Starting off as a producer, there comes a time where you will need to invest in a midi controller but what one? Where do you start?
Most of my peers and myself chose this very MIDI Controller after experimenting the choices on offer. However, we will go over the stats and some problems we encountered to see if the Akai MPK Mini MKII can be called the best starter MIDI Controller.
Ease Of Use
Using this unit is as easy as plug and play. Register your device and download the Akai editor to assign the pads to play the notes of your choice in your DAW. Once you have done that, you are good to go as most popular DAW’s register this device as a MIDI Controller and are ready to go out the box.
One handy feature is when you program the Akai MPK Mini MKII, you can have different set ups for the pads according to the DAW you are using. For example, the pads I want to use on Logic Pro X is perfect naturally, but in Reason I need a different set up so the pads align with the Korg Drum Machine.
It’s a feature you get on higher priced models so to see it on this model is another reason why I could put this as the best starter MIDI Controller.
This is another way to speed up your workflow. Program change is able to be set to perform certain action on your DAW using your beat-pad. For example my pads are set to; Play, Pause, Stop, Record, Turn On/Off Metronome, Turn On/Off Pre Click, Repeat On/Off.
It could be seen as gimmicky because the pads have to be on this certain mode in order to work, but when your used to using this feature, it becomes a treat to have.
25 velocity-sensitive synth-action keys with dedicated octave up and down buttons
If you are used to playing piano or have used some basic unweighted keys before, then prepare to get adjusted to these keys. They feel how you would expect cheap plastic to feel and the depth of press is quite low.
In addition to this, the velocity registered on the keys are quite jumpy due to the springy set up of the keys.
If you are looking for a replacement for a piano this isn’t your guy.
However, what this kit does perfectly is offer you the smoothest workflow you could hope for. These keys are perfect applying a melody to a drumline or even applying an 808. There is also an opening for a sustain pedal to be connected.
The problems mentioned above, are what you would encounter when trying to use chords, but this will allow you to do the basics. (If using reason, use the chord builder to let the computer make chords for you)
Innovative four-way thumb stick for dynamic pitch and modulation control, + built-in arpeggiator
This is what differentiates the Akai MPK Mini MKII from other midi controllers in the price range. The arpeggiator allows you to create mind blowing rhythms without having to set it up on your DAW. You can set the arpeggiator to run at the speed you wish and run according to various rhythms, switching up the sound whenever you want without having to change track.
The dynamic pitch and modulation tool does the job you would expect. The design however is different to the normal wheel you would encounter. This is a refreshing change because when modulating a 808, there is a greater feel of control when moving up and down because it moves like a joystick.
The best function that I used the most was Note Repeat. Now we all know how popular the hi-hat or snare rolls have become Hip-Hop, Trap and Drill music, hence why this button saves so much time. As with the arpeggiator you can set the speed you wish the note to repeat at, and you can create the rolls as you tap away. You hold ‘note repeat’ as you tap the snare and release the ‘note repeat’ when you want the roll to end.
Workflow = improved.
USB powered, robust and ultra-compact design
What puts the Akai MPK Mini MKII at the top, is there is no other cables required than what is included. This unit is powered by a FireWire connection, so if you are on the go or in the house, you can use this kit.
Due to the small and lightweight size of this unit, I always found space for it in my backpack for long train journeys where I could cook up some fire during rush hour.
One gripe, is the wire that comes with the unit is on the short side so don’t expect to wrap it around your studio without buying your own wire.
Eight backlit velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads with note repeat
This is the juicy part that most beginners can’t wait to get their hands on. The beat pads are the main focal point of this unit, they light up instantly when touched and are most definitely waving the flag for the best starter midi controller.
The eight beat pads can be used to control 16 channels as the unit splits the pads into Section A & Section B. This is perfect for assigning different sounds to each pad through one channel. Again improving workflow significantly.
One problem I could say about the beat pads, is they are super sensitive. A slight tap will recognise on your DAW which is good because you can add slight hits for a dynamic sound. But this can affect your music when you are first getting used to using this unit. Sometimes you can accidentally tap another pad with the slightest of touches but it will register.
There is no way to change the velocity sensitivity but what you are getting for the price can’t be complained against.
Eight fully-assignable q-link knobs for mixing, tweaking plug-ins
The final feature of this unit, is the 8 assignable knobs. Now for me personally, I couldn’t configure these knobs to register in Reason which is no fault of this unit.
However, on FL Studio and Logic Pro X, these knobs became a mixers dream. Being able to assign these knobs to whatever I wished to, meant as I produced, I could adjust the volume of each track, choose where to pan, or even play about to see where I should cut a track out in the beat. The options are limitless.
Overall every feature of the Akai MPK Mini MKII lets you improve the speed of your workflow. Akai thought about what was currently available in the market and bridged the differences in price points with this unit.
The original MPK unit had a poor build quality, but the MPK II, is built to last.
I would recommend the Akai MPK Mini MKII for any beginner looking to get going with producing music as it allows you not only home comforts, but also this unit can be used anywhere. So if you need to run to the kitchen for some space, take this unit and your laptop with you to enjoy your time away from the family.
HERE is the amazon link for this unit if you are interested in purchasing.
Let us know in the comments what your first MIDI Controller was.