Akai MPC One: Your 21st Century Portastudio on STEROIDS!

Let's say that you came of age at a time, long before the internet, when the ONLY way to get your song ideas down in some sort of audible format was to grab the nearest portable cassette recorder and hit PLAY/RECORD at the same time and pray the batteries haven't died since you last used it.

Since we weren't exactly expecting Abbey Road quality results from our cheap, portable cassette recorders, listening back to those first bedroom demos was exhilarating ("Hey, that's me!"). Then, of course, it wasn't. ("Ugh, that's me"), leading most folks to quietly set down the acoustic guitar they got for Christmas and never pick it up again.

The driven few who remained immediately began craving higher sound quality and, yes, MORE TRACKS, which was right around the time that multitrack cassette recorders became affordable.
Such units were marketed mostly through the Guitar Center chain, meaning everyone with a guitar and a Peavey amp also had a four-track recorder. 

A decade or so later, supposed technological advances led to PC-based recording, which turned something artful and nuanced into something indistinguishable from the formatting of an Excel spreadsheet. Hell, being a musician these days practically qualifies one to run a large IT department, what with all the troubleshooting, management/installation/coordination of system updates and the like.

If that realization doesn't send you screaming in search of a STANDALONE 21st Century Portastudio Equivalent, nothing will. 

Does such an animal exist in the 21st Century?

Thankfully, the answer is YES!

Warning! There are a lot of samplers, sequencers and grooveboxes out there that claim to be self-contained, all-in-one solutions, but then lure you back to the PC in order to utilize the "full version" of their proprietary software. .

After much research (and no payola whatsoever) to find the one box that offered the immediacy of an old school four-track, offering both that classic PortaStudio experience while also making use of the technological advances that have taken place in the four decades since PortaStudios ruled the earth.

The one piece of gear that comes closest to capturing the Portastudio experience is...drum roll please...the MPC One from AKAI. 

Of course, the most "Portastudio" aspect of the MPC One is the fact that you have eight glorious digital audio tracks available to you.

That's already four more than your vintage cassette multi-tracker AND they're digital tracks, which means that if and when the time comes to start bouncing down tracks to make room for more overdubs, there will be no loss of sound quality OR tape hiss!

Wait, it gets better:

Imagine if, back in the day, your Portastudio had come with on-board sounds (synths, bass, strings, woodwinds, brass, etc.), built-in drum machine with a multitude of genre-specific kits, and, last but not least, a sequencer. 

What makes this dream box a steal at twice the price (more on that later) is that using these plug-ins, samples, or loops are IN ADDITION TO the eight audio tracks available per pattern. project, song, etc.

In other words, you could literally program a full drum kit, bass, some strings, and still have all eight tracks available to you for your lush, multi-layered vocals or flamenco guitar stylings.

"How is that possible?" you ask.

Welcome to the 21st Century, my friend, where such things fall into the "midi" realm of the MPC One, while the eight audio tracks are considered "audio" and, therefore, separate to a degree while working together seamlessly to create a single track/project.

In other words, you could simply program the drum parts (on the "midi" side) and layer your eight audio tracks on top or simply confine all of your work to the audio tracks by recording your performance live into the MPC One via the stereo mic/line inputs.


Q: How close to a literal Portastudio experience can I get with the MPC One?

A: If you came here looking for rewind and fast-forward buttons, sorry, but you are out of luck. On the other hand, if you've been looking for an over-engineered, digital version of your old four-track, enabling you to stumble home drunk, kiss the dogs, pet the kids, and then lay down eight tracks of full-on Metal-Mania before the buzz wears off.

Q: I'm not tech savvy AT ALL. Am I going to run into one wall after another of pointless obstacles?

A: If you've ever stuck a USB memory stick or SD card into a computer and opened a document from, or saved a document to said memory stick, then you, my friend, are tech savvy enough to manage the MPC One.

Q: How steep is the learning curve?

A: Like any new device, there WILL be a learning curve, but not to worry. My humble suggestion is to approach this potential headache in the most zen-like manner. Slip into some comfy sweats, splash some water on your face, slap yourself a few times, grab some smelling salts if you've got them, then settle in for a few hours of pulling whatever hair you have left until your mind is able to wrap itself around the new paradigm. Once you reach that magnificent plateau, if you're anything like me, the immediacy and flexibility of this box will almost feel like cheating.

Q: Can you give us ONE FEATURE that makes this box so special?

A: Yes, the MPC One enables you to create a pattern of any length. That may sound utterly simple, but you'd be surprised at just how many competing groovebox/sampler hybrids limit you to a maximum of four bars per pattern/sequence. Granted, you can do anything within that four bar framework to equal whatever length you desire (two bars of four = your eight bar verse, for example) BUT one should be able to set the length of their pattern to 32 bars or more, if they choose, and, on the MPC One, you CAN DO JUST THAT!! 

Q: Any downsides?

A: Sure thing. Dig this list of mini-gripes:

- No faders (ha ha, a man can dream, can't he?)

- Mixing seems like a bit of an afterthought (but can be done)

- No XLR jack (solution: use your regular audio interface)

- Working with the 7" touch screen takes some patience.


Superficially speaking, straight-forward workflow, plenty of knobs you can twist to get the sound you want, and solid construction, but, INSIDE, the same exact operating system and sound library as a $2,000 MPC X (as well as the MPC Live/Live II), but for a fraction of the price.

You see, in addition to grabbing this unit for the eight tracks of immediate, goof-proof audio (for which we'd pay $499 on its own), this box does so many other things that to only use the audio function would be like buying a Swiss army knife and then only using the toothpick. 

Obviously, the MPC name is most associated with sample-based genres and, while you can sure as hell sample, edit and chop your ass off with the MPC One, for song-based artists, the on-board sounds make doing so completely unnecessary unless, of course, that's your schtick.

Remember when you tried relying on built-in sound libraries in the past and found the "believability" of such sounds to be hilariously sub-par? Well, those days appear to be long gone because the richness of the on-board strings, brass and percussion sounds actually takes your breath away sometimes. Mixed properly, such sounds are indistinguishable from the real deal in the final mix and fans will never know you didn't actually hire an orchestra.

One last thing to consider: AKAI often releases updates to the operating system (the most recent being a few months ago), which often means that significant NEW FEATURES are added to an already formidable spec sheet. Back in the day, if a new feature was added to the PortaStduio, we had to buy A NEW PORTASTUDIO so consider the MPC One the gift that keeps on giving.

Price: New $899 (price has gone up $200 since the box first debuted in 2020), Used $550


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