Real sequencers and drum machines force you to approach groovemaking with a different technique than software. I discovered this completely by accident when I invested a few hundred bucks in a tiny Alesis MMT-8 scratchpad sequencer. The Alesis and I got along famously, to the point that it became my songwriting tool of choice. It was only when I needed more than 8 tracks or fancy editing that I powered up a computer.

Few manufacturers are willing to invest in the development of a new hardware sequencer these days. That’s what makes Akai’s MPC500 special — it’s the latest (and smallest) incarnation of Akai’s renowned rhythm sequencer family.

Alas, it has several notable flaws. The baby MPC’s compact size forced Akai to remove 4 touch sensitive drum pads, leaving us with only 12 sounds per bank. That’s not a showstopper, but it will have an impact on the complexity of your grooves. Second, it has a minuscule old-school (and not in the good sense) 16 x 2 character LCD display. This means that the front panel had to be tweaked to “dumb it down.” There’s no reason to cheap out on something as important as the user interface, especially when off-the-shelf graphic LCD displays can be had for around $30 wholesale, even in relatively small quantities.

And while we’re at it, why not move beyond the “rhythm sampling” paradigm and include some serious synthesis and sample-looping capability under the hood? The sound generation hardware is already in the box, the sequencer is already there, and its not like Akai would be taking sales away from their (now deceased) line of hardware samplers.

But — when all is said and done — the biggest roadblock for potential purchasers looks to be the price. Harmony Central reports a list of $1299, and the street price seems to be around $800. That’s laptop territory, guys.

Akai MPC500 Music Production Center, Yo! (via Tom at Musicthing)

  • Damon

    When you consider the ability to actually make music on these things, and as well get your face out of the monitor, these are fantastic.

    Also, they force you to created by ear, and offer little visual feedback, so you become a much more honest, or just closer to, an actually musician. Plus you can jam live or sample and record or control external equipment. Oh, and they sound fantastic, though the effects tend to come up a bit short, but again, you gotta make the music rather than fix it.

    I have the 2500, and the pads allow you to generate much more honest base lines than do a traditional keyboard. As as a matter of fact, the way it forces you to stay simple really improves your base lines. When I program base on a typical keyboard, it always sounds to much like a guitar solo, but not with the mpc.

    It is an ergonomic classic. You don't program it. You put it on and drive it. You can produce a whole song on it and bounce it into your computer, or you can build a song in it and pipe the midi into your computer and install your favorite sounds. I know this is a bit elementary, but i get excited about it. It is a very satisfying peace of gear.

    And thought it is a bit more expensive than competitive products, it just has a character and a groove that makes it magic. You might say it is the Mini Moog of sampler sequencers.

  • ticc

    It cost way to much if you ask me. Just buy a mac book it does more

    the only thing i miss about the mpc's is that you can sample ,then edit. then play in three easy steps. On my mac it's rip a cd. cut the file then open another program then edit then play. only ableton live is fast in this regard. but if you ask me the day of the mpc is over and has been over for years sorry.

  • JP Belanger

    Yeah, I don't see why I should buy this for 800$, when could get a MPD24 for 200, as I already have a laptop. But even if I didn't, I'd prefer to pay 200$ more and have both than just having a smaller version of what I'd want of a MPC. The 2500 looks fantastic, and I think it's reasonnably priced; I just can't afford it. The MPC1000 is priced 1000$, why wouldn't I get 16 pads instead of 12? Just for the fun of running it on batteries? 4 independent outputs + master out vs only master out?

    200$ is not that much. So much questions in my head ahhhhh

  • GovSilver

    I recall a knock on Akai MPCs is that their sequencers are limited to 4/4 time. Is this newest one also subject to the same limitation?

  • Damon

    Well, what do you need to make music?

    You can theoretically get by on a laptop and the software that comes with Computer Music Magazine. You don't need a moog or a v synth or a virus or an mpc. But music tends to be more inspired with them.

    I think is it less about need and more about want, and shall the 2 never be confused, less we wrap religious denominationalism around taste and preference, accusing everyone else of enjoying gear that does not interest us. Just buyers remorse with seedy defense attorney.

    I do not know many artists who do not technically have more gear than they need, while at the same time, not having as much as they could probably make good use of. But this is "that discussion" and nobody ever wins as long as everyone is right.

  • Tom

    "I don’t see why I should buy this for 800$, when could get a MPD24 for 200"

    This is rather like saying 'Why would I buy a Moog Voyager for $3,000 when I could buy a Behringer controller keyboard for $49?' The MPC is more than just 16 (or 12) rubber pads.

  • Tail Tyle

    "I recall a knock on Akai MPCs is that their sequencers are limited to 4/4 time. Is this newest one also subject to the same limitation?"

    I don't know about the classic MPCs, like the MPC-60… But 4/4 time is DEFINITLY not a restriction with the MPC, if it ever was a restriction (which is doubtful).

    I have just recently switched from making music from software (laptop and midi controller), to the MPC (1000, not the 500), and I must say it is fantastic. Not only is the MPC just way more tactile… it is also way more stable. I have never had a crash, or technical glitch with the MPC. The MPC might not be your thing, but it is certainly nothing to sneer at. There is a reason why the MPC has had such a loyal following since the days of Roger Linn.

  • if this was about 349, it might be on my radar, still ~3x the price of pure pads, but the mpc heritage is worth something wrt the onboard software.. where it is, it makes little sense vs the 1000, where you get a cool OS (plus a 3rd party OS that has even more stuff), more pads, and lets face it, who is going to use this on a plane?!

  • JP Belanger

    To Tom: I think you didn't take my post the right way. Man, I know what you mean and that's what I tried to explain by saying that both the 1000 and 2500 are dope. All I wanted to say is that if I had 2000$ to burn right now, I'd sure buy a 2500, and if I had only 1000$, I'd buy a 1000 anyways. But 800$ for this "half of a MPC"? Mmmmm not so sure.

  • Tom

    Got it JP – I had misunderstood you…

  • "lets face it, who is going to use this on a plane?!"

    I beg to differ Carmen… I personally know a lot of musicians who travel regularly across the US as well as to Europe and back that have all expressed an interest in making beats while flying. Sounds odd but maybe we're some sort of rare geeky gear heads that sure wouldnt mind passing the time doing what we love most. God bless technology.

    That's why there are so many different models, so you can choose the one that suits you. Same is true with Dell laptops or Apple laptops. it's the exact same idea as far as marketing and such.

    For a new or strictly studio / home based beatmaker (or one that only goes to his boys crib occasionally to collab)the clear choice for a $200 difference would probably be the MPC1000. But for the jetset cats that are always on the go the MPC500 would be well worth the price. You pay for convenience in this case.

    Also, one has to really consider what he wants out of this thing. Studio owners (large and small) might need more than the MPC500 offers as far as outs and such (like adat connections for digital in and out). This unit is more suited for the giging, traveling, DJ types or the cat that just figures its worth having a second mpc for laying ideas and "making beats on the go".

  • bitoven

    I used to say the same thing..why buy an mpc ill just use software that can do the same thing as an mpc. They do! but I recently bought an mpc and love it!! i tell everyone my story…i think that its the medium…it sort of evokes a different creativity from you…that said i think traveling making music can do the same thing…

  • arol

    i would rather just get the sp 404 cheaper runs on batters cause no matter how much you travl its not worth 800

  • Not worth it to you… that's my point. This is a sort of circular conversation that really comes down to individual tastes and needs.

    For instance, Mac Users will pay anything to stay in their lane and confort zone. Same with a certain type of MPC user. A mac user doesnt buy a Dell laptop just because it's cheaper. They buy the Mac for it familiar features and conveniences and such. What would a MPC head want a sp404 for? Ask anyone who is partial to an MPC most other little groove boxes wont cut it.

  • SaintJude

    " used to say the same thing..why buy an mpc ill just use software that can do the same thing as an mpc. They do! " What software is that? RS-16x? what software speaks well with the 2500's? do any of you think there will be software packaged with the mpd24 ?

  • mq

    "serious synthesis and sample-looping capability under the hood". That's a good idea. Portable synthesizing/sequencing tool is what I want…

  • Dre

    I use software to make my music, but my friend has the 1000 and since I started learning the MPC its hard to approach music the same way I've used to on a DAW. Since then I was looking into the MPD24 and was wondering is there software like the RS-16x for "windows" that could use the MPD24 to tigger samples drums.. etc

  • gray47

    I was using a dinosaur P3 Toshiba for tunes. I like having a dedicated machine for my hobby. I wasn't doing anything groundbreaking but I really enjoyed it, then the machine died on me. I had only had it for a year, then poof, the mainboard got a surge from the battery and that was that.

    I have another laptop at home that is my entertainment center, I won't take it outside for fear of a similar thing happening.

    I really want/need something to noodle around on while I'm on the go. I am on the subway a lot so I am thinking this MPC 500 or a tracker like LSDJ or Seq 1.0 on a PSP console.

    Stability is definitely a factor when you are on the go and hardware rules in the stability department.

  • cos

    i have the mpc2000xl and i use cubase on a desktop. problem is i need a laptop if i wanna make it portable for anything. wen i seen the mpc500 i first thought it was a joke caus it was a mini mpc, but then i seen that it does mostly the same all the mpc's do. and wen i found out about it using batteries also, it blew me away.

    i have a sister in virginia, and wen i drive from jersey, i get a clear mind being away that creating music comes easier… but i dont wanna bring my chunky 2000xl. the 500 is smaller than a laptop. and since i already know how to use an mpc, even though the 500's screen is so smaller to figure wut ur doing, i caught on so quick. i transferred the memory from the 2000xl to the 500. and now i wanna use just the 500 alone without cubase. just like previous comments said, different equipment causes different techniques to make the music, causing different style of sound.

    so now finally, i can go ANYWHERE and make a beat!!! in my car, at a friends house, at a girlfriends house, even at a park. the same way writers go to different places to be inspired, i can do that now also!! and yes, it does make a difference to the music u make… the setting sets the mood.

    so for me the mpc500 is perfect! i can take it anywhere, even laying on my bed b4 i go to sleep. and then i can hook it up to my pc cubase and record all i want.

    if u want a new mpc, and small, its either the mpc1000 or mpc500 of course. honestly i dont think either r expensive considering wut they can do. but if u are totally new to mpc's, go with the 1000 for the fact that the screen is bigger, so u can catch on easier. it all depends on how much portability u want.

  • yeah..i've had the 1000 have the 2000xl and the 4000 but damn an mpc that runs on batteries….i'm gettin one tomorrow….only real mpc enthusiasts will understand the benefit of this little gem…a mean sequencer that runs on batteries (technology…wow…)once you go mpc you don't go vst…haha peace everyone for 2007

  • Xyno

    I'm so lucky,

    Somebody I know will sell me his MPC500 because he will move out in Halifax.The MPC have about a 1 month usage and he sales it to me at around 780$Can!!!A good opportunity to leave my laptop a little!!!Can't wait to have it and playing it till my od age and abuse like Jel!!!(a MPC player who abuse in his style)

  • beleg

    So if you were looking for something cheeper, something to mess around with while you wait for the train or the bus, what would you get?

  • Jer

    I just bought an MPC 500 about a week ago, i had never used ANY mpc products before, but was growing tired of sampling and generating music on computers…. best decision ever. the machine is very easy to use, i use it at home, work, in my friend's car… everywhere, there is no limit to where you can make music with this, quality samples, amazing sound, pressure sensitive pads. best investment i've ever made. $800 well spent. i recomend it to anyone looking for the first time, looking for something portable, and it does the job perfectly for a home studio.

  • D=

    I WANT 1!!! but i dont have 800$ :*(

  • Olls

    I got one yesterday 😀 but here in sweden it just cost around 500$ :S maybe this article is old..

  • STAR

    I just bought one today. and am feeling a little discourage because i hear the mpc 1000 or 2000 does this or that. i'm staying with the 500

    but can someone explain how exactly the sampling works. and what kind of cords i need for things as….cubase,fruity loops, abelton glive 5, behringer mixer, regular keyboard??

    i'm really eager to learn..if someone could explain that, i'd really appreciate it

    leave a comment or email me at D1GARCZ3@YAHOO.COM