Review: Akai MPC5000 Music Production Center

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The MPC5000 only has four banks, rather than the six banks of the MPC4000, but new features such as Simult more, which lets you trigger as many as 16 sounds at once with a single pad, make up for it.

The grand slammer of music production machines is here. Akai's brand-new MPC5000 Music Production Center gives you more control over your tracks. With an expanded 80 GB hard drive and combined functions from the MPC2000, MPC2500 and MPC4000, as well as many new features — including an 8-track hard-disk recorder that lets you go all the way with your vocal recordings, a powerful new sequencer, greater sampling abilities, more effects and endless mixing capabilities — the MPC5000 dominates.


With a refreshing new look and feel, the MPC5000 has a spacious working surface. A florescent blue LCD flips upward for suitable viewing, and it has a huge 240-by-128 screen to see and play with all the cool new features. All of the familiar buttons and data wheel are located to the right of the infamous grey pads, and the F1 through F6 function keys sit underneath the LCD. Right away I noticed the Q-link section, positioned to the left of the LCD. With the Q-link knobs, I was able to easily control many of the modes and parameters, including those for the synthesizer and arpeggiator.

The MPC5000 has a built-in 20-voice, 3-oscillator analog-style synthesizer. The average MPC user will appreciate this new synth. In Synth mode, the LCD displays more than 300 virtual analog presets to work with, and you have the option of creating original patch programs and sounds. I enjoyed creating my own custom synth patches for my projects. In Synth mode, the Q-links automatically control what is displayed on the LCD. With the Q-link knobs, you can tweak the different synthesizer sounds, as well as program sweeps and modulation in real time. The F1 through F6 function keys select the six synthesizer editing sections: Basic (F1), Oscillator VCOs (F2), Filters VCF (F3), Envelopes (F4), LFOs (F5) and Master Page (F6). You can use 20 synth patches simultaneously on 20 different channels (tracks). It felt like having a virtual rack of Minimoogs placed inside the MPC5000.

Arpeggiators can incorporate into either your synth or drum programming. There is an Arp On/Off button and a Latch feature that allows you to hold and hear how everything will sound while you're programming synth or drum settings. The great thing about using the arpeggiator is that you can apply effects to each track even after a recording has been made. Once the Arpeggiator mode is selected, you have options that let you select the track to arpeggiate.

Five arpeggiator modes determine its pattern. In Up mode, any note you play moves forward from the lowest note to the highest note in a repeated pattern; in Down mode, any note you play moves forward from the highest note to the lowest note in a repeated pattern; Inclusive mode takes any notes you play and moves them upward and then downward from lowest to highest and then from highest to lowest, playing the lowest and the highest note twice; Exclusive mode is the same as Inclusive, except the lowest note and highest note don't repeat twice; and Random mode plays your notes in a random pattern.

The arpeggiator Step option changes the quantization to the following values: quarter note, quarter-note triplet, eighth note, eighth-note triplet, 16th note, 16th-note triplet, 32nd note, 32nd-note triplet, 64th note and 64th-note triplet.

When using the arpeggiator on drums, I liked hearing how the different time changes sounded on hi-hat or snare. I could also monitor the different patterns while in Playback mode of my sequenced track. The Latch feature (F6) is another way to hold the arpeggiated notes without holding any pads down. The On/Off switch for the Latch is located on the bottom right-hand side of the LCD.


The brilliance behind how tracks are shown on the LCD during sequencing is a big plus for me. With the new Track Status feature, you can view all your tracks playing at once. For enhanced sampling on the MPC5000, you can edit in stereo, extract, convert from stereo to mono, normalize, reverse, time-stretch and pitch-shift your samples. As with the MPC2500, the Patch Phrase feature is available. There are 49 effects in the new effects section of the MPC5000, including the Master EQ and the Compressor. There are four stereo buses with two stereo effects per bus. The Q-links automatically correspond to the effects parameters onscreen.

Program mode has several types of programming to choose. Drum Program has a lot of new tricks for us MPC heads to play with. You can stack four sounds per pad, just like on the MPC2500, but now with some really cool added features. For example, you can simply open a pad window, go to the Zone page, choose cycle and then cycle through your sample by hitting a single pad, which will allow you to trigger off the samples in a 1-2-3-4 order. There is also the Random feature that will let you shoot your samples off randomly without you knowing what will play first, second or third. A lot of you MPC users will be glad to know that Akai has reintroduced the Simult feature; it's one of my favorites. In Simult mode, you can trigger four pads with a single depressed pad, meaning you're able to trigger as many as 16 sounds at once with a single pad.


The MPC5000 has a built-in track mixer that you can use to mix the levels of a program or individual tracks in the sequencer. In Mix mode, you can select Pad Mute and adjust levels for a track individually. In other words, when you go into Mix mode, the faders correspond to the grey pads that are muting the track. In Track Mix mode, you can select the Track Mute button and use the corresponding grey pads that are displayed on the screen from Banks A through D to mute the track. In Program Mix mode, you can adjust the setting using the Q-link controls: Q-link sliders 1 through 4 correspond to the fader levels on the mixer; Q-link buttons 1 through 4 correspond with track mute; Q-link knobs 5 through 8 correspond to the track panning; Q-link buttons 5 through 8 toggle through the effects for the effects sends; Q-link knobs 9 through 12 adjust the effects send levels; and Q-link buttons 9 through 12 correspond to the output of the signal.


The MPC5000 is an all-out production house like none other in the MPC series. It comes with an 8-channel hard-disk recorder. Coming from the world of production, I immediately grew addicted to the unit's ability to record vocals, mix and finalize everything right inside the MPC box. The hard-disk recorder has its own internal mixer, and you can edit any track that you record.

Once you enter into Hard-Disk Record mode, the unit guides you through every necessary step you need for a great recording. On the front panel, you have a red Rec Gain knob that controls the record input level and a white Main Volume knob. After selecting Mode > HD Record, the unit prompts you to add audio tracks, giving you the option to select two mono tracks simultaneously or one stereo track. The Do It tab (F6) brings you to the page where you can monitor your input levels and adjust them to make sure you get a clean recording. The MPC5000 gives you the option to arm the left channel (F5) and the right channel (F6) at the same time, or arm just one at a time.

Once you hit the Rec button, it arms the MPC5000, and the Play button starts blinking. You then hit the Play/Start button to begin recording. When finished, hit Stop and then select Track View (F4), which shows the recording's waveforms. From there you have the option to arm other tracks or edit a track. At the end of my recordings, I exported my tracks to 24-bit on the included 80 GB internal hard drive.

To route audio into the unit you have a few options. You can connect to the balanced XLR/¼-inch combo jacks in the rear and use the switch to toggle between line and mic input signals. The stereo RCA inputs also have a Phono/Line switch and a phono ground, so you can use it for a turntable, CD player or other devices. There is also a digital coaxial S/PDIF I/O for additional hookups.


For maximum performance, the MPC5000 has even more connections for input and output. On the rear of the unit, there are two MIDI Ins and four MIDI Outs. The USB lets you mount its internal hard drive and compact flash drive to your computer. When I did that, the 80 GB hard drive and the Compact Flash card showed on the computer desktop simultaneously. I was able to drag-and-drop vocals I had recorded, and I was also able to go through the Compact Flash drive and drag-and-drop WAV files and drums kits. As much as I love my MPC2500, this feature keeps me pinned to the MPC5000. For digital connections, the MPC5000 comes standard with an 8-channel optical ADAT output and coaxial S/PDIF I/O. The unit also comes standard with balanced ¼-inch stereo main outputs and eight balanced ¼-inch Assignable Mix outputs.


As an expert MPC user, my customary workflow with the MPC5000 wasn't compromised. Enhanced new programming features gave me super power while working in the studio. I was able to turn this machine on and dive right into my regular routine of building tracks.

Because of the expanded 80 GB hard drive, I didn't feel naked working outside of my studio because I was able to load up all of my sounds, record audio right into the unit and keep moving. The MPC5000's new sampling feature for viewing samples and editing them in stereo won me over. I was very impressed with the sound quality of the effects, as well as the flexibility and user friendliness of the effects section, where the Q-link controls automatically correspond to the parameters onscreen. I was able to add effects, edit recorded audio, mixdown my entire song and create a finished product. I found the MPC5000 to be user friendly even for someone who has never used an MPC or a digital hard-disk recorder.

With superb performance that goes beyond any of its predecessors, the MPC5000 is the most exclusive piece of gear you could have in your studio. Without a doubt, the new MPC5000 carries the torch for its brand of sampling drum machines. Not to mention all of those goodies that got you hooked on the MPC in the first place are still in there.

Listen to a track made by the author on the MPC5000


MPC5000 > $2,500

Pros: New analog-style synth. Arpeggiator. Can export audio to 24-bit files. Normalizing function. Factory-stock 80 GB hard drive. User-friendly manual. Improved LCD resolution with color. Program/track mixer. The mixer has the pad letter and number on the same fader. Nice array of factory-stock connections.

Cons: Add-on DVD/CD-ROM drive. Only 64 MB of RAM preloaded, expandable to 192 MB (MPC4000 expands to 512 MB). Only four banks (MPC4000 has six). No computer editing software. No virtual tracks on the hard-disk recorder.