The MIDI keyboard, which is based on the piano, is really the foundation on which the rest of MIDI devices like keyboards are created. It’s one reason why I recommend getting PianoForAll (from their site). Additionally, in the modern era of music production, a lot of producers and beat-makers out there have a MIDI keyboard that has a drum pad right on it.
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However, there are some people who would rather have a separate drum-pad with more features and better pads as a stand-alone piece of gear. If you’re one of those people, you’re probably wondering what one you should get, especially considering there are so many available to us on the market.
I would argue that the best drum pad for Garageband users is the AKAI MPD226 MIDI Pad Controller, due to the quality of its pads, features, and overall value and price.
Check the price of the AKAI MPD226 MIDI Pad here on Amazon.
The Best Aspects Of The AKAI MPD226 MIDI Pad
1) The Pads
AKAI is known for their pads, considering they’ve been creating them for decades. They advertise them as “Thick Fat,” which is pretty close to how they function in reality.
There are 16 pads on the MPD226 and each one is about 1″ inch wide by 1″ tall (2.54cm x 2.54cm). The pads really are “thick” and “fat,” making them easy to see and press on.
The pads are around 2cm apart from each other, making it easy to hit one with precision and without accidentally pressing on the neighboring pad.
They’re sensitive to how hard you press or slap on them, which ensures that your style is communicated to the DAW.
This is also called velocity-sensitive or pressure-sensitive, which, in other words, means that their sound changes depending on how hard you hit them.
Every single pad is also customizable using either the MPD226 downloadable editor or the “Edit” function on the top-right hand side of the unit.
2) Customizable Velocity
It’s also possible to use the “Full Level” button, which increases the velocity of all the notes to the maximum, 127.
If you don’t know about velocity, most DAWs, including Garageband, have a velocity system that starts at 0 and ends at 127.
127 is the loudest and 0 is the softest. Using the “Full Level” button makes it so that regardless of how you strike the pad, the velocity will be 127.
In case you didn’t know, Garageband and other DAWs uses a system where the notes can be played at different volumes, which also changes the characteristic of the sound.
In other words, a hi-hat can either be played softly or as loud as possible, which imitates a real drummer. This is what the velocity controls are for.
3) LED Lights
There’s no question that AKAI’s products are extremely well-designed, especially with the way they’ve lit up each pad with different colors, including red, green, blue, and more.
The MPD226 looks mad cool.
Depending on the preset, the LED lights underneath each pad actually changes. For instance, if you’re using the “Logic” pre-set, the pads will be a variety of colors.
You can see how the colors change in the image below:
On the other hand, if you use the “Live Lite” pre-set, the LED lights will all be the same color.
An added benefit of colored pads is that it helps in identifying them, that way you won’t be confused as to what pad is which. This will come in handy in case you’re working in a dark club or another place without much lighting.
4) 64 Possible Sounds
There are 16 available pads on the AKAI MPD226, and each one has the potential for four sounds. That means there are 64 different sounds available.
You move through the available sounds and pre-sets using the “Pad Bank,” labeled with the first four letters of the alphabet, ‘A’, ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’
With the Pad Bank option, you can scroll through the different assignable controls for each pad. For instance, the bank ‘A,’ will assign each pad to a different part of the drum kit, and then the bank ‘B,’ will do the same thing.
In essence, you can have 64 total sounds on the keyboard to work through, assuming that you’ve gotten sick of the first set and now want to try the second.
It also has the Control Bank, which has three pre-sets, so you have available a set of entirely different drum sounds and kits to use in your recording or live gear set-up.
5) Not Terribly Expensive
AKAI, due to their popularity and trustworthiness, tends to release products that are slightly higher-priced, however, this pad isn’t THAT expensive in comparison to the competition. For instance, one of Akai’s better models, the MPK249 keyboard (from Amazon), is significantly cheaper than one of the more premium keyboards out there from like Arturia like the MKIII KeyLab from ZZounds.
Part of the reason why they charge more for this thing is the added features, including the buttons, knobs, faders, in addition to the Q-link knobs (typically the marketing of products is more expensive than the actual creation of it).
6) Pad Sensitivity Can Be Changed With ‘Threshold’ And ‘Gain’ Option
Thankfully, it’s possible to adjust how easy it is to strike each pad.
I recommend having it cranked when you’re first starting out because it takes a little while to build the necessary finger strength to finger-drum effectively.
As times goes on, and your finger technique gets better, you could probably bring down the gain if you wanted too.
7) Tap Tempo
Another cool feature of the Akai MPD226 is the fact that it has a ‘Tap Tempo’ option, which means that it’s going to automatically identify the tempo, in beats-per-minute, that way you know exactly what you’re doing and how to create music in your DAW afterward.
Surprisingly, this is one of those features that are quite useful, because if you are anything like me, figuring out the BPM of a song is surprisingly somewhat of a pain, but on the other hand, I don’t do it as often as I should.
8) Note Repeat
Thus far, the “Note Repeat” function is probably my favorite. The “Note Repeat” function does exactly what the title suggests: it repeats the note depending on how long you hold your finger on the pad.
How often the note repeats depends on how you’ve set it up, which is very easy and intuitive.
It comes in four different options: “1/4,” “1/8,” “1/16,” and “1/32” notes. Obviously, there are a number of ways one can go about using this feature.
Personally, I find it handy for the sake of the kick and the hi-hat. You can hold down the hi-hat pad and then use your other fingers to complete the rest of the rhythm section.
This also eliminates the problem with Garageband where if you want to build a drum section with a lot of hi-hats using the same time divisible, for instance, a 1/16th note, you’d have to copy and paste all of the notes in a cumbersome manner.
In other words, you can hit the “Record” button on the DAW, hold down the pad with the “Note Repeat” and “Time Div” options turned on, and then just wait for it to fill up the bar (check out my piano roll tutorial for more tricks and efficient ways to save time).
This can be done with all of the pads, so you could do the same thing with the kick, snare, crash, etc. Moreover, the MPD226 works with all of the software instruments, so you could even do the same thing with a piano.
Frankly, these are just some of the features of the MPD226. A lot more things can be done with it, these are just some of my favorites thus far.
Why The AKAI MPD226 Is Great For Making Beats
If you’ve never used a Drumpad before, understand that it’s extremely useful for making beats due to the way in which it streamlines the process and facilitates the flow of creativity.
In other words, creating rhythm sections with just the trackpad or a mouse isn’t quite as conducive to the creative process as we’d all like, however, using a MIDI keyboard or a Drumpad brings you much closer to the actual set-up of a typical instrument.
For instance, A MIDI Keyboard is literally constructed to imitate an actual keyboard, and a drum pad is much closer to a real drum kit than just using a trackpad or a mouse.
While I’ll always have a love for creating music with computers, including some of the available gear like a drum pad and MIDI keyboard, nothing comes close to creating music with an actual instrument, for instance, I would obviously much rather use my PRS SE Custom 24 from ZZounds than use a guitar VST, however, amp sims like Blue Cat’s Axe Pack from Plugin Boutique are amazing to use and incredibly convenient.
Whenever you can get closer to how a real instrument operates, it’s always better for your sense of creativity, at least in my opinion. With that said, there are some people who may find the computer set-up to be more conducive to music production, so I have to mention them.
Features and Specifications
- It comes with three software: Ableton Live Lite, Universal Drums, and Cinematic Percussion.
- 16 Velocity-Sensitive Pads
- Pads are lit up with red, green, and blue lights.
- For memory banks for each pad
- Compatible with most DAWs
- iOS Compatible
- Transport controls
- 4 faders
- 4 Q-link buttons
- 4 Q-link buttons
- Ability to change the backlights of each pad with 10 colors.
- Note-Repeat (literally will repeat the note over and over again while you play with other parts of the drum-pad, kind of like a metronome).
Construction and Design
As I mentioned above, AKAI is known for making cool looking products, and the MPD226 is no different. Each button is backlit with a different light so it looks mad cool.
Additionally, it comes with a small screen on top of it for navigating controls and features. The product itself is pretty slim and sleek, and won’t take up much space in your set-up.
I’ve talked about this already in my review of the iRig HD 2, but one of the most annoying aspects of buying gear is the construction and flimsiness of certain products.
However, AKAI makes machines with knobs, faders, and sliders that are quite solid, so you don’t have to worry about a cheaply-made product. With that said, the faders aren’t quite as firm as they could be.
The pads, knobs, and buttons are great, but the faders are the weakest link in this regard.
I haven’t had the AKAI MPD226 for that long, so I can’t speak for longevity, but other users have reported that AKAI products last for years assuming you’ve taken good care of them.
Using The AKAI MPD226 – A Basic Guide
In this section, I’m going to show you how to get the MPD226 up and running with what I know thus far. It isn’t all that different from connecting your MIDI keyboard which I’ve shown you how to do before.
1) Plug it into your computer to get it started
It’s powered via USB to Firewire cable which comes with it. These are the same cables that come with a MIDI keyboard, so you don’t have to worry about getting different cables.
2) “Power” Button to turn it on and off
There is a “Power” switch on the top right-hand side of the unit. You can see where this is in the image below:
3) Use The Presets to get Started
The quickest way to get it to respond to Garageband is to choose one of the available pre-sets.
To do that, you turn the “Push to Enter” knob near the logo on the top-right hand side.
From what I’ve seen thus far, all of the pre-sets respond to each part of the drum kit just fine without much customization.
For instance, you can turn the knob over just one setting to “2 Big Bang,” and then you’ll notice that every single pad responds to 16 parts of Garageband’s drum-kits.
Pad 1 is the Kick, Pad 2 is a Snare, Pad 3 is a louder Snare, and Pad 4 is a clap.
4) You switch between the Pad Banks simply by pressing the button.
Pad Bank ‘A’ and Pad Bank ‘B’ cover all 20 parts of Garageband’s drum-kits, with Pad Bank ‘A’ covering the first 16 and Pad Bank ‘B’ covering the remaining four.
5) Select “Note Repeat” To Repeat A Pad Sound
Hit the “Note Repeat” option and you’ll notice that when you press and hold down a pad, it will play the same note over and over again until you finally take your finger off of it.
6) Press the ‘Time Div” Button to Change The Rate
If you want to change the rate at which the note repeats, press down on the “Time Div” button and then select either 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32, and the note will change according to those values.
This is what I was talking about at the beginning of the article. You can hold down on the note for as long as you want and quickly fill out a hi-hat section at your choice of speed.
7) Press Down On “Global” To Change the Pad Sensitivty.
Press the “Global” button, and then the right-arrow button twice to adjust the “Threshold” and “Gain.” Cranking the gain to 20 will make the MPD226 easier to play.
8) Use The “Edit” Button to Customize the Buttons, Knobs, Faders, and Pads
Press the “Edit” button, and then start adjusting one of the faders, pads, buttons, or knobs, and the MPD226 will start the modification process.
For instance, if you want to change the function of the first fader, you press “Edit,” and then start moving the first fader.
Use the arrow button to go down to the “CC Number,” and change it to “007,” to control the VU meters on a software instrument track.
Additionally, if you change the “CC Number” to 10, you can adjust the panning with the fader instead.
At this stage, I haven’t figured out how to get every single fader, slider, button, and knob to adjust parameters in Garageband, but don’t worry, in the future, I’ll be releasing more content.
MPD 226 Editor
- Ableton Live Lite
- Akai Pro MPC Essentials
- SONiVOX Big Bang Cinematic Percussion
- Big Bang Universal Drums
YouTube Video Tutorial
When it comes to pads for an affordable price, I would argue that Akai’s MPD226 is probably one of the best out there, especially regarding the overall quality and features of the device.
With the price of this thing in mind, you get more features and the pads are solidly built. Not only that, but the fact it looks mad cool is a great perk, in addition to the software bundles that it comes with.
In case you don’t know, this is almost the exact same product as the MPD232, but fewer assignable controls.
If you wanted, you could grab the MPD232 to get more controls and what-not, but frankly, I would say to just save the extra $100 and grab the MPD226 instead.