Akai MPC series

1988 – present

mpc60 copy

Akai’s MPC series is the ultimate cult classic of the sampler world. Launched as the MIDI Production Center and later rebranded as the Music Production Controller as the concept evolved, the MPC inspires an almost religious devotion from its admirers. You could argue the case for plenty of others on this list as all-time classics, sure, but the MPC wins by sheer weight of numbers. That’s largely down to the fact that when we say ‘the MPC’ we can’t immediately pick out a specific model. Launched in 1988 with the MPC60, the range has evolved and developed over the years to offer a little bit of everything. Whether you’re after 12-bit 80s grit, a classic 16-bit boom-bap hip-hop sound, portability, ultimate 24-bit modernity or even a contemporary software approach, there’s a solution in the MPC range.

You can't approach MPC production the same way you'd approach using a DAW

MPC creator Roger Linn denies there’s anything ‘magical’ about the MPC’s sequencer, which some users claim possesses the ability to swing like no other. Instead, what makes the MPC concept so appealing – regardless of which era, which sampling engine or which spec you go for – is its distillation of the production process to its raw essence. You can’t approach MPC production the same way you’d approach using a DAW, but that hasn’t harmed its popularity one bit. Whether they’re used as sequencers to control other MIDI gear or simply as tools to record, edit and sequence samples, MPCs have defined thousands of producers’ creative processes over the last quarter of a century.

In 2012, the MPC Renaissance (a flagship hybrid system based around a controller and software), Studio (a more affordable hybrid) and Fly (an iPad-based version) were released, bringing the concept right up to date. But one of the most interesting aspects of the MPC series is that every model has its own specific strengths depending on your approach to making music. For some the 24-bit 4000 or the 5000, with its multi-track recording capabilities and built-in virtual analogue synth, might be the holy grail of MPC technology. Others will crave the simplicity and classic sound of the Linn-designed 60 or 3000. The 1000 and 2500 can run the extremely popular JJ OS, a custom operating system which adds a range of features. The 500 is the most affordable MPC yet and also portable for making music on the move. The 2000 and 2000XL offer a cheaper and slightly more modern alternative to the Linn-designed versions.

Whichever one you go for, it’s not hard to see why the MPC series boasts the most committed fanbase of any hardware sampler you can name.

1st April, 2014


  • Pete Rock with CL Smooth’s Mecca and the Soul Brother is a masterpiece

  • “Now let me take a trip down memory lane…”

    Thanks guys. Really enjoyed this. Brought back some memories!! I definitely remember playing with a friend’s toy sampling keyboard when I was a kid… Might have been the Casio… I bet we weren’t the only ones recording burp and fart sounds into it!!

    Anyway, slightly more serious… my experience from mid 90\s onwards was… back then it was ALL about the S1000, 2000 and maybe a handful of 3000s. People I knew were making house and techno mainly, a few getting more into drum and bass. I remember people looking down on the 900 and 950 for being a bit old fashioned… I guess because they were 12 bit

    MPCs were strictly for the hiphop heads and I only really remember them from quite late in the 90s… the hiphop guys I knew were using Akais because they were easier to get hold of. As for the SP12 I don’t even remember seeing one until years later.

    A few Emus around but nowhere near as much as Akais. Maybe because they were more expensive?

    I ditched the hardware samplers as soon as computers were up to the job…

    I sometimes consider a S900/950 but I’m not sure I’d go back to the hassle of chopping and editing samples in one… pretty much everything’s done with the Maschine now just cos it’s so easy. I got an MPC2k a couple of years ago to see what all the fuss was about. understnad the appeal but I think you’ve got to commit to the workflow. Too spoiled by ableton!

  • I love the EMU’s and still use them. The E64 and E6400 have this sound that is unobtainable anywhere else. ASR10 is of course great. Im not a huge fan of the Akai’s. Thanks for the article and any other articles about samplers are greatly appreciated.

  • Great article, proper gear lust watching those videos. Biggups.

  • Funny how it goes, I remember dreaming if the day I could get s3000xl, a4000 or one of the emus.

    Wouldn’t want one now mind, Zip drives n floppies!! Arghh.

  • glad you guys used my videos!

  • Re: Octatrack: “Artists as diverse as Alan Braxe, Mumdance and Zombie Nation have raved about it in interviews with us.” Call me lame but I’ve never heard of those three acts. I think this list would have been better off as Five instead of Nine. It’s way too much of a stretch to say that a three-year-old bug-ridden product like the Octatrack has defined much of anything except for Elektron’s reputation for notoriously terrible customer service.

  • @Alex.

    Um… Alan Braxe would be the co-writer of ‘Music Sounds Better With You’, one of the biggest crossover hits of recent times.

    So yeah, LAME – assuming that’s fine?

    (Not that I disagree with your wider point).

  • I think it’s the Commodore Amiga and the Creative Lab’s Sound Blaster that really brought sampling to the masses. Suddenly kids could do advanced sampling tricks in their bedrooms. Stuff that could only be done in expensive studio’s before.

    Dance music would not be the same if only rich and experienced musicians in fancy studio’s would be able to use sampling.

  • I remember messing around on the Casio SK-1 (or definitely something similar) when I was younger; my sister gave me hers when she went off to college (ages ago!). I messed around with it trying to make music like off the Streets of Rage games on Sega, then got bored with it. Now, after all this time, I produce dance music; who knew!

  • mpc 60 made my day there + sp1200 of course

  • Top article! Can’t get enough of these machines and their stories.
    More S series goodness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ACk3paLv_s

  • Great article. The Akais in that shot look oddly familiar.

  • alex-

    you have the right company? elektron definitely doesn’t have a rep for bad customer service, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

    there’s bugs in everything, but none that would keep you from creating on it. while i don’t personally use an octatrack, it’s easy to see why it belongs in this list… it does a lot of stuff that no other samplers can do, and it’s extremely functional for live sets or production.

  • It was a great read, but the title is misleading. While Ableton undoubtedly has made a mark in a historical context, I don’t see how Kontakt, Maschine or the Octatrack can be referred as “Samplers that defined dance music.” Perhaps actively changing things, sure, but not in a historical context. As others have commented, what about the Ensoniq range (ASR, EPS…)? The Amiga? Korg’s offerrings?

  • Thanks for the article, I will be the one who say it : wtf no emu Eii sampler ? It was used from italo disco hits to rock punk / new wave and of course early dance tracks. A big omission in this article unfortunately …
    Thanks for the effort altough !

  • Linn… Linn machines !!

  • I can’t believe this list left out 2 of the best samplers released since 2006- the Kaoss Pad 3 and MicroSampler, both from Korg. I’ve been using those 2 pieces of equipment since 2012 and use both units in my live performances. The sampling capabilities of the 2 are THE best out there as far as standalone units & the resampling function on the KP3 is hard to beat- you can resample ENDLESSLY, layering your sounds veey dense! And don’t forget about the awesome effects it has as well! The MicroSampler may be limited with memory time (I think 8 mins mono and 4 minutes stereo all together- 8 banks so 2mins per bank with mono) but its Auto Next fuction lets users chop samples to various keys, like drum beats, a key for a kick, key for a snare, and so forth and allows the users to do so without having to pause whatever they’re sampling and set up to sample the next sound. You can sample down to 1/64th of a beat to get super precise stabs. AND it has a 99 beat pattern sequencer which users can store 16 patterns per bank! (16 x 8) Please include both of these pieces of gear in your next list of best samplers.

  • I have to agree with some others, emu were easily as big as Akai, especially for people that wanted great sounding filters. I owned several emu’s, and still have one, and so did everyone I knew. I don’t think anyone I knew that was making dance music in the place I grew up used an akai, all of us had emus. . Also have to say something like audio engineer combined with one of the tracker programs for the Amiga should be in there, its how a lot of people made their way into dance music in the 90’s (before moving on to an e6400 or similar)

  • Sp12 & SP1200 was used all the time in combo with the Akai 950 from the early 90s in Hip Hop nd House i.e. Pete rock Paul C Large professor D.I.T.C Master at Work Todd Terry the list goes on…. Simply a dope machine with only 10 sec to play with the only real limitations is your creativity.

  • Kind of surprised the Ensoniq ASR-X didn’t make either this or the drum machine list. Great units that have their own character.

  • @Alex
    “it’s way too much of a stretch to say that a three-year-old bug-ridden product like the Octatrack has defined much of anything except for Elektron’s reputation for notoriously terrible customer service.”

    Do you own one? Have you spent any time with it if you do own one?

    Ive owned my OT since it was released and year on year, Elektron have continued to support and develop it. It has had numerous updates, and theyve always been great on the forums. The OT to me, is the single most creative and flexible piece of kit in my studio. Thats not to say it is easy to use – its probably the most punishingly difficult thing ive ever owned – but once you see it as an INSTRUMENT that needs commitment and learning, youll fall in love with it and see the limitations as positives.

  • No NED Synclavier, for mi one of the most powerful sampler workstation of all time. Grat artist based mani records around it, like Frank Zappa, Tevor Horn and many more. And no Yamaha samplers, RMX1 or SU700.

  • Rm1x is not a sampler 😀 RS7000 is.

  • This list has no Ensoniqs which is hilarious

  • (Cough) Korg Tritons (Cough) Roland MV-8×00 Series (Cough, Cough)

  • Great article but sadly no room for the Casio FZ, Mirage, Emulator or Prophet 2000? All true classics with unique contributions to electronic music over the last 31 or so years.


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