The Akai MPK mini is a sub-$100.00 two octave USB controller with 24 mini keys, eight assignable knobs, 8 assignable MPC style pads, a fairly flexible arpeggiator and four program locations for saving your setups. It is powered via USB and that is the controllers sole means of power and connectivity so if you need a MIDI out port you will need to look elsewhere.
I was looking for a controller to toss into a backpack along with a laptop for mobile creativity. A couple of years ago I attempted to get my mobile vibe in gear with the Edirol PCR-M1 that featured their S.L.I.M. keyboard with low profile knobs. That lasted about a week before the board failed and when I tried to get it replaced I’d found out that in that week it had also been discontinued. At that point the PCR-M1 was really the only super small controller in the game and with that leaving the building so did my mobile setup. Years passed and now we have multitudes of small backpack oriented MIDI control devices so I decided once again to peak into the options available. After spending some time looking at various options, I settled with the Akai MPK mini. I’d played around with some of Akai’s other controllers and was impressed with the build quality so I felt pretty comfortable that the build would be decent and after opening the box I was correct. The pads feel solid and the knobs have a nice tactile feel to them… smooth turning but with a proper amount of resistance. The keys feel solid and aren’t so small that playability becomes an issue but they are definitely very springy/spongy/sprongy. They feel VERY much like a Korg Microkorg. That isn’t my preference really but as this isn’t my primary controller I can deal with it.
The software that comes with the controller allows you to assign control change numbers (CC#) to the knobs, make various arpeggiator settings and pad settings. One nice feature is that the pads can be set to be momentary or latching and they can also be configured to send note numbers OR CC#’s. This function is switchable via a “CC” button on the face of the MPK mini so swapping pad functions is simple. Two banks are available for the pads per setup so in effect you have an available 16 pads and with each pad serving as a note or CC# you have a fairly broad array of 32 possible controls with just the 8 pads. The included software is available for both Mac and PC and during testing it ran fine on both platforms.
The arpeggiator is, well, an arpeggiator. Not something I would have specifically asked for but it has been fun to play with. You can choose anywhere from 1/4 notes to 1/32 notes including triplets. You can have up to 4 octave stepping and can choose between a variety of note orders. All of the arpeggiator functions are accessible via secondary functions on the key bed except 2 dedicated switches for turning the arpeggiator on and off and tap tempo button. The on/off button serves as a SHIFT button for selecting key bed options. It’s fun and all of the options are very simple to access.
From the photo you may have noticed the lack of a pitch or mod wheel. Personally I would have preferred two less pads and no arpeggiator in order for two wheels to be stuck somewhere on the board but I can deal and you can always map those functions to a knob. It isn’t really the same but every player has different needs. For scratch work I can do without. For recording or live performance? This will NEVER be used.
In the end the Akai MPK mini is a well built little tool for tossing in a bag and hooking up to your computer. It has a fairly low profile and the knobs are also shallow enough not to get caught on too much while entering or exiting your backpack. The lack of mod or pitch wheels and small key size may be a deal killer as a performance instrument for some but with the arpeggiator and knob combo all of you manly knob tweakers* out there will probably be more than happy with this.
More info on the Akai MPK mini can be found on Akai’s website HERE.