Friendly Fire

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This weekend was KnobCon, and so studio time was scarce. I could write about all the need bits and bots I saw there, but there are better writers who will handle that topic. Instead, I want to discuss the growing rift in my studio between two awesome pieces of gear that just don’t seem to want to let either one be the top dog: The Akai MPC Live and the Akai Force.

As all of you know, the MPC Live is one of my favorite instruments. Something about that 4×4 grid of pads and that interface just works for me. With the updates its gotten since its release, it’s become a really fun composition and performance tool (and for me, performance IS composition, so ++good). The only real gripes I have with the MPC Live (other than it’s totally inadequate MIDI input implementation) are 1) Its only got 4 Q-Link knobs and 2) only 16 pads.

Enter the Akai Force. On paper, the Force looks like an Ableton Push controller that’s had the MPC OS shoehorned into it. More or less, that’s exactly what it is (or tries to be). Thanks to Beta-culture (i.e. venture capitalists who give fuck all about product quality), the OS in the Force still falls a bit short of that dream. That said, Akai has been steadily improving the Live, and there is hope the same will be done for the Force. There are several things rumored to be in the pipeline, and if they become reality..it could be amazing.

But it’s not wise to judge equipment on what it might be able to do someday – you have to judge it on what it does for you *right now*. So what about the Force *now* as compared to the MPC Live?

Well, the Force gives you 4 more Q-Link knobs (Just called ‘knobs, but they are basically Q-Links) and an 8×8 pad grid, which is 4 times what the MPC has. You also get 4 CV outputs, which could be very handy. It’s also *huge*. I mean *huge*.

Everything else on the unit is either equivalent or cut down: Fewer audio outputs, fewer MIDI ports (though the force does have a THRU). The displays are the same size. One really annoying thing is that its so deep, that it would have been absolutely killer if they could have either tilted the case, or at least made the display on a hinge like on the bigger MPCs. As it is, it’s kind of annoying. The ergonomics of the unit are definitely not perfect.

As far as workflow goes, the Live and the Force are very, very similar, though while the MCP wants you to create patterns that you build into songs, the Force has no such concept. It only has Clips and there is no song mode at all.

Yes..you read that correctly. $1500, and it doesn’t have a song mode. The only way to create a song structure is it improvise it on the fly and then record it into something else for arrangement (an arrangement feature is in BETA now, but there is no info on when it will actually be released). For someone like me, who performs his songs and basically just plays out to a stereo pair, this is fine. For more polished and deterministic composer types, this could be a showstopper.

So which will it be? Does the force have what it takes to unseat the MPC live from my rig? I think the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. Yes, because it basically IS an MPC. Qualified, because the OS needs to get some badly needed polish to it, so the MPC is not yet for sale. If and when they get the arrange view sorted out, and with some improvements to the Ableton Live export, This could be the one box to rule them all! And then I can sell the MPC Live for a Hydrasynth 😉

I also need to note one thing. Am I the only one else that finds it absolutely insane that Akai released a flagship product that basically is a direct competitor to its other flagship product? I don’t really get the business thinking that resulted in that, but I guess that’s why I’m not a venture capitalist.

Oh..one note about the software instruments included in the Live and the Force: They suck. No, really. They suck. If you don’t think they suck, then its odds you probably suck too (kidding). If you’re any kind of synth programmer, and not just interested in navigating presets, they are extremely lame offerings. If Akai were smart, they’d go dig out that old MPC 5000 OS that had, essentially, and Alexis ION built into it. Give us that, guys. Give us THAT.

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