You’re spoiled for choice in standalone drum machines. But Akai is leaning heavily on frequent updates – and there’s plenty in the latest MPC 2.11 release for all their standalone devices.
Parts shortages facing the whole industry mean software updates may become vital, generally. But with or without a supply chain crisis, I think it’s a safe bet to assume what buyers want is a sense that their machines will get frequent use, won’t gather dust, and will get ongoing attention from makers. We’ve seen that in devices from Elektron, Polyend, Novation, and others.
Now, Akai has been keeping up a steady pace of MPC updates, but MPC 2.11 – available for all the standalone MPCs (Force, One, Live, X, Studio) – has some especially appealing stuff.
Here’s the rundown:
Probability & ratcheting. Okay, for me it was a deal-killer this wasn’t there, but now you get them. There’s probability for note variations (in 25% – 50% – 75% increments, not continuously but… that’s probably fine). Ratcheting subdivides steps from 1-8. The latter is pretty necessary in any modern music so – if that was holding you back on MPC, here you go. Both work on any notes, so you can use them for melodic parts as well as rhythmic ones.
Vinyl and analog simulation. AIR Flavor is billed as “vinyl simulation” but it covers a range of retro simulation – flutter, tube saturation, distortion, etc. – so could simulate vinyl, tape, or just generally retro fuzz and coloring.
AIR Amp Sim. Distortion, EQ, tone color. Distortion is to me one of the best things about Maschine+ so – the combination with the above suddenly makes the MPC look like a worthy competitor. I’ll have to hear them first, though. (Preview, not review, folks!) Q-Link mapped, too, of course.
AIR Granulator now has reverse, shape, and skew. And there’s a good reason to go the MPC route now – full-featured desktop-style granulation is not a common feature elsewhere.
Sounds Mode. Browser with preview and favorites – also sorely lacking before, and as far as Maschine+, shots fired. (Plus this looks a bit simpler than NI’s offering.) Generally this stuff is marketed at preset lovers, but anyone saving a bunch of their own sounds will also be in need.
Pad to Keygroup. Ah, now this is my kind of MPC workflow. Assign and pitch any sample from a pad to a new keygroup program. And honestly, if your pad box doesn’t do stuff like this quickly, there’s just… not much point. With it, it’s a reason to focus on the hardware. Hidden in the updates but just as important:
More automation and editing. The sequencer now also supports automation on Drum Pad Slices (also essential) and 16 levels of velocity on Plugin, Keygroup, and MIDI Tracks.
MIDI Key Splits lets you set split points layering multiple tracks. That’s a fair bit less MPC-ish but I expect a must to people using the standalone MPCs as computer stand-in with a keyboard.
MPC Tuner. Like, a tuner in the conventional sense. Of course, this is usable with analog synths and instruments – which is good, as I bet the Eurorack owners don’t all have a KORG or BOSS tuner handy.
Ableton Link 3.0 update keeps this box up to date with Ableton’s cross-platform toolkit and assists your start and stop sync.
So yeah, a few features that are squarely in the “wait, it didn’t have that before?” but all around starts to make the MPC range look like a serious competitor, especially given its availability for fairly low cost and form factors of any shape you want (InMusic style).
Free for all standalone MPC users. Hell of an update.
I still think a lot of the competition for these ‘hybrid’ standalone boxes – Maschine+ and the standalone MPCs first and foremost – is that they’re so much like a computer, some folks will wind up just using the computer. It’s more affordable and means more horsepower under the hood.
That being said, Akai keeps upping the ante on their devices and could lure folks away. There is something appealing about being unplugged from the computer and – even aside from the form factor, updates and stability questions – having another device to deal with onstage. Of course, then they’re also in competition with a lot of other standalone boxes.
Certainly, whatever you want, there’s now a box or device combo uniquely catering to you, down to Roland’s just-released T-8 if you ever said “but can it theoretically fit inside my mouth”?
And yeah, Maschine+ seems to be lagging in updates. NI, your move.