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Akai MPK Mini MK3 Review: The No1 Midi Keyboard in 2022? Or…

Is Akai MPK mini MK3 worth it? Or do other midi controllers WHOOOP its ass? We investigate...

The Akai MPK Mini MK3 is hands down the most popular midi controller for sale today. You can’t deny it!

Google the ‘best midi keyboard‘, and chances are that 99% of the search results will be about (or reference in some way) the MPK Mini. They’ll be those that state how the Mini MK3 is the facelift that fans so “desperately needed“. As well as those claiming that this little portable midi keyboard, really is “all you need” to make music in 2022.

Big claims! Ones that as you can imagine, caused our eyebrows to flex – hence this revised Akai MPK Mini MK3 review for 2022. Because while it’s fair to say the MPK MK3 is no slouch (just putting that out there), since its release in 2020, it’s been met by some stiff competition. The likes of Novation, M-Audio and even Donner have all stepped up to the plate, in attempt to knock the MPK Mini MK3 off the top spot. Plus, there’s also those who argue that some of the previous-gen midi keyboards like the Arturia MiniLab actually offer far better value.

Question is though, who’s right? Is the Akai MPK Mini MK3 really worth it in 2022? Or have Akai got too comfortable with all the hype surrounding the MPK Mini, and allowed fresh alternatives to sneak in through the back door? Read on and we’ll reveal all.

After something specific about the MPK Mini? Or just curious whether the Akai MPK Mini MK3 is good for beginners? Use the menu below to track down the answers you need fast…

What is a MPK mini MK3? The specs…

Now, before the battle begins between the Mini MK3 and its major competitors, we thought it’d be best to give you a quick rundown of the Akai MPK Mini MK3’s specs. That way when reading the rest of this article, you’re fully clued up on what the Mini MK3 offers, as well as some of its quirks and features that you perhaps didn’t know about.

All info that allows you to make a fair comparison and come to an conclusion yourself, about whether the MPK Mini MK3 is in fact the right choice for your setup. As much as we’d love you to ‘take our word for it’, everyone’s preferences do differ, so you’ve got to take what us (and any other website says) with a pinch of salt. Anyway, here’s everything you need to know about the Akai MPK Mini MK3 in 2022…

Key details

  • Weight: 0.8kg
  • Dimensions: 318.0 x 180.0 x 44.0 mm
  • Sustain port for pedals: Yes
  • Drivers needed: No

Please note: The majority of midi controllers will require a firmware update on a regular basis. This has the ability to improve their functionality even further!

Additional features

  • This midi keyboard features 25 velocity-sensitive keys, which (just to clarify) aren’t full-size. However, the feel of the keys is really solid – they have a good actuation to them. Plus, they’re also a vast improvement on those used in the MPK Mini MK2!
  • The MPK MK3 features 8 MPC style pads, which have decent travel to them, and are actually the same ones used on the MPC Touch & MPC X – Akai’s premium drum machines! And although there may only look to be 8, log into your DAW and you’ll discover an extra bank, making 16.
  • Another notable feature of the Akai are the 8 encoders, which are endless. What this means is that there’s no start/ stop point, and instead the knob just keeps on spinning. Useful when working with third party plugins!
  • Pitch and modulation is controlled by a joystick, which sits in the top left of the MPK MK3. And while it’s received somewhat mixed reviews, it’s worth noting that without the joystick design, Akai would have to revert to strips or wheels. All of which would up the controller’s size and weight!
  • This midi controller boasts a built-in arpeggiator, as well as a useful note repeat function. Ideal for live performances!

What’s the MPK Mini MK3’s software bundle look like?

Not too bad actually.

The software bundle is actually pretty hefty and includes access to MPC beats – Akai’s very own beat-making software! What’s more, there’s also a wide range of versatile kicks, snares, 808s and pianos that allow you to make a wide range of melodies and loops. Perfect for RnB or Hip Hop production!

What is the difference between Akai MPK mini mk2 and MK3?

Now obviously, with a name like the Akai MPK Mini MK3, you’re probably reading this thinking, “what was the MK2 like? How has the MPK MK3 improved on the original formula? Is this midi actually worth the upgrade?” So, just to assure you that the MK3 is indeed an improvement on the MK2 and not just an excuse to release a new model, here’s just a few of the differences between the Akai MPK Mini MK3 and it’s predecessor, the MK2…

  • When compared to the MK2, the MPC pads on the MK3 have substantially more travel and are also thicker too. If you ask us they’re far more suited to finger drumming. And you may say we’re boring, but we prefer the dimmer underglow you get on the MK3 as well.
  • The MK3 just looks sexier and more pro. Put both controllers side by side and the MK2 looks like a toy.
  • On the MK3, all the buttons are also more solid and make a satisfying ‘click’ when pressed. In comparison, the MK2’s were super unstable, which could lead to you having to push the button in a certain place to make it work. Hardly accurate!
  • Those keys! On the MK2, the keys were a bit flimsy to say the least. So much so that a lot of people experienced keys falling off or snapping, due to heavy use. Whereas with the MK3, the key-feel is way more solid, and each key has a premium bounce to it – the spring action is on point!
  • We’re not finished with the keys just yet! On the MK2, the keys were noisy too! Depress a key and you’d be left with a rather annoying vibration sound, as it sprung back into place. A sound they’ve virtually deadened with the MK3! So now playing multiple notes at once doesn’t leave you emitting an obnoxious hum, like some sort of musical bumble bee.
  • The MK3 includes an LED screen – something the MK2 didn’t – to show you the BPM + the velocity at which you hit each drum pad. Small, but useful.
  • The knobs on the MK3 are endless encoders, so they have no start/ end point. Whereas on the MPK Mini MK2 they were not endless.
  • Rather petty one this, but the usb port is on the back of the Mini MK3. Whereas on the MK2, it was on the side.
akai mpk mini mk3
Akai MPK Mini MK3
Are MIDI keyboards needed?
Akai MPK Mini MK2

Types of the Akai MPK Mini MK3 keyboard

While a good chunk of midi keyboards offer dual colour waves – the Arturia Minilab for instance comes in either white or black – the MPK Mini MK3 takes it a step further with 4 startling colour waves and also another style of midi controller altogether. So to help you wrap your head around all the different breeds of the MPK Mini MK3, here’s a quick rundown of all the versions you can currently get your hands on…

*The names given to the ‘breeds’ of MPK Mini below aren’t the official names. More just terms coined by us to help you tell the difference.

The Standard Edition

This is much as the name implies.

It’s a mix of red, white and black, which is how the MPK Mini MK3 comes as standard. Now, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s definitely one of the most functional colour waves. It’s super easy to pick out those keys and hit the right note! However, being standard, it’s also the most popular, making it very ‘run-of-the-mill’ . So if you want to show off that you’re a true midi-junkie, then this perhaps isn’t the colour wave for you.

The Greyed-Out edition (NEW For 2022!)

If you’re all about doing battle with your music then look no further.

This grey edition of the MPK Mini is new for 2022, and just so happens to be a near perfect balance. It’s not too garish that it looks like a children’s toy, and yet it’s not too subtle that you struggle to see all the controls – one of our main pet peeves with the Stealthy Blacked-Out version (below). Ask us and out of all the types of Akai MPK Mini MK3, this version looks the most like it’s been plucked out of a professional studio.

The Inverted White Edition

Take a piano and flip the colour scheme and this is what you get. A surprisingly user-friendly colour combo that we’d argue is the easiest to use out of the 4. Having the body of the keyboard in white makes all the controls really ‘pop’ out. And yet this controller still retains that slightly alternative vibe. Definitely a colour to consider!

The Stealthy Blacked-Out Edition

Okay, so if you’re the type to favour stealth and appearance, then chances are that this blacked-out edition of the Mini MK3 is right up your street. Why? Because not only does it look proper rad, but those black-on-black keys do a great job of disguising what notes your pressing – useful for shielding your kickass melodies from prying eyes!

Although, you can’t around the fact that those keys do make hitting the right note that bit harder, especially in dark spaces. Although with that being said, the white (now black) keys, do have a slight satin finish to them, which you could say makes it somewhat more doable. A colour wave you should think carefully about if you ask us!

The Red Hot Edition

So, if you’re a fan of the blacked out stealthy keys, but still want a pop of colour, then this Red Hot version may be the way to go. The red of the body means that you can still clearly make out all the controls, including (to some extent) the black keyboard, which we feel is significantly easier to make out in this spec. Even so, it’s a vast improvement on the red edition of the MK2, which had what are usually the black keys, in bright red. A colour combo that made it scream “Fisher Price”, opposed to “serious piece of kit”.

The MPK Mini Play

Slight twist here, because while at first the MPK Play looks practically the same as the standard Mini MK3, it’s actually anything but. You see, unlike the others, this midi keyboard has sounds programmed into it – it’s also got speakers too. There’s also a good reason why the picture above is orientated the other way.

Opting for the Play means that you sacrifice some encoders, which are replaced by a collection of buttons. Reason? The MPK Mini Play does not rely on a DAW. Instead, it’s designed to help you scat out beats and melodies ‘on to go’ using a bank of pre-installed sounds. So essentially, this midi controller is really more of a keyboard – one that we may add runs on AA bateries.

Akai MPK Mini MK3: the good, the bad and the ugly

So now you’re aware of the full MPK Mini range, you’ve probably started to realise that the MPK Mini MK3 (just like everything) has it’s plus points, but also its shortfalls. Something that if you’re going to buy one of these midis, you really need to be aware of. Only then can you be confident that you’re investing your cash wisely, and not just splurging it on a midi keyboard like it’s a lucky dip.

To help you make this decision, we’ve picked apart the Akai MPK Mini MK3 to ensure you’re aware of the good, the bad and the ugly. Speaking of which, let’s dive into it…

Pros of the MPK Mini MK3 (AKA the good)

  • The MPK Mini MK3 is lightweight, and yet manages somehow not to feel cheap. Fantastic, considering that it’s one of the most affordable 25-key midis on the market!
  • The Mini MK3 is a finger drummer’s dream! The pads are nice and solid, yet have some travel to them, as well as a velocity readout on that useful LED display.
  • Those endless encoders make using the Akai with a DAW ten times easier, especially third party plugins!
  • The keys have a nice resistance to them and the keybed is a vast improvement from the MK2. Noisy and flimsy keys are a thing of the past!
  • The multiple colour waves make it hard for you not to find a colour that suits you!
  • Compare the MK3 to the MK2 and it’s s drastic improvement, both in terms of quality and playability. We’re really impressed with this midi!

Cons of the MPK Mini MK3 (AKA the bad)

  • The joystick for pitch and modulation is like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. We found that with it always returning to centre, it’s quite hard to find the same levels second time round. Another pet peeve being that the you can sometimes end up changing both pitch and mod together.
  • Those colour combos look amazing, especially the black. But on the versions with all blacked-out keys, we struggled to make out the keys in dim lighting.
  • While the keys have a great feel to them, we prefer the keybed on the Arturia Minilab MK2.

The ugly?

  • We see little value in the MPK Mini Play – if anything it comes across as a lost opportunity. Redesign it so producers can upload there own sounds though, and Akai may actually be onto something.

How does the MPK Mini MK3 compare to other midi keyboards in 2022?

Congrats! You now have a solid understanding of the Akai MPK Mini MK3.

But that’s only one keyboard out of what is (let’s face it) a fast growing sector. Portable midi keyboards are ‘in-thing’ right now, so to only be clued-up on one, is a bit like going speed dating and marrying the first person you meet. Jumping to conclusions can be dangerous, be it with women or midi keyboards!! Hence why we decided to put the Mini MK3 up against some of its most fierce competition…

Akai MPK Mini MK3 VS Arturia Minilab MK2

Similarities

  • In terms of pads, both feature 8 pads, plus an extra bank you can access through your DAW. However, the Akai’s pads are by far the most sensitive.
  • Both these midi controllers feature 25 mini-sized keys (2 octaves) that are velocity sensitive and feel premium to touch. However as we said above, we prefer the keybed of the Arturia. Sorry Akai!
  • The Akai and Arturia both feature endless encoders, opposed to standard knobs with start/ stop points.

Differences

  • Look at the keys closely and you’ll see that the keys on the minilab are ever so slightly wider. Times that by 25 and you can feel the difference.
  • The Akai’s pads run rings around the Arturia. Not only are they larger and taken from their high-end drum machines, but the pads on the Akai are also laid out far better. Finger drummers take note!
  • The Mini MK3 boasts a LED screen too, that shows DAW information, as well as the velocity at which you hit each pad. The Arturia? It has none of that.
  • While both have endless encoders, the Minilab has 16, while the Akai makes do with just 8.
  • If you’re after something portable, then the Akai is both smaller and lighter than the Minilab. Although the Minilab may have a slight edge on build quality. How many midi controllers do you know with a metal bottom? Kudos Arturia!
  • Playing aside, the Mini MK3 also boast a built-in arpeggiator and note repeat function! Neither of which you’ll find on the Minilab.

Akai MPK Mini MK3 VS Novation Launchkey Mini MK3

Similarities

  • Both the Novation Launchkey Mini MK3 and the MPK Mini MK3 have 25 mini-sized keys (2 octaves), which are velocity sensitive. Although, we’d say the keybed of the Akai has a slight edge.
  • These midi keyboards both have a built-in arpeggiators!
  • In terms of weight, both a slim weighing in at under 1kg. All of which makes them incredibly portable. Perks of their all-plastic build.

Differences

  • While the Akai has 8 pads, the Novation boasts 16, which unlike the Akai can be midi mapped to whatever colour you wish. Saying that though, they are significantly smaller and from our experience don’t quite have the sensitivity of the Akai. For casual use the Launchkey is works well, but for keen finger drummers it’s the Akai all the way!
  • Pitch and modulation is adjusted via the joystick on the Akai. Whereas on the Novation this is using two touch strips.
  • The Launchkey Mini takes the crown when it comes to in-DAW integration with Ableton. However, for most other DAWs, the Akai is more compatible – this versatility being something the Novation struggles to match.
  • On the Akai you’ll find 8 endless encoders with no start/ end point. Yet on the Novation you’re stuck with old-fashioned knobs.
  • The Novation has a sick fixed chord feature that takes all the notes of a chord and compresses them into one single key. How cool is that?!
  • The keypress on the Novation feels a lot lighter than that of the Akai. And while keyfeel really does depend on how you prefer to play, we’re secret fans of the keys on the MPK Mini (shshhhh).
  • Workflow on the Akai is made easier by the LED screen, which while small, does provide useful readouts from about your DAW and note velocity on the pads.

Which Akai MPK Mini is the best? Buy this MPK Mini in 2022…

Straight off the bat, we’d like to make a rather blunt statement.

When searching for the best Akai MPK Mini, the first thing to do is grab a pencil and cross off the MPK Play. And that’s because out of all the variations of MPK Mini, this is the one that by far makes the least sense – or at least at the moment.

Reason being that while it does include some pretty decent sounds, there’s just not enough scope for any modern producer, be they in Electronic, Rock or Hip Hop. Fact remains that in order to make music that stands out you need sounds that are very much outside the box. The exact reason why every producer spend £100s on a gazillion different plugins? So if you ask us, the MPK Play, with its limited bank of sounds, merely puts a producer on the back-foot.

Now that’s not to say that midi controllers with integrated speakers aren’t the future – they may well be. Just that until they give prods the ability to upload their own sounds, we have a feeling they’re going to remain a very ‘niche’ market. In fact, we’d bet on that.

So that leaves us with 5 MPK Mini’s to choose. The Standard Spec, Red Hot Edition, Blacked-Out, Inverted White & the new Greyed-Out edition. Now, despite all the actual controls being the same, we think the different colour waves make a substantial difference. Therefore, our advice would be…

If you plan to use the MPK Mini MK3 in dark or dimly lit environments, get the Inverted White. Not only are the keys far easier to see, but because of its white body, every encoder, button and pad really zings out at you, making it super easy to navigate.

Latest Price!

However, if you’re looking to use the MPK for studio use only, then we’d say you can’t beat the Blacked-Out Edition. And yes, it may be a bit more hit and miss when it comes to playing, but after looking at all 5, we do think its appearance looks by far the most professional. By that we mean it’s the least likely to be mistaken for kindergarten toy that’s been misplaced.

Latest Price!

And if you’re fan of neither of these MPK Minis and are in search for something that gives a good balance of the two, then the new 2022 Greyed-Out edition offers a solid go-between.

Latest Price!

Really though, which MKP Mini you choose all comes down to personal preference + how it relates and fits in to your setup. So really, the ball’s in your court.

Is the Akai MPK Mini MK3 worth it in 2021?

Short answer: yes!

While the Akai isn’t the only one producing portable midi keyboards like the MPK Mini MK3, we do think that it’s one of the best. Certainly a front-runner

And that’s because, while there’s a few features the Akai doesn’t have or areas that other midi keyboards do better, as a package the MPK Mini MK3 is hard to beat – very hard in fact! And that’s because any of the niggles we do have, aren’t really to do with the keys, encoders or the pads either. Clue’s in the name: they’re niggles, not problems.

Besides, it’s not like the Akai isn’t well specced. It’s pretty much mastered all the basics and even sprinkled in a couple of extras along the way too. We’re talking that arpeggiator, note repeat function, pitch and mod joystick, the LED screen etc. Yes, not all of them may be game-changers, and some in fact may be flops, but what it does show is that the MPK Mini isn’t just a carbon copy of what went before. the MK2’s proof of that!

Instead, it’s a new innovative take on a portable midi keyboard that us at Music Lowdown, can’t help but admire…. hats off to you Akai!

Enjoy this Akai MPK Mini MK3 review and eager for more? Be sure to check out our latest gossip around everything Music Production, as well as our latest Music Studio Kit reviews. Recently we’ve also done a full in-depth guide to the Best 25 Key Midi Controllers + the Best 49 Key Midi Controllers too, incase you’re after more keys.

Or if your heart’s set on the Akai MPK Mini MK3 keep reading to discover even more about this impressive midi controller…

The lowdown on the Akai MPK Mini MK3 + midi keyboards in general

Yes – 100%. The Akai MPK Mini MK3 is an ideal midi keyboard for beginners.

And while it does boast a whole load of what could be considered complex features (certainly in the eyes of a beginner), the way Akai have gone about factoring them into the Mini MK3, has made it such a user-friendly midi controller!

All the controls are clear and concise, plus unlike a lot of midi keyboards, the Akai doesn’t take itself too seriously – that joystick and those wacky colour schemes for instance. They’re playful and fun! All of which you could say is ideal for coaxing a beginner into the world of music, as typically you learn something that’s fun a whole lot faster than if you were not to know where to start. Sit a beginner behind an 88-key Nektar Impact and you’ll soon see what we mean.

Plus, the MPK Mini MK3 even comes with a free DAW (MPC Beats), so for those who’re complete novices can get used to the relationship between the controller + how to use a daw, before progressing into more costly versions like Logic Pro or Pro Tools.

Nope, the Akai MPK Mini MK3 requires no software or drivers to operate.

That being said, it does come with some. It’s a free DAW called MPC Beats, which is actually made by Akai themselves. And you know what, for a first attempt at a DAW it’s not bad. Now, it’s no Cubase or Reason, but it’s a solid start, especially considering that a lot of other DAWs have been around for at least 20 years – 30 in the case of Pro Tools!

Unless you buy the MPK Midi Play then you cannot use your standard Akai MPK Mini without a computer.

While you can of course use it for silent practice no problem, if you require any sort of sound you will need your computer as most midi controllers (like the MPK Mini) don’t include built-in speakers. Instead they rely on the speakers of your computer, as well as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

The DAW is what processes the midi signals from the controller and converts them into sound. Something that it then send out through your computer’s speakers.

Yep – the Akai MPK Mini MK3 is compatible with the iPad Pro as of 2022!

However, in order to use your midi controller with your iPad you will need to purchase an additional USB B – A cable. Then potentially an adapter to fit the convert the signal to USB C.

Nope.

The MPK Mini MK3 does not come with aftertouch on the keys, however it is included on the MPC pads. But to be honest, aftertouch isn’t really that much of a dealbreaker, as it’s a feature most 25-key midi keyboards don’t incoproate.

After some aftertouch? Then you’ll have to upgrade to something slightly more bulky (and pricy) like the MPK 249.

Indeed it does!

The Akai MPK Mini MK3 works well with FL Studio 20, although getting your head around how to get it set up + the relationship with the DAW may be a bit of a head-scratcher. So, if you’re the ‘FL Forever’ type, then we’d suggest watching this fella walk you through the setup…

YouTube video