Thursday, July 3, 2008

Korg Kontrol49 & Akai MPK49 Comparison

This review was previously posted on my personal blog and has been moved here.

Recently I had the need to purchase a MIDI controller keyboard for my own music production interests. My requirements included programmable sliders and encoders, as well as a minimum of 49 'piano' keys, velocity action and drum pads. I also wanted to keep things as inexpensive as possible. I'm not a live keyboard player, so I aim to use this device for music composition, with programs such as Reason.

I narrowed the field down to the following three models:
  • Edirol PCR-M50 - NZ$400 from the Rockshop.

  • Akai MPK49 - NZ$800 from the Rockshop.
  • Korg Kontrol49 - NZ$800 from Peter Jamieson Audio Limited.
I also looked briefly at some Novation models but 49-key versions of these started at NZ$1000.

I was able to quickly eliminate the Edirol, because I felt the feature set was too limited for the level of control I was after. This left the Korg and the Akai.

First, the Korg Kontrol49. Peter from Peter Jamieson Audio Limited graciously agreed to lend me a unit for a weekend trial - without this opportunity, my choice would have been much, much harder to make.

The Korg is an excellent piece of gear. I was impressed with the way it worked in Reason - especially the feedback that comes through and labels the controls. I had no trouble installing it and getting started. From what I can tell, it's extremely configurable and can probably do anything MIDI-wise you'd ever need to do.

I had read a lot about the Akai MPK49, which seems to be the closest competitor to the Korg. In comparisons, I read a lot of speculative opinion either way which made me uneasy, so I decided the only way to know for sure was to try it myself. Mark at the Rockshop in Lower Hutt agreed to let me trial the Akai so I was able to set both keyboards up next to each other at home, and make my own hands-on comparisons.

Here's what I found.

- the Korg provides a much better level of feedback, especially with Reason. You can easily tell what a particular control will do by the label sent from the PC. However, because each encoder and slider share a single display, and it only shows the last control moved, you can't see what the label for the other control is until you move it. However, in this area it still wins because the Akai doesn't do anything like this at all.

- The Korg is a 2004 product, the Akai is 2007.

- The Korg is slightly bigger and slightly lighter than the Akai.

- The build quality of the Korg is somewhat lower than the Akai. For example, the encoder knobs and sliders on the Korg are a bit flimsy and can move side-to-side. The Akai controls are very solid in feel. I also prefer the pitch-bend and mod wheels on the Akai as they are larger and have a better (rubbery) surface.

- the pads on the Korg are really cool - the different coloured lights tell you what pads are playing when reviewing a drum pattern, for example. The feel of them is good. The Akai has only 12 pads, no visual feedback, but interestingly I found they had a better strike response and I found it easier to 'play' the drums on the Akai.

- The Akai keyboard has a better feel than the Korg, in my opinion.

- The Akai has features that the Korg lacks - aftertouch on keys (Korg has an aftertouch send but it's global), note-repeat, built-in arpeggiator. However the Korg has the X-Y joystick, but unfortunately it has a 'dead-zone' in the centre which makes the input non-linear.

- The Akai has dedicated transport controls - so does the Korg, but I found the Akai ones easier to use. The Korg can be configured so that any button will transmit 'record' or 'rewind' but it can be complicated and there are no dedicated controls.

- The included "library" software is quite minimal with the Korg. The Akai software is better as it allows you to set up the keyboard using a graphical representation, and then send this config to the keyboard in a single operation. It also has a MIDI monitor which is useful for debugging MIDI messages and assignments.

I've spent a lot of time comparing these products and my final conclusion is that although the Korg is excellent, it unfortunately falls short of the Akai for my requirements.

Many thanks to Peter at Peter Jamieson Audio Limited, and Mark at the Rockshop Lower Hutt for enabling me to make this hands-on comparison.


I have been using the Akai for about a week now. I am very impressed with this keyboard. It has an excellent feel and now I'm used to the controls it's very easy to get around the configuration. Although it lacks the direct feedback Reason has with the Korg, it doesn't take too long to learn which controls affect which parameters on each instrument.

Final note - the YouTube videos by "TodaysbeatsTV" on the MPK49 are a complete waste of time. Yes, there's some info there, but the presenter rambles on and on and ON and ON. Just make sure the MPK49 clock is set to internal if you want to drive the MIDI clock from the keyboard. Pretty obvious really.