Akai Pro has a long and prestigious history of making Phat Beatz. Their MPC series was a key player in the sample-driven 90s era hip hop scene. Anywhere you looked, you’d see one used. More recently, Akai Pro has moved into the DAW controller scene, which has helped hone their design and usability more for the digital era. So where does the MPX8 fit in? Let’s find out.
In a nutshell
The MPX8 is a portable sampler that uses Akai Pro’s famous velocity sensitive drum pads. It comes with 21 built-in classic samples, and a SD card slot to add your own. It’s also a MIDI controller for all your cue point drumming needs.
In the box
Along with the MPX8, you get a couple of little breakout cables to adapt from 3.5mm to DIN MIDI in/out. Although you can understand why they don’t have full size MIDI connectors, it make you wonder how long it will be until you lose one of the adapters. You also get a USB cable with AC adapter and the manual. There’s not much more you need, really. You can download a couple of libraries and the kit editor from the Akai website.
Build and design
The MPX8 feels like a heavier version of the Korg nano series, or even Akai’s own LPD8. It’s not as pretty as its cousins, but looks professional enough. The thing feels sturdy. There’s no twist or creak in the plastic, meaning its solid and will take a few knocks while in transit. One really sloppy design decision is the way the cables all poke out the side of the unit. This makes it a bit inconvenient to fit alongside the rest of your gear. In fact, the connectors pretty much poke out of every side of the unit, which can be a nightmare to manage.
Interface wise, things are very simple. There are buttons for volume and navigation, and a wheel to control parameters. It all works fine, apart from the fact the wheel and buttons feel a bit flimsy. The wheel can also be too sensitive sometimes… It’s very easy to overshoot your target. The screen is a basic, blue back-light, bright screen that displays what you need. It shows all your parameters for your current sample, along with which kit is loaded and if it’s on the SD card or built-in. I’m going to leverage the same complaint I have with any other blue lighting on DJ gear… Blue is the worst colour for the eye to see. It wrecks visibility because we can’t process it like red or green. Using blue lighting is a Bad Thing™.
The texture of the pads feels ‘properly MPC’, if that makes any sense. These aren’t just cheap plastic buttons made to look like drum pads. They feel soft and usable. Despite this, there’s some slip and looseness on pads and buttons when you try to move them. it seems like they’re all on a single moulded sheet (which makes sense), but they aren’t secured down well. This does make them feel cheaper than they probably are. In use, the pads did seem responsive and comfortable, but something to note is that there aren’t many levels of velocity sensitivity. I could only seem to get about two or three different levels of loudness when drumming. Whether it was my virgin fingers or not, a second opinion from a friend garnered the same response. The pads all have multi-coloured backlighting, to give you a bit more feedback. This can be useful to show when a sample is set as a one-shot, hold or loop.
The kit editor is a very simple drag n drop system. All you do is set the location for your SD card, drop the sample you want on the pads and tweak the parameters. You can save several kits to the SD card which you can switch to freely. The skeuomorphic design makes it a doddle to use. I had some concerns at the idea of using special software to build kits, but it is well thought out and just works. Although you can fiddle with parameters within the kit editor, they are also editable on the MPX8 as well, so it’s not fixed in stone once you export.
When I had a get-together with a friend, we tried to work this into our setup, running it into the AUX channel on the mixer. We discovered the built-in air horn sample, which became a mainstay feature throughout the rest of the night. With some prep, this could be useful for drumming and adding texture to a mix. MIDI works fine with compatible software. I set up the unit for hot cues in the latest version of Mixxx without issues. I can’t shake the feeling the MPX8 was meant for another era. Even just five years ago, this would have been a novel piece of kit, but there are so many options for this function these days, including iPhone and iPad apps. Having spent some time thinking about it, I’m not sure where it would even fit in your DJ setup. Producers and performers could get some mileage out of it.
Ins and outs
Being a small unit, the MPX8 isn’t exactly well endowed, but does have the requisite number of connections to make life a little easier. Ins
- MIDI in via DIN or USB
- DC power via USB
- Balanced L/R 6.35mm TRS jacks
- Stereo 3.5mm headphone jack
- MIDI out via DIN or USB
- SD card slot
Helpfully, Akai Pro has included the necessary MIDI adaptors, because generally they’re not easy to get in the high street.
Quality: Solidly built, but with some slippiness to the moulded sheet. Pads feel nice, apart from that. Blue screen which sears the surface of my eyeballs off.
Features: Pretty basic drum pad surface. It has built-in air horn and gun shot samples, to add that Tim Westwood feel to your sets.
Value: If you were just looking for a MIDI controller, for less than half the price, you can get the LPD8, or one of Korg’s Nano series.
The Bottom Line
The Akai Pro MPX8 might be a bit of a toy for DJs, but it’s sturdy, easy to use and set up and has air horn. What more could you ask for? Those of you with ambitions for some live performance would make much more use out of it. A good amount of connection options helps.
A second opinion from Mark Settle
Dan did this review a little while ago now. And doing the photography, I was able to form my own brief opinion of the MPX8. While I do generally agree with Dan’s findings, I do have a couple of things to add.
I’ve been helping out a puppeteer with her technology needs. And when the MPX8 first popped up on my radar, I suggested it to her as a possible live performance tool. It seemed to be the kind of thing she could wear while doing her show. But then an obvious limitation became clear — the MPX8 could really do with being battery powered. I don’t know if there’s a technological limitation (such as powering all the features) as to why we can’t pop some AAs in there, but it would be oh so very useful and open a few more doors for Akai Pro.
As for fitting this into a DJ’s setup — it’s worth remembering that there’s a world of DJs who don’t use the latest in modern technology, but would like the facility to fire off a few one-shots such as jingles from a very convenient and compact source. And there’s the MPX8 stepping up to fill that need. And for those using controllers without pressure sensitivity, being able to hammer those drum sounds with actual expression is amazing. Yes, it means putting your samples onto an SD card, but you do get s killer feature for not a lot of cash.
Ultimately, the MPX8 is a clever little box, and definitely has uses, but perhaps isn’t quite as relevant in this age of mobile computing. It’s one of those things that some will fling themselves at because it has that very definite single use case. Others will take a punt, hammer the keys for a bit, then put it on a shelf and forget about it. For me, the physicality of hitting pads and plugging cables in is a draw and will be for a good deal of others too.