Is Akai’s iMPC Pro The Best iPad Beat Production App Yet?
Akai’s MPC is famous for the huge impact it had on modern music, particularly the breakbeat and hip hop scenes. Two iPad apps later, we finally have a proper modern implementation of the legendary Music Production Centre.
Made in partnership with Retronyms, iMPC Pro ($19.99) hopes to address many of the shortcomings of the original Akai iMPC which debuted on the App Store in December 2012. Progress is a wonderful thing, but can iMPC Pro take the iOS beat-making crown ?
iMPC Round 2
The original iMPC app was a lot of fun to play with, but it made compromises. Instead of taking the iMPC formula and applying it to modern touchscreen software, Retronyms took iOS and shaped it around the original hardware. What they came out with was a faithful software representation of an original piece of hardware, with many of the same limitations and none of the tactile control.
iMPC Pro is software designed for the iPad, rather than software designed to emulate a piece of hardware from the 1980s. This has resulted in Retronyms taking a different approach, redesigning the UI in a way that makes sense from a workflow point of view and throwing a bunch of much-requested features in there too.
Thankfully they’ve done this without skimping on the features that made the MPC such a boon for producers. Performance controls like Note Repeat, Time Correct and 16-Levels (which allows you to modify any sample using four parameters, across 16 levels of variation) are still there. You’ve still got a mixer, and you can sample pretty much anything provided you have the creativity and necessary cables. Even the CloudSeeder community is still there to share your mixes straight to SoundCloud.
This time round iMPC Pro approaches each project as a “floppy disk” that stores its own sequences and patterns separately. There are now four banks of 16 sample pads per program, and the ability to run 64 programs simultaneously if you want to. It really feels like the app has been designed to push the limitations of Apple’s hardware, and even includes a CPU meter – so if things start to stutter, you’ll know why.
On a very basic level, everything feels newer and shinier. Gone is the skeuomorphism, faux-scratches and faintly 3D appearance. In comes the iOS 7-style “flat” design and UI elements that make sense from a UI (not a hardware) point of view, accented by useful additions like the ability to tap any knob to reveal a fine-tune option.
Arguably the biggest new addition is the timeline editor, which allows you to construct beats using a traditional timeline view (or manually correct any mistakes). While it lacks the wonderful controls found in NanoStudio , it features a ton of controls for copying, cutting and moving your patterns around.
If you were tired of not being able to properly construct “songs” from your old iMPC creations, iMPC Pro corrects this with a proper pattern sequencer too. Because all of your sequences are stored on their own “floppy disks”, the app maintains a greater sense of distinction between projects.
In many ways this exemplifies the direction Retronyms have taken, isolating the benefits of the old floppy disk style storage system without having to conform to the limitations of physical hardware. It’s taking the best of both worlds, rather than trying to create a carbon copy of physical hardware.
Other enhancements come in the form of improvements to the sampling interface, allowing you to better capture and edit samples. This reaches a head with the ability to chop your samples directly to pads, in record time. Doing the same on the old iMPC would have been a lesson in patience and luck. You can still sample straight from your music library, import files via iTunes file transfer, sample using the microphone or any device that plays nicely with line-in and even search the sample library too.
Samples now include automation and each pad has its own effect channel. The addition of Turbo Duck sends select pads to the sidechain compressor (for that “pumping” sound that so much electronic music relies on) and you can apply custom envelopes for amplitude and filters.
A new featured called Flux Link makes an appearance, using X and Y axis control over a graph to “glitch” the track using gestures. Tap with two fingers to initiate a “tape stop” winding down effect, or use it sparingly to add a few unique flicks of style to your production.
Still No AudioBus
Is it me, or could these apps always do with more samples? That’s a fairly low-ranking criticism, particularly considering just how robust the sampling options in iMPC are. There are a lot of samples here, and some of them – like the minimal techno drums – can be used with a huge range of styles and genres. But if you were hoping that the in-built samples might be enough to keep you endlessly hammering away at the pads, you might be a little disappointed.
Far more disappointing is Retronyms’ continued shunning of the AudioBus platform. The original iMPC has still not been updated to support AudioBus, the most widely adopted method of automating and sharing realtime audio between apps on the iOS platform. Sure, they added support for copy and paste (found under the Program > Sounds menu) as well as Apple’s Inter-App Audio – but a comparatively small selection of music apps use IAA, so it would be better for everyone if AudioBus support was added.
The reasoning for leaving AudioBus support out is unclear. The app shines, it’s a lot of fun to play with and it’s aimed squarely at the “professional” iOS musician – the sort of person who sees AudioBus as a vital link in the music-making app chain. It’s quite possible (and likely) that AudioBus support was left out intentionally to push users toward Retronyms’ own system of interconnected music apps, Tabletop. I can’t see any other reason.
Finally we’ve got a proper MPC app for iOS, rather than the limited yet fun version that came before it. Gone are the quirks and artificial limitations imposed by design philosophies, in comes the timeline editor, the touch-friendly Flux Link performance tool and the ability to chop your incoming samples directly pads. There’s a lot of added value here to make it worth the price of admission.
If building beats from samples is something you enjoy, iMPC Pro offers you a huge amount of potential. If you bought the original iMPC but constantly wished it had more power and functionality, iMPC Pro is exactly what you’ve been waiting for (still waiting for AudioBus support, though).
Would you like to see AudioBus added? Do you like the new iMPC? Add your thoughts below.