Things We Love: The Akai MPC Drum Machine


I have been in love with drum machines ever since I got my BOSS DR-770 Dr. Rhythm, almost 20 years ago.  Though it started as just a simple time keeper for my guitar-driven 4-track cassette song demos, the drum machine eventually became one of my main tools of musical expression.

I was never a great drummer, but making beats on the DR-770 made me a better drummer, because it gave me a new appreciation for the mechanics of composing drum patterns. While this fun little machine opened the door of what was possible for me, when I got my hands on an Akai MPC2000XL a few years later, I knew my life would be changed forever. This thing wasn’t just a drum machine. Unlike the DR-770, which restricted you to a set library of sounds, the MPC allowed you to load your own samples into it, and even sample your own sounds—and not just drum sounds. You could sample literally anything! Bass, guitar, horns, record hiss, your mother yelling at you—anything. With today’s technology, we take this kind of freedom for granted; back then, it was truly amazing.

Rear view of Akai MPC2000XL

Once you’d designed your own palette of sounds, that’s when the real fun would start. You could bang out drum patterns in real time, quantize them or not, and use powerful swing features to get your beats grooving in new and unique ways. It featured deep sample editing tools, with precise ADSR controls that allowed you to dial-in perfectly enveloped drum sounds. You could slice, time stretch, and layer sounds, and the possibilities didn’t stop there. The 2000XL had an extremely popular feature called Note Repeat, which you can thank for inspiring the rapid-fire hi-hats and snares that are a staple in modern urban and pop styles even today.

One thing I really love about MPCs is that, in addition to being a drum machine, they’re also powerful MIDI sequencers that can function as the “brain” or “mother ship” of your production studio. They can be used to interface with other MIDI devices, such as synthesizers and workstation keyboards, as well as DAWs like Cubase and Pro Tools.

Since the 2000xl, I’ve also owned the MPC1000 and MPC2500 models. While each version has its pluses and minuses, one thing has always remained constant—they all work the same way. Once you know how to work an MPC, you can use any model immediately, which is a beautiful thing. Sure, each new machine has its own new and innovative features, but it’s always the same slick workflow that’s made the MPC a staple in just about every professional recording studio on the planet.

Akai Professional MPC X

Speaking of new and innovative, Akai has just announced two new models at this year’s NAMM show, namely the MPC X and the MPC Live. Both feature full-color, multi-touch displays, and can be operated either in tandem with a computer, or in stand-alone fashion. A first for the line, the MPC X sports 8 CV/gate outputs, a clear nod to the analog synthesizer resurgence that we’ve seen in the last few years. On the other hand, the MPC Live features a rechargeable battery, making it a viable tool in the studio, on stage, and on the road.

The “Things We Love” series articles are written by B&H Photo Video Pro Audio staff to talk about products and items that we love. Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the writers and do not represent product endorsements from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.