Akai Professional’s legendary MPC series has become an integral part of music production history, especially hip hop. Over the years, we’ve seen many variations of the MPC, each offering something a little different.
The MPC Studio is the latest addition, and unlike most, it’s not a standalone unit; it’s just a controller. Being just a controller isn’t bad; it’s a way to get a genuine MPC workflow for a fraction of the price and use it to control your favorite sounds. Let’s see how good it is.
Our verdict on the MPC Studio
If you produce hip hop or electronic music, the MPC Studio provides a workflow that will drastically increase your productivity. It’s extremely portable, reasonably budget-friendly, and it feels like a high-quality product. It’s one of our favorite releases from Akai Professional in some time.Check availability here: SweetwaterAmazon
It doesn’t matter how many functions and features a pad controller offers if the pads aren’t good enough. We can define the overall quality in two main areas: feel and responsiveness.
The MPC Studio has 16 full-size, velocity/pressure-sensitive, genuine MPC pads. The size is important because other controllers, like the MPK Mini Mk3, have slightly smaller pads. So, it’s a good start; the pads look the same as those on the flagship MPC X.
How the pads feel is where many controllers get it wrong; some feel too soft, and some feel too much like hard plastic. We often say we think MPC pads are the best available, and it’s through no bias other than trying them and preferring them.
So, it should be no surprise that we’re going to tell you that the MPC Studio pads feel great; they don’t feel cheap, don’t feel too soft or hard, but they are firm enough to feel comfortable playing with some force.
We were more interested in comparing them to higher-priced MPC models, and we can confirm that they feel the same.
In many ways, responsiveness is the most crucial aspect of performance pads. You can get used to an inferior feel, but poor responsiveness leads to missed notes/triggers and limits your performance style.
Again, in our opinion, MPC pads are the class leaders. They are as responsive as flagship models, meaning you can trigger samples or get into serious finger drumming.
The MPC Studio doesn’t have any rotary knobs or faders, so there aren’t many assignable controls to discuss, but the touch strip is quite remarkable.
We aren’t huge fans of touch strips on keyboard controllers when replacing pitch/mod wheels, but we love them on pad controllers.
This particular touch strip is extremely impressive because it lets you manipulate so many aspects of your sound/performance. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s pretty long; it almost stretches the full size of the MPC from top to bottom. Being longer means being far more precise in manipulating any given parameter/effect.
You can control basic parameters of any plugin instrument, like pitch and modulation, but it really shines when using the Touch FX plugin. The Touch FX plugin comes with a wide range of presets that combine effects like a delay with filter cutoff settings (for example), and these combinations create unique effects that sound amazing in live performance.
Even in studio use, the touch bar will make complex modulations/effects easy for anyone without lots of tedious point-and-click automation.
As expected, the MPC Studio offers many handy production tools and shortcuts; here are some of our favorites.
Note repeat is a simple function that allows you to re-trigger a note/sample/pad by holding the Note Repeat button. The note will repeat at a set note division, like 8th notes, 16th notes, or 32nd notes, etc. It’s invaluable when you want to create complex hi-hat rhythms without playing them by hand.
Note repeat is even cooler on this MPC because you can use the touch strip to drift between different note divisions.
Scale and Chords mode
This mode is ideal when adding bass lines, melodies, and harmony. You can lock the pads to a specific scale or key signature; no matter which pad you hit, it will never be outside the set scale/key.
Another core function of all MPC units is the step sequencer. It provides a different way to build songs by turning the 16 pads into 16 steps.
You can use 16 levels to split a sound over all 16 pads chromatically. So, each pad, from one to 16, increases in pitch by a semitone, respectively. Sometimes beatmakers use pitch variation in hi-hat patterns, and it helps add a melodic aspect to any percussive content.
Clip Launch mode
Clip Launch mode allows you to trigger longer clips and loops that you assign to the pads. You can group clips by type, vocal, melodics, percussion, and so on, and each type will be color-coded and have its own column, making it easy to put performances together.
This mode is perfect for performers and DJs, and adding some touch strip effects makes it even better. The MPC detects the tempo of your first clip, so no matter when you trigger others, they will play in sync with the detected tempo.
The MPC workflow is legendary amongst hip hop producers. Although smaller than other models, the MPC Studio has a complete set of transport controls and many dedicated buttons. The transport controls let you record, overdub, and scrub through any track directly from the controller.
There are dedicated buttons for functions like Redo/Undo, Pad Mute, Quantize, Pad Mute, and Full Level. The Quantize function lets you set a percentage to get that famous MPC swing.
Other functions are never more than a step or two away using the display screen and clickable browser knob. Selecting instruments, kits, modes, or clips is quick and easy, which is a good thing considering the MPC Studio offers up to 128-track sequencing and up to eight pad banks.
You can work with the controller and the MPC 2.0 software, which allows 3rd party plugins/instruments in standalone mode, or as a plugin inside your DAW.
It offers USB and MIDI In/Out. It’s not hugely impressive, but other than CV/Gate connectivity, there’s not much more you would want or expect.
MPC Studio comes with the MPC 2.0 software, a massive 7 GB of sample content, and 300 instruments from The Bank MPC Expansion workstation. It includes iconic sounds from the legendary MPC3000 and some exclusive MPC Expansion packs.
It’s remarkably thin and lightweight, contrasting the MPC Live or MPC One. But, as small and light as it is, the controls feel nothing short of premium quality. In fact, we think the buttons feel better than the plastic ones found on the MPC X, albeit the MPC X is an older unit.
Like any portable controller, it will never be built like a tank, but there’s not much to say here other than it’s super-light, and the controls all feel great.
Compared to other pad controllers
There are a few pad controllers on the market, and it’s best to know your options before making any decisions. Here are a few interesting alternatives.
Akai MPC Studio vs. PreSonus ATOM
The ATOM offers 16 pads, eight banks, and assignable rotary encoders, and it’s cheaper. But, for us, it falls way short of the MPC Studio.
Akai MPC Studio vs. Akai MPD226
The MPD226 doesn’t have the same appeal as the MPC Studio; it doesn’t feel nearly as premium. But it does have more assignable controls, including four faders, so it depends on what you need most.
Akai MPC Studio vs. IK Multimedia iRig PADS
This controller is probably the most portable of our selections, and if that’s a deciding factor, it’s worth a look. Putting it head-to-head with the MPC Studio, it’s not as good.
Who is the Akai MPC Studio best suited for?
It suits any beatmaker or electronic producer looking for a hands-on tactile workflow.
- MPC workflow on a budget.
- 128-track sequencing.
- Powerful effects.
- Versatile touch strip.
- Full-size MPC pads.
- Requires a computer, unlike the MPC Live/One/X.