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Vintage music tech icons: Akai MPC3000

Vintage music tech icons – Akai MPC3000
(Image credit: Future)

Music Tech Showcase 2021: There are two MPC (MIDI Production Centre) models regarded as the MPCs and those are the MPC60 and MPC3000 designed by Roger Linn, in collaboration with Akai. 

The MPC60 and MPC60 Mk2 (launched in 1988 and 1991 respectively) were the first fruits of this Linn/Akai venture, with the MPC3000 being the second (and final) Linn-badged MPC. But what makes the Linn models (and the MPC3000 in particular) so great?

The MPC3000 launched in 1994 and built on the strong foundation laid out by its forerunner, the MPC60 (Mk2). The MPC60 combined a powerful (for the time) MIDI sequencer and sampling in a self- contained unit and both the MP60 (Mk1) and the MPC3000 were built into very solid metal cases with sturdy switches, buttons and backlit screens.

There is ongoing discussion in the MPC community regarding which Linn MPC sounds the ‘best’ but the answer is they both sound great

Both also featured the now-famous MPC rubber pads which have been included on all subsequent MPCs and which no doubt massively influenced Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware and Roland’s MV-8000 (amongst others). 

The MPC3000’s sequencer capacity was increased to 75,000 notes (60,000 on the MPC60), polyphony was doubled from 16 to 32 notes, maximum memory was increased from 1.5MB to 32MB (which increased the maximum sampling time from 26 seconds on a maxed-out MPC60 to six minutes on the 3000) plus a delay effect and a 12dB/octave digital resonant low-pass filter with envelope were added. In addition, SCSI was included as standard, allowing connection to external storage devices (a third-party option on the 60).

While the MPC60 sampled at 40kHz and stored its samples in 12-bit non-linear format (which rolled off a little of the highs in a very pleasing way), the 3000 used 16-bit 44kHz linear sampling with extended high-end frequency response, so more of the original sound’s character was preserved. 

Today there is ongoing discussion in the MPC community regarding which Linn MPC sounds the ‘best’ but the answer is they both sound great, yet different – what they both have in common is bags of character! 

Yes, the 3000 samples at a higher resolution than the 60 but it still has a heavy sound, so much so that Akai included an MPC3000 (and 60) emulation in the Renaissance software and many other software drum machines also include MPC3000/60 emulations.

The 3000 sound is clean yet dirty with a nice amount of punch, especially if you drive the input level when sampling. Sometimes we use it as an effects box in itself, by running instruments through the sample monitoring section and recording that into my DAW, but using the sampling and sequencing together is where the magic really happens.

Akai MPC3000

(Image credit: Future)

Simple sampling

Sampling and sequencing on the 3000 is the epitome of simplicity and the workflow is totally optimised for sampling/sequencing with a no-frills, focused approach. To sample, simply plug a mono or stereo source into the back (analogue or SPDIF), set your level, add more input level/gain for more crunch and sample away.

You can then chop the sample as you need and store it in the internal memory, though it must be saved to a floppy disk or external SCSI device, as samples are lost after powering off. Next you can assign the sample to a program and then layer up to three samples on any pad across any of the four pad banks.

Chopping samples is all done by numbers and your ears (as there’s no waveform display) but this is easy enough and it forces you to focus on the sound itself, rather than the visual aspect of the sound.

Sequencing-wise, you have 99 tracks per-sequence and 99 sequences which can be set to trigger the internal sounds (or external MIDI gear via the four MIDI outputs) and once you have made your sequences, you can then chain them together to form songs – you really can achieve full-scale productions within the 3000 itself. 

So many famous artists/producers used the Linn MPCs because of this magic combination – a solid and accurate, yet human feeling sequencer, coupled with punchy, crunchy sampling

Once you’ve finished your song, sounds can be assigned to the eight individual outputs for further external processing. One of the most sought-after features of the MPC3000 is its great- feeling sequencer. It swings and hits in a way not many other sequencers do and, to this day, there is little that can touch it feel-wise. This is due to Roger Linn optimising the sequencer code to be super accurate and what you put in really does come out the other end (and with zero latency when controlling MIDI gear).

While you can sequence in step mode or real time, you can also add the famous MPC3000 quantise (with swing values from 50% to 75%) and the bounce/groove you can achieve is awesome. 

One of the reasons why so many famous artists/producers (Dr Dre, J Dilla, Just Blaze for example) used the Linn MPCs (and particularly the 3000) is because of this magic combination – a solid and accurate, yet human feeling sequencer, coupled with punchy, crunchy sampling (largely down to the AD conversion) and the intuitive workflow. 

Sure, more features are available on more modern units but you can still make fantastic-feeling and sounding beats with these Linn MPCs that will put the fear into any modern DAW or sequencer!

Couple that with the generally very tough build quality, their relative rarity (people want to hold onto these beasts) and the kudos surrounding the 60/3000, and you have yourself a very solid investment for years to come. The Linn MPCs are classic machines and with good reason – try one and you’ll be hooked!


Verdict:

It’s built solidly, is intuitive and sounds unique, plus it’s easy to integrate into current set-ups.

Original RRP £2,799 | Used from £900


Buying a used MPC3000

The MPC3000 is still very sought after. Here’s what to look out for...

1. If it still has its original screen backlight, it’ll likely be pretty dim and need replacing. There are new drop in/solder-free replacements available on eBay for around £25. Also watch out for bad inverters that can cause noise in the audio path.

2. Pads, switches and the data dial usually go after years of prolonged pounding so you may need to get new pad sensors and ‘tact’ switch replacements. In the UK, MPC guru Jazzcat (find him on Facebook) can do any work you might need.

3. Using SCSI and floppies for storage isn’t much good for fast workflow in this modern DAW-equipped world. It’s worth replacing the floppy drive with a card reader (around £200) and upgrading the stock OS to the latest version you can find (see www.mpc-forums.com) so that you can move samples between your DAW and the 3000 more efficiently.

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