Akai MPK249 Review – Proven Punchy Performance, But at a Price
Reviewed by Ryan Harrell in Keyboards
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 Sliders: 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.
Conclusion: 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
Where to buy: As with most musical instruments, I've found that Amazon constantly offers the lowest prices and attractive deals on shipping. Click here to check the current price on Amazon.
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.
- Lots of controls - 49 keys, 16 pads, 8+1 sliders, knobs, etc.
- Deep integration with Ableton
- Value pricing
- Pads are tiny and unresponsive - poor for finger drumming
- Synth action keys lack the feedback of MPK249's semi-weighted keys
- Poor integration with DAWs other than Ableton
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. Check current price here.
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.
- Gorgeous design
- Motorized fader is a welcome addition
- Well-integrated with most DAWs
- Exceptional build quality
- Expensive; priced higher than the MPK249
- Poor Ableton integration
- Aftertouch performance is slightly variable on black keys
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. Check current price here.
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.
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