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Mini But Mighty

Mini But Mighty

Akai’s aggressively-priced mini laptop controller aims to do it all on the cheap. But can it compete with Korg?

Akai MPK Mini

In the not-too-distant past, the idea of a portable studio was a man in a van with a flight case of hardware and a box full of cables. Flash-forward, and our portable studios fit in bags and not only produce music but also mix, master and DJ with it. In this brave new digital world of music making, the laptop is truly king. However, this new era of portability doesn’t come without a price. It’s all well and good to have a virtual fleet of legendary analogue synthesizers and classic drum machines hovering at the end of your fingertips, but if those digits can only perform on, what is essentially, a plastic typewriter, then quickly things start to sound out of key.

Unsurprisingly, hardware manufacturers have looked to address this problem through a huge range of portable keyboard controller options. However, this range shrinks significantly when looking for a decent keyboard that is small enough to fit snugly within a laptop bag. Korg, Akai’s main and probably only serious competitor in the mini controller stakes, was the first to answer this issue with their recently overhauled range of ultra portable nano controllers.
But this excellent range was let down by the poorly-received nanoKEY, a micro keyboard with a very plastic and unresponsive set of keys. Last year, Akai entered the arena with their first range of ultra compact keyboard and pad controllers, and is now extending this range with the Akai Pro MPK Mini.
The MPK is roughly the size of a netbook laptop, housed in a plastic casing, powered by USB and offers a two-octave keyboard with Arpeggiator, eight rotary knobs and eight MPC-style pads. It’s hard to treat the MPK Mini as a new product, more like two old products stuffed, rather elegantly, into one diminutive ergonomic shell. MPK’s DNA is born out of the critically well-received LPK25 mini keyboard and LPD8 pad controller. And this is no bad thing. Combining these two excellent products into one unit has produced a great piece of mobile kit.

The velocity-sensitive keys on the MPK Mini share the surprisingly satisfying feel found on the LPK25. Clearly we’re not talking Steinberg piano satisfying, but for this price, the 25 notes fulfill their purpose admirably. Two octaves of keys are available with dedicated octave shift buttons, allowing the range to be shifted up and down. The built-in adjustable Arpeggiator is a very useful feature and as all notes of the arpeggiated phrase are sent by midi, this allows musical patterns to be edited further, once recorded into a sequencer. Away from the sequencer, a tap tempo button ensures things are kept in synch when jamming live. Finally, a sustain key fulfils the role of a foot pedal by allowing keys to be kept on hold once struck.
Akai’s MPC heritage ensures beat-bashing users are treated to a quality set of eight drum pads. Not only velocity-sensitive, a backlight rewards each pad hit with a satisfying red glow. The number of pads available can be extended to 16 via a dedicated bank button that toggles between two banks of eight. Each pad can send programme changes, note information and MIDI control change messages, allowing many uses beyond firing off one-shot samples.

On the downside, the MPK Mini, like the LPD8, continues to punish the fat fingered amongst us by offering a small set of eight knobs. The compact size of these knobs ensures that the unit fits easily into a laptop bag, although the shortness of the dials makes for fiddly tweaking. Each knob rotates 270 degrees and whilst size isn’t ideal, they still remain usable.
The MPK Mini is bundled with a software editor that allows pads and knobs to be quickly and easily mapped in your DAW of choice. I found myself more or less ignoring the editor, due to the ease with which modern sequencers allow controllers to be mapped. However, the inclusion of a comprehensive editor will satisfy those that like to dive a little deeper into the world of midi mapping.
To date, Akai has yet to offer a mini controller with faders. This strikes DJmag as a missed opportunity, considering the popularity of Korg’s nanoKONTROL. As such, the MPK Mini doesn’t break this trend, but on a unit this size, the addition of faders would have been at the expense of other controls so I believe their absence, in this instance, remains a wise choice.

Price   £69.00
Build Quality
Ease of Use   8.0
Features   7.0
Value for Money   10
Sound Quality   N/A
Hype   A great little addition to anyone's portable studios at a cost that will leave a warm smile on your face.
Gripe   No faders, but you cant have it all.
Conclusion   The combination of great build quality and a well-thought-out simple design makes the Akai MPK Mini a truly essential purchase.Small enough to fit in the smallest of laptop bags, and very aggresively priced, the MPK Mini is a no-brainer for anyone in the market for an ultra-portable keyboard controller. It comes highly recommended.
Overall Score   8.3/10