This MPC500 review takes a look at the smallest of the Akai MPC range which has a hardware feature that has been much requested over the years; battery power. In this MPC500 review, I will mainly look at the MPC500 from the perspective of a producer completely new to the MPC range.
MPC500 Hardware Overview
The first thing that hits you upon opening the package is the size of the MPC500; it’s tiny. No really, it’s very tiny, just slightly bigger than an A5 piece of paper. It’s also very light and looks pretty cool in my opinion. Of course, looks should matter nothing in audio production.
Build quality is fair, it feels quite sturdy although as you may expect for a budget machine, tends towards the ‘plastic’ feel. At the back of the unit we have all our inputs and outputs – first off the audio; a headphone socket, stereo (L & R) outputs and L & R recording inputs (all these use standard ¼ inch jacks). A new addition to the MPC range is the ability to switch between line and mic level input, so in theory a condenser mic can be plugged straight in for recording vocals or other sampled sounds.
Beyond audio, there are a set of MIDI ins and outs for connecting your MPC to MIDI sequencers, multi trackers, keyboards and sound modules, a power socket (DC via supplied adapter), a switch to turn off the backlight to the main screen and finally a USB port. Unfortunately this USB port cannot be used to attach external storage devices, it is simply used to hook up your MPC to a computer to allow transfer of files.
There is a compact flash card slot at the front of the machine that is the main method of storage (there is 5MB of internal Flash memory in addition to this) – as has been the case with the MPC1000 and MPC2500, the CF slot is poorly designed and requires pin point precision in loading up the CF card – it can take 30 seconds to get the card in sometimes.
Of course, the top of the unit is where all the action is. We have 12 rubber pads to which up to four banks of 12 samples can be assigned (this is the first MPC to not feature 16 pads and 64 note programs). The pads are quite similar in feel to the MPC1000 – stiff, hard and insensitive – in fact I find them even harder than the 1000. There is still the option to change the sensitivity, but I was generally unimpressed with the feel of pads compared to those of the MPC2500 which I feel are pretty close to the feel of older MPCs.
The screen on this MPC is a small blue LCD affair, containing only two lines of data. This means there’s no multi-line graphical display as found on the big brothers in the MPC range. Hence to navigate through the operating system can be somewhat laborious. Of course in time, you will no doubt whiz through it no problem.
If you turn over the MPC, you’ll find a removable back plate revealing the battery compartment and the spare memory slots. As with all MPCs these days, the unit ships with 16MB of RAM, but this is user upgradeable to 128MB – you can buy the overpriced Akai memory or just pop over to Crucial and get identical memory for a fraction of the cost – see MPC-Forums for user recommended compatible memory.
MPC500 Operating System
When it comes to operating system features, thankfully Akai have kept quite faithful to those provided by the MPC1000. Building a beat is just a case of creating a program, assigning some samples and creating your sequences in real time or via manual step editing. Samples can be trimmed, looped, stretched, normalised, reversed, tuned, filtered and chopped, although you should note that there is no dedicated ‘slicing’ function in this machine – all chopping has to be done manually one chop at a time.
There is also no waveform editor, so all editing needs to be done purely by ear and numbers – this isn’t a major issue of course, as people have been doing this way for years. After a few weeks, even people used to using hi end smaple editing software will find it easy to edit samples – of course you’ll never get the precision of a computer editor, but then again, no standalone MPC really offers this kind of precision.
Effects are identical to those on the MPC1000, so you have two multi effect units (reverb, delay, distortion, chorus, phase, flange, compression, tremolo) plus a master effect unit (compression and EQ), and all three units can be used at once. Quality is fine, but of course cannot compare to dedicated hardware or quality software plug ins. The advantage of these built in effects is that all your effect settings are stored with your saved project files, so no need to set up complex effect settings each time you power up.
Navigating the operating system can be a chore, as some functions are several cursor clicks and many jog wheel turns away, so this may slow you down somewhat. I think the term ‘cramped’ comes to mind when using this machine – a two line screen isn’t ideal for such a complex OS and I would have personally liked to see the unit be a little bigger and have a fullsize MPC screen in place.
Live performance on this machine is fair – you can obviously play pre-recorded sequences and bash the hell out the pads to fire off samples, plus you can mute and solo individual tracks easily using the ‘TRACK MUTE’ button – this assigns each track in your sequence to a pad, so muting a track is just a case of pressing the corresponding pad for each track. There isn’t any way to assign sequences to the pads though. The Q-Link slider is dumbed-down from the MPC1000, as there is no ‘real time’ control over an individual sample – that is, if you assign filter control to the slider, you cannot just hit a 10 second drum loop and gradually filter it down with the slider to produce a smooth sweep. Instead the slider works like it does on an MPC2000XL – you have to repeatedly hit the sample while sliding, so it is limited to note-repeat-style filter, tune and volume effects.
Sampling sounds is an easy affair – just hook up your sound source, arm the sampler and record. You can also re-sample the main output of your MPC – this means you can for example create a sequence, sample it and create a loop out of it, or if you run out of effects, resample a sound with that effect added to free up that effect unit.
MIDI implementation is also easy. Hook up a sound module and you can have your MPC easily fire off sounds within it. Hook up a control keyboard and play sounds on your MPC, or use the keyboard to play your sound module through your MPC. For multi tracking, it’s just MIDI clock and you can set the MPC as slave or master.
On the subject of multi tracking, as there is only a left and right stereo out, be aware that if you wish to track your beats to a computer or dedicated hardware multitracker, you will need to do everything one stereo track at a time (or two mono tracks at a time). There’s also no dedicated internal mixer on this machine – instead, pan, volume and effect send are controlled within each pad in a program.
MPC500 vs Other MPCs
MPC1000 and MPC2500 owners will be glad to hear that all their sounds and programs should load up fine in this machine. Obviously there are 16 less pads here, so any programs utilizing those missing notes may struggle, and of course there are 16 less tracks per sequence – but project files, effect settings and sequence events all load up fine in my experience. Some incompatibilities will occur from the lack of mixer (and no ability to record mixer changes), and the lack of filters (hence programs do not carry over filter settings).
For older MPCs, SND compatibility is retained, but obviously some program data will be lost (but more basic program data remains, i.e. pad assignment and tuning). But this is no different when going from say, an XL to a MPC1000.
MPC500 Review : Conclusion
What do I think about the MPC500? If you’ve never owned an MPC before, I think you’ll like it. Ultimately it’s a very powerful machine with a wealth of sequencing and sampling features and battery power and low weight is going to appeal to the ‘mobile’ generation. You should note that at the time of writing, the latest OS (1.3) still has a few bugs that need addressing; only time will tell if these ever do get fixed. Check MPC-Forums for more information on the latest bugs we’ve discovered.
Already own an MPC? Well, I personally think that unless you have a real need for a mobile MPC, I cannot really see why you would want to buy an MPC500 in addition to your existing MPC; except for novelty or ‘gadget’ appeal. If you are upgrading from say, an XL, then the obvious choice is the MPC1000 or the MPC2500.
Whichever MPC you choose, don’t forget we have written exclusive tutorial guides for each current MPC model, all of which feature hundreds of pages of step-by-step tutorials guiding you through beginner through to advanced beat making techniques – you can get more information here.