Akai MPK Road 88 REVIEW

Editor’s note – we received the Akai MPK Road 88 MIDI Controller for review this summer. We opened it up, plugged it in, and played with it for a few weeks before it was scheduled to be returned to Akai. After we shipped the unit back, and wrote up our thoughts, it came to our attention that Akai had issued a recall for the product. You can read their statement here, but they say essentially “the lubricant on the keybed may not perform as we intended.” That’s a bit vague, and to be honest, the keybed was actually one of the best parts of the unit we tested. We’re not 100% clear on the specific issue that users were having, but suffice it to say, we didn’t run into the same problems. And in any event, it appears Akai was swift to act, and accept returns on the unit from any dissatisfied users. Now, why are we publishing a review on a recalled product, you might ask? Well, because we’re sure that whatever the lubricant issue is, it’s being taken care of any any new stock moving forward will address the issue, and only corrected models will be on the market from here on out. So rather than withholding our review until new units hit shelves, we made the decision to publish the review, as-is, with the above caveat so artists are aware of the situation, and can make an informed purchase decision moving forward. With all that said, here’s our original review, as published in the August/September issue. Whew!

We’re used to playing synth-action keys a lot around the office, so it’s nice to remind ourselves every now and again of the feel of real, weighted keybeds. The new Akai MPK Road 88 MIDI Controller is designed for those who want a professional-level MIDI controller with a full 88-key spread, and the feel of a traditional acoustic piano. They’ve also designed it, as the name suggests, for touring artists. One of the first things you’ll notice when you open it up is that it comes encased in its own suitcase-style road case, reminiscent of old Rhodes electric pianos from the ’70s.

We happen to have an upright baby grand on-hand here in the office studio, a Young Chang model, to be precise, so we were able to go back and forth to test out the feel of the Akai keybed compared to the real thing. The Akai passes every test with flying colors. We were told they spent nearly two years developing this keyboard, and the quality is simply on-point [editor’s note – see above statement] . We use a variety of soft-synths in our DAW, including some from IK Multimedia and Arturia, and were able to perform incredibly easily with the Road 88, and were equally impressed by its apparent durability and rugged design. Kudos for making the unit bus-powered, as well, so you can avoid more cable disasters when setting up for live gigs. No issues with the wheels, either – just super fluid motion that you’d expect for pitch bend and modulation flourishes.

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The real draw here is the true hammer action, velocity-sensitive and aftertouch-ready feel and playability. Akai has also bundled in their VIP software, which quite frankly didn’t do a whole lot for us since we’re overloaded with software as it is. But think of it as an added bonus. On the rear you’ll find your standard I/O, including sustain pedal input (we tested it with a few units with no issues, including a Yamaha pedal which is notoriously incompatible and finicky with everything we’ve ever played), DIN-based MIDI ins and outs, and of course USB. We also thought the implementation of the split function was a nice bonus, enabling artists to easily have bass in the left hand and pads or leads in the right.

The bummer is that after we received, tested and shipped the unit back, we were made aware of a recall from Akai. Apparently a certain lubricant used in the keybed was faulty for some users. So, for more info on that, head to https://www.akaipro.com/recall. Full disclosure, we only had the unit a few weeks, so we can’t speak to how the lubricant in original units will or will not work over time. But we experienced no notable issues to speak of.  So, your best bet is to wait for a v2 unit to hit the market or an original that’s been updated by the factory.

PROS:

amazing feel for a pro weighted MIDI controller

CONS:

currently a recall on this product, its future is TBA

STREET PRICE:

$899

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