Akai MPK249 Review – Powerful, But Pricey
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49 keys, loads of control options, and proven Akai build quality – isn’t that everything you need in a MIDI controller? The Akai MPK249 is a proven performer and comes with all the features you need to be a “pro” in the studio. Read on to find out if it’s the right keyboard for your needs in this Akai MPK249 review.
The first iteration of Akai’s MPK series of MIDI controllers was a failure by Akai’s own lofty standards. So following 5-years of user feedback, Akai revisited the MPK series and upgraded every instrument, focusing on fixing common complaints about the keys and pad quality.
The result of this upgrade was Akai’s current line-up of best-selling MPK instruments, including our low-end favorite Akai MPK Mini MK2. At the higher end of this line-up is Akai MPK249.
As the name suggests, MPK249 is a 49-key MIDI controller. I’ve always preferred the 49-key format as the ideal size for a keyboard. It is neither too bulky for carrying around, nor so tiny that you need to constantly hit the octave up/down button. And with its pads, enhanced keyboard, and build quality, the MPK249 is one of the best 49-key keyboards around.
The MPK249 isn’t for everyone though. It is probably too expensive and complicated for the rank beginner. But if you’re an intermediate or even professional, the MPK249 has everything to become the star of your studio.
In this Akai MPK249 review, I’ll dig deeper into this popular offering and tell you if it’s worth your money. We’ll look at the design and build quality before digging into the performance, integrations, and features.
- Massively improved keyboard from the MK1 version. Keys are wider and more comfortable as well
- MPC-quality pads greatly enhance the music production experience
- Better LCD screen and DAW controls along with better integration make plug-and-play faster than ever
- VIP 3.0 and MPC Software 2.0 (optional upgrade) offer improved workflow
The Akai brand name has been synonymous with hip-hop music production since the late 1980s when it debuted the iconic MPC series. It’s nearly impossible to find a single hip-hop track from the decade onwards that did not use the MPC in some capacity. It’s not unreasonable to even say that hip-hop music wouldn’t have been a thing if Akai MPC hadn’t made production-grade sampling accessible to bedroom producers.
So when I talk about the “legacy” of the Akai brand, keep this in mind. In my 15 years of music production, I’ve come to associate Akai with a certain history and quality. Even though the Akai brand today is owned by the same company that owns the Alesis, Numark, and M-Audio brands (inMusic), I expect a certain quality from any Akai instrument.
The first iteration of the Akai MPK249 (MK1), unfortunately, did not meet those expectations. The keyboard was too springy and the pads did not have that fabled Akai sensitivity.
Thus, when I was told that there would be a new version of the MPK249 (MK2) in 2014, I was a bit skeptical. Could Akai really go back to its roots and pull off a pro-grade MIDI controller?
I have to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The MPK249 MK2 is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Akai took all the complaints about the MK1 and smoothed them over. Gone is the clunky keyboard and tacky pads. Instead, you get the same pads as Akai’s MPC Renaissance controller. The keyboard is semi-weighted – perhaps the only one in its class (apart from Roland) – and miles ahead in sensitivity and performance. Plus, there is a whole range of bundled software, including the extremely powerful (and extremely useful) MPC 2.0 and VIP 3.0.
Throw in a rock solid build quality and I can confidently say that the MPK249 not only stands up to expectations, but has also restored my faith in the Akai brand.
Who the Akai MPK249 is for
A perpetual question I get asked about this (and other “pro” grade controllers) is “Is the MPK249 right for me?”
To answer this question, you have to first ask yourself:
- Would you call yourself a beginner, an intermediate, or an expert?
- How important is your computer keyboard to your workflow?
The MPK249 is not a beginner-friendly controller. The semi-weighted keys require more effort and give more feedback than what a rank newbie can handle. The huge array of controls will serve to confuse you.
Instead, the MPK249 is meant to be a standalone music production center. Unlike mini controllers (such as the recently reviewed MPK Mini), you get complete DAW controls built into the controller. You don’t need your computer keyboard at all.
If your current workflow is centered around the computer keyboard (true for a lot of self-taught bedroom producers), you’ll find the MPK249 to be a bit unnecessary. Similarly, if you’ve been playing for 3 months, the MPK249 is just “too much keyboard” for your needs. A cheaper 25-key keyboard is more than sufficient for you.
However, if you are an intermediate or expert-level player, know how to make good use of the 49-key keyboard, and need a standalone music production center, the Akai MPK249 will make a delightful center of your home studio.
Read on to find out why.
Build Quality & Design
Overall design: The Akai MPK249 is surprisingly compact for its size, weighing under 13lbs and less than 30″ in length. It’s not particularly portable, but you won’t have much problem lugging it around to a gig. It is sleeker than the MK1 iteration and doesn’t have the retro “chunkiness”, but the build quality remains top-notch. The aesthetic is similar to Akai’s smaller models, though the improved pads make for a more attractive overall package. The layout follows a standard pattern – pads on the left, knobs/sliders on the right – which makes controlling things easier.
Portability: Lay out two standard laptops end to end and you’ll get a fair idea of the size of the Akai MPK249. This is decently compact and around 2-5″ smaller than most of its closest competitors (such as the 33″ long Novation Impulse 49). Despite the compactness, it incorporates a full-sized keyboard. Lugging it around to gigs is relatively easy if you can handle some weight. For a 49-key keyboard, I’d happily give it a 4.0/5 for portability.
Build quality: The MPK249 brings Akai’s famed build quality with it. In fact, the new MK2 version is a marked improvement from the first iteration. The pads are borrowed from the retro-ish MPC Renaissance. And the keyboard is semi-weighted with wide waterfall-style keys that feel great to touch. At 13lbs, there is decent heft to the keyboard. It also feels much sturdier than cheaper competitors. You can bang away at it without worrying about things falling apart.
Aesthetics: The Akai MPK249 doesn’t have the same retro aesthetic as some of Akai’s other offerings (especially my favorite, the Max49 in red). It has the black, white, and red Akai design, punctuated by the yellow button lights. The highlight is the RGB backlit pads that look great in the dark. It won’t win any design awards, but the MPK249 is no ugly duckling either.
The Akai MPK249 is a well-built, well-designed keyboard that is surprisingly portable for its size. It has good heft and sturdiness. All controls feel robust and richly crafted, especially the MPC-borrowed pads, semi-weighted keyboard, and sliders. The improved LCD screen is brighter and the pitch/mod wheels have a satisfying rubbery feel to them.
Overall, the MPK249 is a well-rounded instrument as far as design and build-quality goes. It won’t blow you away with its looks but it won’t give you much room to complain either. The slightly smaller size also makes it a better choice for lugging around to live gigs.
It’s nice to have good design, but what truly matters in any MIDI controller is the performance. Do the keys work as well as advertised? Are the pads nice to touch? Is connecting it to a DAW easy?
Let’s find out.
Keyboard: The keyboard is where most musicians spend the majority of their time. This is why I place a premium on controllers with high-quality keyboards.
The MPK249 is an exceptional performer in this regard. Instead of cheap synth-action keys, you get a piano-style semi-weighted, touch-sensitive keyboard. This adds a variable resistance (or “weight”) to the keyboard that is reminiscent of acoustic pianos. Apart from a couple of offerings from Roland, few MIDI controllers offer semi-weighted keys, which makes the MPK249 stand out.
Keyboard (cont.): Apart from the semi-weighted keys, the MPK49 also gets Aftertouch. Aftertouch, for those not in the know, is MIDI data that’s sent after the contact is made (hence the name). This makes it a great tool to control vibrato and volume.
Additionally, the keyboard is full-sized – perfect for fat-fingered oafs like me.
On the whole, Aftertouch + semi-weighted keys + full-sized keyboard + touch-sensitivity is all I want from a controller. I give it a 5/5.
Pads: The MPK249 has 16 pads with 4 soundbanks (for a total of 64 sounds). The pads are borrowed from MPC Renaissance and feel great. Plus, they’re backlit which adds another dimension to music composition (you can color code sounds) and looks great when used in the dark.
The one negative I can think of is the pad-size. If they were slightly larger, finger drumming would be a lot easier.
Knobs and Faders: Along with the 16 pads, you also get a set of 8 knobs and 8 sliders. The knobs have satisfying resistance and are mapped to work with most DAWs out of the box. They’re great for controlling parameters like volume, panning, and oscillators.
The 8 sliders are one of my favorite feature, especially when mapped to control EQ. The “chunky” resistance they offer makes EQing and mixing far more delightful than using the software EQ. Apart from the pads and keys, the sliders will be one of your most used controls, and the ones here are great to use.
LCD + Controls: Since the MPK249 is meant to be an all-in-one production center, you get a LCD screen right in the center. This lets you change parameters like tempo, swing, gate, etc without having to use a keyboard + mouse in the DAW. The new screen is brighter than the MK1, though it is still not color.
You can control the LCD screen from the directional arrows to its right. It’s not a gamechanger but it definitely frees you from looking up at the DAW, improving your workflow.
DAW Controls: Adding to the Akai MPK249’s music production credentials is a whole range of buttons to control the DAW. This includes buttons to start, stop, record, and skip through tracks.
It might not look like a big feature, but these controls go a long way towards freeing you from being tied to your computer keyboard + mouse. You can record and loop through tracks without ever looking at the DAW. This makes music production so much more intuitive.
Ease of use & connectivity: The MPK249 is loaded with ports. You get USB-MIDI, MIDI-in, MIDI-out, and even iOS compatibility (via Apple Camera Kit). Plus, there is room to ad a sustain/expression pedal as well.
Using the MPK249 is as easy as plugging it into a computer and firing up your DAW. It integrates easily with most common DAWs and you can easily change things around with the included software.
Software: Like all of Akai’s MPK series, the MPK249 comes with a bunch of included software as well. There are a couple of synths (including Hybrid 3), but they’re far from being good enough for serious producers. The real stars, however, are, Akai MPC 2.0 and VIP 3.1.
The MPC 2.0, which is an optional upgrade (check eligibility here) brings MPC workflows to your computer. It’s a powerful tool for turning the controller into a full-blown production suite.
Another great tool is VIP 3.1. This brings all your VSTs into a single platform – a powerful tool for serious musicians with a lot of VSTs.
The Akai MPK249 is one of the best performance-grade MIDI controllers around for two reasons:
- The exceptionally well-balanced keyboard, especially with semi-weighted keys and Aftertouch.
- MPC-quality pads, further boosted by MPC 2.0 software for better workflows
All the other features – DAW control, LCD screen, extensive soundbanks, knobs and sliders, etc. – are designed to free you up from being tied to your computer keyboard and mouse. You can fire up your DAW, connect your controller, and jam away just as you would on a conventional workstation (which are usually priced over $1500).
This adds much needed intuitiveness to the music production process – a key ingredient for creativity. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll love what the Akai MPK249 brings to the table.
In a previous article, I ranked the MPK249 as my top pick for the best 49-key MIDI keyboard.
This review shows just why it deserves that honor.
The MPK249 is well-built, has a fantastic keyboard, and boast all the features you’d need to create the epicenter of your home production system. It’s often the default choice of serious music producers, including some of your favorite pro artists.
It’s not cheap, however, and neither is it for everyone. You won’t get much value from it if you’re only going to use it for the keyboard. To make full-use of its potential, you’ll want to use it as a music production center or taking it live.
Here’s a quick recap:
What’s good: The MPK249 works well in a live setting or in the studio. It gives you the freedom to skip the computer keyboard + mouse combo, making for a more intuitive production experience. The keys are fantastic and the pads responsive – exactly what you’d want in a pro-quality MIDI controller.
What you’ll definitely like are:
- Keyboard quality – semi-weighted, touch-sensitive keys with Aftertouch that offer piano-like performance and responsiveness
- MPC pads are responsive, decently large, and look good with RGB lighting. You can also expand them to 64 sounds with the 4 separate soundbanks
- The knobs and sliders have a meaty resistance and are well-mapped for most DAWs
- DAW controls and bright LCD screen remove the need to use your computer keyboard and mouse. You can make music entirely from the controller without even looking at your DAW
- Integration is rock solid with most DAWs. Customization is easy with bundled software. You can also upgrade to MPC 2.0 software for improved workflows
- Decently compact size and build quality
What’s not good: Although it does a lot of things right, the MPK249 also misses a few tricks:
- Aesthetically dull; lacks the retro-finish of Akai’s other pro-quality keyboards such as Max49
- At nearly 13lbs, it’s slightly on the heavier side. You’ll need a dedicated stand to hold it
- Semi-weighted keys can be difficult to play if you don’t have finger strength; not recommended for beginners
- Pricey; there are similar 49-key controllers with equivalent features (though none have the semi-weighted keys of the Akai)
- Pads are slightly small for intuitive finger drumming. A few mm larger would have made a difference
Who it is for
As a serious (and seriously priced) instrument, the Akai MPK249 isn’t for everyone. It is “too much keyboard” for beginners. Even intermediate players who are used to a keyboard + mouse workflow won’t be able to make full use of its features. People without any piano playing experience might also find the MPK249’s keyboard to be a bit hard to use.
On the whole, the Akai MPK249 is best if you:
- Want a pro-grade MIDI controller that will last for years
- Want a more intuitive workflow that doesn’t depend on computer keyboard and mouse
- Are at an intermediate or higher level to take advantage of all the features
- Plan to perform in a live setting
I DO NOT recommend this for beginners. This shouldn’t be your first MIDI controller. You’ll find far better beginner-friendly choices in our roundup of the best 49-key, 61-key, and 88-key MIDI controllers.
Where to buy: As with most musical instruments, I’ve found that Amazon constantly offers the lowest prices and attractive deals on shipping.
Alternatives to Akai MPK249
If you’d rather choose something other than the Akai, here are some of the top alternatives in this category:
Akai MPK249 vs Novation Launchkey 49
The Novation Launchkey 49 has all the bells and whistles of the Akai MPK249 – 49 keys, 16 pads, knobs, sliders, mod/pitch wheels, and deep integration with Ableton.
And the best part? It is priced nearly half of the MPK249.
Sure, the keyboard isn’t nearly as good, and the pads not close to being as responsive as on the MPK249. The knobs and sliders feel weak and the build quality isn’t up to scratch.
But for the price, you can’t really complain much. It does most things that the MPK249 does, just not as well. If build-quality, robustness, and key/pad quality aren’t a priority for you, the Novation Launchkey 49 makes for a fantastic alternative.
Choose Novation Launchkey 49 if: You want tons of controls and deep integration with Ableton, and if build quality and workflow control wasn’t important to you – all at a lower price point.
Akai MPK249 vs Nektar Panorama P4
The Nektar Panorama P4 has to be one of the most gorgeous musical instruments ever created. The all-white base with the black keytops and control section is just stunning to look at.
Of course, it’s not just about looks; the Panorama P4 is also a fantastic MIDI controller. Like the MPK249, the P4 also boasts a velocity sensitive, Aftertouch-enabled, semi-weighted keyboard. The playing experience is as good as the MPK249, if not better.
Rounding up the feature list is a setof 12 pads, 8+1 knobs and sliders, and a LCD screen. You also get a motorized fader – something missing from the MPK249.
However, given that the P4 is priced higher than the MPK249, you have to ask yourself if the extra motorized fader and better looks are worth the price. Otherwise, the P4 is one of the most competent MIDI controllers around.
Choose Nektar Panorama P4 if: You want a great keyboard with stunning design that can take a beating, and if you’re willing to pay a slight premium over the MPK249 for aesthetics.
Final Verdict on Akai MPK249
On the whole, the Akai MPK249 remains the best pick among professional 49-key MIDI controllers. It is well-designed, sturdily constructed, and has a pleasing aesthetic. There are robust integrations with most DAWs as well. The controller encourages you to free up your keyboard + mouse and makes the creation process more intuitive. The keyboard is best in its class and the pads have that distinctiveness MPC responsiveness. Along with the bundled software, these features make the Akai MPK249 the gold standard for serious production equipment.
Choose Akai MPK249 if you:
- Need a pro-quality controller that can be the center of your studio
- Want something you can take to live gigs
- Need a quality keyboard (and have the experience to utilize it)
- Are an intermediate to expert-level player
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Read our guides to buying the best 88-key and 61-key keyboards
- Working with Ableton? Read all about our favorite Ableton controllers
- Using Logic Pro? Then you’ll want to check out our top Logic Pro X controllers
- If you value portability, you should check out our guide to portable MIDI keyboards