Welcome to my Akai MPK Mini MKII review. Here we have a small MIDI performance controller, with a 25-note keyboard, 4-way thumbstick, 8 backlit velocity-sensitive pads, and 8 assignable knobs for controlling whatever sound parameters you want. It does not have any sounds of its own but is used to control other equipment, for example, software synthesizers.
Apparently it does have its own built-in arpeggiator, but I’ve never got round to using that because I use Propellerhead Reason to make my music and that has its own sequencer.
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- Pros & Cons
- Video Review
- Who is it Designed For?
- Pros & Cons in Depth
- What Do Other People Say?
PROS & CONS
- Small and lightweight.
- Looks great.
- You can make music anywhere.
- Control knobs are fun to use.
- Pads feel nice and responsive
- Thumbstick controller is great.
- Sustain pedal input could come in useful.
- Built-in arpeggiator for live sequencing.
- Excellent value for money.
- Accompanying software is poor quality.
- It’s not clear how you assign the knobs.
- Keys are small and feel a bit cheap.
- Akai has poor customer support.
Who is the Akai MPK Mini MKII Designed For?
This controller is great if you want a cheap and convenient way to make music anywhere. Actually, for many years, I had wanted to be able to compose music in places other than my bedroom. So last summer I bought a new laptop and the MPK Mini MKII. Since then I have actually sat in my car at a beautiful viewpoint, with my laptop and MKII and composed music.
It could also be really great fun to use live. If you want to do live electronic music gigs with minimum equipment, you could just use a laptop running a DAW like Propellerhead Reason or Ableton Live, and use the MPK Mini MKII to play live notes, live arpeggiated sequences, play drum sounds and/or samples using the pads, and manipulate synth parameters live using the assignable knobs. Also, the way the pads light up would add a fun live performance element.
You can hear a piece of music I made using it here.
The MPK Mini MKII has a small size and weighs just 1.6 pounds. it can easily fit into a good laptop bag, and can be taken wherever you want to make music. It doesn’t even need batteries or a power supply, as it runs off your laptop via the USB connection.
There are 25 velocity-sensitive keys; the range can be expanded by making use of the octave shift buttons. It has a 4-way thumbstick in place of separate pitch-bend and modulation wheels, or you can assign it to control any synth parameters you want. It has 8 backlit velocity-sensitive pads which can be used to trigger anything, including drum sounds or samples; use with the Note Repeat function to get fast repeating beats.
It has a built-in arpeggiator which you can use to do live sequencing of a software synthesizer, for example. There are 8 knobs that can be assigned to control anything, whether it’s mixing sound levels or controlling synth parameters like filter cutoff and resonance. It also has a sustain pedal input for using with any external sustain pedal.
Connecting the MPK Mini MKII to your computer is very simple. All you do is connect the USB cable to its USB port and connect the other end to your computer’s USB port. Works with either Mac or PC.
Once you have registered your MPK Mini MKII, you can download software from the Akai website. These are:
- Akai Pro MPC Essentials
- SONiVOX Wobble
- Hybrid 3 by Air Music Tech
PROS & CONS IN DEPTH
You can make music anywhere
I love how small and light it is. Although most of the time it sits on top of the chest of drawers that are next to my computer desk, I love knowing that I can take it out anywhere. I have sat in my car at viewpoints with my laptop and the MPK Mini MKII, composing and editing music. I have even sat in the garden with it, making music in the sunshine. For years, I wanted a way to make music away from my bedroom, and I now I can!
Control knobs are fun to use
To be honest, I only recently found out how to assign these knobs to parameters in Reason. It was a bit of a tricky process finding out how to assign them, but I’m so glad I have done it now. It’s great to be able to set a sequence going and then play with the filter cutoff and resonance parameters in real time. It feels like I am using a real analog synthesizer. Again, for years, I have wanted the ability to do this, and now it’s possible!
Pads feel nice and responsive
Although I’ve not actually used the pads to play drums or samples, I definitely do like the feel of them. They feel nice to touch, and they respond well to how hard you hit them. I also like how they light up when you hit them because this could add another element to live performances. Even though I’m not going to use it in that way, I do appreciate that it can do that.
Thumbstick controller is great
I’ve not got round to using the thumbstick controller yet because I usually compose using my larger MIDI keyboard and I tend to use the pitch bend and modulation wheels on that. But I think it was a good move to add it to the MPK Mini MKII. The first version of the MPK Mini didn’t have anything like that, and they made a good decision to add this thumbstick rather than have separate pitch bend and modulation wheels. Not only does it save on space, it also adds an additional performance element to it. You can assign it to control other parameters like the filter cutoff and resonance, which would be great live.
Sustain pedal and arpeggiator – a great combination
I’ve never used sustain pedals myself because I am a composer/producer rather than a live performer, so I’ve never felt I needed to use one. However, for live performers, I can imagine that this could come in very handy. The main use that springs to mind is when used in conjunction with the arpeggiator. You could turn on the arpeggiator, press some keys to get a sequence going, press the sustain pedal, and then both your hands are free to play with the knobs. Perfect!
Excellent value for money
It has to be said, for the money you get a very great controller with the Mini MKII. Considering you can usually get it for as cheap as half the list price, it’s amazing really. If you have a laptop running a Digital Audio Workstation such as Reason, all you need to make music is the MPK Mini MKII and some speakers or headphones. That’s it! You’re on your way to making great music. At such an affordable price, the Mini MKII adds some much-needed real-time control to software music creation.
Bundled software is poor quality
I did try out the software that came with this controller, but I found it to be somewhat lacking. One of the programs is a DAW, but it didn’t seem quite like a full music production program to me. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to using Reason that my expectations were so high. But I also found that the registration software was difficult to use, and so was the MPK editor. It’s a shame really, because if it wasn’t for these software flaws, this would be an ideal controller keyboard for a beginner.
It’s not clear how you assign the knobs
I bought this controller wanting to be able to use the knobs to control software synth parameters in Reason. However, it was really not clear how to do this. When I added it as a keyboard to Reason, the knobs didn’t do anything. I tried everything I could think of to get it to work and I just couldn’t. It was after more than 6 months of having it that I came across an online forum post that explained how to do it, and now it works just fine. But it’s a great shame that it wasn’t obvious.
Akai has poor customer support
I remember contacting Akai support for help with getting it to work in Reason, but they just said that I would need to contact Propellerhead (the company who make Reason) to get help with that. Seems a bit poor really. Also, other customers on Amazon have reported that Akai support were useless when they went to them with problems.
Keys are small and feel a bit cheap
The only physical problem that really bothers me with the MPK Mini MKII is that the keys seem quite cheap. Yes, they are velocity sensitive, and that’s great, but they do have poor action. When you press them down fully, they suddenly stop, with a hard feel to them. There isn’t the same soft padded feel that I have with my larger controller keyboard.
All things considered, this is a very convenient and useful piece of kit. If you are looking for a very affordable MIDI performance controller to enable real-time control of software synths, then it’s great. My advice would be to have a larger MIDI controller keyboard in addition to this for doing most of your note-playing or composing. However, if you are going to use this as your only controller keyboard, it still does the job reasonably well considering how portable it is and the low price tag. If money is extremely tight, and you want an even cheaper MIDI controller keyboard, you might also want to take a look at the midiplus AKM320.
I hope you found my Akai MPK Mini MKII review helpful, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will reply as soon as I can.
All the best,