Sunday, June 6, 2021

FREEWARE DAW REVIEW: Akai MPC Beats

 



Akai MPC Beats Review.

Throughout the pages of this little blogsite, I've regularly taken a look at the freeware DAW market and drawn some comparisons between the various platforms available. You can check out my review of four popular platforms here:


Just about all freeware platforms with the exception of the rather excellent soundbridge freeware project are 'entry level' versions of larger/paid for programs with the idea that, at some point, the user will progress to the more fully featured commercial version. And so it is with MPC Beats (being the freeware/entry level version of Akai Pro's MPC software package), but you may find that on this occasion you have enough open ended power and features, and it may be all the audio software you will ever need. I will explain.....

Akai MPC Beats: Basics.

Carrying, as it does, the Akai MPC moniker you would be right in thinking that MPC Beats is geared for contemporary pattern based writing and recording, but don't be fooled, MPC Beats is capable of producing fully formed musical artworks including the final mixdown and mastering process.

So 'the basics' are 

- Eight MIDI/instrument tracks with two stereo audio tracks. 
- An board MPC style drum machine instrument is provided (as you might expect) with a range of included drum and effects samples with additional sounds available to purchase from the Akai Pro webstore. 
- Three keyboard/synth type instruments: Electric, which is a vintage electric piano style instrument, Tubesynth, analog style synth instrument, and Bassline bass synth instrument. 
- A wide range of effects and processors on board provided by AIR.

All rather excellent as it is......but here's the real difference. MPC Beats supports third party VST plug-ins so you immediately have access to an almost unlimited choice of freeware and commercial third party instrument plug-ins. You'll be amazed at how good some freeware synth plug-ins are. 
Many freeware DAWs do not offer this facility or provide it in a limited capacity such as allowing only two third party instruments to be used in a single project) but MPC Beats allows third party VST instruments to be assigned to all eight of it's instrument tracks. 

MPC Beats Hardware Integration.

Perhaps MPC Beats other greatest feature is the solid and powerful integration of Akai Pro's MPK Series of keyboard, pad, and data controllers, so you can instantly take creative 'tactile' control of the software and it's features with minimal mouse pointing and clicking although MPC Beats can be used via any USB or MIDI (if you have a MIDI interface) keyboard, synth, workstation, or controller. 



The MPC Bit

As you would expect, MPC Beats centres around an MPC style sample player with 16 trigger pads with Q-Link editing controls for each, which can be allocated to various parameters including pitch, fx send levels and envelope parameters. Q-Link parameters can be automated so that parameter changes take place during song playback.




As with it's hardware equivalents, recording of the drum pads is carried out within the overall program sequencing although the sixteen pads can be used to perform drum machine style pattern development via the 'step sequencer'.   

User drum sounds can be imported from the host computer's hard drive as well as the factory supplied drum sounds. 

MPC Beats Instruments.

Three other instruments are supplied as standard. 

Tubesynth is a powerful 2 oscillator plus sub synthesizer with blendable waveform oscillators, dual filters and tube style distortion effects. It produces powerful, fat and convincing bass and lead sounds. Polyphony is limited to four voices so it's a little less capable when it comes to pads and comp/polysynth type patches. 





Bassline is a single oscillator with synth bass sounds in mind. Produces some good quality sounds but I feel that much of this kind of thing is already covered by Tubesynth. 





Finally, Electric is a great sounding electric piano/Rhodes emulator with an appropriate effects suite attached. 



Third Party Instrument Plug-Ins.

As mentioned earlier, third party VSTs are supported which is a major plus for a freeware DAW. The possibilities become almost endless. 
Third party plugins can be loaded and played by the usual folder scanning process. Third party VST GUIs (graphic user interfaces) open in a window above the main window. 



Sample Recording and Editing On MPC Beats.




MPC Beats also features a very handy sample recording and editing feature. This enables you to sample, edit and use externally or internally sampled drums, vocal hits, beats and loops. 

This feature also has some very handy 'routines' such as a loop splicer as well as more standard editing facilities such as trimming. Pitch shifting is available without affecting sample's length is also available. All very useful. Even the mighty Soundbridge can't do all that. At least not on it's own. 

Recording and Editing. 

Recording on MPC Beats is done via a fairly familiar 'piano roll' style grid editor. The usual 'coloured blocks' appear as you build your song track by track and these can be moved, drawn or deleted using the marquee, pencil and eraser tools. The usual looping facilities are available with overwrite and overdub modes. It's all very well laid out with the greatest detail available in the track view page. 

Mixing and Effects.




The mix page offers level and panning controls for tracks as well as a powerful and comprehensive suite of effects and processor plug-ins. 

Whilst the effects sound great and cover lots of areas, most of them do lack a nice clear graphic user interface, opting instead for a simple 'strip' like window with simple text for parameters and numeric menus. But there's enough EQ, reverb, delay, distortion and compression to go way beyond beginner level. 


Mixdown and Exporting.

Once you're happy with your masterpiece's levels, panning and EQ you can click the Audio Mixdown option and export your song as a stereo mix with a number of file type, bit and sample rate options including MP3, wav and even Flac. 

Standalone or VST Plugin. 

As well as being a standalone music production platform MPC Beats can also be usd as a VST plugin within another compatible DAW. So you can add an MPC style drum instrument, sample recording and editing, three new synthesizers, and a buch of free sounds to your existing setup.  

Conclusion.

I think MPC Beats is a real contender in the freeware DAW arena and is the first to be produced by an industry 'major player' shall we say that competes with dedicated freeware projects such as Soundbridge. It's a really useful package in it's own right and not just a free-leader to get you to purchase the full MPC package, although whilst trialing MPC Beats I was sent a special offer email with the full MPC software platform for half price. Just £99. 

I guess it's greatest limitation is it's track count with 8 Midi/instrument and 2 stereo audio tracks, and here Soundbridge wins hands down, but it's support for third party VST instrument plug-ins, it's supplied instruments and effects and it's powerful sample editor make it a really powerful computer music platform, and all for the price of an email address. 

Download Link.

Get your free copy of MPC Beats here:



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Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 



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