With battery power and built-in speakers, the MPC Live II is ready to rock some blocks.
It's been two years since we reviewed the MPC Live, which was Akai's return to stand-alone music workstations. A lot has changed since then. The Live was joined by a flagship studio model, the MPC X, and recently by the compact and affordable MPC One. The MPCs have seen numerous software updates, and now feature on-board synth plug‑ins and Ableton Live control.
Along the way the Akai Force emerged, sharing many of the MPC's features and technology, but with a different approach to making and performing music. This latest revision of the Live hardware shows that MPCs aren't being phased out in favour of the Force; the two will run in parallel, and might hopefully cross-pollinate in cool ways.
All the MPCs are the same at the core: they are multitrack production workstations with dedicated track types for drum kits, the three on-board synths, loops and MIDI/CV sequencing. The Live's defining features within the portfolio are its form factor and internal battery. Take this to a gig instead of your laptop, and it'll keep running when someone kicks out the power cable. The MkII has the same internal workings as the original but refines the externals, with an expanded panel layout and CV connections to match the other models. Oh, and they added a big-ass sound bar along the front.
Wait, what? What looks like a new arm rest (adding about an inch to the device's front-to-back measurement) is in fact a metal speaker grille. Is this a moment of madness, or a moment of genius from the Akai Pro product team? I was sceptical... the speakers in my Circuit and OP‑1 have little useful function. But having played the MPC Live II, I quickly came down on the genius side.
The angled, front-firing speakers kick out a surprisingly big sound, with respectable, punchy low end and an appreciable stereo width from the playing position. It's comparable to home sound pods like the Amazon Alexa, or a basic TV sound bar. Or — and this is what got me thinking — an old-school ghetto blaster. This is a portable music workstation you can take out to jams. B-Boy/Girl mat not included.
In April 2020 I'm not getting out much, but the built-in speakers meant that I frequently plonked myself down around the house for a few minutes of play time. It's surprising how off-putting dragging a PSU out from under the desk and finding headphones can be. Using the MPC Live also felt less...