Akai is well-known for its top-notch music production gear, drum machines, MIDI controllers, and other equipment. Being around for many decades, you can confidently call them veterans – musicians have relied on them throughout many years and were never let down. Now Akai is one of the biggest brands in the music industry – I guess consistently putting out highest-quality gear does the job.
Akai is one of the few companies like Yamaha and M-Audio that managed to transition from the old ways of music production to the digital age and put out products that suit the new age better. I am also convinced that the success of Akai Professional is partially due to not only focusing on professional musicians, beatmakers, and producers but also those who are just starting their careers.
An excellent example of the statement would be Akai MPK249 – the MIDI controller we are reviewing today. Let’s begin the review by saying that Akai is a world-famous and reputable brand, so the expectations are always high. Their products are always on the higher end of the price spectrum as well, so they better show for themselves, if you know what I am saying.
Alright, let’s get into it!
- Top-notch quality
- Made of heavy-duty plastic / durable
- Semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive keys
- MPC-style pads with RGB feedback
- Transport controls
- Neat items in the bundle
- An overwhelming number of controls
- Not the most compact / portable
- High price tag
Akai MPK249 Overview
- 2nd generation of the Akai controller comes with better keys
- MPC-quality pads add to production quality
- Better screen and improved integration
- VIP software to speed up your workflow
Akai’s MIDI keyboards and gear, in general, are pretty good in quality (even the lower end products are superb). You can only imagine how much better their premium devices like MPK249 will be. Akai’s biggest success was probably the release of the compact MIDI controller MPK Mini. Now, you can only imagine how much better MPK249 promises to be – more keys, buttons, pads, wheels, and other controls.
The keyboard is far from light, standing at just over 12 pounds. Therefore, I suggest having it in your studio, as there are better alternatives to use when going to play at a club or gig. The device is made of heavy-duty plastic and seems to be quite durable, but I wouldn’t push it too hard if I were you. Akai MPK249 comes across as quite sturdy considering its weight and size.
The MIDI controller comes with 16 velocity-sensitive and color-coded drum pads. They are soft and easy-to-press, and you can trigger multiple pads simultaneously. Automapping works pretty well, but I prefer doing the assigning process manually, so it fits me. The colors on them make them easily distinguishable from each other. You can make it so simple – red is bass, yellow is kick, green is clap, and blue is hi-hats. The best part is the ability to store the colors in the bank as well as the sounds. Speaking of banks…
Next, you’ll notice a series of bank controls right next to the pads. They let you scroll through banks and store your MIDI data in them. It’s actually a really cool feature that I adore. Just imagine – with a click of a button you can switch between drums and FXs, or other sounds. It kind of reminds me of the octave change buttons – after you click on them, the octaves change, but you play the same keys.
It’s not the most compact MIDI controller out there but is pretty good considering all its functions and controls. You make this sacrifice for full-sized keys that are much better than mini ones, and 50+ control buttons above them. Akai MPK249 isn’t the lightest keyboard either, but it’s a powerhouse that’s worth it.
The build is sturdy and improved from the original controller. The pads are made of durable rubber, and keys are semi-weighted. The overall construction feels a lot more robust compared to cheaper MIDI keyboards, so you shouldn’t worry about a key or fader falling off.
You have to remember – your MIDI controller may come with knobs, pads, switches, and faders, but every producer spends most of his or her time playing the keys. That’s why it’s crucial for this to be your number one priority.
While a lot of MIDI controllers come with cheap synth-action keys (in fact, most of them), Akai MPK249 comes with semi-weighted keys with spring action. This adds variable resistance, so you get the feel of an authentic acoustic piano. They are expensive and raise the price tag by quite a bit, so they aren’t the most popular among manufacturers. This truly makes Akai MPK249 stand out.
The MIDI keyboard also comes with Aftertouch. For those who don’t know, it’s MIDI data that’s sent after the initial contact has been made – to control vibrato and volume. Lastly, the keys are full-sized, which is lovely as you can quickly jump to another controller without having to rewire your muscle memory.
Akai MPK249 comes with 16 pads and 4 sound banks. Do quick math – that’s a grand total of 64 sounds! The pads are backlit, and you can color code the sounds up to your liking – just imagine how cool it looks in the dark. The only noticeable drawback here is the drum pads’ size – they are smaller than average, so it may be harder to finger drum, especially complex drum rolls.
Knobs / Sliders
Akai MPK249 also comes with 8 knobs and 8 sliders, which is a whole lot.
Knobs offer nice resistance and are automapped to control the basic functions such as volume and panning right out of the box.
Sliders are top-notch, and, in fact, one of the most used controls on a MIDI keyboard, coming third right after the keys and pads. The best way to use them is either when EQing a single sample, or when polishing the track during the mixing stage. If you used to think that digital controls were enough, you’d change your mind very fast, as it’s incredibly satisfying to do it the “old school” way.
LCD / Transport Controls
As you may have guessed already, Akai manufacturers view MPK249 as an all-in-one production center – that’s why there is a screen in the center of the controller. It lets you easily change parameters like tempo, gate, swing, and more without ever having to reach out to your mouse or keyboard.
While it’s not touch-sensitive (this would’ve added another $200+ to an already high price tag), you can control everything with the arrows just to the right of the screen. This will help you spend your time a whole lot more efficiently without having to check the settings in your DAW constantly.
Akai MPK249 comes with a lot of handy ports that you can plug-in your other gear.
Basic ones include Power port, so you can connect it to a hub. The MIDI controller is also bus-powered, so you can get it working by simply plugging it into your computer’s USB port. Sustain pedal input is also a fairly common one that even budget MIDI keyboards come with.
Specialized ones include MIDI In / MIDI Out and the expression pedal ports. You won’t see them very often in cheap MIDI controllers, especially the expression pedal input! These expression pedals are used to have better control over specific parameters. For example, you can control a remote knob that you use a lot by your foot. That’s by no means necessary, but it’s surely a handy tool.
Lastly, remember that MIDI devices send MIDI signal and don’t actually produce any sounds, so no audio connections are ever added to them (don’t get them mixed up with digital pianos).
DAW Control / Integration
Akai integrates well with every digital audio workstation and lets you control the basic parameters of the DAW without touching the mouse. This is a huge time saver. The keyboard also comes with neat little features like tempo tap, arpeggiator, latch, and note repeater. My favorite one is the arpeggiator – the function that let you play a sequence of notes. Combine is with the latch that holds the sequence in place without you holding the keys down so you can modulate it and you got a banger!
The screen of the MIDI keyboard is simple and easy to read – everything is pretty straightforward. The info displayed can be shifted through, thanks to the scroll wheel on the right side. As you can see, Akai really put a lot of effort to make the product top-notch.
DAW controls of Akai Professional MPK249 can intimidate even a seasoned producer who’s new to the MIDI controller. With them, you can change and program presets, loop and preview the separate tracks, playback, start/stop, record, and more! In order to do all that, you have to assign all the controls to the buttons inside your digital software properly using the MIDI Learn function or an equivalent.
With all the controls, it can get a little confusing and overwhelming. Don’t set everything up if you don’t plan on using all the controls listed above. Note that they can considerably improve your workflow. Ideally, you’d slowly start implementing them until all of them feel natural to your workflow, and you don’t have to go out of your way to use the controls.
I have indeed noticed that very few producers use transport controls and extra features the premium MIDI controllers like Akai MPK249 come with. The most common tools used are the keys, pads, knobs, and a few buttons here and there. Moreover, a lot of producers are so used to work on their beats and tracks with mouse and keyboard that it’s a too hard (and unnecessary) transition for them.
However, I do pay my respects to the reasonably intuitive design of MPK249 layout. Everything is organized, labeled, and takes no time getting used to. Especially if you are a beginner, getting the better practices implemented into your workflow that will potentially save you tens of hours in the future sounds like a worthy investment of your time.
Fun fact: Did you know that merely 10% of MIDI controllers come with an onboard arpeggiator? It’s crazy that Akai managed to fit it in the budget line of products, such as Akai MPK Mini. Once again, you can use the digital one, but the analog arpeggiators sound so much better and save you the headache of setting everything up.
If you haven’t been convinced that Akai MPK249 is a top-notch product, take a look at what’s coming with the MIDI controller in a bundle.
MPC 2.0 is an optional upgrade that’s available for free to MPC Touch, Live, or X owners. The software application essentially brdings MPC workflow to your computer. It can pretty much turn your MIDI keyboard into a ready-to-go production suite. The best part about MPC Essentials is that it’s not exclusive and can work both as your main DAW or as a plugin in the digital audio workstation you are using right now.
It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a sweet tool with 8 pad banks, 1GB sound library, and a lot of other cool features.
Ableton Live Lite
While Lite version isn’t a full DAW, it’s a great way to try Ableton and see whether you like the workflow or not. It’s one of the best software applications for live performances, and I always suggest it to anyone who has touring / performing live on their bucket list.
Hybrid 3 / SoniVox Twist
Hybrid is a top-notch virtual synthesizer that brings together the warmth of analog synths and futuristic digital capabilities.
SoniVox Teise is a spectral morphing synth with dynamic interface, highly advanced pattern generator, and many onboard effects – create some serious sounds using only simple controls.
The tool brings all your plugins in one place. If you have many VSTs, this tool will come in more than handy a lot of times. VIP seamlessly integrates with your software and gives you the unrestricted freedom to create the workflow that works for you. As a result, enhanced creativity and workflow that feels natural.
Even the mighty Akai has competitors that may be more appealing to certain audiences. It’s hard to get more features than MPK249, but it’s also a pricey device. If you’d rather save some money, go for more keys, or get more controls (if you are a vet), there are some alternatives that we’ll go over in just a moment!
Akai MPK249 VS Novation Launchkey 49
Check out Novation Lauchkey 49 MK2 Review.
Launchkey 49 is a great controller that’s actually only half the price of MPK249. It still comes with a good number of controls that include RGB pads, knobs, faders, wheels, and transport controls. It’s also fully bus-powered, comes with nice freebies, and has decent build quality.
Too bad it doesn’t have the semi-weighted keys, as Launchkey 49 keys are synths-weighted which rips you off the authentic acoustic piano feel. The keyboard also has fewer inputs and fewer transport controls. On one hand, it’s a good thing as it’s easier for beginners to master the controller. On the other hand, however, there is a chance you’ll have to get a more advanced keyboard in a couple of years to get more out of the MIDI device.
MPK249 also comes with more pads and an arpeggiator. These aren’t the most significant features of the controller, but it does give you more creative space. Lastly, note that Launchkey 49 is still only half the price of MPK249, so if you are on a tight budget, it may be better to get the cheaper MIDI controller.
Akai MPK249 VS Novation Impulse 49
Well, we got another Novation controller here. It’s a lot more impressive than Oxygen 49. First of all, it comes with semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch, just like MPK249. Second, it has an LCD screen with amazing transport controls. Even though it’s a little heavier and bulkier than Launchkey above, Impulse makes up for it with all its controls and much higher quality build in general.
The automapping function works great with most DAWs here. I tested it with FL Studio, GarageBand, and Reaper, and it’s more than decent in my opinion. Of course, Novation controllers are famous for their seamless integration with Ableton, so I won’t even mention it here.
Premium plugins included are either AddictingKeys or AddictingDrums2, which essentially means you only get to pick one. Depending on what you focus more when producing music, drums or melody, both are gems.
Overall, Impulse 49 is a powerful MIDI keyboard that can put up a good fight against MPK249 that’s worth considering, especially if you use Ableton.
Akai MPK249 VS Nektar Panorama P4
Even the sight of Panorama P4 captures my breath – it’s definitely one of the best looking MIDI controllers out there, with its white base and black keytop. One word – stunning. The build quality is exceptional as well. Clearly, functionality is more important, and Nektar Panorama P4 has plenty of that as well.
Similar to MPK249, the Nektar MIDI keyboard features semi-weighted and velocity-sensitive keys with Aftertouch, 12 pads, 9 knobs and sliders, LCD screen, and more! The device even comes with a motorized fader, which I haven’t seen on any other device. Integration with most DAWs is top-notch, which is to be expected considering the price tag.
The drawback of Panorama P4 compared to MPK249 is clear. The Akai product is expensive itself, and the Nektar keyboard is even more pricey. Of course, it comes with features to die for, and looks beautiful, but is it worth the money? I would say yes, but that’s up to you to make the final decision.
Akai MPK249 VS Akai Advance 49
It’s funny to see how Akai products even happen to compete with each other sometimes. You see, MPK249 and Advance 49 are very similar in both price and quality, but have specific features that make them stand out individually.
Akai Advance 49 looks a lot more sophisticated and features better interface settings. It also comes with a lot of free samples and VSTs. Some producers back in 2016 mentioned the software lags and crashes constantly, but everything’s been long patched, so I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.
Note that it’s even heavier than MPK249, that’s considered to be pretty far from light. Therefore, keeping it on your desk and get a smaller controller to play at gigs is your best way to go. Overall, a gem of a keyboard and a great investment (if you can afford this powerhouse).
Commonly Asked Questions about Akai MPK249
Let’s go over 3 most popular questions producer ask about the world-famous controller.
What’s Good About Akai MPK249?
There are tons of good things you can say about the controller. I guess highlighting the main features of the MIDI keyboard will do.
The good stuff:
- Keyboard quality – semi-weighted keys with Aftertouch that feel almost like an authentic acoustic piano.
- Responsive MPC-style pads with RGB lighting, 4 power banks.
- Knobs and sliders have good resistance and are automapped with every DAW.
- Transport controls and LCD screen eliminate the need to reach out for your mouse constantly.
- Seamless integration with most DAWs.
- Nice freebies – premium plugins and software apps.
- Impressive build quality.
What’s Bad About Akai MPK249?
It’s hard to actually name the bad things, as every controller comes with certain drawbacks. However, it’s worth noting the most prominent ones here.
The bad stuff:
- On the heavier side, may be hard to carry around.
- Semi-weighted keys can be hard on your fingers if you’ve never played the piano before.
- Pads are smaller than average, will take time getting used to.
- High price tag for a 49-key MIDI controller, especially if you don’t have high expertise.
Who’s Akai MPK249 for?
I wish I could say that this MIDI controller is for everybody. While it will suit both beginners and professionals, the former may have a hard time learning all the controls and implementing them into their workflow (some beginners won’t even have a developed strategy before purchasing a MIDI keyboard). It offers a lot of features but implementing them will take time.
Therefore, I suggest MPK249 to:
- Experienced producers who are looking for an upgrade
- Beginners who have experienced with playing the piano
- Producers who plan on performing live
- Musicians who need something that will last
- Automation freaks who need as many controls as possible
- Average producers who want to learn all the features MPK249 has to offer
Overall, Akai MPK249 is one of the best MIDI keyboards out there, no matter whether it comes to the build quality and overall design or the flexibility and features of the controller. For its size, it’s quite portable, yet robust and richly crafted. The RGB illuminated MPC-style pads, semi-weighted keys, and sturdy sliders alone do wonders. On top of that, there are transport controls and an LCD screen that take away the need to reach for the mouse constantly. It’s is a well-rounded device in both quality and design.
When it comes to controls, the controller is balanced incredibly well, especially considering the semi-weighted keys and Aftertouch, MPC-style pads, etc. Add DAW controls, all the soundbanks, knobs, sliders, LCD screen – everything was designed and put together to make your sessions as productive as possible. We all know you need to be creative to advance in the music industry – and Akai MsiPK249 brings it to the table!
Last update on 2020-09-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API