence.

The Now field displays the current time of the sequence by bars and beats from left to right. That is shown in the upper-left corner of the screen. If you highlight the letter of the bank and turn the Data wheel or press one of the four Pad Bank buttons, the Pad Bank field will display the different banks. When loading songs from other MPC versions, any sounds or data stored in bank D will be lost. Select the Track button when you need to record and edit a track. Each sequence allows you to record as many as 48 tracks per sequence (12 tracks for each pad bank from A to D). You can select the different tracks by using the Data wheel or the Numeric button. A really cool new feature on the track page is the pad number that allows you to mute/solo the particular track you're on.

You'll find all the standard connections, such as ¼-inch headphone output, ¼-inch stereo output (L and R), ¼-inch stereo input (L and R), USB connection, backlight switch, power adapter and MIDI I/O for integrating external MIDI controllers on the rear panel of the MPC500. As an added feature, the stereo input also has a Line/Mic switch that allows you to toggle between line-in and microphone-in. The line-in is used to sample from CD players, DJ mixers, MiniDisc, etc. The nice little power button turns the unit on and off, and the power jack connects to a 12V DC adapter, which is a backup when your battery life is gone.

After linking the MPC500 to a computer, I discovered that the USB connection acts as a Compact Flash card reader. In other words, when the MPC500 is mounted, you are viewing the Compact Flash card contents and not the brain of the MPC500. Once the data transfer has been completed, the USB plug has to be physically removed to allow disconnection.

The new MPC500 is the most portable piece from the entire line of MPC drum machines. Its compact size makes it easy to travel with and put down ideas without compromising sound quality. Most MPC users will agree that sequencing is the heart of the MPC brand, and with the MPC500, I can still bring my “A” game wherever I decide to put it down. With the smaller screen, I was still able to step through all of the programming features. Unfortunately, the Window button does not exist on this model, which would have made it a lot easier to navigate through the different features. But with just 12 pads, the programming is still enough to get you those hard-ass beats and quality tracks.

Small enough to carry, yet powerful enough to function like all others, the MPC500 manages to continue the legacy of the MPC drum machine.


MPC500 > $1,299

Pros: Short learning curve for the professional user. Can merge effects 1 and 2. Patch phase playback. Compact and lightweight. Loads sequences and sounds from other MPC models. Backlight switch reserves the battery life. PC or Mac USB connection.

Cons: Loses D bank when loading songs from other MPC units. Small two-line LCD screen. Lacks Window-button feature. No mixer. No MIDI timecode (MTC). No SMPTE timecode. Can't create patch phrases.