Akai Professional MPD226
By Phil O'Keefe |
Powerful and flexible pad controller
There is no denying Akai Professional's successes in the world of drum machines and beat controllers. Roger Linn's work on the MPC60 set the original standard, and Akai has been building on that foundation ever since. The original MPD pad controllers were also a hit with musicians, and after six years of development Akai has updated the line based on suggestions and feedback. Let's look at one of the controllers in the new MPD2 series - the Akai Professional MPD226.
What You Need To Know
- The MPD2 product line comprises three units, the smaller MPD218, top of the line MPD232, and right in the middle is the MPD226 - the focus of this review. All three units have sixteen pads but different feature sets. All are strictly controllers with no onboard sounds; they work with external hardware and software.
- The MPD226 is relatively compact, measuring 13.1" W x 10" D x 1.9" H - roughly similar to my 15" MacBook Pro. The shell is black plastic with a cool-looking red base, and it is relatively lightweight at 2.9 pounds.
- The top of the unit is well laid out. The 16 pads on the left are very thick and have a slightly soft rubbery feel to the playing surfaces. However they're not sticky, or too soft or overly squishy - they really do feel great! The pads are velocity- and pressure-sensitive and very responsive. They are also multi-color illuminated when used with a computer or external power supply, so they look cool too.
- Above the pads you'll find a 4 row x 20 character LED display, and to the right of that, four directional cursor buttons, a rotary knob with built-in push to select switch (used to scroll through and select presets and parameters), as well as the Pad Bank switch, which allows selecting among four pad banks (A-D) for a total of 64 pads. A Preset switch can choose factory-provided presets optimized for all the major DAW programs as well as other products (Ableton Live Lite, iMPC, Big Bang, Sonar, FL Studio, Reason, Pro Tools, Studio 1, etc.). You can also save and recall your own presets.
There are three main modes of operation:
Preset Mode selects pre-programmed factory presets, as well as lets you save and load your own. Programs includes information about how the pads and controls are configured, and their functions.
Edit Mode allows configuring the MPD226 to suit your needs. You can adjust the pad and control assignments, MIDI channels, note and controller assignments/ranges, and much more.
- Global Mode edits global parameters that apply regardless of the current preset program (common MIDI channel, display brightness, MIDI clock settings, pad sensitivity, and velocity curve settings).
- Preset Mode selects pre-programmed factory presets, as well as lets you save and load your own. Programs includes information about how the pads and controls are configured, and their functions.
- Immediately to the right of the pads is a vertical row of four buttons. From top to bottom they are Full Level, 16 Level, Tap Tempo and Note Repeat. When engaged, Full Level makes all the pads output MIDI Velocity 127, no matter how hard or soft you play. 16 Level is a bit different. It takes the last pad you played and assigns it to all 16 pads, with increasing velocity levels; Pad 1 (lower-left) isthe softest, and Pad 16 (upper-right) is the loudest.
- Note Repeat will be a familiar feature to most Akai owners In combination with the nearby 1/4 1/8 1/16 and 1/32 time division buttons, it allows creating current tempo-based note repeats at the selected time division whenever you press and hold the Note Repeat button. You also get the expected transport buttons - stop, record and play.
- Occupying the center-right of the MPD226 are four faders, with four continuous rotary controllers directly above them. As with the pads, you get more than you see. A second Bank switch labeled "Control Bank" provides three different banks of controls to choose from, making the four available sets of faders and knobs far more capable (although I do wonder why they didn't go with four banks here too, as they did with the pads). LED indicators indicate which of the banks are selected for both pads and controls.
- While compact, there's still plenty of space for the controls and nothing feels cramped. Of course if you need something even smaller (or want more faders and controls) one of the other two models in this series may suit you better.
- The MPD series is plug-and-play compatible with your Mac or PC - no driver installation needed. However, you do get some cool software. Akai includes a copy of Ableton Live Lite, as well as SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion 2.3 and Big Bang Drums 2.3, along with MPC Essentials software with some included sound content - Elements Of UK Dance, Elements Of House, and Elements Of Dystopia. All are supplied in both Mac and PC downloadable versions.
- The rear panel includes a push-style power switch and a jack for an optional 6V DC 1A center-positive power supply, which is sold separately. Since the unit can be bus-powered over USB, the power supply is not essential unless you plan to use the MPD226 as a stand-alone controller with other MIDI hardware instead of your computer or iOS device.
- Speaking of MIDI, you might be wondering how they managed to get MIDI ports into a product this thin. Yes, it has a USB jack and it supports MIDI over USB, but the MPD226 also has dedicated MIDI in and out ports on - get this - rear panel 1/8" TRS jacks. Akai supplies a short pair of 1/8" TRS male to 5-Pin DIN female "pigtail" adapters that allow you to use standard MIDI cables. Rounding out the rear panel is a Kensington lock port.
- Want to use the MPD226 with your iPad? I put it to extensive use with the iMPC app on my iPad mini 2 and it worked extremely well. A sticker on the hardware unit's top panel reminds you to press and hold the "up" cursor until you've connected the unit to your iPad and powered on the MPD226. This puts the MPD into iOS Mode, which requires less power, but at the expense of the illumination on the sixteen pads.
- The operating system and user interface make sense and it won't take long before you'll find yourself zipping along comfortably. Users of previous Akai products will have a head start since many of the features and operating parameters are similar to their earlier units.
- While I never had any actual problems from them, the 1/8" TRS to 5-pin MIDI pigtails strike me as an a potential area of concern; I worried about them coming lose, or the strain from the weight of MIDI cables eventually causing the jacks or their solder connections to weaken. I'd recommend setting the unit on a stand or tabletop in such a way as to physically support the pigtail adapters to reduce any stress on the 1/8" jacks.
- You lose the pad illumination when an iOS device powers the MPD226. Using the optional external power supply (or bus powering from your Mac or PC) circumvents this issue.
- Using the MPD226 as a controller for hardware drum machines and samplers requires using an external power supply. Alternately, you can use a wall wart USB charger and supply power to the MPD2 through the USB port while using it with external MIDI hardware, although the pad illumination was also disabled when I tried this with my iPhone wall charger.
Akai Professional has long been considered by many to have set the standard for drum machines and pad controllers, and the latest evolution of the MPD line will do nothing to discourage that opinion. The lineup offers everything from very compact controllers to fully-featured ones, so while there's something here for everyone, I think the MPD226 really nails the right balance of features vs. size and cost.
With four faders and knobs (and three banks), there are plenty of assignable controls to support those wonderful-feeling and responsive pads. With 16 physical pads and four banks, there are up to 64 assignable pads at your disposal. Of course, if you need even more faders and knobs you can always step up to the MPD232, but I think the MPD226 may be the real winner of the bunch. For just under $200, it's a wonderfully expressive controller with lots of features - yet it won't break the bank. I think people are going to love this thing.
Akai Professional MPD226 MIDI Pad Controller ($399.00 MSRP, $199.00 "street")
Buy at B&H
Akai Professional's product web page
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.