Review: Akai MPD32 MIDI Controller

 The MPD32 is a MIDI controller based on the very popular MPC drum machine created by Akai. The 4x4 drum pads look and feel very similar but there is no audio capabilities with this device. It is purely a MIDI controller.

In addition to the 16 rubber drum pads the MPD has 8 faders, 8 buttons, 8 endless rotary encoders, transport controls, controller bank switches, 32 preset locations, foot control inputs and a MIDI clock.

The MPD32 can operate as a Control Surface in Ableton (and possibly other applications) allowing the top faders to auto-map to the first 8 tracks and the below buttons can control the ARM function of these 8 tracks. Additionally, the 8 encoders will auto-map to the first 8 MIDI assigned controls in a rack or macro controls without learning. The pads themselves will automatically map to the pads shown in Abletons drum rack and will follow you through as you click through the rack.

Quick Glance

Price: $250-$399
Pros: Solid build quality, simple and fun to use, great for drum programming
Cons: Large footprint, Pad sensitivity may not be suited to all
Rating: 6/10
Manufacturer: AKAI
Model: MPD32


  • MIDI-synced note-repeat with MPC swing
  • Sixteen full-sized, genuine MPC pads with velocity and pressure-sensitive response
  • Three banks of eight assignable switches, sliders and endless knobs for a total of 72 controllers
  • Two assignable Foot Switches
  • One assignable Foot Pedal controller
  • Large, easy-to-read backlit LCD
  • Thirty user-definable presets for use with software applications
  • MMC/MIDI Start/Stop transport buttons
  • Ableton Live Akai Edition software included
  • BFD Lite software included 

Initial Impressions

In my opinion, the MPD range looks great. The nice blue display, the clear layout of the controls and the yellow illuminated buttons, it looks like it is something serious. I ordered this online and had read reports that it was big and realised just how bit it was when a huge box arrived for me. Being at work I had to wait until I could use it. Luckily for me I had already designated room for this beast and it fit in nicely on my desk.

Build Quality

Once switched on it looks great and the thing feels like it could survive a drop from a plane. It is tough and designed for heavy use. heavy rubber feet prevent it from moving on the desk and a heavy steel undercarriage supports the internal guts. The outer shell is a heavy plastic but doesn't feel flimsy or cheap. Inside the unit the pads are supported by a steel framework which bolts to the steel base so there is a LOT holding those pads firm. I know this because I pulled this apart and put it together a number of times for 1 reason (mentioned soon).
The controls and knobs all feel sturdy and firm. The buttons feel good and have a nice specific click to them so you can both hear and feel when you have pressed them. The pads feel nice and solid and feel like you could really hammer out a tune on them.... And that is kind of what the designers seem to have had in mind.

Powerup & Testing

There are no USB drivers needed for this, just plug and go. This is a bit of an "issue" for people on winXP because although it works just fine, it requires 3 MIDI ports to be created which are simply called USB Audio 1, 2 & 3. If you have other controllers which are also simply called "USB Audio" controllers it can be a pain to figure out what is what. On Windows 7/8 this is a non issue as the USB ports are named AKAI MPD32 so this is more an issue on windows. Connecting and setting up the MIDI was simple and straight forward and the unit comes pre-programmed with a number of program patches ready to use with your software such as Cubase, Reason etc. I selected the Ableton patch and set it as a control surface and track controller in Ableton and I was away.
The menu system is simple enough to navigate. A single knob scrolls through options and a button enters menus. There aren't too many options which is a good thing, just adjustments for changing control values and channels, global BPM, pad threshold and sensitivity and other various options but you can get through these in just a few minutes and without the manual. Software is also available from the Akai website to setup templates and dump to the controller which is a lot easier for setting up the whole thing but for small tweaks, the menu is simple.
The display shows a lot of info. The patch name, velocity pressure for pads, last velocity value, controller data. The LED indications are very bright and when you know what they are suppose to display they are simple to understand.

Operating with Ableton Live

The MPD32 is designed with Ableton in mind but will function pretty much just the same with most DAW software. I personally use Ableton so here is what I experienced. The controller is set as a Control Surface which maps the 8 faders to the first 8 channel volume controls, the 8 buttons below the faders to track Arm and the 8 knobs automatically to the first 8 parameters of any selected plugin. The Pads will control the 16 pads displayed on screen from the drum rack and will follow you through the drum rack when you select different sets of pads.
You can access even more functionality by pressing the Bank buttons to switch though 4 different banks for the pads and 3 different banks for the faders, buttons and encoders. This allows the first bank to be auto-mapped in software and the other banks to be hard coded to functions. I used a MIDI utility called Bome MIDI Translator to use some controls to operate ableton functions such as Metronome, Overwrite etc.
One thing to note is that though having banks of controllers seems like a great idea, the lack of LCD name feedback for controls means you have to remember what the controls are for. There is another issue too... The control value in Ableton is not sent to the MPD32 and even though the encoders are endless they are still relative. This means that instead of just increasing/decreasing the controller on-screen it will cause it to jump to whatever the control is set to on the MPD until they are synched. This is the norm for many cheap controllers but I thought the MPD would handle this stuff a little better.

The Pads

A much discussed topic are these pads. Some love them and some hate them. The consensus is that these are the same pads used on the popular Akai MPC drum machine but many who have owned these machines say they are nothing like them. I personally cannot comment there, but I have to agree that the pads are designed for people that like to really hammer them. I personally found I needed to rap too hard on these and decided to install cork inserts (available online from for the pads which close the space between the pad and sensor and add a lot of sensitivity. I had to re-do this 4 times as the cork started pressing against the sensor without the pad being touched. This is a pain as you need to remove the back, the inside brackets, some of the inside cables, fader knobs just to get the pads out. All this done now, I can just touch the pad and trigger a sample so you can tap with little pressure to play which is how I wanted.
With the pads modded and setup just how I liked them I found getting good expressive rhythms was easy and I could lightly tap out and program beats nicely. I just wasn't too experienced with this method so could really only play out one element at a time but it was a lot more fun and inspiring than just clicking in notes on-screen with the mouse.

The Bad Points

So, as stated above, the pads can be a little hard to trigger and modding them is not simple. Next is the MIDI side. Basically, there is no MIDI feedback for the controls. I am blessed with controllers around me that get info from the DAW so any changes are reflected on the controller. The MPD has no MIDI feedback so if I have a track ARM button activated on the MPD then deactivate it on the Mackie, the MPD still shows track is armed. An issue if you have multi-controllers like most of us. 
The size is probably the only other "issue". The MPD26 seems like it is a nice size but to me the MPD32 takes up just too much room for what it actually does. There is a lot of open space which is great for big hands to operate lots of controls but there are not many controls and there is a lot of open space that seems wasted. 

Summing It Up

I used the MPD32 for about 2 years and sold it after I purchased an Ableton Push controller. I did like the MPD but thought personally it looked much better than it actually was. The faders at the top were never touched and I only ever used the 8 knobs in macro map mode which was very useful but again I had no idea what the knobs mapped too in most ableton plugins until I moved them. 
The physical size and cost would have me suggesting to people to compare some other options especially since I needed to void the warranty and modify it to even be useful to me. Where this was once a great option there are now controllers such as Maschine, Push and a plethora of drum pad controllers I would not really see myself looking at this again. 
Lastly, Akai support is basically non existant. Several emails asking about some of the features and lack of MIDI feedback did not even receive a response or a "thanks". Not even an automated reply. Nothing. If support or after sales service is of interest then Akai Pro is probably not a good choice.

Initial Impressions
Right away the price seems to be one of those "too good to be true" prices. While doing research at the time, the BCF would cost me $270 delivered! The next best deal I could find was a used Mackie MCU for around $600 delivered. For just under $300 I could have an automated mixing console to control the mixer functions in Cubase & Ableton.

After making the purchase and waiting for a few weeks it finally arrived. The shipping kind of wrecked the box (which was inside a shipping box) but the mixer was un-touched. Getting the mixer out it was the size I expected after watching a number of online videos and it had enough weight to make it feel like a decent device. The controller itself is not too heavy, doesn’t have a large footprint and sits nicely on any desk.

It requires a power lead because of the motors so this needs to be considered. It is suited much more for studio use than DJ use but being quite compact it could easily be used as a DJ surface. The faders and buttons are laid out in an easy to use fashion and it depends on the software as to how the buttons function. Each button has an LED indicator that will normally display the status of the mapped control which is great.

Last modified on Friday, 06 November 2015 17:35

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