New for the year 2014, Akai Professional has launched their brand-new MPK II series of USB keyboard/pad controller models. This includes the 25-key MPK225, 49-key MPK249 (which we’ll be talking about in this article), 61-key MPK261 and lastly an update to their compact controller, the Akai MPK Mini MkII keyboard.
Akai offers quite a few upgrades in these models, including new keys, drum pad lighting, and a few other smaller tweaks to the controllers. Akai explains that they’ve used customer feedback from the past 5 years to incorporate into these new models so let’s see what they’ve come up with. They wanted to focus on control capabilities but have also included a lot of their new and uprising music creation software. Let’s get into the details.
What’s new for the Akai MPK249 USB MIDI controller?
The MPK249 is a step up from their original and quite successful USB MIDI controller Akai MPK49. Stated to be ‘slimmer’ in size, the MPK249 includes genuine MPC drum pads with RBG LED lights (color customizable) lifted from their popular MPC Renaissance machine, although ultimately this just gives your controller a cooler look. The semi-weighted 49-key bed is explained to be all-new and redesigned and to be more ‘comfortable’\easier to play with. The LCD screen on the controller is also brand new, giving you a bit higher quality resolution and speed than it’s predecessor.
You have the standard 8 assignable control knobs, faders and buttons at the top of the machine, which have always been great for mixing and tweaking your various plug-ins, effects and VSTs. These are great quality and have been seamlessly mapped with popular DAW programs, such as Logic Pro, Ableton and Pro Tools. Lastly, like the MPK49, you again have the possibility of four banks of pads and controllers — plenty for your combinations of sounds.
As stated previously, another highlight Akai has marketed with the new MPK II series of USB controllers is their software package: Hybrid 3.0 virtual synth, Ableton Live Lite, SONiVOX Twist 2.0, and MPC Essentials (the software we spoke about that comes with the MPC Element, giving a genuine MPC workflow for music creation). If software is your thing, this piece of machine is definitely worth it in terms of the package. However, if you’re already set and comfortable with your production techniques and software, you may need to take this into consideration. We still think it’s worth the price with or without the software — it’s your call.
Highlight features of the MPK249
- Full-size, semi-weighted keybed with 49-keys
- Keys equipped with aftertouch for dynamic play
- RGB LED backlit trigger pads taken from the MPC Renaissance
- Software package we spoke about (a huge plus if you’re looking for more software)
- Faster LCD screen for DAW-based work
- 8 assignable faders and control knobs
- USB-MIDI with 5-pin MIDI in and outs
- Sustain and expression pedal inputs
- Their signature pitch bend and mod wheels
- Octave controls
What we like about the MPK249\upgrade
- Who doesn’t like LED lights on their drum pads in their dark studio at night?
- The screen is clearer — not a must, but a plus
- The keys do feel slightly more comfortable and are some of the best on the market
- Slimmer in size, which is always nice for portability or fitting it into your studio
- Mapping is flawless in all popular DAWs (Logic Pro, Ableton, Pro Tools, etc)
- Software bundle is excellent if you’re looking for additions to your DAW and VST’s
What we don’t like
- The various software package included is cool, but does that really make the price worth it? Especially if you aren’t using any of them (for those who are experienced producers and already have their rig nice and comfortable)
- The drum pads are fancy when they’re lit up, but Akai never stated that they improved the overall quality of them in terms of velocity or pressure sensitivity. Something a lot of people are bummed about. I’ll still be using my MPX16 on the side.
- It’s been noted that this upgrade is ultimately just more of the same features…Nothing too ground breaking, although it is a solid MIDI keyboard controller when it comes down to it
Stability and overall build of the MIDI keyboard
The original MPK49 had a very solid build of full-sized semi-weighted keys and was considered by us to be one of the better controllers in terms of key quality. As previously stated, a huge consensus among the gear junkies were the pad quality of these — they aren’t necessarily MPC quality and some users had a hard time with the velocity-sensitivity of them. Unfortunately, they haven’t changed the pads besides adding colors behind them. I still think they are usable as I have done so myself (even though I use a drum pad controller on the side), they’re actually a lot better than quite a few keyboards out there. The thing is built like a tank and you don’t need to question whether or not Akai has come forth with another solid piece of equipment. If you end up going with this you’ll be using it for 3-4 years and it won’t crap out on you. Build and stability is great.
The arpeggiator is also pretty decent but standard at that. You have your typical random, up and down features, but this also has the ‘double down’ and ‘pattern mode’ which you can add rests to. Decent in terms of arpeggios, but I prefer to use my DAW‘s which I have presets set up for already.
The final word on the MPK249
Are these upgrades jaw-dropping and innovative to the music equipment community? No. Is it worth buying a brand new MPK249 to upgrade from your previous MPK49? Not so fast. If you’re looking for one of the better software bundles that come with a MIDI keyboard, we would say go for it. If not, this may be the deal breaker for you being that the pads weren’t improved and there aren’t any other crazy additions worth spending an extra $400 for an upgrade (unless you have the money and want the newest of the new). The backlit drum pads also look very sleek and the reworked design has it’s pluses. This all makes sense in the grand scheme of things being that they approached it in terms of ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ since their original MPK keyboards were such a success. This should only carry that reputation on.
However, if you’re going to buy a new USB MIDI controller, we recommend going with this new model as opposed to the old one. They’ll start discounting the MPK49 as this becomes more available around the net if that’s what you can afford, but the MSRP of $400 is decent in terms of the stability of the machine and compared to it’s competitors. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, check out our review of the Alesis VI49 MIDI keyboard that has a lot of the same features but is half the price.
All in all, the brand new Akai MPK249 MIDI keyboard is very solid and worth the investment, especially if you’re using their software bundle. We’ve seen the lowest prices of on Amazon with quality shipping. If you’re looking to save some money or even compare vs. the major competitors, check out our best 49 key MIDI keyboard controller or top 10 best MIDI keyboards articles. There are some cheaper ones you may find more appealing.
Here’s a copy of the MPK249 user guide.