The AKAI MPK Mini controller is born out of combining two previously released AKAI products, the LPK25 and the LPD8. It features 25 mini keys, 8 pads, 8 knobs, arpeggiator and some other functions, all within a little more than 13 inch instrument, perfectly suitable for a laptop (hence the slogan “Laptop Production Keyboard”) or for using it in tight spaces without forgoing the AKAI quality.
The packaging is really simple, in addition to the controller we find a USB cable, the cd with the PDF manual and the software editor for OSX/Windows, the safety instructions and warranty information and a coupon to get a discount on either Ableton Live or Ableton Suite. We shot a short video to show the unboxing of the AKAI MPK Mini, you can watch it below:
We’ve been testing the product both on a PC with Windows 7 and on iMAC with OSX Snow Leopard, without any problems, using two software programs by Native Instrument most of the time: Massive and Kontakt. You only need to connect the USB cable to the computer and within seconds, with no need to install any additional drivers, the MPK mini is ready to send MIDI signals to your preferred sequencer/DAW. Being it a mini-USB connector as in the most of the small controllers (in other words, as the Nano series by Korg), it is advisable to be careful not to apply too much pressure for the input and or prevent any impact which could damage this type of connector. During the test, and subsequent days of use, there were no functional problems nor hardware nor software.
The keys, though mini, are very good and allow playing without too many restrictions. Despite its price, they have nothing to do with small budget mini-keys; the action is really good, the only flaw is the response within the 0-40 velocity range which involves some abrupt jumps, but all things considered it leaves you very satisfied.
The pads, on the other hand, are definitely excellent. The dynamic response is very good and there is no chance you can push them accidentally as it happens with too soft cheap pads. It is important to note that pads light up in red when you press them, probably due to esthetic reason rather than actual usefulness.
The knobs, (obviously no endless encoders) are neither too hard nor too soft. Despite their dimensions, they are nicely spaced apart and those who are really into knobs can try their hand at controlling two of them at the same time very easily with just one hand. Should we be really nit-picking we would say it lacks the representing numbers under the knobs (which are there instead for the pads)
On the left side there are 10 buttons to enable several functions. From the bottom, in addition to the standard octave up and down, in order to change the octave range you’re playing, we find a Sustain button (which works as a substitute of a sustain pedal) and a Program button which allows to recall the 4 general presets of the MPK mini (selectable by pressing and holding down simultaneously the Program button and one of the keys labeled Prog 1-4, from A to C on the second octave). Every preset is assignable with a different CC/NOTE for the pads and the knobs. The presets can be easily modified through the included software editor or downloadable directly from AKAI’s website)
Going upwards, we find two buttons which control the arpeggiator, which is, in my opinion, a very useful function for this kind of controller. The On/Off button, besides enabling and disabling the arpeggiator, can be used to select (holding it down) several functions for the arpeggiator (as well as in the preset/program, it only requires looking at the label near the keys): the velocity of the arpeggiator expressed by values like 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 …, the way the arpeggiator plays such as Up (ascending), Down (descending), Inclusive (from ascending to descending order repeating the notes). Exclusive (up and down without repeating them), Random (random order of the notes that have been played), Order (the exact order which the notes have been played) and it is also possible to choose how many octaves the arpeggiator should be applied for by using the keyd labeled ARP OCT 0-3. Next to them we also find a TAP TEMPO button of the arpeggiator which will be disabled as long as by the editor one chooses to match the tempo of the MPK mini with the one of a host like a sequencer or a DAW.
The editor is rather easy to use in order to customize the MIDI signals sent by the Knobs/pads. The little manual from the cd (or downloadable from the AKAI’s website) quickly explains its use which is rather intuitive. It must be said, by the way, that most of the virtual instruments available for sale gives the opportunity to use the Midi Learn (the opportunity to assign a CC MIDI from the controller to the parameter of the virtual instrument or the effect) and so the using the editor could turn out to be unnecessary since there is so much faster use with the knobs.
Pros: Good quality/price ratio, very good controls, compact and easy to use
Cons: Lacking a pitch bending control, the dynamic response of the keys within the 0-40 velocity range is not precise.
Model: MPK Mini
Pictures: Paolo Colacicco
Italian to English translation: Umberto del Giudice