One of the ubiquitous debates raging in many music production and beat making forums these days is the preference of rhythmic drum sequencing. On one hand, people are using standard MIDI keyboards that are otherwise used for synthesizers and instruments for their drum samples, while the other option that is pushed often is getting dedicated drum hardware like an Akai MPC.
Recently, the hat has tipped in favor of the dedicated drum samples hardware route, with new, much less expensive devices becoming popular among veterans and newbie producers alike. The Akai MPD, for example, is pretty much the same as the MPC series of drum sequencers, except that it lacks any sequencing and arranging capability, leaving that processing up to the actual host (the computer audio/midi program, such as FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops) and Cakewalk Sonar.
On the keyboard end, we can see many producers preferring to stick with key input for drum samples. One of the advantages here is velocity recognition, but it’s nowhere near as good as the pad sensors on the MPD, for example. A common reason expressed for choosing the keyboard is that it’s very easy to hit multiple instruments at the same time, and also that many producers already have a great feel and rhythm on the keyboard keys.
The keyboard method has several drawbacks, the most obvious one being trigger response for drum samples. Pressing a key does not trigger the sample, it’s only once the key is pressed down, and the delay between putting finger to key and key reaching the sensor bed can be devastating to rhythmic anticipation and hitting notes on the fly.
The pads aren’t immune from criticism, though. People complain of poor quality even in the highest end products, with many pads not being able to withstand 50 hours of use required by a regular music producer. In fact, manufacturers make a lot on the backend with sales of replacement drum pads!
Lately, we’ve seen a stream of all in one products hit the market. Keyboards with drum samples above the keys are coming out in force every few months. One of the most popular is the Akai MPK series, which combines velocity-sensitive keys with the MPC-style pads that producers have revered for much more than a decade. The jury is still out on most of these products and their gimmicky nature.
A common complaint and concern is that while these devices take care of both inputs required, they do neither of them truly excellently, so it’s many a pro beat maker’s advice to get one great keyboard and one great drum samples input device.