The AKAI MPK Mini Mk3 is the latest version of the iconic little controller. Since the first MPK Mini release, it has been a personal favorite of mine. Now, in its third re-styling, we want to see if the MPK Mini Mk3 packs as big a punch as its predecessors.
What is the MPK Mini Mk3?
The hardest thing about updating a keyboard controller like this is finding the right balance of old and new. It’s such a successful design that previous users don’t want to see a complete departure from what they know and love. At the same time, a new model has to be worth the upgrade money. So, let’s start with the basics of what the MPK Mini Mk3 is.
It’s a 25-key mini controller with synth-action mini-keys. There are eight velocity-sensitive MPC-style pads that are still the best on any mini controller. The pads are bankable; bank A and B mean that you get 16 pad slots with eight playable at one time. Switching between banks is a one-button process, so it’s easy to mix and match during a performance. Two of the most used functions for the previous models’ pads are full level and note repeat; both are still here. Note repeat is just what it sounds like; notes will repeat at a set rate until you release the pad. Turning on full level makes all pads play at max velocity, no matter how you strike the pad.
The variable-mode arpeggiator seen in past models is still here, and in the same place along with the tap tempo button. The arpeggiator is very usable, with adjustable range, resolution, and playback modes. Above the arpeggiator button is the very familiar 4-way joystick for intuitive pitch and modulation control.
On the right side of the panel, there are eight assignable knobs. Straight out of the box, it’s instantly identifiable as an MPK Mini, the image is the same, and the core functions are the same. The good news is that it means they haven’t ruined a good thing, but why is it worth buying?
What’s new for Mk3?
The MPK Mini style hasn’t changed in the sense that everything is still in the same place. But, the look has been sharpened a little, everything looks neater and sleeker.
The first change you will see in the MPK Mini Mk3 is that it now comes with a small OLED display. Having the OLED display is fantastic for instant parameter feedback and accurate tweaking, but it also makes another important update possible, which we’ll get to shortly. You might also notice that the MPK Mini Mk3 is ever so slightly bigger than the Mk2, but not so much that it matters.
The mini-keys look just as they did previously, but it’s actually a fully redesigned keybed. When I heard about the Gen 2 keybed, my initial reaction was to wonder how big a difference it can make to this type of controller. After playing it, there is a significant difference in how the keys feel. There is now more resistance that creates room for more expressive playing. Even if the physical weight difference from Gen 1 to Gen 2 keybeds isn’t huge, the difference it makes to the way you approach playing is huge. Whether you are laying down some chords, bass, or a lead line, it just feels better. Just to be clear, it doesn’t feel like a piano; it’s not meant to, but it feels more high-end than before.
It feels like you get more out of using a sustain pedal, too. Even though the Mk2 had the same sustain pedal input, it didn’t offer the same overall expression.
The MPC-style pads feel the same as before; changing that would be a bad idea. The only difference in this area is that the backlight doesn’t come over the pad’s top edge. It’s purely cosmetic and adds to the sleeker look.
The eight assignable knobs are now endless, rather than the min to max style on previous models. This change is thanks to the OLED display, as we mentioned above. Being able to see feedback on display clearly means you can now get more use out of the knobs. Previously, they remained at whatever value the knob was physically showing. You can now assign them to different parameters for pad banks A and B because the set value is on display regardless of where the knob sits. This seemingly small change opens up a whole new level of tweaking and creative performance/production. The knobs also have a fresh look; they are slightly bigger, smoother, and feel more robust. It’s another good example of the MPK Mini Mk3 feeling more premium than expected.
AKAI Professional is a name that is synonymous with music production. For that reason, they tend to be fairly generous when it comes to bundled software.
The MPK Mini Mk3 comes with a bundle that could be a full production suite, even if you own nothing else. It comes with MPC Beats, a standalone DAW with over 80 audio effects plugins, a sample editor, piano roll, and easy navigation. It could be called an entry-level version of the full MPC software, but you can make radio-ready tracks with it, no doubt.
In total, you get over 1500 downloadable sounds. That includes 2 GB of sample content ready to be chopped any way you like. It also includes six high-quality virtual instruments: Bassline, Tubesynth, Electric, Hybrid 3, Mini Grand, and Velvet. There are too many sounds to go into detail here, but you have every genre of music covered between the six virtual instruments.
AKAI Professional know that they lead the way when it comes to pads and beatmaking. So, they have a great formula for success with a mini controller with pads. Thankfully, they haven’t changed that winning formula, and the MPK Mini Mk3 is still the ideal portable production controller. Instead, they have made existing features and functions better, making the MPK Mini Mk2 a worthy upgrade. It’s still as much fun to play, too; check out our little performance demo.