You just bought an Akai MPC 500, what next?

MPC Bible

I will absolutely, highly, emphatically… suggest checking out (i.e. purchasing) MPC Tutor’s excellent Beat Making on the MPC500. This will answer a ton of questions for you, and gives some great exercises to work through if you are unfamiliar with the workflow, or have questions that the MPC 500 Manual doesn’t answer. And there are a lot of things that aren’t terribly clear in Akai’s MPC 500 Manual. Plus the Bible comes with some samples, so it will help get you off the ground and running.

Manual

You can find the manual at the Akai Website under the Downloads section.

MPC Tutor also has archived off a link for the Akai MPC 500 Manual, if you cannot get it elsewhere… such as Akai’s website.

You might have to dig around a bit to find the Akai MPC 500 Service Manual, but hopefully that link will get you something if you are looking for information about the internals of the MPC 500.

Firmware

To check the version of firmware that you are running on your MPC 500, press <Mode> <Pad 8 Other> and use the Data Wheel to scroll clockwise to “Version”. Firmware version 1.31 is the last version released for the MPC 500, and can be found at the Akai Website under the Downloads section. There’s also a handy set of release notes and manuals that you should check out while you are there. Some people swear by the 1.31 firmware, and others prefer older versions… this is something worth doing some research about, and there’s plenty of topics to search through over at the MPC Forums MPC 500 sub forum if you interested enough to dig around.

Power Supply

If you’ve just bought an Akai MPC 500, chances are that you don’t have a power supply, or that you’ve got an after market power supply. You might be wondering what is okay, and what is not okay to use. First thing to note, and you can find this on the back of your MPC 500, is that the power supply specifications are 12 volt, and 500ma. I’ve got a 12v power supply that can output up to 2000ma, and it works just fine. You just want to make sure that you have the proper voltage… and *at least* the minimum amperage for it to work properly. The specs for the Akai 500 allows for some small variance in voltage (so if you hit status and it reports 11.62v or so) it will also should work fine… anyways…

A lot of people have been using the ones provided by MPC Stuff for quite some time… so I wouldn’t sweat that too much if that is what you want to grab, though I do find the power supplies on MPC Stuff a bit pricey. The power supply that I purchased is from Amazon, and while it is a knockoff, you can check it out at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B015SDLCCI

Memory

The memory slot is actually an old style laptop memory expansion. It is nothing fancy really, but if you only have the 16mb memory installed, you’re likely going to want to have 128mb instead, since it will free up far more sampling time for doing things that you’ll want to do. What you’re looking for specifically is PC 133, 144 Pin, CL3 SODIMM that is 256mb of memory. If that makes sense to you great, if it doesn’t, just make sure you are searching for “PC 133 144PIN CL3 SODIMM 256MB”. It would be hard to point you in the right direction beyond that because there are so many manufacturers and things change in the tech space so fast. If you do have questions though, try heading over to MPC Forums MPC 500 sub forum and hopefully somebody can answer your questions.

You might be wondering if you’ve already got the memory upgrade installed. Power on your MPC 500 and press <Mode> <Pad 4 Record>… If you are on “Mode: Stereo” data wheel clockwise until you see “Free…” this should read 12m02s if you have 128mb of memory, or if you are on “Mode: Mono L” data wheel clockwise until you see “Free…” this should read 24m04s of memory… this is assuming you have nothing loaded. It’s possible that the memory could be seen as 64mb… 32mb… or 16mb… which would give you lower numbers in Free… I don’t know off hand what you would see for free sample time for lower amounts of memory.

As for a memory test on the MPC 500, I am not aware of one. You definitely could have stuck bits… and this would cause weird behavior… but it would entirely depend on where the issue was in memory to know what kind of behavior you’d get. Personally… I’d trust the memory… but you could always record off a long sample and play it back to see how it sounds… but given you’re looking at 23 minutes of listening… I’m not sure you’d do anything beyond hoping to get lucky to find something odd.

Storage

The MPC 500 uses compact flash as the way it loads and saves the majority of the data. I believe that the manual states that it supports up to a 2GB sized compact flash card, but I have used up to a 256GB compact flash card with no issues before. The important thing to know is that you will need to format the drive as FAT32, but beyond that it should be relatively straight forward to get things working on the MPC 500. Honestly though, with such a small screen, and limited sample memory, I wouldn’t suggest going crazy with a large Compact Flash card to start, just make sure you get a CF Type I or CF Type II card, and you should be all set.

I will note that some users have moved to purchasing a CF to SD card adaptor, and while I understand the interest in this space to avoid needing a CF card reader on the PC side, I’d personally avoid it. While it may be convenient, inserting and removing the CF card on your MPC 500 risks bending a pin in the CF card reader area, and once bent, it is quite expensive to repair. You’re likely better off to use the USB port to hook up your MPC to your computer. While slower since it is a USB 1.x connection, it doesn’t run the risk of breaking the MPC 500 in a way that is expensive to repair. Or you know… just be gentle when inserting your CF card.

Note: Memory & Storage

There’s plenty of good resource information on MPC Forums, and in particular if you’re curious to see what works I would start with the thread MPC1000 RAM AND CF CARD RECOMMENDATIONS. Although this is technically for the MPC 1000, the 500 and 1000 (and 2500) share the same platform, so what works for one will work for the other.

Display Contrast

The display on the MPC 500 is an LED display, and the contrast adjusts the angle that you can view the display… this may sound odd compared to how newer display technology works, but that’s how this old technology is.

The display contrast is a screw that is located in the battery compartment. You can read about it on page 5 of the manual, and it explains a bit more about the knob. If you want to skip the manual though, here is the excerpt:

2. [Contrast] Adjustment: Inside the battery compartment is a contrast adjust for the LCD display. This will be able to accommodate several different viewing angles. The [CONTRAST] adjustment can be changed by using a standard Phillips head screwdriver.

*** CAUTION! ***

This screw is a knob, which should move easily. It does not tighten like a standard screw. If the screw stops turning, DO NOT tighten it beyond this point. This could result in damage, which will require factory service.

~ Akai MPC 500 Manual 1.0, page 5

Just be careful and do not force anything… you’ll be good.

Batteries

The MPC 500 takes six standard AA batteries. I’ve used rechargeable batteries in the past, and they work fine, but do have a lower capacity than the highest end AA batteries you can find. It’s a reasonable way to get the MPC 500 out of the house and go do some work on the road or outside.

One warning though, those batteries can move around, especially if you’re knocking the pads real hard. This can be frustrating because it can turn off or lock up your MPC 500, and mess up all of your hard work. If you find this happening a lot, you’ll likely want to replace the foam material that helps hold the batteries in tight. I’ve also used tape to hold them in better to good effect, but the foam really does most of the job to hold the connection.

Note: One oddity that I have observed using rechargeable batteries with the MPC 500 in the past was that they would effectively trickle charge overnight if I left them in while the MPC 500 was plugged in. At first this might sound great, but I wouldn’t use this as an alternative charging mechanism. The MPC 500 is not meant to charge batteries, and the regular circuits in place to properly charge them to full, monitor for overheating, and all the other safety measures will be non existent. I would avoid plugging in the MPC 500 for extended periods of time with any batteries in it just to be safe.

Mounting USB

So… you want to hook the MPC 500 up to your computer over USB. Good on you! Just be prepared, this is going to be slower than you’re likely used to, so be patient. To get into USB Mode, press <Mode> <Pad 2 Load> and turn the Data Wheel clockwise to “USB”. This will read “Not Connected” until you hook up the cable to your MPC 500 and your computer. Once you’ve connected both ends it will read “Connected” and will immediately mount the CF card onto your computer.

NOTE: Before proceeding, you should make sure that you unmount your MPC 500 driver properly before you disconnect the USB cable, otherwise you risk corrupting the files and filesystem on the CF Card.

Once connected, you can copy files to and from your CF card and your computer to do things like backup projects, add new files to your MPC 500, and all that fun stuff. When you are done, eject your Compact Flash card from your MPC. If you end up having problems ejecting the card, your best bet may be to shutdown your computer before you proceed in disconnecting the MPC 500 to ensure that it is unmounted properly.

Personally, I have had problems unmounting the card from my OS X system, and it seems waiting while the computer “does it’s thing” helps. I suspect that the computer was looking through all the files to see what it had mounted, but since the connection is so slow over USB 1.x, that it just needed a lot of time. At any rate, it is worth noting that even when you have unmounted the drive the display on the MPC 500 will continue to say “Connected”, even though it is no longer mounted. As long as you no longer see the drive mounted in your computer it should be safe to disconnect at this point and you should see the display change back to “Not connected”.

Internal Samples

If you’re looking for the factory internal sounds… see what setting you have for auto load. <Mode> <Pad 2 Load>… right arrow over to “Program” then data wheel clockwise to “Autoload”… if you down arrow you can change OFF/ON. Personally… these sounds are just “okay”… but if you just want to see what is there they it’s a good place to start.

To free up your sample memory again, just run the procedure to set Autoload to OFF, and then it will not load any of the content from startup again. I have had a problem ejecting the MPC 500 on my computer, and if you have a similar problem ejecting because the computer keeps mounting or maintaining the drive without letting it go, your best bet is to turn off your computer so that it can safely unmount the storage as part of the shutdown procedure.

Samples

The MPC 500 supports the .wav file format, with 16-bit depth and a 44.1khz sampling rate for both mono and stereo samples. The MPC 500 may be able to handle a few other formats, but this is what you are going to want to work with 99.9% of the time. If you do not know how your samples are formatted, get software such as Audacity (it is free and open source… so you don’t need much of anything special to use it), and you can use the software to both determine what format a file is in, as well as exporting files to the proper format for the MPC 500.

Output Volume

One thing you are likely to notice once you play around with the sounds is how much louder it sounds compared to anything you sample in… so a few things to note:
* It has the compressor on <Mode> <Pad 9 Effect> Data wheel clockwise to Master : Comp… you can check settings here, but this will give a bit more oomph
* It has all program levels set to 100 (versus the default assignment of 70)… so <Mode> <Pad 6 Program> Data wheel clockwise to Sample level and adjust

While you’re digging around… you should go to <Mode> <Pad 8 Other> and see what your “Master Level” is set to… for maximum loudness… you’ll want to set this to 0db… but you will run the risk of digital distortion and clipping your audio… so likely you’ll want to go to -6db or -12db depending on how you work. At least remember it is there so if you hear everything going wonky you can change it.

Pad Sensitivity

The pads on the MPC 500 are not great… so you might look up the electrical tape fix… basically some folks put tape on the button of the pads to fill the gap between the pads and the sensors… it’s an okay fix… and you can tell if you want it based on if you can slowly push the pad down… some of them may have as much as a half millimeter of play… this is something you can search around on MPC Forums for, or check out MPC Stuff to get thicker pads that don’t have such a large gap to help improve sensitivity (the fat pads in particular).

You can also adjust how the software handles pad sensitivity by pressing <Mode> <Pad 8 Other>, and Data Wheel to “Pad Sensitivity”. You can look up all kinds of charts for this, but personally I’d stick with the same setting for each pad. Also… you have to adjust each pad, so if you make a change to one pad, you have only effected that one pad, not all of them. So for “PAD1” through “PAD12″… go through to make your change. Personally I’ve just settled on 16 (max) and Curve:A for the time being… but definitely feel free to experiment. The value from 1 to 16 sets what amount of velocity gets output from a pad tap… so the value of 1, effectively means that a harder hit is necessary to product a max velocity of 127, while a value of 16 means a softer hit will produce a max velocity of 127.

Full Level and 12 Levels

Don’t be afraid to mix using Full Level so you don’t have to hammer on the pads so hard… and/or 12 Levels… 12 Levels Velocity will get you a lot more play in changing up notes without having to engineer a fix for the pads/sensors while you get a feel for the box.

Noise Floor

Like any device that operates in the analogue realm, you’re going to get some noise. Hopefully it doesn’t bother you too much… or you like the grit. I will note though, that the MPC 500 is known for having used some rather poor capacitors, especially in the part of the device dedicated to keeping the noise lower… so you might want to check out the MPC Forums thread NOISY MPC500? LOOK NO FURTHER. If you’re up for soldering work, you may just be able to clean up some noise and get a better signal. Be warned, if you don’t know how to desolder or solder, while not terribly difficult to fix, you also run the risk of burning the board, yourself, or otherwise breaking the MPC 500. So check it out… but this probably isn’t a project to learn soldering techniques.

Repair

I’ve been through a few MPC 500’s… and maintenance is something you’ve got to keep up with, especially as they get older. It has especially been some work on fixing an MPC 500 on Reverb that I purchased last year.

The MPC booted up just fine, but boy was it bunged up. I documented the repairs I had to do for the Q-Link slider board at Akai MPC 500 Repair. I did some general cleanup in the post Akai MPC 500 Tact Switches.

Anyways… good luck and have fun!

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