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Akai’s MPC Studio Unveiled

As we run up to NAMM, and after last week’s big MPC news, we can follow up the news of MPC Renaissance with MPC Studio, Akai’s real Maschine competitor. Whilst Renaissance is designed to appeal to the producers who love the centre-stage presence of MPCs of yore, MPC Studio is definitely the one that’s going toe to toe with Native Instruments’s baby.

Key points:

The big screen looks great, and if you’re used to – and love – the MPC workflow, then MPC Studio will definitely appeal with its recognisable jog wheel, d-pad, and transport arrangement. Akai have gone with MPC1000 style ‘areola’ jog wheels, and as well as the main data wheel there are four, vertically aligned wheels on the left. Keeping the function key layout is smart on Akai’s part, because it further reinforces the MPC workflow, but one of Maschine’s greatest design features is the encoders that line up with the screen so that you’re never in any doubt as to their function; the jog wheels here are a little stranded, not to mention probably not great for tweaking live parameters compared to a grab-able knob. Other than that we’re pretty impressed; as long as Akai do the sensible thing and compete fiercely with Native Instruments on price compared to Maschine then they could well wrestle some market share back. We wonder whether there’ll be a package deal for the two to appeal to particularly flush amongst you… would you buy both if they did? Let us know!

Oh, one more thing: we’re not touching the supposed MPC Fly leak until it gets confirmed. Right now, as far as we’re concerned, those images have as much likelihood of being fake as they do real, and even if real they could be concept shots, outdated, etc.

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Akai Announce MPC Renaissance, Studio, and Fly Controllers

[break]As we beaver away behind the scenes on the oh-so-nearly-here Oh Drat update and work overtime in preparation for NAMM, we’re excited, intrigued, interested, and simultaneously a little reserved about Akai’s hand showing ahead of the Anaheim extravaganza: the MPC Renaissance, MPC Studio, and MPC Fly. First off check the reveal video for the MPC Renaissance:

[highlighted_text color=]So what does this mean?![/highlighted_text] Details are light, and the only current information we have on the MPC Studio is that it’s going to be a ‘slimline’ controller whilst the MPC Fly is an iPad app.

Akai are obviously hurting from repeated blows from Native Instruments’ Maschine over the past couple of years, and with 2011′s introduction of Maschine Mikro and iMaschine, it’s understandable that Akai are really going head to head on all fronts with the Renaissance, Studio, and Fly. [infos]First off, the key information on Renaissance:[/infos]

      [list type="type1"]

    • It’s a controller with a built in audio interface; there’s no standalone operation here
    • It supports direct import of all existing MPC projects
    • 16 rotary encoders with LED ring feedback
    • Hinged LCD screen
    • Combi inputs with phantom power, phono inputs with turntable preamp
    • Stereo 1/4″ output with additional stereo 1/4″ mix out.
    • Multi colour back light on pads
    • MPC Software can use VST plugins and run standalone or as VST, AU or RTAS plugin
    • 64 track sequencer

[/list]

[biglines]We’ve got so many questions about the new MPC range.[/biglines]
The big shock… apart from the fact that there’s a new MPC at all, of course, is that this MPC requires a computer to run. No brains inside it at all. Are we happy with that? …no, not really. We think there’s something really special about firing up an MPC and not having the hum of a computer or the glow from its screen in sight, and I think many will have expected any new MPC to have capabilities that could be augmented  by software, not require it. All that said, it’s also a new dawn, and with so many producers switching to Maschine – and importantly, having a decent enough computer to run the MPC software is now more or less as likely as having a two slice toaster – perhaps it won’t be such a problem. we’re still a little sore though.

There’s no indication as to whether it requires its power supply (there’s one plugged in in the video), although we suspect it does, especially if it’s to provide phantom power AND power the screen. Akai boast ‘genuine MPC pads’, which is something they’ve run fast and loose with in the past and there’s something of a philosophical argument to how much you can remove from an MPC pad until it stops being one. Between the MPC 2500/5000 and now, though, funnily enough people have gotten over the ‘MPC or nothing’ mentality that competitors’ controllers were blighted with for years. Maschine’s pads are extremely sensitive and have a much more consistent feel across the pad surface, and third party suppliers have had large successes both with aftermarket thicker pads and mods to improve sensitivity across a greater area of pad. Not only that, but one of the prevailing determiners of what makes an MPC pad – at least in our opinion – is the soft rubber that’s used, a markedly different feel to the backlit variety that Native Instruments, Korg, et al use. It’s a surprise to see backlit pads, then; we’re a little worried that they look just like the ones used on Akai’s LPD and MPK Mini, and they’re not great. Perhaps it’s the sensors that qualify the Renaissance’s pads as MPC – it can’t simply be that they’re on an MPC controller, therefore they must be! Either way, multicoloured backlights are going to be very useful.

 


[heading size=]Akai’s first ever MPC software looks… okay, actually.[/heading]
There’s no indication on exactly how much you can do with your eyes away from the screen and hands away from the keyboard and mouse of your computer on the Renaissance, but we hope you can do pretty much everything – including play with plugins – on the unit itself. NI absolutely nailed Maschine’s heads down workflow, and so a company who has spent the past 30 years making instruments that rely on tiny dot matrix displays should be easily capable of pulling it out of the bag. We assume ‘MPC workflow’ means just that; you can work as if you were using any hardware MPC. Perhaps it’s the usability of the MPC Software that we should be most interested in then, because we get precious little indication of the real capabilities it holds. We imagine that despite only advertising VST plugin compatibility that it will also be compatible with AU on Mac (and likely RTAS on ProTools setups), but don’t take our word for it. One potential issue we did notice is that there are faders on the software, but Akai has actually done away with all faders in the hardware. We think it’d make more sense to use GUI elements that either tied in with the controller or were completely abstract, but maybe we’ll change our minds.

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Looks wise, we think Akai have made a superb decision.

What do you do when your competitor out-high techs you in the looks department and makes your attempts at ‘modern’ look dated? Go back to your roots. The MPC Renaissance has taken its style right from the MPC 3000; the button shapes, the jog wheel, palm rest, white on blue screen and beige box with red and blue highlights screams ‘classic’, and thankfully Akai have also reverted to their classic MPC logo (the reboot that began with the 2500 was one of my biggest disappointments after switching from a 2000xl!). Only the new backlit pads and LED rings round the encoders indicate that this is Akai 2012. Bravo.

We’re also really interested in audio quality.

Akai boast MPC sound, but MPC sound has always been such a weird thing. No two MPC models sound exactly alike, and it’s always been the converters as the digital audio gets turned back into electric that have given the MPC ‘that MPC sound’. It remains to be seen whether the MPC Software will require audio to go through the outputs of the MPC Renaissance so that sound is coloured by the hardware to really get that MPC sound, whether there’s an internal connection that can enable the Renaissance to perform these conversions, re-convert, and send back as digital audio through the USB cable (that’s probably dream-land, but still…), or whether the MPC sound is just well researched and programmed emulation within the MPC software audio engine. The same goes for the emulation modes – are they hardware or software? We’re pretty sure the answer to all these questions is going to be the most boring – ‘yes, it’s software’, but we can’t help but wonder.

More information as we have it – including on the MPC Studio and MPC Fly as well as what this means for the MPD range – but for now, let us know what you think!

NI Komplete 6

NI Komplete Audio 6 Out Now

The Komplete Audio 6 from Native Instruments has just been released – one’s winging its way over as we speak, and there’ll be a review of it very soon.

one’s winging its way over as we speak

Until then, check out the announcement and all the specs in my previous post here – this could be the ideal small interface for home and project studios…

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