Akai MPC Key 61: What is it?
Akai released his MPC live hardware sampler/synth back in 2017 – complete with 7-inch touchscreen, 16 MPC-style pads, instruments and battery power, and in 2020 the MPC Live II added built-in speakers.
The MPC line – Live I and II, MPC X, MPC Studio, MPC Touch and MPC One, interact with Akai’s MPC 2 production software. Akai has bundled the same software and functionality in different forms, which makes sense from a development perspective – in fact, they share the same manual. Now 2022 introduces the MPC Key 61.
Like all MPCs, the Key 61 is a sampler using the supplied instruments or building custom instruments based on groups of sample keys. It can play sequenced patterns and full songs. Keys, pads and other controls add a tactile element.
The box contains the MPC Key 61, a mains power cable, a USB cable, a printed quick start guide and information on downloading and registering the software.
It is considerably larger than other MPCs and you will need a case or bag. Like any workstation these days, the 7-inch touchscreen is at the heart of the user interface. Physical controls include pitch and mod wheels, a touch strip, 16 pads (hey, it’s an MPC), five knobs, and an assortment of knobs, including pleasingly chunky transport controls.
The rear panel features, from left to right, expression, footswitch and sustain pedal inputs, MIDI Thru/Out/In DIN connectors, eight cv/gate outputs for connecting analog gear, two mic inputs /line with 48v gain controls and switches, four 1/4″ outputs, 1/4″ headphone output, two USB-2 ports, one USB-3 port, Ethernet network connection and AC power button.
The semi-weighted keyboard is equally comfortable for playing synth parts or more traditional piano-style performances, and the pads are classic, reliable MPC style.
The MPC Key 61 includes several new instruments from AIR Music Technology. The Fabric Collection is an instrument that has been organized into separate plugins to save system resources – so it appears as Fabric (with fewer voices), Fabric XL (the full flagship version), Fabric Piano and Fabric Electric Piano.
Fabric is a monster sound source, particularly suitable for modern sounding productions, with synths, pads, basses and leads, even guitars. Also new is the OPx-4 which narrows the lens somewhat, with a four-operator FM synthesis engine, creating demonstrably digital sounds, with a modulation matrix and built-in effects; we like the sound of the FM synthesis, and it’s a great example – and we enjoyed using the touchscreen to adjust the envelopes.
The remaining new instruments break out of the “electronic music” mold – Stage Piano, Stage EP, Organ and Studio Strings, which sound great, ranging from solo instruments to full ensembles, with plenty of options for expressive playing.
Strings can be difficult instruments to sound “naturally”, but these are exceptional. These are the kind of sounds that will make the MPC Key 61 interesting for all types of players.
Standard MPC instruments are also present and of course, bearing in mind that we are dealing with an MPC product, there are many sample-based drum extensions ready to play on these pads.
Keep experimenting with the Mod Wheel, Touch Strip, XY Pad, and Q Link buttons as you navigate, most presets have some sort of pre-configured interaction.
Akai MPC Key 61: Performance and Verdict
We connected a dynamic mic to input 1 and set a level on the physical gain control – there are also separate 48v switches on each input, if you prefer condenser mics (we would have liked two more audio inputs, although third-party USB audio and MIDI interfaces can be connected, so you can get up to 32 audio input/output channels, although you still have a maximum of eight audio tracks per project – we’ve tried this with success with a Behringer UMC1820 interface).
Audio inputs can go directly to an audio track, for DAW style recording, or to the Sampler, or Looper. Up to four insert effects can be applied to any pad track. These are categorized by type, for example, Delay/Reverb, Dynamics and Modulation.
New effects include Flavor (for vinyl-style sound degradation), Limiter and Vocal Suite, which includes pitch correction, doubling and harmony effects – we had a lot of fun with these – gravitating towards the blatantly excessive at first, but then settle in and enjoy them as useful treatment tools.
There’s also an Amp Sim, and we tried it out with an electric bass and an electric guitar. We have our favorite modeling solutions, but the MPC Key 61 did just fine, with bass amps ranging from clean DI style to grungy retro tube amps and cabinets, and guitar amps ranging from clean to rock. crisp and beyond (but not much in the way of high gain metal styles).
The MPC Key 61 puts the instruments front and center, but rest assured, sampling and beat-making are still there, as with all MPC devices. Samples can be imported or saved directly, as mentioned earlier.
They can be edited, cropped and played from the MPC pads or keys, and they can be used to create a keygroup – a playable instrument built from layering samples, instruments and effects together , and saved as a single preset.
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We’re big fans of using keygroups to build a library of unique sounds and they combine well with the included instrument library for those who are phobic of exclusively using “factory” sounds.
Sequences are the building blocks of MPC arrangements. MIDI notes and automation can be added via recording from keys or pads, drawn in the grid using the screen, or entered with the step sequencer (ideal for drums in particular ), or even the event list editor.
Sequences can be copied, renamed and edited, then chained together to create an arrangement. They can also be “flattened” into a new song-length MIDI clip that contains everything, which is a bit more like viewing a DAW timeline.
The MPC allows up to 128 MIDI tracks and eight audio tracks per project. Even if a 32-channel USB interface is connected, the maximum simultaneous recording is eight tracks. After creating a number of songs, they can be organized together in a setlist, so that they are more accessible during concerts.
The MPC includes support for Ableton Link, enabling wireless synchronization with compatible hardware devices or software. We had no sync issues with Ableton Live and Korg Gadget, working well together. For big gigs where a wireless connection might not be the best choice, the Ethernet port may come into play, as Link works on it as well.
The MPC Key 61 could last a lifetime as a standalone instrument, but it includes a license for MPC 2 DAW software, available for macOS and Windows. It’s basically a software version of what the MPC does, but with the benefits of a larger screen and greater processing resources.
This integration allows projects to be exchanged between hardware and computer, and even to other MPCs. For users who are already tied to their favorite DAWs, all is not lost as the MPC 2 install also includes a plugin, so it can be accessed in Ableton Live or Logic or other DAWs.
Workstation keyboards once ruled the roost, and there are still a number of them among the big players – see our sidebar. Akai brings its expertise in sampling, pads, accessibility and interface experience from previous MPC models. It’s probably more user-friendly than its rivals, where their undoubted power is reflected in their complexity, and it’s much more affordable too.
The truth is that with the richness of built-in content and sampling, you can create any type of music with it. Could you make an entire album with MPC Key 61? Absolutely. Could you do an entire show live? Yes. The Akai MPC Key 61 is a box to do everything
MusicRadar verdict: A logical progression for the MPC series – a missing link for many users looking for a keyboard. Powerful, easy to use and great sound.
Akai MPC Key 61: The web says
“The MPC Key isn’t just an MPC with a keyboard, it’s a whole new breed of production workstation.”
sound on sound (opens in a new tab)
“Make no mistake, though, the MPC Key 61 is a true studio and stage showpiece, and should be serious competition for Roland’s Fantom and Korg’s Kronos.”
MusicTech (opens in a new tab)
“It wouldn’t make sense to buy an MPC stick if you’re not using it to sample and sequence things. It’s an MPC, after all.”
Gear news (opens in a new tab)
Akai MPC Key 61: hands-on demos
state of the chimera
Akai MPC Key 61: Specifications
- 61 semi-weighted keys with aftertouch
- 6 MPC-style velocity-sensitive pads
- Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- 7″ color touch screen
- MIDI, CV/Gate, Ethernet and USB I/O
- New software instruments
- Built-in sampling and sequencing capabilities
- Built-in audio effects from Akai and AIR Music Technology
- CONTACT: Akai Pro (opens in a new tab)