Review of the
A Pad controller for your sequencer
by Rich the TweakMeister
Let me start off by saying I have never owned an MPC2000. And quickly add that I may never have to, now that I have the Akai MPD16 in my arsenal. Is it cool? Yes! But before we get into that, lets start off with a rundown of what the box of pads actually does, and clear up any misconceptions you might have about the box.
The MPD16 is a control surface. It is not a sampler or a drum machine: It has no sounds of its own. You use it with a sequencer or sampler (or soft sampler/soft synth within your sequencer). Just like a keyboard controller, you can connect it to any sounds source that has a MIDI input. Just like a keyboard controller, it sends note on/off messages and MIDI controller messages.
In a sequencer setup, there are two ways that the MPD16 can be connected. USB or MIDI. I've tried both and they both work fine. Installing the USB driver was easy, and there is a bonus--the driver creates an MPD MIDI port on your computer. Its cool because you don't have to use up a MIDI port on your existing interface. There is another bonus to the USB port. Itr allows you to use the MPD16 Utility. As you can see by the pic below, this utility allows you to map the pads to any MIDI note you desire, assign the controller that the data slider will send, and lets you set the MIDI out channel. It can also adjust pad sensitivity in 16 steps. Finally, you can save these templates to a directory on your computer and load them as you need them. So if you want to make different templates for your kits in your synth, sampler and soft synths you can. If you don't connect by USB you can't use this utility.
However, for those who hate USB there is a MIDI output and all of the above functions are possible with the exception of setting pad sensitivity (really not a big deal) and saving templates. Flipping the unit on its back, you have 3 simple diagrams that show you how to assign note values to the pads, change the midi channel and set the active controller. Kinda nice, you don't have to keep the manual close by because the back panel tells you everything you need to remember. If you use MIDI however, you will have to power the unit with a 9v adapter (9V DC (95mA). These are very common and can be picked up anywhwere. If you use USB the computer will power the MPD. For those of you wondering, yes you can connect to USB just to supply the unit with power, not install the driver, and use MIDI for triggering notes. Works! But if you are going to take it to a gig and connect to a sampler or synth without a USB port, then you will need the power adapter.
Using the MPD16 is simplicity itself. There is nothing that is complicated about this hardware. You tap a pad, the note goes out, the sound source makes its sound. The pads are great feeling and perfectly sized for tapping out beats. They are also velocity sensitive. This is perhaps the most amazing thing about the unit. The hands like it. Even though I have been drumming on my keyboard for longer than I want to say, I am able to make better patterns and faster patterns after only playing with the MPD16 for 30 minutes. Let the thumbs do the kiks in the bottom row of pads and let the fingers to the hats and snare in the next row. Its light and only takes up about a square foot of studio real estate, but you do need it close to you, obviously. You can play it on a table, or if you are out of space, tuck it away and bring it out when you need it, and play it on your lap. The USB connection is great here--just one cable and its all ready to go. Of course, it is hot swappable/pluggable.
As I indicated earlier, you can set the midi transmission channel to any channel you want. You can also change the value the slider sends (Pitch bend, CCs 0-119 are supported) which makes it easy to use the slider to sweep filters, volume, pan, effects on your destination device. These are easy enough to change on the fly without calling up the control panel on the computer. Just hold down a button 2 seconds and tap in the number on the pads. There is a dedicated button for "full level". This set the velocity of every pad to 128, no matter how soft or hard you hit the pad. There is a button for "16 levels". This takes the last pad you hit and assigns it to all 16 pads with each having a different velocity level from soft to hard. There is a "bank" button which shifts the pads from values 1-16 to 17-32. (you only get 2 banks of 16 pad definitions, to get more, you save an load templates). Finally, there is the "active" button which turns the slider on and off
I'd tell you more, but unfortunately, info on the unit is hard to come by. I cannot seem to find a midi implementation chart anywhere. It does not appear that the MPD can send or receive sysex over MIDI, and the commands that the the control panel uses over USB are a mystery. There is very little documentation on the Akai site. It would be nice to know things like how to take care of and clean the pads, whether using drum sticks or mallets will hurt the pads, but that information is not available. So I'd suggest not doing either of the above. Also, as far as I can tell, there is no "hold" (or latch) function on the unit, like many grooveboxes. You can't press a few buttons and have a loop play forever while your hands do other stuff, unless your hardware gives you a note trigger for that (which you can assign to a pad). Possibly, you could route this in your sequencer.
But in the balance, the MPD16 makes me smile. The pads are ideal for making hip hop and rap patterns and it is a heck of a lot more fun making beats on this thing compared to tiny drum machine pads or a keyboard.
Akai MPD16 Driver (not on US site, but is on the Japan site)