Akai MPC Renaissance – the Pre-Review

We have an MPC Renaissance in the studio right now, and while I want to get a review out to you guys as soon as possible it’s also just as important to give you the best we possibly can.

MPC Renaissance may have been out for about a month already, but it’s been a fairly quiet roll out that has already seen a point release update to the software to fix bugs and increase stability. In fact, we heard from Akai that continuous improvement is a key part of MPC Software’s future, and so there may even be a further point release that stuffs up our review process further! It’s important to note that both stability and featureset are being looked at for these point releases, and the MPC Software approach is what’s allowing Akai to take this approach.

Previously, MPCs have had to be conservative in scope to ensure they could be rock solid at what they were being bought and used for in the first place, and when things got overly ambitious quality suffered (albeit until fixes came along down the line, I hasten to add). MPC Software gives Akai the chance to be ambitious and continually improve and evolve the MPC platform, and whilst that means that teething troubles are likely, as they are with every new piece of gear, it also means that the potential for the new MPCs is much greater than those in the past, and both the potential and the proof in the pudding need to be examined carefully for a review to be worth reading.

Something that would be very easy to do, ironically too, is compare MPC software to Native Instruments’ Maschine as a benchmark. When Maschine was released in 2009, it was tough not to simply talk about Maschine’s workflow in comparison to the MPC. I think the continual comparisons between the two products will help both to improve, but I also think it’s important to recognise that they are different pieces of kit with different approaches to a lot of things; the likelihood is that assuming a level playing field one piece of gear will just suit you more.

Of course we can’t assume that level playing field quite yet, as I haven’t logged enough hours with MPC Renaissance to give what is probably Akai’s most important product in recent history – all things considered – the review it deserves. And it’s for that reason that this is more of a ‘pre-review’; a shortlist of the things I’ve noted so far to whet your appetite while I dig deep and give the definitive answer on whether the MPC is back with a vengeance or just.. back. Here goes.

MPC Renaissance: 5 things we love

Build

The MPC Renaissance is straight classic MPC. Lovely 3000 esque touches, from the data wheel (that feels a damn sight better than the MPC 2500 or 5000 versions) to the soft wrist rest, the fluid hinge on the white on blue screen, and the general sturdiness of the box on your desk all count towards the MPC Renaissance’s high quality feel.

Infinite motion pots

As we found out in our MPC Renaissance interview with Dan Gill at NAMM right at the beginning of the year, rather than rotary encoders Akai are using infinite motion pots that, even better than smooth decoupled rotary encoders, have an analogue response so there’s no stepping at all. The pots feel firm but smooth and the LED rings are an excellent way to make sure you know exactly where the pot’s value is at any given moment.

Pads

Are these the best MPC pads ever? Maybe. Akai have done an excellent job of completely redesigning their pads but keeping the essence of MPC pads right there. The rubber feels very similar, as does the way the pads depress, but the corners no longer depress around the central sensor like MPCs of old, there’s a very even feeling around the pad. Add to that the colour feedback round the edges of the pads and there’s real class.

Sound Quality & Vintage Modes

The built in audio interface, with very preliminary testing, is lovely. Akai have spoken about MPC3000 modelled (or even actual, if memory serves correctly) parts for the converters, and the vintage modes work on the actual audio outs, not a software change. This’ll need some testing, but so far I’m impressed.

Classic Workflow

It’s really nice to see that there’s still a good old MPC feel to MPC software. Some things are a little (or a lot) different; modes are no longer contained on pads, and certain other go to functions have moved, but using the hardware feels like using an MPC.

MPC Renaissance: 5 things we don’t (at the moment)

Destructive Sample Chopping

I’ve mentioned I like the classic workflow stylings, but destructive sample chopping feels a little outdated in many respects, and that’s still the go to method of chopping on the MPC software. There are other ways to do things, and it’s going to be a big thing I dig into in the review, too.

Dual Workflow

There is a slightly odd duality to the workflow in some respects – at least, it feels odd getting started. Using the MPC’s instruments is actually done via plugin rather than natively in the software’s sampling engine, although there are also stock sounds to load directly into the MPC. How weird this is in practice remains to be seen, as I can see some advantages to it, but it’s probably the biggest lurch into the ‘modern’ era for MPC workflow and it’s thus the most jarring too.

Dongled Hardware Operation

This one’s a nuisance. In order to use the MPC Software, either MPC Renaissance or MPC Studio need to be plugged in. Outside the studio and want to show someone a beat, or perhaps export one? Tough.

Stability (or more accurately, stability of a computer based production ecosystem)

Now, I have to be very careful here because I need to confirm anything that seems to be a stability issue as definitely the MPC’s fault and up to now I haven’t – all too often we see reviewers jump in and say that something is buggy or broken on all types of kit when it’s user error or something else in the computer system to blame. In years and years of using an MPC 2000 or 2500, I think the 2500 crashed once and that’s it. Anything at all, even if it’s your computer, reducing that stability is a bit of a pain – if nothing else because it reminds you your computer setup needs a spring clean and that you are in fact working on a computer.

?

I could have gone on with the ‘things we like’, but I’d be splitting hairs and possibly witch hunting to go down too many other things that don’t seem right at the moment, so, good sign!

 

There we are: right now there’s quite a lot more to love about the MPC Renaissance and MPC Software than not which is very promising. I might even grow to love the things I don’t love so much right now over time. I’m not planning to sit down for a year with the MPC Renaissance and MPC Software before telling you what we think, but you guys need a little more than a few hours’ experience from a reviewer for a product like this and that’s what I’m going to give you.

Stay tuned…

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