UPDATED WITH NEW MPC ONE 2.10 INFO! I previously wrote about the new MPC One but at that time the MPC Live II was just a rumour. Times move fast, and now it’s official; the original MPC Live is discontinued and replaced with the new MPC Live II, meaning the current Akai MPC line up now consists of three distinct MPCs; the entry-level MPC One, the mid-range MPC Live II and the (now three year old) studio workhorse, the MPC X. So… which MPC is right for you?
Please note in this article I’m going to assume you’ve already researched and discounted all the other sampler/groovebox options out there and just need help deciding on the best standalone MPC for your specific needs.
What’s The Same?
These MPCS all differ in a variety of ways but it’s very important to realise that all three MPCs use the exact same CPU and RAM; there is no difference in computing ‘power’ and all three machines have the same memory limits (2GB, but nearly half of this is used by the operating system). They also all run the exact same internal software with the same features (the only exception is the MPC One does not have Ableton ‘Live Control’ Mode, more about this later). Here’s the main screen of the MPC firmware which gives an overview of all the main features of the operating system.
These MPCs are all completely standalone units – that is, they don’t need to be plugged into a computer, they provide a complete ‘in the box’ workflow all controlled by the large touchscreen UI and a combination of buttons, dials, knobs and pads. They can all also function as dedicated controllers for Akai’s DAW-like MPC Software (which comes free with all these MPCs).
All these MPCs can be used a powerful MIDI sequencers, capable of controlling dozens of connected hardware synths, sound modules, modular synths and even iPad synths, and at their heart all have a powerful sampler with the classic MPC chopping features along with other goodies such as pro-quality FX, built in plugin instruments, keygroup sample instrument support, audio tracks, step sequencer, piano roll, looper, clips, automation and a range of performance enhancing features including the XYFX interface.
Therefore when it comes to deciding which MPC to buy, it really just comes down to comparing price, hardware features and overall form factor.
Standalone MPC Buyer’s Guide: Quick comparison
The following table gives a quick comparison of features that can differ across the standalone MPC models. Beyond this, the MPCs share the same features, such as CPU, RAM, software etc.
*Wifi and ethernet are currently used for three purposes. Firstly they can sync files with your online Splice account, secondly they can be used for Ableton Link and thirdly for Ableton Live Control.
** MIDI devices can be connected via the traditional MIDI DIN ports, via bluetooth, or via USB (up to 32 devices via a USB hub). You can also connect USB-to-MIDI interfaces to increase the available MIDI DIN ports.
Ableton Link vs Ableton Live Control
You may have noticed that all these MPCs support ‘Ableton Live Control’ and Ableton Link. So what’s the difference?
Ableton Link is a syncing protocol that can sync playback of your MPC with Ableton Live (and any other Link enabled device or software, e.g. some iPad apps etc) over a network connection. This is done via ethernet or wifi or even via an USB-ethernet adapter (remember, no wifi on the MPC One).
Ableton Live Control Mode is a special MPC mode that allows you to directly control a running installation of Ableton Live, so you can launch clips and scenes, mixer parameters and a variety of other functions. It effectively turns the MPC into a very basic Ableton Push.
Comparison: Portability & Size
If you’re like me, you probably already have a studio stuffed to the brim with samplers, synths, computers and keyboards, so an increasingly important buying factor for many these days is the footprint of any gear you buy. Where is is going to live? The MPC One and MPC Live II are very desktop friendly, they can tuck into small spaces or sit comfortably on a floor stand. The MPC X not so much! If you go for the X then it’s probably going to become the centrepiece of your studio – and once it’s in place all your other gear has to fit around it!
If you’re often carrying your MPC around, then portability is an important factor – the smaller and lighter the better, especially if the MPC can sneak its way into a laptop bag. Here, the MPC One is the clear winner and at 2.1kg and 27cm wide it’s a similar weight and size as a 16″ MacBook Pro. The MPC Live II at 3.38kg and 41cm wide is probably still within the limit of being considered portable, although it’s nearly 0.7kg heavier than the original MPC Live.
Finally there’s also the ‘beats on the go’ factor – whether it’s banging out a tune on the train or in the park, or lounging around chopping breaks on your couch, these smaller MPCs again have the MPC X nailed. But with its internal battery and built in speaker, the MPC Live II is of course the ‘out of the box’ winner here – just pull it out, turn it on and make beats anywhere (but you might want to use headphones if you’re sitting on a train!).
That said, all these MPCs can actually be powered for several hours by off-the-shelf 19V rechargeable laptop batteries, which give the MPC One a bit more flexibility for mobile beat making, albeit for an extra $95 battery cost and around 600g extra weight to carry around. Here’s Flux with one of these batteries:
Inputs & Outputs
As you might expect, the more expensive the MPC, the better the audio input and output options. The MPC X is by far away the winner here, with eight individual audio outs, two standard inputs, dedicated mic inputs (with phantom power), instrument level inputs (to directly connect guitars, Rhodes etc) and phono/turntable input (with grounding). Definitely the most studio ready MPC for recording vocals and instruments.
The MPC Live II keeps the phono inputs but forgoes the mic and instrument inputs and goes with 6 individual outs, while the MPC One has the tightest selection, with just two individual outputs and no mic, phono or instrument inputs.
How big a deal is this? Well it depends on your needs. For example, you typically only need lots of individual outputs if you intend sending certain sounds or internal instruments separately out of your MPC, e.g. for tracking stems or for running those to a mixer or external FX.
However many producers will instead bounce down their individual track stems to WAV files using the MPC’s internal export options, or via the ‘bounce to audio track’ function; at this point they can just load those WAVs into their favourite DAW. And remember that you can actually perform complex mixdowns entirely within the MPC.
So if you are bouncing/exploding/mixing down internally, you’ll probably never need more than two outputs. There are other reasons for needing more than two outs, but you’ll probably know if you need those options, in which case the Live II or the X would probably be a better fit.
Overcoming the lack of phono inputs on the MPC One is also less of a problem these days as most modern turntables have ‘line level’ outputs, or you can just run the turntable via a standard DJ Mixer first (which converts phono level to line level for you).
As for recording quality mic performances on the MPC Live II and the MPC One, you’ll need some kind of mic preamp when using condenser mics, or use a mixer which often have these built into a couple of channels. You might get away with using a dynamic mic directly into an MPC audio input, but it will be noisy. For field recording direct into an MPC Live II or MPC One, you could use a portable recorder like the Zoom H1n; apart from recording directly to its internal drive, it also has a stereo line out which can be connected to the MPC audio inputs with a suitable cable. I’ve used this with good results.
MPC 2.10 UPDATE: With MPC 2.10 many of these issues are potentially nullified as the MPCs can now use a class compliant USB audio interface instead of the internal MPC audio device. For example if you connect a ‘4 in 8 out’ audio interface to an MPC One, your MPC One will now effectively have 4 ins and 8 outs, and will be able to record with the mic and instrument preamps built into your interface. Be aware that at the time of writing, some class compliant interfaces may experience issues, we’re still waiting on Akai to publish a list of officially supported devices. Check out the MPC-Forums USB Class Compliance topic for some more insight.
This is very difficult area to judge as it really comes down to personal taste. Obviously the MPC X has been given the full suite of buttons and dials, with more than double the buttons of the other two MPCS ensuring that you can access any screen in the MPC OS without needing to reach for the touchscreen. It’s also the only MPC that retains the classic MPC ‘cursor’ keys for button-based navigation, and the only one with dedicated ‘STEP’ and ‘BAR’ buttons to quickly navigate the sequencer timeline.
Then there’s those 16 Q-Links which give you immediate hands on control of essential parameters which dynamically change depending on the screen you are currently using (you can also manually configure these to suit your exact needs). And the little OLED display above each dial lets you know exactly what that currently assigned parameter is.
With the MPC One and the MPC Live II, there’s only 4 physical dials – to access the other 12 Q-Links you have you hit a button to select the appropriate virtual Q-link ‘bank’, This is of course nowhere near as intuitive as the MPC X and (for me at least) means that the Q-Links tend to be used a lot less on the MPC One and the MPC Live II.
Are the lack of dedicated buttons an issue on the MPC Live and MPC One? Maybe, but probably not as much as you might expect. You do tend to adapt your workflow accordingly, plus on the two smaller MPCs all the missing ‘dedicated’ shortcuts can be found as secondary functions by holding down the SHIFT or MENU keys. And remember you can of course revert to using the touchscreen to navigate the OS, although the menu diving can sometimes get a bit tedious.
Another area where these MPCs all differ is overall the layout of elements. Both the MPC One and the MPC X place the screen directly above the pads, while the MPC Live II (just like the MPC Live I before it) places the pads to the left of the screen. Q-Links are on the right for the Live II and the MPC One but on the left for the MPC X. Function buttons are also arranged somewhat differently on each unit (and perhaps a little bit arbitrary).
One layout isn’t necessarily better than the other, and I do feel this is simply another area where you quickly adapt your style accordingly.
A couple of other things to mention. The MPC X has that bigger titling screen, it’s the same resolution as the 7″ screen so everything is just scaled up in size – this means if you have big fat fingers you’ll probably enjoy the touchscreen UI a lot more (some areas of the UI are a bit fiddly to use at the best of times). The adjustable screen is also definitely an ergonomic bonus as it helps avoid having to ‘hunch’ over your MPC. The workaround for the other MPCs is to use some kind of tilting stand.
Oh, and about those ‘compact’ pads on the MPC One – in my opinion they are absolutely fine (I have average size fingers). If you are used to the normal sized MPC pads it will take you a few hours to adapt, no problem at all. If in doubt, try them out in a music store.
Storage & File Transfers
All three MPCs ship with an internal disk which has around 2GB of free space (the rest taken up with the supplied sound library). The problem is that this disk is not accessible for back up or transfer purposes, so I find it’s best to just leave this as a ‘read only’ disk and instead use an ‘attached’ disk.
Probably the easiest option these days is to use an SD card, these are cheap, reliable, fast enough and I’ve had no problem getting a 512GB SD card to work, including this micro SD in an adapter. All the MPCs support an SD card and once in the slot you’ll not even notice it is there.
Alternatively you can use USB disks but this will use up one of your USB ports although you can use USB hubs to expand this on all models. It’s important to note that the MPC One is only USB 2.0, while the others use USB 3.0, so USB speeds will be slower on the One.
The third storage option is to install a SATA disk inside your MPC, but this is only supported on the MPC X and MPC Live II. I’d recommend an SSD if you go this route, mainly due to the lack of mechanical parts, reliability and their silent operation.
Check out my article comparing the different Standalone MPC disk options.
If price is important to you then the MPC One wins hands down. It’s currently a whopping 40% cheaper than the MPC Live II and nearly 70% cheaper than the MPC X. Don’t forget, the MPC One runs the same software and has the same CPU and RAM, so you are definitely getting a lot for your money.
The MPC X, in my opinion has always been somewhat overpriced considering there is no bump in CPU or RAM, and that mouthwatering $2200 is a tough pill to swallow when you look at what’s available for much less from the other two MPCs in the range. However, that bigger screen, complete suite of I/O and all those lovely Q-Links and buttons are always going to come at a price.
The MPC Live II sits somewhere in the middle but is still a little overpriced for my liking, especially considering the large number of similarities to the MPC One. But it is unique with its internal battery and speaker as well as it’s decent I/O.
Standalone MPC Buyer’s Guide: Conclusion
As you can see, each of these MPCs is a powerful, modern sampling groovebox, all of which are also more than capable of acting as a centrepiece for a sample and MIDI-based studio, so I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them.
Best Beginner Option: If you are just starting out and have a limited budget my pick would definitely be the MPC One. It’s great entry level MPC and perfect if you don’t really have any specific need for all the additional inputs and outputs found on the more expensive units. It’s small, takes up minimal desk space and can be carried around easily. Storage options are a bit more limited, but SD cards are fast and cheap so I don’t think you’ll miss the internal SATA option. It has the same software features of its big brothers and the exact same CPU and RAM and is very competitively priced. It might be worth trying one in the flesh to make sure you are happy with the smaller pads, but in my opinion they are perfectly fine.
Best ‘Beats on the go’ Option: With its internal battery and speakers the MPC Live II is definitely the most naturally suited to making music whenever the mood takes you, snd with its decent array of audio ports and flexible MIDI options it’s equally at home in the studio. If the MPC One didn’t exist I’d be recommending the MPC Live II to everyone, but as it stands I just think that unless you really need those extra ports and are going to make good use of that internal battery, the MPC One edges it with its comparable features, ultra-portability and significantly lower price, and don’t forget it can be used with an external rechargeable battery if you really need that additional portability.
Studio Workhorse, Money No Object Option: If you crave those 16 Q-links, the complete array of robust buttons, the dedicated mic inputs, the additional I/O, that bigger tilting touchscreen and have no desire to take your MPC anywhere, then the MPC X might be the one to look at… if you can afford it. Just remember that those additional MIDI ports can easily be replaced with a USB MIDI interface and internally the MPC X is no different to the MPC One or MPC Live II.
A Second Hand MPC Live Mk I?
Just thought I’d throw this option in, just to complicate things! It’s inevitable that the second hand market will now be flooded with the original MPC Live, so this is still a very viable option to consider.
Once again we have an MPC running the same CPU/RAM and the exact same software, and as such we’d expect it to continue supporting future firmware updates. The original Live doesn’t have CV/Gate outs but you could add these using a MIDI-to-CV interface. There’s no speaker (but do you really need a speaker?) and less dedicated buttons, but ultimately this is very similar to the Live – plus it’s 0.7kg lighter and a bit smaller.
Oh the agony of choice.
The MPC Bible
Whichever MPC you go for, check out my definitive betaking course for all the current range of standalone MPCs, the MPC Bible. It will teach you everything you need to know about creating music on these standalone beasts, featuring a comprehensive set of carefully structured tutorials that take you on a step-by-step journey into quickly developing your own perfect MPC workflow.
May 28, 2020 11:24 am
Thanks that was really helpful! I’m trying to decide between the One and Live 2 and this is my main concern:
So I plan to do a fair amount of re-sampling pads / programs via external hardware fx (pedals and modular), do you think then the Live 2 would be my best option due to the additional outputs? Doing this on the MPC One, I would surely end up creating feedback loops because there is only the stereo master output and monitored audio passes through this. Is there a work around I’m missing here on the MPC One for doing this kind of thing? The only thing I can think of is to recrod the pad or program I wish to effect to an external recorder, play that recording through the hardware fx and have that record into the MPC One – but this seems a bit convoluted.
Is this kind of workflow covered in the MPC Bible?
Sep 4, 2020 12:49 am
Can’t answer with certainty as I got 30-40 mins use out of my MPC ONE today before it wouldn’t switch on anymore, but I’ll give my take as I work in a similar way currently using an Octatrack. The best way is to have everything going through a mixing desk which has a second output bus. This way you can select which channels are sent through those outputs. As long as you make sure that on the record inputs of the MPC/Octatrack are not monitored, you can already hear what is going on via the desk and so just record without monitoring into the machine. That way there will be no feedback loop. On the ONE, you would just have to solo internally what you want to record/effect.
I use a Behringer XENYX X1832USB, but there are smaller/cheaper ones in that range With a 2nd Bus, just make sure there is a SUB button for routing as it makes it blissful to work with.
If you get one with a couple of FX sends/Mon out, if you route the external FX back to desk channels that also leaves some good creative options, for example you can just choose to send the wet FX to the submit and not the dry signal.
That’s how I’m planning on working with The MPC when I get another one, I didn’t have time to play around before it bricked unfortunately but from the manual I think it’s possible to force record input monitoring to be set manually/off.
Hope that helps.
Aug 21, 2020 2:46 am
yo, this is a dope comparison. i understand the pads on the one are smaller, but do they have the same construction/feel as the live and X? thanks for taking the time
Aug 25, 2020 2:58 pm
Yes, pretty much same feel and construction, just smaller.
Oct 7, 2020 6:17 pm
Has the force sampler the same features as teh others ?
Nov 23, 2020 5:14 pm
Wanna buy a MPC for create songs, not just lo-fi or hip hop beats, complete songs like jazz, funk,etc. To do this my idea is record instruments like saxophone, flutes, guitar, piano, bass, accordion, and other ones. Can i record instruments directly from a mic plug into MPC? Like plug a mic into the MPC and record some flute melodies for example? Wich MPC is better to work with live instruments, live II or one?
Nov 30, 2020 8:39 pm
Both are good for creating songs….
Live has bigger pads and more ins & outs, that’s the main difference btw those 2.
They have both the same software and system. The One reminds me the Old MPC layout, thats why I love MPC One.
Dec 3, 2020 1:56 pm
The Live II, because of its time-stretching capabilities. And ideally, the X, because it’s more “fullstudio”-like.
Dec 3, 2020 2:11 pm
Time stretch is identical for all standalone mpcs, there is nothing unique about the stretching on the live 2.
Jun 3, 2021 12:52 pm
Looks like you would need a separate mic preamp for all except the X. And the X may not have phantom power available for its preamp so check that. Phantom power is required for condenser mics. You can get good sound with ribbon mics but they require a lot of gain in the preamp which most do not have., unless ‘active’. The X’s mic preamp won’t be as good as a dedicated preamp and for the difference between the X and the others it’s a lot of money just for preamp.
Jan 18, 2021 7:57 am
I found something awsime I would like to share with the community! It’s called ROCK SOLAR And it is solar Compatible AC power out 110 V/80 W lithium battery with 20,000 MAH…It has 2AC 110 V ports, 1DC 12 V port, five USB 5 V ports and two LED lights the model number is RS81 and I got it at fries it stands about 2 1/2 inches tall and it’s about 4 inches long and about 3 1/2 inches fat so if you are OK with a little bit of size this thing works like a champ it is literally all 110 V battery and so far it has been powering my MPC one for 2 1/2 hours and I have only lost one bar. I bought it because I wanted to use my converter box that comes with the MPC one it even has a regular plug-in house outlet for your whole cable so I use the regular outlet this thing is sweet
Jan 20, 2021 1:22 am
Hey there, I use the X & my friend comes over & uses his Live so we can jam together. Is there a way to have 2 instances of the MPC software running on my computer? I have both of us running into a Presonus studio 192 so the sessions are recorded in Pro tools. I know I can open the MPC software as a plug-in on a track in Pro tools but will 2 run at the same time from 2 different MPC’s? Also, is there a way to record a live session into Pro tools from the X where any pad I hit is recorded on a separate track? I know you can bounce stems but that doesn’t help with live recordings. Thanks in advance
Mar 24, 2021 3:12 pm
I first bought the MPC One back in September but then ended up buying an MPC Live 2 retro a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m not sure if I should either keep the MPC One or sell it. I pretty much only use the MPC One in controller mode these days and use the Live 2 in standalone mode as the Live 2 has the ability to transfer files via usb without the need of removing your SD card.
Tutor if you were in my shoes what would you do?? Keep both or sell the One?
May 22, 2021 7:46 am
Just curious, why did you buy the Live II if your already had the One? Was there anything in particular?
Jun 10, 2021 9:24 pm
The reason why I bought it was because of 1 the retro colors, 2 for the bigger pads and 3 for the abilities to transfer my standalone tracks onto the computer without the need of an sd card reader
May 6, 2021 1:38 am
May 9, 2021 12:05 pm
I’m gunna use one of the MPCs as my master sequencer for 10+ synths and drum machines. Right now I have a MPC One, relying on a USB hub for the majority of midi connections, and I’m thinking about updating to the MPC X. Will I get tighter MIDI sync with the 2 USB 3 jacks as opposed to 1 USB 2. I’m stress testing the One now and I feel like I can hear some looseness (nothing measured).
Jun 4, 2021 10:55 am
The mpc live does have 2 line level inputs as well as phone inputs
Jul 22, 2021 1:52 pm
Is there a way to route a tracks audio to a send aux channel and the output for that aux be an external audio output? I had a mpc live and if memory serves I couldnt only get this to work by doubling up tracks (so its output was to specific channels). I wondered if the 2.10 update might change this with teh ability to have an external audio interface?
I would like this setup as I tend to use external fx for live.
Jul 26, 2021 4:17 am
Thanks for this detailed overview!! I appreciate it a lot!
Oct 18, 2021 12:24 pm
How much should I pay for a used live??
I find it hard to justify paying roughly the same price as a brand new fully warrantied ONE for a used Live but I do like the idea of the battery and phono inputs.
How reliable and robust is the original live??? & Can they be fixed if they go wrong??
Oct 18, 2021 1:29 pm
You’ll need to look at ebay ‘completed sales’ history to get an idea of second hand prices ATM. In my experience the original Live is robust (not had any problems myself) and is about as fixable as any of these current MPCs as they all use the same parts, but if it’s out of warranty I don’t think it’s particularly cheap to fix any of the ‘core’ components (main board, battery, audio ports, screen etc).
Jun 24, 2022 2:04 pm
Hi, Is there difference in the library that comes which each model? would you know down to the pack’s names and how much would cost to align these library? Thank you so much for putting these infos together!
Nov 28, 2022 3:34 am
I originally bought the 2000XL years ago and it was my work horse, and then I bought into the NI Eco systems all the way up to the MK3, and decided to level up with the MPC X. It’s a hellava machine and I’m completely satisfied and I bought the new instrument collection and of course the MPC Bible. I have to get used to Akai again, but after buying the MPC Studio I wasn’t please with the workflow but loved the effect strip. Glad to be back home with Akai. Well worth the price tag of purchasing the X.