The MPC1 is a rare drum synth and sequencer developed in 1982 by MPC Electronics. In contrast to Akai's more famous line of digital MPC samplers, this MPC is a short-lived, 100% analog drum synthesizer that sounds something like an 808 crossed with a 606 and a Simmons. But due to its lack of commercial success, these sounds have gone largely unused in modern music - making the MPC1 a perfect opportunity to use vintage, analog drum hits while standing out from the more popularized sounds of that era like the 808 and 909. And it looks just as unique as it sounds:
MPC Electronics was formed in Cambridge, England, the early 80s, when drum computers like the LM1 were just starting to gain momentum and there was still room for true innovation in the drum machine world. The company initially developed a small, single prototype of a drum machine that you could play with your fingers, called The Kit. With just one working unit, they packed it in a small suitcase, and headed for NAMM.
Even though the unit barely functioned (every so often they'd duck behind the curtains to repair it, telling on-lookers they were showing it to press), The Kit was met with a massive amount of interest, winning "Product of the Show" award, securing a distribution deal and about £ 250,000 in orders!
Unfortunately, the company was inexperienced when it came to mass manufacturing and hadn't yet figured out how to scale the production of this unique drum synth. While they managed to produce a small amount of working units, The Kit was shortlived, and it wasn't long until focused their efforts on a new and more advanced follow up: the MPC1.
In contrast to The Kit, The MPC1 boasted larger pads which could now be played with drum sticks. It also featured a plethora of tweak-able knobs, direct outs, din sync, and a fully functioning sequencer that could be tapped into live. It was, and is still, unlike any other drum machine out there.
But like the Kit, The MPC1 never quite reached the commercial success it deserved and eventually the company folded, and was sold to Akai in 1984, who continued to develop the foundation of ideas laid out by MPC Electronics. Without enough info to properly verify, we can only assume that some of these ideas are what ultimately led to the more famous line of MPC samplers we all know so well today. While technically speaking the MPC1 (Music Percussion Computer) couldn't be further from Roger Linn's MPCs (Music Production Center), it is very likely that it nonetheless inspired and informed Akai's most classic line of drum samplers.
The MPC1 sounds as analog as it looks. At the heart of every drum sound is a VCO, which is followed by various filters, pitch modulation, white noise, decay, and cutely named parameters like "Tightn". With so many knobs, it's no wonder the machine sounds so expressive:
The bass drum is reminiscent of an 808 at certain settings, with a super punchy attack transient, and a thumping low end (best brought out with a touch of processing). Like the 808, the decay is adjustable, but unlike the 808, the BD can be tuned higher, which allows it to be paired nicely with lower toms.
The toms can range from flat and tonal 808-style, to pointy, pitch modulated syn-toms. And by adjusting the (downright confusing!) noise parameters, you can get powerful white noise bursts. Lay down a sequence, start tweaking the toms, and you'll get you some of the most expressive and varied sounds out of any drum synth we've heard.
The hi hats and cymbals, when combined with the sequencer, are easily the grooviest part of this machine. Set the parameters conservatively and they sound close to a 606; at more extreme settings (turning the “tone” knob to max) they can be transformed into metallic and almost harsh but deeply analog cymbals.
The snare is also quite unique. At closed filter settings it's almost identical to an 808, but start opening up the noise and decay parameters, and a bright, punchy and brittle white noise drum hit is revealed. It almost sounds like a broken 909 snare - but once you warm it up with some EQ it sounds wonderful.
The amount of knobs on the MPC makes it exciting for producing but quite overwhelming for sampling! So we asked ourselves - how can we capture all of these parameters without going overboard? This proved extremely challenging and began with a complete oversampling the unit. We captured all of the parameter combinations for every voice - pitch, decay, noise, bend, tightn, you name it - cleanly, with no processing. Then, we mapped everything and spent months narrowing down the sample groups to only the most useable hits, while still providing the dynamic range and depth of the MPC1's synthesis that makes it so special.
Once we had a powerful and concise rack of samples, we went to town creating processed versions - recording into our API console hot, using an API 2500 compressor in parallel, Overstayer Saturator and MAS, and generous amounts of API EQ. The goal was to retain the overall character of the MPC1 while making the samples bigger, more focused and generally more "production ready".
Next, we spent weeks creating groups of 16x hit kits - this was our chance to really figure out which tunings and parameters played best together. The goal of this process was to simplify everything and make it easy to grab small amounts of MPC1 samples on a whim. We included clean and color kits, tom kits, white noise kits and hi hat kits.
Finally, we took both the individual hits and kits and mapped them in your favorite samplers for easy use. With so many multi-sampled parameter settings, tunings, and different types of processing, the individual hits are extremely in depth. And the kits are the opposite - simple and musical. Together, both provide an excellent picture of what makes the MPC1 so great.
There isn't a lot of info on the MPC1 out there, but after a little research it's clear this product was designed by a group of extremely passionate and forward thinking engineers, who unfortunately didn't have enough business expertise to truly grow the product to commercial success. While this is no doubt unfortunate, it means the MPC1 has largely gone un-noticed, un-used, and certainly un-sampled throughout all of these years, making it a great opportunity to compose music with vintage, analog drum sounds that aren't on a lot of records.
And while you may think you want one for your studio, even if you can find one (thanks Soundgas!) they are actually very frustrating to use in a modern production session - so we suggest sticking to the samples!