The good folks at Akai Professional and Retronyms have delivered one of the best beat making iOS apps to date in my opinion. The iMPC Pro. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ve tried many iPad beat-making apps and this one is miles ahead of the pack. Many of the features we’ve come to know and love about Akai’s legendary Music Production Center (MPC) are in this app. Not to mention a few pleasant surprises peppered throughout. Let’s just get into it. Download from App Store.
Main Features: 64 tracks, 3-band EQ, mute, solo, panning and FX sends on each track, Turbo Duck effect for track fattening and sidechain compression, Flux mode for warping beats in real-time or with automation, 3D-performance mode. Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 7.0 or later
- Inter-App Audio integration
- Knobs and Faders expand for precision editing
- 4 different sampling methods
- Direct upload to SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or export to your computer
- Automation of pad and track mutes
- Adjustable Lo-Pass and Hi-Pass filters per sound
- Steep learning curve for beginners
- Dull responsiveness of pads and parameters at times
- No intuitive way to play chords
- No MIDI implementation
The welcome screen greets you with a cleverly designed choice of template projects in the form of the old floppy disks you used to use on MPCs’ past. Touching the ‘WELCOME’ button in the upper right corner of the screen will give you access to a few helpful hints. You can of course load in ‘Template – Zero (blank canvas)’ to start out with a clean slate to work from, but whatever you select, you’ll see the floppy disk insert itself into the virtual floppy drive and load the project. That was a slick idea if you ask me.
The iMPC boasts 5 main modes which are selectable from the bottom left of the UI: Main, Program, Mixer, Timeline, and Song. Your project opens on the ‘Main’ page and you immediately feel like you have an actual MPC in your lap. Beginners and newcomers to the MPC platform might get lost here, but if you take a closer look, it’s not that difficult to understand. I will go into more detail later as to what is possible in each mode, but suffice it to say, the UI design is very intuitive considering all of the features contained in iMPC Pro. I particularly like the fact that there is a designated Mixer page on which channels are represented as they are on a typical hardware mixer. It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into this UI design.
Modes & Features
As I mentioned earlier, iMPC Pro offers 5 main modes of operation. Here is a brief overview of what can be done in each mode:
- Main – Load up a ‘PROGRAM’ consisting of 16 sounds per bank, program beats in real-time, select ‘FULL LEVEL’ or ’16 LEVELS’ for velocity settings, use ‘3D PERFORM’ for editing and automating parameters in real-time, select a track via the ‘TR’ up & down arrows, perform ‘TAPE STOP’ effect, adjust ‘LO PASS’ & ‘HIGH PASS’ filters, and other standard features such as NOTE REPEAT, TIME CORRECT, ERASE, NEXT SEQUENCE, TRACK MUTE, and PAD MUTE.
- Program – Adjust TUNE, PAN, LEVEL, LO & HI PASS filters, RESONANCE, enable or disable TURBO DUCK mode, select 1SHOT or HOLD and all of these settings are per pad. You can also TRIM samples, CHOP TO PADS (a feature used mostly for loops), and sample a new sound using any one of the 4 unique sampling methods available: from the iPad mic, resampling, other apps via Inter-App Audio, or your own music library.
- Mixer – Adjust track levels, 3-band EQ, pan, reverb, delay & chorus, and mute and solo per track. You can also enable TURBO DUCK compression on the master track to fatten things up a bit.
- Timeline – You can add, edit, and nudge notes to perfectly craft your beat. Hold and drag to nudge notes and double-click a note or set of notes to view the editing options. Sounds can be auditioned by touching the desired sound on the left side of the window.
- Song – Adjust tempo manually or via TAP TEMPO, set the number of bars per sequence, duplicate bars, set the time signature, arrange your song, upload your song directly to SoundCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, export to your computer or make an audio copy of your song.
All of the samples and loops were designed by acclaimed sound designer, Richard Devine. In case you don’t know, he has done sound design for way too many companies to list here and I have been a fan of his work for years. The synths and loops he designed for iMPC Pro sound great to say the least, but to my ear the drum sounds could have been better. The kicks seem to lack weight, the hi-hats, crashes and metallic sounds are a little too harsh in the top end and come off as brittle. I think most of the snares lack punch in the mid-range while the toms and percussion are on point and both body and pop respectively.
All of the MPCs’ have a reputation for having a certain feel. The iMPC Pro manages to retain that feel albeit with a bit of effort. The main culprit is the lack of responsiveness from the pads. I’m using an iPad 2 so the result might be different on more recent iPads, but I found the pads to be ‘laggy’ at times and the frustrating thing about this is that it’s random. That is why I feel that the app needs more work in this area because it was hard for me to replicate that famous ‘MPC swing’ Akai has long been known for….or maybe I should get a newer iPad. Besides that, the sequencer is flawless. The normal ‘MPC’ options are included in addition to some that might not be found on earlier hardware versions. For example the 3D PERFORM option is great for automating parameters for live performance as well as in-studio use. Using the NOTE VARIATION slider with the 3D PERFORM option offers a lot of creative ideas to flow particularly because all of the parameter movements are recordable. Honestly I just haven’t seen a sequencer on the iOS platform as powerful as what Akai is offering here. Maybe we’ll see a fix for the responsiveness or lack thereof, in a future update.
End of the day…
Akai, in partnership with Retronyms really has a winner with the iMPC PRO. While no app is perfect, this one comes extremely close as a beat-making app. Using this app actually makes me want to take a second look at the MPC Ren or the Studio, and this is coming from an avid Maschine user. When you factor in the sound design genius of Richard Devine, it’s a no-brainer. A great UI design, an abundance of intuitive features, a smooth workflow and quality synths and loops at a more than reasonable price point is reason enough to purchase this app. I mean, it basically sells itself. A definite 5/5.
See also: DAWs for iPad overview