What Is It?
It seems that the MPC range has been around forever. Since the launch of the MPC60 in 1988, Akai Pro have created a legacy by producing hands-on hardware beat machines with awesome sequencing and sampling ability.
The sad truth is that it’s become easier to make beats on your laptop and although MPC owners will tell you that they use their MPCs all the time, they probably don’t. Like it or not, the glory days of hardware beat machines are coming to a close and Akai Pro had to do something to keep the MPC legacy alive. A Renaissance was in order, hence the name.
As you may have guessed, the new MPC is a MIDI controller. Yes, you need a computer to make it work. All the purists are undoubtedly pulling their hair out at this point, while I may have gotten some youngsters’ attention. If you fall into the former group, you can’t blame Akai for making this move. You don’t have to look far to realise how well Native Instruments’ Maschine 2 has done on the market as a controller. Perhaps the Renaissance will suck a few hardware nuts into the growing realm of software.
But enough talk, let’s see if it’s any good!
The Renaissance has the look and feel of a solid stand alone hardware workstation and is made to look like the classic MPCs. A lot of controllers these days feel plasticky and cheap, but this thing is solid. It weighs in at just under 5kgs and occupies 50cm x 33cm x 7cm desk space.
Akai have opted for 6 MIDI sockets, 2ins and 4outs which could seem a bit overkill for today’s use, but it’s in keeping with the classic MPC arrangement. I/Os include combo jacks, 1/4″, RCA and S/PDIF. There’s a powered USB 2.0 hub to connect USB powered keyboards and the like. There are 1/4″ and mini jack inputs for headphones on the front, as well as 2 footswitch inputs.
Like the classic MPCs, the pads are super responsive and you can adjust the sensitivity. Only these ones have coloured back lights which indicate velocity by default, but also provide useful colour co-ordinated information depending on what mode you’re in. Pretty nifty.
The 16 encoders are fully assignable to sends, pans and volumes. They’re touch sensitive so they can trigger effects by simply touching them. There are countless buttons dedicated to specific functions, including my personal favourite button ‘vintage mode’, which transforms the controller into an MPC3000, MPC60 and others. To top it off, there’s even a luxurious padded wrist-rest.
Creating a beat was relatively easy for a MPC rookie like me, but I initially found myself using the computer software more than the controller itself because using the big rotating knob and staring at a retro 360 x 96 pixel resolution blue screen was a bit out of my comfort zone. However the more I played around with it, the more I climbed out my shell. I figured it was easier to do all the programming on the machine itself and soon forgot that my laptop was even there. I felt like Dr. Dre in the 90s, sampling beats and cutting up sounds like a ninja. I have to say, I found great satisfaction from creating beats with my hands rather than clicking a lame mouse.
The package comes with 9GB of samples and programs including four virtual instruments exclusive to the MPC. These include The Bank, The Wub, the 809 and The Noise. The stand outs for me are the 809 which is an uncomplicated drum machine with some really decent drum samples. For novelty’s sake, I enjoyed The Noise which contains quirky 8bit TV Game sounds.
Akai Pro have undoubtedly gone to great efforts to maintain the same look and feel as their traditional MPC, but its dependence on the computer marks the end of a legacy rooted in hardware. I have full confidence though that the MPCs integrated software will see it reach new heights as a production tool.
As a producer who predominantly makes his beats on a laptop, getting to play with the Renaissance was an enlightening experience and I definitely see it as a worthwhile investment if you can afford the price tag. Although it may seem to appeal primarily to die hard MPC users who want to keep up with the demands of modern technology, anybody looking to make beats on the fly -without clicking a mouse – should consider the Renaissance.
Footnote: Avid Pro Tools Express is also included in the package.
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