Midi Nation is supported by our great readers. We might get a commission if you buy gear through a link on this page [at no additional cost to you].
In this post, we'll take a closer look at the much-loved MPC line and share our pick for the best Akai MPC you can buy right now.
Our Top Picks
Best standalone MPC: Akai Professional Force
“A Tour de Force (pun intended) of features, power, and performance.”
Best pads: Akai Professional MPC Studio
“The MPC Studio might lack features, but it still boasts some of the best pads Akai has ever created”
Most portable: Akai Professional MPC Live II
“It's by no means tiny, but it's small and light enough to carry around to live gigs”
Best drum machine: Akai Professional MPC One
“Great sounds, great pads, and MPC programming make this one of the best drum machines from Akai”
Best vintage MPC: Akai Professional MPC Renaissance
“Outside of buying an actual vintage MPC off of eBay, this is the best old-school MPC on the market.”
Only a few instruments have had a transformative impact on music.
The Les Paul electric guitar was one, ushering in the rock and roll era. The Minimoog was another, creating the entire electronic music/synth genre.
And then there was Akai MPC. While there were drum machines before it – notably the Roland TR-808 – the Akai MPC was the first that could reliably create complex, natural-sounding rhythms. The result was music that could be driven primarily by drums. Aka, hip hop.
The Akai MPC liberated producers and performers from the band. Before the MPC, if you wanted realistic drum patterns, you had to get access to a drummer – always a rare commodity. But with the MPC, anyone could create great beats on their own. The massive surge in hip hop production after the MPC was released wasn't accidental.
Today, every DAW ships with built-in drum machines. But if you want to liberate your production and performance, you need a hardware instrument to complement it. This is why Akai continues to produce a huge variety of MPCs, and producers keep buying them.
The question now is: what's the best Akai MPC on the market currently? Which one is right for your needs?
I'll share some answers below.
The Best Akai MPC
Here's a closer look at the best Akai MPC for different needs in 2020:
From song-sketching to software control, the Akai Professional Force is the best standalone production center on the market today. The question isn't what can the Akai Professional Force do; instead, it is what can it not do?
The Akai Professional Force bridges the gap between software and hardware. It comes as an inbetweener of both worlds. It offers plenty of what the software gives you without feeling too much like a computer. As a standalone kit, you'll be hard-pressed to find a device as impressive as this bad boy.
It comes as a sampler, sequencer, and effects processor. As a result, it comes with a wide plethora of features. You get a bright display, plenty of tactile feedback, and connections to many other devices. Due to the technology, you can connect it to your computer and use it as a controller for software like Ableton Live. Therefore, it is unique on the market because it does almost anything you'd want as a producer.
The Akai Professional Force comes with in-built content, your power supply, a manual, adapters, and an Ethernet cable. Design-wise, it is one of the biggest of the lot, weighing up to 3.8kg. Thus, it isn't as lightweight as you might have liked.
Nevertheless, we love the design. It looks better in person. Some of the things that really caught our eye include the 6.9″ touch display, the eight knobs, and the 64 backlit RGB pads. With all these features combined into one product, you can see three data sets simultaneously. You also get other buttons, including a crossfade and data entry dial.
These are all in the box and included in the package. On the software side, we found that the Akai Professional Force ships Ableton Live.
Using the Akai Professional Force is a delight. It benefits from the fast assembly and is one of the quickest options to set up and start using. When connected to your WIFI network, it allows you to sync it with several other software and hardware.
Underneath the Akai Professional Force lies the hatch for HDD or SSD storage. Therefore, you can easily expand on the 16GB of storage and 2GB RAM.
It can handle up to 128 tracks and eight plug-in instruments.
What I don’t like
Well, there are two things that might cause some issues. First is the price. It also is not backpack friendly, so if you are looking for a portable option, you might have to look elsewhere.
Best Portable MPC: АKAI Professional MPC Live II
If the first model we reviewed is too big for you, then you'll be pleased that AKAI has made the АKAI Professional MPC Live II. This model comes with plenty of similar features to our top pick but comes in a smaller size. It comes with a revamped layout that will certainly please most users. Among the new features include mixer, mute, timing correction, and other selections.
While the previous models had a master volume knob, this wasn't optimally placed. Thankfully, АKAI Professional MPC Live II has the knob in a more accessible location. There are up to eight outputs, four inputs, four MIDI in/out, and more ports than we can count. On the software front, it sports the 2.8 updates and a whopping 10GB of samples.
While all these additions are great, what really attracts us to the АKAI Professional MPC Live II is the speaker addition. Now, these speakers are convenient and simply irresistible. They offer far more functionality than expected because you do not need any cables or headphones to use the АKAI Professional MPC Live II. They dominate in quiet environments and can hold their own when included in a tabletop rig. When you consider the size of the speakers, the sound produced is truly remarkable.
Another notable feature here is the note mapping editing. You can use this function to customize MIDI notes to each pad in a program. As an excellent device, this offers solid sync options.
The link is very reliable, and since there isn't a Master, anyone can link or leave whenever they like.
What I don't like
While we had a splendid time testing this model, it comes with certain drawbacks. For one, the speakers make it slightly heavy for something marketed as a portable unit.[/su_column]
Best Drum Machine: Akai Professional MPC One
The Akai Professional MPC One is one of the latest standalone music production centers from Akai. It takes much of the good found in several other devices by the manufacturer and applies it to itself to give you a compact model to produce music while being affordable.
As a standalone unit, it has plenty of things that you need to create music without much peripherals or fuss. You can make beats, program beats, mix samples, edit, and more with this unit. The design is simple, but it is easy to use and understand. Although it has some of the most impressive technology at this level, it comes in a portable size that can easily fit into a backpack.
There are pads and several dedicated knobs that allow you to immerse yourself into doing what you love – making beats. The Akai Professional MPC One also offers the use of hand gestures to improve functionality. All of these features are topped off with a bright 7″ touchscreen that makes it easier to splice, chop, and customize songs with just a touch. The velocity and pressure-sensitive RGB pads are expressive and easy to use. There are dedicated keys for almost anything, and these improve your working experience.
While it is a standalone unit, it comes with impressive connectivity. Therefore, you can connect your computer, keyboard, instruments, and controllers. The Akai Professional MPC One is fuelled by the MPC 2 software and offers several benefits.
What I don't like
While this is nearly perfect, it doesn't come with a rechargeable battery. Furthermore, if you have large hands, you might find the pads to be too small.
Best Pads: Akai Professional MPC Studio
Looking for an ultra-portable MPC with the best pads on the market? Then look no further than the Akai Professional MPC Studio. Although there are some downsides to the hardware (more on that later), the portable nature, cost, and ever-improving software ensures that it is one of the best Akai MPC you can buy.
The Akai Professional MPC Studio is very similar on some fronts to the Renaissance reviewed above. It uses similar software. However, the Akai Professional MPC Studio comes at a lower price and is far more compact and portable.
The Akai Professional MPC Studio has a thickness of around 1 ½”. Therefore, it is so slim that it can fit into your bag without any fuss. Despite the slim appearance, it is sturdy. The brushed plastic case looks beautiful and sturdy, and the best feature, the pads, feels very responsive and great. They are slightly firmer than what you'd find on the market, but that is what makes them so good. There are up to eight pad banks with 64-note polyphony, with each pad lighting up to show you note events and several other functionalities.
Akai has done a phenomenal job with the hardware, and it combines functionality and compactness near-perfectly.
Connections are good on the Akai Professional MPC Studio. It comes with a power button, USB, the MIDI ins, and outs. Operating modes are very similar to what is found in the Renaissance reviewed above. Interestingly, there is very negligible latency in general when using the model.
What I don't like
There is no built-in interface, which can be a problem if you are used to having dedicated ports for sampling and splitting. While the jog wheel and Q-link dials are great, they are slippery and hard to hold, which can be inconvenient.
Best Vintage Akai MPC: Akai Professional MPC Renaissance
The MPC is a legendary beat making machine and AKAI has waded into the hardware and software combination with the Akai Professional MPC Renaissance.
First of all, on the hardware aspect, the Akai Professional MPC Renaissance is really impressive. Right out of the box, it is clear that this isn't your regular fickle MPC. It feels solid and weighty. It is also built to be a durable model. For instance, there are ends made of rubber and a chassis made out of solid metal. The pads on the Akai Professional MPC Renaissance are very firm and respond with just a touch. Although it features just a 64-note polyphony, it comes with eight useful pad banks.
The pads show different colors to indicate the velocity level and functionality. Additionally, we observed that the jog wheel feels solid and sturdy. As for the screen, it does an excellent job.
On the software front, you will find this to be one of the easiest to use. It runs a powerful software relatively easily. Installation is pretty straightforward, as you can do it using a DVD.
After setting up the software, we must say that everything looks perfect, especially in the standalone mode. Despite heavy use, it did not, at any point, crash down.
If you have been using MPC for some time, be ready to be impressed by the performance of the Akai Professional MPC Renaissance. It simply gives you a lot of control and seamlessly integrates software and legacy data. It is a good audio interface that will give you impressive value for money.
What I don't like
Akai Professional MPC Renaissance is excellent, but there are some chinks in the armor. For one, if there are plenty of things running in the DAW, you will suffer from some latency. We also observed some bugs when using some plug-ins.
Best Standalone Unit for Pros: Akai Professional MPC X
The remarkably powerful Akai Professional MPC X has all it takes to replace your DAW, whether live or in the studio. It is the latest flagship from the Akai brand, and as such, comes with features that are not found in many other options on the market.
Unlike other iterations that acted as controllers for DAW software running on your system, this Akai Professional MPC X model is a hybrid, standalone unit. Therefore, it runs its OS via the multi-core processor. It comes with all the power and computing power required since it has a 2GB RAM and 16GB ROM. Therefore, you can run the software natively.
Design-wise, it imposes itself on your desk with its sturdy appearance and solid build. It has a metal build with red plastic sides and a padded armrest to ensure plenty of comforts. Other parts, like the switches, jog wheel, Q-links, feel tough and easy to use. There is an OLED display showing things like functionality.
The pads are made of rubber and continue Akai's tradition of making top-quality pads. They are arguably the best out on the market and give you incredible sensitivity and accurate expression. As a self-contained unit, it allows you to record audio straight to the hard drive or an SD card. If you like, you can install your SSD drive in the SATA bay below the device.
The 10″ touchscreen is smooth and responsive. It feels like a smartphone and helps you to quickly understand how to use the model.
In use, the Akai Professional MPC X is excellent, with sampling and chopping a walk in the park. The quality of the audio interface is amazing too.
What I don't like
Well, there is no way to connect a mouse to the Akai Professional MPC X. The 2GB RAM is barely sufficient when you are loading WAV format files into the Akai Professional MPC X. We also did not like that the internal drive cannot be read by the computer.
Best MPC Alternative: Native Instruments Maschine MK2
Even though this article is about the best Akai MPCs, what if you don't want an MPC?
Here's your answer: the Native Instruments Maschine MK2.
The Native Instruments Maschine MK2 model comprises of a self-contained production environment and comes with plenty of features to rival some of the best models from Akai.
A notable reason why this model is so highly rated is that the controller and software are tightly integrated. Therefore, almost all the functions of the software can be run straight from the hardware. With this design, you can perform live or create an entire album without looking at the screen.
As a new model, it comes with some changes. Perhaps the most notable physical change lies in the pads. These are now backlit and multi-colored. It looks beautiful and is functional in actual use. Using the Maschine software, you can set sounds and groups without much fuss.
There is added functionality from the encoder, which makes everything work smoother than before. The previous model had pads that felt good, but the Native Instruments Maschine MK2 takes it up a notch and feels more so. As they are velocity-sensitive, the lightest touch will trigger a response and allow you to play beautifully.
The Maschine 1.8 software is another selling point of the Native Instruments Maschine MK2. It comes with new features that improve the playability and overall functionality of the device. Some of the best features include saturator tape, transient master sustain, time-stretching, and pitch-shifting functions.
What I don't like
While the new processes in the software are welcome developments, we didn't like that they are offline processes.
Over to You
The legendary MPC has a new lease of life thanks to the massive growth of EDM and hip-hop. Consequently, there are more Akai MPCs on the market than ever.
Hopefully, this guide will help you zero-in on the best Akai MPC for your needs.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
Check our other MIDI controller recommendations
- Our favorite MIDI pad controllers
- Read our detailed review of the Akai MPD218
- If you want your MIDI controllers to have keybeds as well, see our favorite MIDI keyboards here