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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Akai MPD24 and its crutches


Quick preface: I know i always sound like i hate everything. I don't! I love some things!

I recently had to get a quick replacement for my faulty M-audio Trigger finger MIDI control surface, and the cheapest/nearest alternative was the Akai MPD24.

I haven't used it so much yet, but first impressions are generally good. The hardware itself is weighty and solid, the pads, knobs and faders feel great, and the performance i used it for went down well. Now i've spent a day trying to get used to it, and the thing is just packed with poorly weighted design choices for a general purpose MIDI controller, and if you're looking to buy this thing i think you're entitled to hear about them

Aftertouch with no CC fallback
The vaunted aftertouch for a controller of this sort is a huge misstep. Typically you'll use such a unit with a software sequencer or such and route midi from there. Midi CC, as supported by the Trigger finger, is easily the way to go. The fact of the matter is, you can't use the pressure sensitivity of the MPD24 with any of Ableton Live's effects, nor any other effects on any software that uses CCs for MIDI control mapping. This is a near fatal limitation for me, as the device is used primarily as an effects or DMX controller. The reliance on aftertouch, with no CC alternative, denies me the use of 16 potential controllers on the surface, leaving me with 16 digital switches in their place.

Control knobs with no physical limits
The knobs on the device have no physical limits, nor a center "groove", not letting you check with a light tweak of the knob wether the knob is at an extreme or at a center. Having to actually look at the display to get the current value feels somewhat ridiculous.

"16 levels" mode is pointless
The device has a mode where hitting a switch will map the same pad to all 16 pads and divide their velocity maximum by their pad number. I'm curious as to what situation would require you to play the same note with velocities that precise (yet arbitrary). Particularly for drums!

4 pad bank buttons only alter pad nodes
You get 4 banks of settings to hotswap between during use. Except these don't change CCs for sliders and knobs. Given that the aftertouch basically renders the pads useless for effects use, you're left with 4 sets of 16 digital switches. Not bad if all you want are switches, but there are far better control surfaces available for that exact purpose.

Summary
The MPD24 is, i assume, awesome for whatever purpose the designers at Akai intended for it, but as a general purpose controller it's got some crippling limitations. I just want to make any potential buyers aware of them before comitting; If M-audio's drivers hadn't sucked so bad, i'd actually recommend the Trigger finger.

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