Akai MPK261 Review – Should You Buy?

The Akai MPK 261 is an extremely popular MIDI keyboard controller that has been crushing it since it came out. Akai has been a household name for music producers and keyboardists as their MIDI keyboards are some of the highest quality choices you can choose from.

Top of the line 61 key MIDI keyboard

Akai MPK261

The Akai MPK261 is one of the premier 61 key MIDI keyboards on the market. Its functionality and playability crush most of its competition.

Pros

  • Well thought-out design
  • 16 RGB lit drum pads
  • Includes VIP software and Ableton Lite Live
  • Light-weight(16.1 pounds)
  • Functional with all major DAW’s
  • Arpeggiator

Cons

  • Relatively expensive if you’re a beginner just testing the waters

It is my opinion that the Akai MPK261 is one of the better MIDI keyboards that you can purchase for live gigs. It has all the essentials that you need and it also comes with some great software right out of the box. If you’re in search of a MIDI keyboard, it’s safe to say that the MPK series would be a great choice. The biggest question should be: how many keys do you need? You can find this in the following sizes:

I highly recommend checking out my MIDI controller guides below I have reviews on almost all MIDI controllers:

Let’s get into the review below.

Akai MPK261 Overview

The Akai MPK261 is a high-quality studio and gigging keyboard that comes loaded with software and useful features.

This is one of the easiest controllers to use due to its intuitive design and layout. Everything is right where it needs to be.

You will notice that the interface is located right in the middle and the pads are located on the left. I like when pads are on the left. When they are on the right I find it difficult to trigger them while playing with my right hand.

The faders and 360 degree encoders are located on the right side and I think this placement works well.

Are you an aspiring songwriter? Check out my guide on how to write a melody on piano.

Music Software Bundles from Pluginboutique.com

Technical Specs

  • Keys: 61 semi-weighted velocity sensitive with 10-octave range & aftertouch
  • Pads: 16 RGB lit velocity and pressure sensitive pads
  • Faders: 8 Faders with 3 banks
  • Knobs: 8 360 degree encoders
  • Switches: 8 switches, LED-backlit
  • 1 expression pedal input
  • 1 sustain pedal input
  • 1 USB port
  • 1 5 pin MIDI in
  • 1 5 pin MIDI out
  • Power: USB powered
  • Weight: 15.1 pounds
  • Dimensions: 12.3 x 36.6 x 3.4 inches
  • Bundled software included

What’s In The Box?

In the box, you will find an included USB cable, a quick start guide and a safety/warranty manual. The box that it comes in weighs about 16 pounds all in all.

The Keys

I have always liked the way that Akai’s key-beds feel on my fingers. The Akai MPK261 has velocity-sensitive keys along with aftertouch. If you’re one for diving deep into the capabilities of a MIDI controller, you will really like the aftertouch.

The Pads

The MPK261 has some RGB backlit pads that are red, blue, and green. These are awesome for playing in dark music venues as they basically light the top of your keyboard up.

If you’ve ever played in venues without a lot of lights on stage, you’ll know my frustrations.

You will find 16 different pads with 4 banks. That means the MPK 261 is capable of 64 different sounds or samples to be assigned to the pads.

One thing to note here is that a lot of people were requesting that they update their pad functionality. This wasn’t addressed by Akai in the MPK261. I personally haven’t had problems using the pads as I use them with Ableton Live.

Bundled Software

One of Akai’s good selling points is that they always bring in some heavy duty included software. The MPK261 is the same case. You are presented with Ableton Lite Live, VIP, Hybrid 3, SONiVOX Twist 2.0SONiVOX Eighty-Eight Ensemble and the Akai Pro MPC Essentials.

Ableton Lite Live

This free version of Ableton Live is something that you can only get by purchasing a product that comes with it. For example, the MPK261 includes a code for this software. I believe this gives you just enough to test the waters before buying a DAW.

If you are looking for a free DAW, read my article here where I give a list of the best free DAW’s.

Interface

As you can see, the interface is a little small on this controller. Akai typically makes their interfaces a little bit small in general. I actually prefer this. I use my laptop most of the time to navigate, so I would rather have more controls on the keyboard, rather than a larger screen.

Faders

In general, I’ve struggled with reliable faders on keyboards. I’ve had problems with Novation and their’s breaking quite easily. I haven’t had that same problem with the MPK261. They seem pretty durable and reliable thus far.

VS the Novation SL MKIII

Personally, I would go with the Novation SL MKIII over the Akai MPK261. This is a hard choice, one thing to keep in mind is that the Akai MPk261 is much older than the Novation SL MKIII.

This is more for the advanced players as you have an 8 track built-in sequencer with the SL MKIII.

How Does It Play Live?

As far as touring, the MPK261 works great. Akai has been doing a phenomenal job creating keyboards that stand the test of the road. It’s lightweight and it also is pretty durable for a MIDI keyboard.

Overall

Overall, you are getting a ridiculously solid MIDI keyboard. You get 61 keys that are semi-weighted and aftertouch included, along with a bunch of software. If you’re just getting into music production or you’re simply trying to step your game up, the Akai MPK261 is a great choice.

If you’re looking to upgrade from the original MPK series, I would recommend maybe trying out a different controller instead. There aren’t a ton of upgrades that have been made on the MPK261 to warrant paying the extra money.

I would recommend this keyboard for beginners and advanced players. However, I think it’s important to stay up to date with every other keyboard that’s on the market.

I recently wrote about the best keyboards for gigging musicians. You can check it out at the link above.

In final, compare the MPK261 with the Arturia Keylab MKII in this review here.

Akai MPK261 - Our Rating
  • Pad Functionality
  • Keys
  • Bundled Software
  • Build Quality
4.3

Summary

The Akai MPK261 is a solid choice for a 61 key MIDI keyboard. There aren’t a ton of different options that can truly compete with it at this time.

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