I needed a little compact MIDI keyboard controller to play around with to generate music. So I went out and bought the Akai MPK Mini controller.

This is an ongoing post that will have more information as I go along working with this keyboard controller.

Table of Contents

Product Contents

What’s inside the box:

  • AKAI MPK mini keyboard
  • MPK mini User Guide
  • USB 2.0 Male A to Male B cord
  • Safety and Warranty Manual
  • Software download card directing you to Akai website for software download and registration

Audio Recording Setups

To get a sense of what you can build as a starting audio recording system and how the Akai MPK mini MKII fits in, here is an example starter setup:

Budget audio recording system

The estimated cost (not including computer and monitor) would be around $600-$1000 depending on what digital audio workstation (DAW) software you use.

A much better setup can look something like this:

Better audio recording system

The estimated cost (not including computer and monitor) would be roughly $1700-$2500 depending on DAW software.

iLOK License Manager

I ran into a lot of problems when trying to install the plugins supplied with this keyboard. I bring this topic up right at the start to help you avoid wasting countless hours like I did running into these issues. Akai chooses to use the iLOK licensing manager system from PACE. This software runs on your Windows computer and controls the activation/deactivation of software licenses among other things:

  • Redeem activation codes
  • Register new iLOK
  • Update licenses
  • Transfer licenses

When you install Akai MPC, you are asked to install PACE iLok software. The installer does a poor job of telling you exactly what this software is used for and it’s importance. You need to be aware of this and install it in order to be able to redeem the Hybrid and Wobble plugins. Later on in this article, you will need to actually run this application instead of going through the MPC installation to activate your software.

Nvidia Digital Audio

Let’s avoid more problems before installation. Most of us use Nvidia cards and their drivers. One thing that Nvidia does is ship with audio drivers to playback on displays devices. You will see this as the Nvidia HD Audio driver. You need to disable this to avoid possible problems.

To do so, download the Nvidia Control Panel and go to the Display section. You will see a Set up digital audio menu. For example, on my GeForce GTX 1060 card, I have five ports for display.

Nvidia Control panel audio
Turn off audio for every port. As you can see I have three monitors. There is a bug above in that Nvidia won’t let me turn off audio for the 3rd HP display.

To make sure the NVIDIA High Definition Audio driver doesn’t come into play, go to Device Manager and disable it for good. If you use a USB mixer or audio interface, you will want to disable the motherboard audio like Realtek or Via drivers as you won’t be using them.

Audio in Device Manager
You may be wondering why Nvidia, a display technology, lets you install an audio driver. Sound can pass through your HDMI cable to your monitor or TV. If it has sound capabilities, audio will go to it. Thus, to avoid any problems when creating music, its best to just turn it off so that sound is directed to your audio interface.

Registration

The software download card that is supplied in the box will direct you to Akai’s website. You need to register! Only with your user account will you be able to download and receive authorization codes for:

  • MPC Essential software for music production
  • Sound content
  • Firmware upgrades
  • Hybrid and Wobble plugins

In addition, there are other benefits such as:

  • Links to training videos
  • Articles on how to setup with Ableton Live and FL Studio
  • How to use Hybrid 3 and Wobble

Don’t skip registration because if you do, you will get nowhere.

What to Download


When it comes to what to download, get them all!

But before you do, lets step back a moment. I am going to make your life much easier and organized. You need to put your music software and content on a separate hard drive. I encourage this because you want to keep all of this separate from other data on your computer. It is much easier to backup and manage if you dedicate a hard drive for this effort. So go out and do yourself a favor and buy an internal high performance 2TB 7200 RPM SATA III hard disk and add it to your computer.

After you installed the hard drive, lets organize it smartly into folders. Suppose for this example, this is your D: drive. The folder layout should look something like this:

/Ableton
  /Live
  /User Library
  /Live Recordings
  /Factory Packs
/Akai
  /MPK Mini MkII Editor
/Downloads
  /Installer
     /Elements-of-Dystopia
     /Elements-of-House
     /Elements-of-UK-Dance
     /Hybrid-Setup
     /MKP_mii_MkII_Firmware_Update
     /Update-MPC-Essentials-WIN
     MKP_mini_MkII_Editor.exe
     Wobble2_PC.exe
  /Zip
     Elements-of-Dystopia.zip
     Elements-of-House.zip
     Elements-of-UK-Dance.zip
     Hybrid-Setup.zip
     MKP_mii_MkII_Firmware_Update.zip
     Update_MPC-Essentials.zip
/Samples
  /MPC
    Elements of Dystopia.exe
    Elements of House.exe
    Elements of UK-Dance.exe
    Elements of DystopiaInstallation.pdf
    Elements of HouseInstallation.pdf
    Elements of UK-DanceInstallation.pdf
  /SoniVox
    /Wobble2
/Steinberg
  /32-Bit
  /64-bit
/Tools
  /LatencyMon

The Steinberg folder will hold all 32-bit and 64-bit VST plugins. The Downloads folder will hold all the Akai download Zip and installer files. Keep them separate for backup and versioning if you need to rollback. The Akai MIDI editor can be under the Akai folder. The tools folder will store all audio tools like LatencyMon.

If you using Ableton Live as your DAW, move all the folders that are in your User/Documents/Ableton directory over to your D:\Ableton drive like shown above. After you do this, in the Ableton Preferences go to the Library tab and make the following changes in the Content Locations section:

  • Installation Folder for Packs: D:\Ableton\Factory Packs
  • Location of User Library: D:\Ableton\User Library

Unfortunately, Akai forces installation of its software in the C: drive under the directories listed below. You need to be aware of this.

  • C:/Program Files (x86)/Akai Pro/MPC Essentials
  • C:/Program Files/Akai Pro/MPC Essentials
  • C:/Program Files (x86)/iLok License Manager
  • C:/ProgramData/Akai/MPC/Content
  • C:/ProgramData/Akai/MPC/Elements of UK Dance
  • C:/ProgramData/Akai/MPC/Expansions

Its unfortunate that they do this because it locks everything into being installed on your C drive. If you have a SSD drive that you only want to store Windows on or have very little space left on the C Drive, you are going to run into issues. If the latter, you will be forced to remove files you don’t need and then when that doesn’t work, go out and buy a larger hard drive. I would suggest in this case to go with at least a 4TB high performance 7200 SATA III drive.

You need to be aware that if you use such a large drive, that you need UEFI support on your motherboard to be able to boot into any hard disk drive bigger than 2TB. So make sure you have that available before purchasing. You will also need to create a volume partition that is GPT, not MBR on the drive as well to fully take advantage of all the hard disk space. Last but not least, you should be running Windows 10 64-bit, not an older version or 32-bit Windows. This will let you use more RAM and speed up your system.

Akai MPK Mini Windows Installation

Let’s approach this from a two fold hardware and software perspective.

Hardware Installation

When it comes to your Akai keyboard, you only need an empty USB port. Make sure this is a USB powered port. Some ports on your computer may not be. If your keyboard controller doesn’t light up, you plugged into either a faulty port or one without power.

A suggestion is to go out and buy a USB 3.0 hub. I use the HooToo 9 port USB 3.0 hub. Seven of the ports are USB 3.0 powered and the last two are special charging ports for your tablets and smartphones. This USB hub has a power adapter so you need an available electrical outlet. It also is backwards compatible to USB 2.0 and 1.1. This will give you the most flexibility in expanding your music setup. As you add more USB musical devices, you will have enough ports to grow. It also lets you use it for Flash USB drives, cameras, and external drives.

I strongly recommend that you use a high quality 10+ outlet power surge protector strip to plug all your MIDI gear, computer, and USB hub into. Don’t cheap out on this part because if you get an electrical surge, it can hose all your expensive equipment. Make sure also you have a licensed electrician check the outlets in your house and upgrade your wiring for safety

Lastly, mount the power strip in the back of your desk back plane to leave it off the floor in case of water damage. Watch the video below on how to do this:

Software Installation

The Akai MPK mini is a MIDI controller. It offers no sound bank library so just banging on the keys and pads will serve up nothing. This is where you need software on your computer like a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Products like FL Studio, Ableton Live, Reason, Pro Tools and CuBase will fill that requirement. However, you can produce music using the supplied software that Akai provides in MPC Essentials.

To install MPC Essentials, run the install_mpc.exe file that is in the installer_assets folder of the Update-PC-Essentials-WIN folder. Do not make the mistake like I did and run the Update MPC Essentials.exe file. That installer should be run only if you have an older version and need to update.

  • Choose all the components for a Full Installation
  • When you are asked about the 64-bit VST directory, use the D:\Steinberg\64-bit location
  • With the 32-bit VST directory, use the D:\Steinberg\32-bit folder
  • Press Install

With the Elements packages, Editor, and plugins, they each have their own installer. You will find them (if you followed my advice) in the D:\Downloads\Installer directory.
Run them all and if you have any problems, go to Problems and Solutions.

Setup With Ableton Live

Ableton Live is popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software that can run on Windows. Instead of using MPC Essentials, you can use a much more powerful audio creation system. These instructions explain how to integrate Ableton with your Akai MPK mini. the instructions on the Akai website are outdated and talk about an older version of Ableton Live. The differences however, are minor.

What follows is for Ableton Live 9.7.

  • Launch Ableton Live
  • Go to the Options | Preferences menu
  • Click on the Link MIDI tab

You should see something like this:
Ableton and Akai

In the lower section, for the Input, MKPmini2 should be recognized as a MIDI port. Turn on both the Track and Remote buttons. If you see MPKmini2 listed as an output device, well, that doesn’t make much sense at all because it is only a MIDI input controller. Make sure all the buttons are off.

Ableton Kit Core Flares Session

In Session view, you should now be able to choose MPKmini2 as a MIDI From device in all the MIDI channels. Choose the Drum category and double click on a drum kit preset, say, Kit-Core Flares.adg. Click on the recording button for Kit-Core Flares (it should be red) and hit the pads. Try the keys also. Some may trigger, some may not.

Ableton Monitor On

You can also turn the monitor on and hit the pads. Try the keys to see which trigger.

To use the VST plugins, click on File Folder tab

  • Turn Use VST Plugin-In Custom Folder On
  • Set VST Plugin-In Custom Folder to D:\Steinberg
  • Hit the Rescan button
  • Click on the Categories | Plug-ins

You should now see your plugins in the panel. Double click on the Hybrid and Wobble plugins to verify that they are installed and show the Plugin Window.

MPK Mini, Ableton and ASIO/ASIO4ALL

When it comes to high performance audio recording, one shouldn’t use the slower and older Windows drivers and APIs. This includes:

  • Windows Multimedia Extensions (MME)
  • DirectSound
  • DirectX

The only really low level audio API at the moment is WASAPI. Unfortunately, Ableton does not support it and WaveRT.

Instead, you should use Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO). This is a audio driver standard by Steinberg. It is a low latency hi fidelity driver that bypasses the Windows audio drivers and goes straight to the audio hardware. There is no audio filtering or modification of the data. ASIO though is proprietary technology and comes with licensing fees. If your audio equipment doesn’t have ASIO drivers, you are out of luck.

Fortunately, there is ASIO4ALL which is a free non-proprietary driver that takes over where ASIO leaves off. Download it off the ASIO4ALL website and use it instead of the older Windows drivers. After you install it, make sure you reboot Windows or you may have problems with MPK mini getting recognized.

Please note that ASIO4ALL can only handle one application at a time. So you cannot have Ableton Live up and running and have, for example, YouTube playing in your browser at the same time. You have to close one or the other.

Go to the Preferences screen again in Ableton and set the audio tab the following:

Driver Type: ASIO
Audio Device: ASIO4ALL v2

Notice that the Audio input and output device settings go away.

In the Link MIDI tab:

MIDI Section:

  • Choose as the Control Surface MPK mini
  • Set Input as MPKmini2
  • Set Output as MPKmini2

MIDI Ports Section:

  • MPK mini Input: Track On/Sync Off/Remote On
  • MPK mini Output: Track Off/Sync Off/Remote Off (since it is a input MIDI controller only)

Problems and Solutions

Problem #1: The USB cord is too short

If you have a desktop computer that sits in a tower on the floor, you are going to find out real quick that the cord is too short. Let me explain why Akai didn’t do its homework properly.

The first 3 feet is going to be from the cord running from the keyboard sitting on your desk, to the back of it. The next 3 feet is going to be as it falls to the floor. The final 2-3 feet is from the floor to the back of your computer. So in total, you need 8 feet minimum of USB cord. The Akai MPK Mini MrkII ships with only a 40 inch cord. To solve this problem, you can get a longer 16 foot cord at Amazon for under $8.

The MPK Mini uses a USB 2.0 Male Type A to Male Type B connector. This needs to be connected to the back of your computer which has a USB 2.0 powered port as it does not have a power supply.

Problem #2: Poor installer software organization

When you download MPC software, it comes with BOTH the updater and the latest version. When you look at the folder, the names are totally unrecognizable.

The folder named “installer_assets” is very poorly named. This is actually the latest version. The folder should be named LatestVersion instead to give the customer an idea of what it is. The Update MPC Essentials.exe program should be in its own folder named Updater. Also, a README file should also be made to tell you which installer to run.

Given this description, if you are a new Akai MPK Mini owner, run the executable in the installer_assets folder.

Problem #3: Cannot License the Plugins

If you run into problems verifying the licensing of plugins here is some suggestions.

In my case, it was due to the MPC software having a bug in it that caused the focus to jump out of the verification code screen after I entered it. It was very frustrating having to type those long codes in only to have the installer not let you click the next button and put you back into the MPC software as if nothing happened.

The solution is you need to run the iLOK application directly. On Windows, a program icon will be on the desktop. Run the iLOK application and register yourself. Then go and click that little icon in the far right corner next to the search bar with an “I” on it. That will let you register and activate the license by entering in the codes to the plugins straight to iLOK servers.

Problem #4: Installing the Essential Music Content

If you downloaded the content sound files:

  • Elements of Dystopia
  • Elements of House
  • Elements of UK Dance

Be aware that the installers forces you to install all of this in the C:\ProgramData\Akai folder. The installer should allow you to install this data on any drive and folder. No matter what you do to install this, you can’t change it. Its hard coded. So if you got a C drive that is SSD you don’t want to devote sample data to or have little to no disk space left on your C drive, you are out of luck.

Problem #5: Lag or Latency Problems

When your computer can’t keep up with the processing of audio data, you will get slow down in performance. Typically, what you will hear are spike sounds and audio lags.

Many factors contribute to latency. Here are some things you can do to prevent it:

  • Your CPU maybe too slow. Go get at least an Intel i7 multi-core processor
  • Have at least 16GB of RAM
  • Run on Windows 10 64-bit
  • Use fast SSD disk drives, SAS 12Gb/s with cache controller, or 7200 RPM SATA III
  • Turn off firewalls, anti-virus, and spyware applications
  • Go to the Task Manager and click the Startup tab and disable apps and processes that don’t need to run
  • Choose the High Performance power option
  • Change system sounds to a sound scheme of none
  • Turn off application notifications
  • Turn off Ethernet
  • Turn off Wireless
  • Turn off Windows Update
  • Use ASIO/ASIO4All audio drivers

Other important considerations

For audio cabling:

  • ADAT optical
  • Analog XLR which is a variant of AES/EBU
  • Thunderbolt
  • USB 3.0
  • Firewire
  • USB 2.0

For audio interfacing:

  • Lynx AES16e PCIe XLR
  • FocusRite USB/XLR

For stereo two channel audio mixing:

  • Mackie ProFx8V2

For digital multi-channel audio mixing:

  • PreSonus StudioLive 16

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