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Akai MPC3000

Article from The Mix, June 1995

Sampler, sequencer, synchroniser

While many consider a computer essential to their MIDI setup, Akai continue to support their standalone MIDI Production Centres. When the new MPC3000 integrates sampling, sequencing and synchronisation facilities, Bob Dormon finds it's not only his drum pads that are dedicated...

You can't deny that just tapping out a beat on a drum machine is about the easiest way to make a sequenced noise. Computers need to be fed with disks, or slowly whirr into life as information is retrieved from hard drives. And many synthesisers are grudging about sequencing, as drum parts steal its polyphony, or eventually eat up its note capacity.

All in all, a drum machine does its job very effectively. Such an easy interface of drum pads and dedicated edit keys has an obvious appeal, and is indeed a delightful alternative if you've been stuck with a mouse and a monitor for too long.

If there is no alternative, then working with only pads and push-buttons will divide some, and unite others. Yet that's the deal with the MPC3000 (and its predecessors, the MPC60 and MPC60 II). It's all self-contained, and goes beyond its most obvious role of a sampling drum machine, but includes a comprehensive 99-track MIDI sequencer and 64 MIDI output channels.

A glance at its blue, 320 character (240 x 64) LCD readout may well see those more at home with a monitor shrinking away from small screen, sample-and-sequence surgery. Yet anyone accustomed with an Akai S1000/3000 sampler will find this a familiar environment, and they'll vouch that you can makes some big noises in that small space.


The MPC3000 reverts to the guise of the original MPC60, abandoning the moulded appearance of the MPC60II. But there the similarities end, as the pop-up display has been moved left, to make room for the new look main control sections of the MPC3000. Fifteen white command keys access the contents of the MPC3000, while the adjacent blue numeric keypad helps speed up data entry, if the +/- keys or the data entry knob below aren't quick enough.

The cursor section has also changed, being far more finger-friendly, now that it is logically spaced out. The transport controls are familiar enough, retaining their look and positive feel. An additional row of keys above deals with the real-time sequencer functions, on-board help and the dedicated Main Screen key, which returns you to an overview of the sequencer's status. Like today's Akai samplers, the four soft keys on the MPC3000 are placed directly beneath the LCD display, so they correspond exactly to the options available when they appear on the screen.

Below these keys lies the business end of the MPC3000; it's 16 velocity and pressure-sensitive, grey rubber pads. You can assign sounds individually to each pad, or have one sound over all of them, with different tunings, levels, attack, decay, and even dynamic filtering. Other differences include a dedicated record level knob, and four (rather than two) pad banks. The Hi-Hat Decay slider is now called the Note Variation slider, providing the opportunity to enter values for tuning, attack, decay or filter frequency for every note.

Internally, the sampling resolution has been increased from 12-bit non-linear to 16-bit linear, with a complementary increase in sampling rate from 40kHz to 44.1kHz. Stereo sampling is supported, no doubt highlighting the need for the increased standard sound memory, which is now 2Mb (21.9 secs mono or 10.9 secs stereo), and can be increased to 16mb using SIMM chips, providing a healthy 188.3 seconds in mono or 94.1 secs in stereo. Previous MPCs were limited to a maximum sampling time of five seconds, but the only limit now is your available memory.

Round the back, you'll find little change, but you could be in for a few surprises. The MPC3000 retains the two independent MIDI ins and four MIDI outs, but loses the SMPTE synchronisation that came as standard on the two old MPCs. If you want to sync to tape with an off-the-shelf MPC3000, then all you get is the on-board FSK24 sync system, and using that means you always have to start the tape from the very beginning, each time you want to sync up. The SMPTE synchroniser — that syncs from any point on the tape — is now an option that you'll have to pay extra for.

Now that's not what I call progress, just a greedy marketing trend set by certain computer manufacturers... can anyone smell Apples..? But nowadays, you do get a 25-pin D-type SCSI port as standard, that'll hook up to any Apple Mac-compatible drives. Only a small number of removable drives have thus far been tested for the MPC3000, and CD-ROM is not even hinted at in the manual.

An IEC mains socket and rocker power on/off switch lie below the venting that shrouds the top right corner. Indeed, the MPC3000 does get a little hot, yet enjoys a blissfully silent existence by eschewing a droning fan on power-up.

Softkeys and informative display make the MPC a doddle to negotiate

The back panel also sports two footswitch controls, and this model included the IB-CRT video interface option, that allows a standard VGA monitor to be connected, to display the contents of the LCD screen. Below the SCSI port, the sync input socket has its own level control and sync output, which can handle a variety of sync signals, including a simple click track. Next up is a new standard feature, a coaxial digital input.

This only allows sampling at 44.1kHz, which is fine for DCC or pro-DAT owners, and those with suitably equipped CD players. Yet a vast number of machines with digital interfaces are of the optical type, but this is not supported, which will be a disappointment to MiniDisc users, some CD owners and anyone with a Yamaha ProMix console.

Unfortunately, there's no digital output. This would have been a very worthy consideration, as so many Akai sampler owners use their digital interfacing to back up the sampler's memory to DAT. For the MPC3000 owner, having a digital output as standard would be more economically useful than the SCSI port, which means shelling out for a high capacity storage system, should you tire from floppy swapping.

Gone is the metronome output, and the digital (and left and right stereo) inputs replace the effects send-and-return section that existed on the old MPCs. As the MPC3000 has its own built-in effects, this hardware routing arrangement was dispensed with, and anyone wishing to feed external devices can do so by sending the signals to any of the eight individual outputs, via the individual outputs/effects mixer. It works independently of the main stereo mix volume. A stereo mix output and headphone socket complete the back panel parade.

Sounds, loading, saving and sampling

Loading up the sounds from the handful of disks that Akai furnished me with, soon made me realise just why the SCSI port is a standard feature. The fact is, floppy disks are a tedious way to enter into a musical day. This MPC supports HD (high density) disks, so disk changes are reduced, but it doesn't make it grind through the data any faster.

However, actually getting at the saving and loading options is easy. Pressing the dedicated Disk key presents a menu of sample, sequence and system choices, accessed by selecting the appropriate number on the numeric keypad. S1000/S3000 samples can be loaded too, but not their programs or S900 disks, alas. The old MPCs would at least let you communicate with other samplers via the MIDI Sample Dump Standard (SDS), but this has been withdrawn on the MPC3000. Why?

Admittedly, SDS is about as slow as my editor to buy a me a drink (watch it, Dormon — Ed), but it gets there in the end... It's worth the wait, and better than setting up levels to resample and rename some sentient sounds. Perhaps, because sampling is so quick on the MPC series, Akai felt that with the inclusion of the digital input, SDS was more or less redundant.? Ah well, I'd rather they left that for us to decide.

Programs are the MPC3000's sample sets. They contain the pad assignment data, and when loaded, the associated samples are also loaded into memory. Like all MPCs, the sound/program and sequence/song data is all lost when powered down. To keep your work, you must save it to a floppy or hard disk beforehand.

"I can't stress enough what a joy it is to work with something that doesn't whirr out white noise at you all day"

Once you've loaded a program, the pads will play the sounds assigned to them. You can't play more than one program at a time, but you can switch between them, or add sounds from one into another. You're not confined to just 16 pads, because the MPC3000 has four pad banks: A, B, C & D, allowing instant access to 64 sounds, yet the machine itself can hold up to 128 sampled sounds.

Below the Pad Bank switch is the Full Level button, which plays the pad sounds at maximum volume, so you don't have to bash in a beat and punish your pinkies. But the fun really starts when you begin to investigate the powerful Note Variation system. Ther are two buttons: Assign, sets up the sound for tweaking (all you have to do is tap the relevant pad), and After, which allows you to overdub information onto sounds already recorded using the slider.

The basic overall operation is to select a sound, choose which type of variation you want to apply (attack, decay, filter or tuning) and then move the slider as you tap in the notes, being careful not to loop round, or you'll overwrite what you've just done. The After setting is less of a handful, but what you must remember is that you can only add this sort of information once per track.

If you want to record lots of changes on different sounds, then you'll need to use a new track for each sound. That's no big deal; it just means that you may have to do a bit of planning beforehand... or track copying later!

Sampling on the MPC3000 is very easy. It took me 30 seconds to sample a sound, assign it to a pad on the program I was using, then spread the sound, so that it was tuned across all 16 pads, and then play it into the sequencer. Pretty darn quick, so just imagine what kind of speed an experienced user could work up to.

Editing is also very effective, as sounds can be cut and pasted into other sounds, and trimmed to suit, without necessarily making permanent changes. A variety of crossfading options exist, as you would expect on any sampler, yet there is no looping facility.

Nor is there any obvious way to play a sampled sound polyphonically from across a MIDI keyboard. Polyphony and tuned playback is intended for pads only. Of course, drum notes can be played back from MIDI instruments in the way you'd expect from a 'kit program' on a synth module. Each drum sound is assigned its own MIDI note value, according to which pad and bank it has been designated.

The MPC3000 also gives you equivalent general MIDI names for each pad/note. But if you really did want to play cowbells across a keyboard, then the only way to do it is to make up a new program, assign the same cowbell to each individual note on the keyboard, and then tune each of these notes appropriately.

It works, I've done it, but it's tedious; and without any looping, as good as useless. This is an area where I feel many are likely to be misled. As its name implies, the MPC3000 is of the new breed of Akai samplers, and so it would make sense for it to share some of the more mundane features of its sampling siblings. But the only thing it shares is the ability to import 3000 series samples, filter them and add a few effects.

So the question is, who's going to buy the MPC3000? Well, it's popular with dance-maniacs and drummers. But Akai aren't out to to fool anyone with the MPC series. They have a machine that has been designed to appeal to rhythm-orientated musicians who need simple, but effective sequencing, and a real hands-on environment.

In a world full of stereo outputs, it's nice to see a load of holes on the MPC's backpanel

Sequence of events

The sequencer performs in a familiar drum machine style. You program say, a four bar sequence, add a few more sequences, and then string them together in the order you like, in Song mode. You can make up to 20 songs, and each sequence has up to 99 tracks. They can be either Drum (internal sounds) or MIDI (external devices) tracks.

The tracks can be named, muted, overdubbed, quantized and swung. If you've used Creator or Notator, then an MPC sequence is like a pattern, and Song mode is akin to arrange mode. Similarly, Cubase programmers that use Group tracks can identify with the MPC style, which also works like Pro-24's Sequence song mode, and the old Ensoniq ESQ 1 on board sequencer.

In fact, the sequencer itself does not present any huge challenges, as it has a glorified drum machine approach, and herein lies the appeal of the MPC concept. Programming too, is easy. Event data is listed on the screen, and the transport controls scroll you through it, so you can manipulate the notes or control changes etc, as required.

To make matters less confusing, you only see the events that happen at one particular moment in time, rather than a list of everything before and after. The transport wind controls take you to the next event, which is an improvement on the old MPC60, which would step through each tick of an unquantised pattern before you got to any notes.

Simul Sequence is a useful feature (formerly known as Second Sequence), which allows you to play two sequences simultaneously, or run a sequence repeatedly while a song is playing. A useful way of trying out new ideas, and when the MIDI filing capability appears — as promised in the forthcoming version two software — then matching up drum sequences to someone else's song will be a cinch.

I invited a friendly MPC60 user to give me his impressions of the MPC3000. I thought that seeing him do battle with it would be a quick way of assessing the changes within the MPC3000.

But I was surprised by his lack of progress. A lot of the original MPC60 nomenclature has been changed, and to such a seasoned user, it came across very much as a new machine. Sequencer functions were generally identical, but setting up sounds was a different world.

Stepping in to man the machine myself, I was delighted by how familiar it all appeared. I've used Akai samplers for years, and so the 'new look' MPC3000 actually matched my expectations of operating Akai gear. Words such as 'program' now exist, which sounds normal to me, but 'Set' is the vernacular which old MPC hands look for.

All that's changed now, and the manual sets out to highlight the differences. This should quell the confusion for those expecting an MPC60 MkIII. Apart from his initial mystification, my MPC guinea-pig was very struck by the clean sound of the new MPC3000. Indeed, it is a clean machine, and I can't stress enough what a joy it is to work with something that doesn't whirr out white noise at you all day.

The mixer section offers automation, by recording the relevant MIDI control changes onto a sequence whenever you move a 'screen' fader, panpot or effects send. The effects themselves are basic in the extreme — three delay units with a range from 1 to 1486 milliseconds. You can pan each one, alter the volume and feedback.

Setting up a stereo flange was easy, plus the third delay, to add some 'bounce' to the beat. On the whole though, a bit of a disappointment. Even the most basic drum machines offer reverb these days. Perhaps that is another item on the list of update promises that manufacturers love to tempt us all with.


Akai's MIDI Production Centre series seems to have survived where others have failed. Sequential Circuits' Studio 440 was an early contender, together with E-mu's SP12/1200; even collaborator Roger Linn came to grief putting together machines people loved to hate, but didn't want to be without. His pioneering work in this field showed the shape of things to come... and it's the MPC series.

Linn's long shadow also goes some way to explain the relatively long innings the MPC has enjoyed. The original MPC60 appeared back in 1988. Such was the passion for miniaturisation at the time that many were prejudiced against its size. Although an MPC3000 is still a big machine, the reason is simply because there's so much in it!

The essentials...

Price inc VAT: £2799
More from: Akai UK, (Contact Details)

Spec check

Display 320 characters (240 x 64 dot graphic) LCD
Sampling rate 44.1kHz
Frequency response 20Hz-20kHz
Sampling capacity 2Mb standard, expandable to 16Mb
Data format 16-bit linear
Dynamic filtering 12dB/Octave dynamic resonant lowpass filter
Maximum sound 128
Number of sound programs 24
Simultaneous voices 32
Maximum notes 75,000
Resolution 96 ppqn
Sequences 99
Tracks per sequence 99
MIDI output channels 64 (16 channels X 4 output ports)
Song mode 20 songs, 250 steps per song
Drum pads 16 (velocity and pressure sensitive)
Drum pad banks 4
Sync modes MIDI time code, MIDI clock, FSK 24, 1/4 note clicks and SMPTE (optional), SMPTE frame rates supported are 24, 25, 29.97 drop and 30
Rear panel ins/outs Digital sampling input: S/PDIF
Dimensions 440 x 121 x 405 mm
Weight 9 kg

Featuring related gear

Akai MPC60
(MT Apr 88)

Akai/Linn MPC60 II
(SOS Nov 91)

Browse category: Drum Machine > Akai

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Beast master

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Drum Machine > Akai > MPC3000

Gear Tags:

16-Bit Sampler

Review by Bob Dormon

Previous article in this issue:

> Acid test

Next article in this issue:

> Beast master

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