Akai MPC 4000 Drum Sampler/Sequencer - ProSoundNetwork.com

Akai MPC 4000 Drum Sampler/Sequencer

In this era of notebook computer-based full studio setups, consider that the MPC 4000 weighs 23 pounds and is almost two feet wide and a foot and a half deep! Still, just like car buyers, there are some users that will settle for nothing less than the best, and for those users Akai has developed the MPC 4000.
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Fast FactsApplications: Studio, live sound

Key Features: 128-track sequencer; 24-bit, 96 kHz; 16 velocity-sensitive pads; four onboard effects processors; 80 GB hard drive, CD-R burner

Price: $3,599

Contact: Akai at 401-658-4032, www.akaipro.com.

Product Points

Plus:

+ Great MPC feel

+ Internal hard drive

+ Four onboard effects processors

Minus:

- No multiple/digital outputs standard

- Expensive

The Score:

Luxury transportation disguised as a sequencer.There I was the other day, at the Audi dealer having my car serviced. While waiting I checked out the cars on the showroom floor. I mean, that's why they put the service lounge so close to the new cars, right? I walked right past the A4s (since that's what I drive), the A6s got a quick look as I headed right for the A8s. There's just something appealing about big iron, and the 12-cylinder A8L W12 has all that in spades.

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What's that got to do with a sampling drum machine? In this era of notebook computer-based full studio setups, consider that the MPC 4000 weighs 23 pounds and is almost two feet wide and a foot and a half deep! Still, just like car buyers, there are some users that will settle for nothing less than the best, and for those users Akai has developed the MPC 4000.

Features

So, what do you get for your $3,599 (around $2,800 street price)? Lets start with the essentials like a large tilting grayscale 320 x 240 pixel backlit LCD display, 16 soft rubber velocity and pressure sensitive pads, a big data-entry dial, two performance oriented sliders, a gaggle of soft keys and other controllers, and enough front panel space to actually use everything!

Audio specs of the MPC4000 include a whopping 64-voice polyphony (32 at 96K), 272 MB of RAM, which is upgradeable to 512 MB, and bit depth/sampling rates ranging all the way up to 24-bit/96kHz. This MPC also sports an 80 GB internal hard drive and an onboard CD-R recorder.

Like previous MPC machines there is a 50-pin SCSI port, which means that you can connect your legacy MPC library-filled hard drives, though few other compelling reasons would seem to exist for the inclusion of SCSI at this point in time. Oddly, there is no provision for Flash cards, but on the flip side, the inclusion of a USB port means that you can easily transfer sounds from a PC or Macintosh to the MPC via the included Akai's akSys software or utilize USB thumb drives for storage.

For sampling purposes a pair of 1/4-inch/XLR combo jacks are provided, as well as a dedicated phono input complete with RIAA EQ. Resampling (the MPC can sample its own output) is available as well. Outputs include dual XLR and 1/4-inch. That's all that comes standard. No multiple outputs, no digital output. For those that need more (and I would venture that most serious users would) there are optional S/PDIF, ADAT, and eight-output analog cards available. Unlike the MPC1000 I recently reviewed, the MPC4000 has a robust headphone amplifier onboard.

Two MIDI inputs and four MIDI outputs are included on the rear panel, as are SMPTE and dual footswitch inputs which can be mapped to control specific pads, tempo or start/stop functions.

The MPC 4000 doesn't skimp on the onboard effects front, as four onboard processors come standard. A total of 51 separate effect types are available, ranging from distortion to pitch shifting. As is typical for Akai MPC series units, the effects quality is rather good.

With 128 tracks and a total of 300,000 events plus choice of step or real-time operation, there's plenty of space to stretch out and work through complicated sequences. Once again, those numbers aren't particularly impressive when compared to computer based sequencers, but the ease of work flow, and the stability of the MPC operating system do offer compelling reasons for a hardware device of this magnitude even in today's workstation based world.

In Use

The MPC 4000 wore multiple hats during the time I had it for review: as a sound source for sample playback driven by Nuendo 3.2 and a Yamaha RM1x; on its own as a drum machine and as a full-blown sequencer/sampler. I found the sound of the MPC 4000 to be the best yet of the MPC series. Having the ability to sample at 24-bit/96 kHz (though it halves the polyphony) allows MPC users to create more transparent audio than ever before. On the other hand, the ability to load and play samples from legacy MPC and other Akai, Roland, and EMU hardware sampler formats (going all the way back to the Akai S1000!) opens up the ability to use all those great sounding low-res samples.

The akSys software did its job flawlessly, with nary a crash in the Windows version I used. Users with large legacy sample collections will likely find the application indispensable.

As always, the MPC 4000 did require frequent trips to the manual in order to learn to fully appreciate its functionality, but I suspect that seasoned MPC users won't find the process too arduous.

The pads, of course, are excellent, lending themselves to expressive playing styles. The only thing that could possibly be better would be a "stick friendly" type controller, though for nondrummers that would probably be a liability!

As with the MPC 1000 I reviewed, there is just a certain "something" about the sequencer section that makes the MPC 4000 excel for urban and dance music production.

Sequences created with the MPC 4000 just plain sound different when compared with those created in software-based (and other hardware) sequencers. The same MIDI files played back utilizing the MPC also felt different when compared to playback from Nuendo as well as the Yamaha hardware unit. Whether or not this feel appeals to you is a matter of personal taste, but the fact is that the MPC series represents the de facto standard of hardware-based sequencers.

The data sliders and four q-link knobs allowed for easy control over things like high hats, but as with other MPC units I'd love to see a "funky" controller feature similar to Roland's D-beam, or a ribbon controller, especially for live performance use.

Summary

The MPC 4000 certainly does sit at the top of the MPC range when it comes to raw horsepower and functionality, but the (as shipped) limitation of two channel analog output and lack of digital output seem curious in a product as expensive as this one. Aside from that (rectifiable with the purchase of optional cards), there is simply no better hardware tool for sequencing and sampling.

Review Setup

Pentium 4 3.0 GHz; Audix D6, Shure SM-57, Audio-Technica 4040 microphones; Fostex NF-1, UREI 809 monitors; Yamaha P2201, Bryston 3B amplifiers.