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5 Of The Best Akai MPCs Available Today

By the late 1980s, drum machines had enjoyed a decade or two of unbridled success as the go-to option for beat-making.

Meanwhile, around the same time, hip-hop artists were using samples of recordings – especially jazz and rare groove samples – to create new compositions. The MPC, created by drum machine expert Roger Linn while employed by Akai in Japan, brought the two elements together: a standalone drum machine and a sampler, making a new type of instrument in the process.

MPCs are massively important in the history of modern music. Some notable examples:

With the technological advances of the last twenty years, modern MPCs now have sequencer capability, and most have deep connectivity with computers, allowing them to double up as a midi controller for use with a DAW.

In this article, we searched for the best on the market, here’s what we found.

Best MPCs: Product Guide

MPC Live II

AKAI Professional MPC Live II – Battery Powered Drum Machine, Sampler and Beat Maker With Speakers, Drum Pads, Synth Engines and Touch Display
443 Reviews
AKAI Professional MPC Live II – Battery Powered Drum Machine, Sampler and Beat Maker With Speakers, Drum Pads, Synth Engines and Touch Display
  • Beat Maker Essential – Standalone MPC, sampler, drum machine and MIDI controller (for the included MPC Software – Mac / PC) with the powerful MultiCore System from the MPC One and MPC X
  • Hear Every Detail of Your Production – Built-in stereo studio monitoring system provides studio quality sound to keep your ideas flowing through the creative process
  • Music Producer Essentials – 16 velocity sensitive RGB drum pads, 7” high-resolution multi-touch display, touch capacitive encoders and connectivity for USB MIDI keyboard controllers

The Live II is a standalone MPC, drum machine, and MIDI controller rolled into one. It gives you everything you need to make music, anywhere, right at your fingertips – the rechargeable lithium-ion battery means you can keep going for hours, too.

You get 16 velocity-sensitive RGB drum pads, and all the MPC workflow features you’d expect: 16 levels, note repeat, auto sample, chords & note, transport controls, etc.

The thing that sets it apart from the MPC One (see below) is the built-in stereo monitoring capability. The studio-grade monitors (dual tweeter-woofer speakers) are insanely good, delivering a satisfying low-end thump and tight top end. They let you hear every detail of your production straight from the box.

The 7” high-resolution multi-touch display looks fly too, as are the touch capacitive encoders. It has a built-in USB audio interface, USB slots for thumb drives, SD card slots, etc.

This machine is amazing if you want to record when and where you like – and hear it right there through the stereo monitors – keeping your ideas flowing through the creative process, without the need for a computer.

Features:

  • Standalone MPC, drum machine, and MIDI controller
  • Built-in studio-grade monitoring system
  • 16 velocity-sensitive RGB drum pads
  • 7” high-resolution multi-touch display
  • Touch capacitive encoders
  • Connectivity for USB MIDI keyboard controllers
  • Includes the same multi-core processor as the MPC X

MPC One

Akai Professional MPC One – Drum Machine, Sampler & MIDI Controller with Beat Pads, Synth Engines, Standalone Operation and Touch Display
827 Reviews
Akai Professional MPC One – Drum Machine, Sampler & MIDI Controller with Beat Pads, Synth Engines, Standalone Operation and Touch Display
  • Beat Maker Essential – Standalone Mpc, Sampler, Drum Machine And Midi Controller (For The Included Mpc Software – Mac / Pc) With The Powerful Multicore System From The Mpc Live And Mpc X
  • Developed For The Modern Music Producer – 16 Velocity Sensitive Rgb Beat Pads, 7” High-Resolution Multi-Touch Display, Touch Capacitive Encoders And Connectivity For Usb Midi Keyboard Controllers
  • Connectivity – Midi In / Midi Out For Control Of Synthesizers And Drum Machines; (2) Line Inputs For Recording / Sampling; (2) Line Outputs; Headphone Out; Cv/Gate Outputs For Modular Synth Control

If you’re shopping on a budget and want a standalone MPC but you don’t want to break the bank, the MPC One deserves a serious look. It’s packed with many features you find in the Live II at a fraction of the price.

You get 16 velocity-sensitive RGB beat pads and a 7” high-resolution multi-touch screen. What this one lacks is the built-in monitoring system you find on the Live II. 

Features:

  • Standalone MPC, no computer needed
  • 7” touch screen display
  • MPC workflow features: 16 levels, tape stop effect, note repeat, etc.

MPC X

AKAI Professional MPC Live II – Battery Powered Drum Machine, Sampler and Beat Maker With Speakers, Drum Pads, Synth Engines and Touch Display
443 Reviews
AKAI Professional MPC Live II – Battery Powered Drum Machine, Sampler and Beat Maker With Speakers, Drum Pads, Synth Engines and Touch Display
  • Beat Maker Essential – Standalone MPC, sampler, drum machine and MIDI controller (for the included MPC Software – Mac / PC) with the powerful MultiCore System from the MPC One and MPC X
  • Hear Every Detail of Your Production – Built-in stereo studio monitoring system provides studio quality sound to keep your ideas flowing through the creative process
  • Music Producer Essentials – 16 velocity sensitive RGB drum pads, 7” high-resolution multi-touch display, touch capacitive encoders and connectivity for USB MIDI keyboard controllers

The cream of the crop, if you can afford it, the X is where it’s at. This standalone MPC is the premium option.

It comes with 16 Q-link knobs with graphical displays, a beautiful flip-up 10” touch screen, and plenty of onboard storage (16Gb).

There are multiple MIDI, USB, and audio ins and outs, making your options limitless in terms of what you can sample and release. The device can easily work as a standalone machine as well as having the option of working with a Mac or PC.

This is a professional MPC for the musician/producer who requires the ultimate in storage, functionality, and quality. It works as a standalone device, so there’s no PC needed, which makes it an excellent choice for the pro on the go. It will be inappropriate to those just starting out with sampling machines.

Features

  • Flip-up 10.1″ high-res, adjustable, multi-touch display
  • 16 dedicated Q-links that can be loaded with custom settings
  • Completely standalone – no need for a computer
  • 8 audio outputs
  • Controller mode for mac/pc

Touch

Akai Professional MPC Touch | Music Production Station with 7' Multi-Color Touchscreen
59 Reviews
Akai Professional MPC Touch | Music Production Station with 7″ Multi-Color Touchscreen
  • 7″ color multi-touch Display
  • 16 velocity-sensitive thick, fat MPC pads with RGB backlighting
  • 2-in/2-out audio interface

Like the Live, the Touch has a 7-inch screen, making it easy to control with your fingers. Although not a standalone station, the price is much lower, and much of the same functionality is included. Like the Touch, this device has MIDI and jack-ins and outs, as well as a USB input. Although there are no phono inputs or SD slots.

You get various memory banks to save your projects. These are easy to select and navigate via clearly labeled buttons. It has velocity-sensitive, light-up pads, making it easy to create melodies or trigger samples and easy-to-navigate play, record, overdub, and stop buttons, amongst others.

It requires power via the DC adaptor to be fully functional, though can be partially bus-powered, minus the touchscreen.

It will suit musicians who like the Live model but are on a budget and are happy to use a device in combination with a PC or Mac for it to fully function. It will be less suited to those looking for something more portable, although it’s not too bulky or inconvenient.

Features:

  • Thick, responsive pads allow you to creatively produce beats and melodies or trigger samples.
  • Selectable banks give it a streamlined layout.

Studio

Akai Professional MPC Studio Black | Ultra-Portable MPC With MPC Software (Download), USB Power, LCD Screen, Touch Sensitive Encoders, Brushed Aluminium Body & Data Dial
215 Reviews
Akai Professional MPC Studio Black | Ultra-Portable MPC With MPC Software (Download), USB Power, LCD Screen, Touch Sensitive Encoders, Brushed Aluminium Body & Data Dial
  • Production on the move: Ultra compact mpc fuses legendary mpc production with the processing power of your computer; Compact design is less than 1 ½ inch thick and fits easily into a laptop bag
  • MPC software: Production suite combining 128 track sequencing capability, real time time stretching, advanced midi editing capability, VST compatibility, advanced sampling & audio editing/recording
  • MPC workflow: 16 backlit genuine MPC pads, legendary MPC workflow & MPC swing, note repeat & full level controls and touch sensitive knobs provide fast and accurate control of MPC software.Polyphony: 64

This doesn’t feature a touch screen but favors buttons and wheels instead, with MIDI and USB ins and outs, making it perfect for your computer.

There’s a huge sound library with this device, giving you more than enough to get started with, and the clearly labeled buttons make it easy to navigate through and trigger selections of samples.

This machine is pretty lightweight, meaning that you can easily take it wherever you take your laptop and it’s also pretty slim at 1.5”. It’s well built enough to be easily capable of surviving the gigging lifestyle, and it can be bus-powered, saving you the hassle of finding an extra plug socket.

Features:

  • A staggering amount of drum kits, synth sounds and more to experiment with.
  • A decent-sized screen is built in, so you can use this during live performance without also needing to hook it up to a laptop or tablet for a display, enhancing its live gig usability.

Buyer’s Tips: Key Considerations

Standalone or Integrated?

First up, do you need it for gigging, home/studio use, or both? If you’re planning to play live, consider getting a standalone unit that frees you up from needing a computer.

If you’re only using it at home or in the studio, you might be more inclined to use the MPC in combination with your Mac or PC. Most standalone units have the option of being used in combination with a Mac or PC, too, giving you the option for when you’re in the studio.

Touchscreen or Buttons?

Do you need a built-in screen? Nearly all these machines have one, but the modern ones naturally have better, higher-resolution displays that are similar to those of a smartphone, making it easy and intuitive to edit samples with your fingertips.

Some models still rock a more old school display, which you might prefer if you enjoy the tactility of buttons.

Battery, BUS or AC/DC?

Many standalone models can be powered off rechargeable batteries. This is an obvious advantage in terms of portability and can be really useful in live performances or while traveling.

If you’re using one in combination with a laptop or desktop, BUS power is also often a useful feature, allowing you to power it off USB with no need for an additional AC or DC adaptor. Many of the more powerful devices do require an AC or DC adaptor though. This is fine if you’re using the device as part of a permanent home studio setup, but might be less ideal if you’re traveling about.


So, Which Should I Buy?

It goes without saying, which you buy depends entirely on your needs and preferences.

If the goal is to have something you can use at gigs, and you don’t mind bringing along a laptop or notebook, the Studio or Touch are great choices. Both of these work with software to trigger and edit samples, and they’re portable enough to carry with your laptop. The studio has no touch screen, making it better suited to the oldskool musicians out there, whilst the touch has – as the name suggests – a smartphone-style touch screen.

If full music production, as well as live performance, is what you’re looking for, the X is easily the most advanced standalone unit you can get. It works as a standalone device and has exceptional functionality, storage as well as all of the inputs and outputs you could wish for. It is, however, very expensive.

If you like to use your device in combination with your laptop, there’s the Renaissance. It looks and acts like a classic machine, while still having many of the benefits of new technology including two USB inputs and velocity-sensitive pads. It does need to be used with specific software, though, which makes it a little more limited than some of the other devices.

Now go and make beats!

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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