Akai MPK Mini MK2 Review – The Best Budget Controller Around?
Reviewed by Ryan Harrell in Keyboards
Good design and features are nice, but you buy MIDI controllers for how they perform, not how they look. This is one area that the MPK Mini shines in. It doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but it does everything more than well enough. Let's take a look:
Keyboard: The synth-action keyboard is very basic in design and performance. There is no aftertouch, and it has only three touch sensitivity settings. On the plus side, the keys are large and comfortable - a rarity in portable MIDI controllers.
Keyboard (cont.): You don't get the waterfall-style keys that can be found in Akai's higher-end controllers, such as the MPK249. It is clear that this keyboard is meant for studio use, not performance. Pick it if you intend to enter basic melodies and chords into your DAW, not to compose complex piano pieces. For the latter, pick one of our top digital pianos instead.
Pads: The MPK Mini MK2 comes with 8 fully programmable pads. The pads have a rubbery feel and are velocity sensitive. Though not as large and sensitive as Akai's dedicated APC pad controllers, they work well enough. On the downside, some might find them to be a little too small. 8 pads also limit what you can do with them, though adding more pads would have meant sacrificing portability.
Knobs: Apart from the 8 pads, the MPK Mini also gets 8 fully-programmable knobs. The knobs are Q-link enabled, which means you can use them to control things such as oscillators, filters and envelopes in your DAW/synth. In practice, this works great, though the build quality of the knobs could have been better.
Joystick: Instead of a pitch/mod wheel, you get an innovative 4-way joystick controller in the top left of the device. This acts as a replacement pitch/mod wheel without taking up extra space on the device - a brilliant design move!
Ease of use: The Akai MPK Mini MK2 is USB-only. Using it is as easy as plugging it in and launching your DAW. It integrates well enough with most DAWs to make plug and play possible. But it also comes with a useful MK2 editor to make custom configurations and use presets. The lack of a MIDI port is missed, but you're unlikely to use it.
Software: The MPK Mini comes with a load of bundled software, but not all of it is good or even useful. The two synth/beat plugins - SONiVOX’s Wobble and Hybrid 3 - are mediocre at best. If you have Massive, Koktakt or Serum, you'll want them instead. The real star is MPC Essentials, which brings Akai MPC workflow and sampling to your keyboard.
Software (cont.): Apart from these, the MPK Mini also comes with VIP 3.0 - Virtual Instrument Player. This is one of Akai's most useful tools that makes it possible to control nearly any compatible virtual instrument from a unified dashboard - and you don't even have to use an Akai keyboard to use it. One of the most versatile pieces of software you'll ever use.
Conclusion: There is nothing about the Akai MPK Mini MK2 that will blow your mind as far as performance goes. But there is also nothing that will disappoint you. The keyboard, which was a weak point, has improved drastically. And the pads are as good as traditional Akai.
The joystick controller is a welcome change to the MK2, and the plug-and-play integration make it easy to use for most people. There is a bunch of bundled software, but apart from MPC Essentials, you're unlikely to get much use out of them.
On the whole, a perfectly good controller that does everything well enough to satisfy most users.
Good design, good performance, and all the features you'd need.
Throw in a great price and a trusted brand and you can see why the MPK Mini is so beloved among musicians. It ticks all the right boxes and does it at an affordable price.
Having said that, the MPK Mini isn't for everyone. There are some clear unaddressed deficiencies and missing features. Let's look at them in more detail below.
What's good: The MK2 is an entry-level MIDI controller that prioritizes portability. The keyboard is good but it's nothing you'd want to use in a live or performance setting.
What you'll definitely like are:
- Portability, including low weight and small dimensions. The controller fits easily in a laptop bag.
- Improved keyboard from the older MK1 iteration
- Pad quality is best-in-class in this price range
- Bundled software, especially VIP 3.0 and MPC Essentials
- Best-in-class build quality and 4-way joystick
- Unbeatable value for money
What's not good: Although it does a lot of things right, the MPK Mini MK2 also misses a few tricks. Chief among these are:
- Keys lack aftertouch and have limited velocity sensitivity
- Pads aren't as responsive as Akai's dedicated pad controllers.
- Only 8 pads limit usability. Forget about building complex drum kits.
- Knobs feel lightweight and don't have a satisfying click
- No pattern editor in arpeggiator; not useful in performance settings
Who it is for: As an entry-level instrument, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 is best used in studio settings, or to make music on the move. Don't think of dragging it to a live performance - neither the keyboard nor the pads are designed for the pressures of a performance (both the keys and pads are too few in number for live shows anyway).
The MK2 is best if you:
- Want an affordable, entry-level MIDI controller that you can use anywhere
- You'll use the keyboard mostly for entering simple melodies and chords
- You need a simple drum pad for uncomplicated drum kits
Alternatives to Akai MPK Mini MK2
If you'd rather choose something other than the Akai, here are some of the top alternatives in this price range:
Akai MPK Mini MK2 Vs. Alesis V25
The Alesis V25 is remarkably similar to the MK2 in terms of features. You get the same 25-key setup and 8 pads. Instead of 8 knobs, you get just four.
The V25 has a better keyboard the MK2. Although it uses the same synth action keys, you can adjust the velocity sensitivity. This creates a more "intuitive" piano-like playing experience, though it's still a far cry from a full-fledged piano keyboard. Alesis V25 also looks good and has a minimalist design that would appeal to a lot of users.
On the downside, the V25 is a lot longer than the MK2 at nearly 40" long. If portability is your thing, look elsewhere. The smaller pads and limited knobs are also a negative, as is the absence of an equivalent of the VIP 3.0 software.
- Wider keys and better keyboard experience
- Minimalist design
- Affordable price point
- Small pads and limited number of knobs
- Large dimensions and weight impact portability
- Similar price point to MPK Mini
Choose Alesis V25 if: You want a better keyboard experience and are willing sacrifice portability for it, and if pads/knobs don't matter much to you.
Akai MPK Mini MK2 Vs. Novation Launchkey Mini MK2
The Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 is the closet competitor to Akai, both in terms of performance and brand value. It has similar dimensions, similar weight, and nearly the same features.
What sets the Launchkey Mini apart from the Akai is its close integration with Ableton and the larger number of pads (16 to Akai's 8). Novation touts its Ableton integration in its marketing and true to form, the controller works fantastically well with the DAW right out of the box. If Ableton is your primary DAW, you will love the deep integration.
Another plus is the larger number of pads. With 16 pads, you can put together a decent drum kit without worrying about running out of sound banks.
On the downside, the keyboard feels more fragile than the Akai's. The pads are also much smaller, which makes them better for launching sounds than for finger drumming.
- 16 pads vs 8 pads on the Akai
- Same weight and dimensions as the Akai
- Deep integration with Ableton
- Keys are narrower than the Akai and feel fragile
- Smaller pads make finger drumming difficult
- Poor integration with DAWs other than Ableton
Choose Novation Launchkey Mini MK2 if: You make music primarily in Ableton and a large number of pads is more important to you than pad size & quality, and keyboard quality.
Final Verdict on Akai MPK Mini MK2
On the whole, the Akai MPK Mini MK2 remains the gold standard in this segment. It is a well-rounded product from a respectable manufacturer with a good keyboard and a long list of features. Ease of use, lots of bundled software, and good build quality make it a great pick for anyone looking for an entry-level 25-key MIDI controller. The low price and portability make it an even better choice.
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