Hands-on with the Akai MPC Renaissance

We get to grips with the new industry standard beat-maker that’s getting the world’s biggest hip hop producers hot under the collar

If you’ve ever listened to hip hop music, chances are you’ve heard the Akai MPC in action. The production controller revered by the likes of Q-Tip, DJ Premier, Pete Rock and countless other beat-makers, it’s just received its first update since 2008 – and we popped along to New York’s KMA Studios to get a look at it up close.

We were playing with the new flagship model, dubbed the MPC Renaissance and is expected to go sale for around US$1,299 in late summer/early autumn. It’s aimed at professionals, but we’d say it’s affordable enough for enthusiastic amateurs (in contrast, the 2008 MPC5000 cost US$3,500 at launch). Two other models, the portable Studio and tiny, iPad-compatible Fly, are launching later this year.

It’s been designed to be immediately familiar to anyone accustomed to a previous MPC (in fact, it even features a “Vintage” mode that modifies the sound to resemble that of three older models). You need to hook it up to a computer, sure, but the layout and overall design is mostly unchanged.

There are 16 velocity-sensitive pads, with each one’s backlight changing colour depending on how hard you hit it. One brand new addition are the 16 “Q-link” controls, which are twistable dials for adjusting pretty much any criteria.

Round the back are connections for pretty much any type of audio port, which the tilting pop-up screen means you can change settings without having to touch your computer.

Given our experience with music production is limited to a few drunken evenings playing around with GarageBand on the iPad, we were a little blown away with the level of control – and the sheer number of dials and buttons – on the Renaissance. But there are similarities even for noobs like us, and the computer software, the multitrack visual layout and so on should feel comfortably familiar to old hands.

We gave the drum pads a try. They feel great – tough and springy yet highly sensitive – although we’re glad the resulting cacophony was not recorded: we have the sense of rhythm of a heroin-addicted three-legged donkey. To give you more of an idea of what you can do with them if you actually possess some talent, take a look at AraabMUZIK wildin’ out:

We’re hoping to get a hands on with the MPC Fly at some point in the not-too-distant future, so if you have any questions related to that or the Renaissance, let us know in the comments below.

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