I really enjoy the tactile, hands-on nature of grooveboxes. At the same time, I want to make finished tracks in the end, not just jam live for the fun of it. Regardless of which groovebox I’m using, there’s always a point where I go from exploring and sketching, to transitioning into mixing and working on the final arrangement of a track.
The MPC Live 2 and the Push 3 (with Live Suite) are two of the most fully featured standalone grooveboxes and production centers out there. Ever since the Push 3 was announced, I’ve been hesitating between which of them to invest in. I’ve been using the MPCs (One and Live 2) for over two years, sold them earlier this year but just bought a Live 2 back last week (used market, so no financial losses yet) and I’m having fun with it. However, I have two main gripes with it and they’re essentially the reasons why I sold the MPC earlier this year:
I still find the reverbs and some other effects to be a bit low quality and I don’t love to sketch a track and thinking in my head “this will sound better with a different reverb”. I just can’t dial in something with Air Reverb or any of the other ones that give me that atmospheric feeling I’m after in the kind of music I make. In theory this is fine because the idea is to export dry stems and do the final mix in the daw, but…
…as much as the process of exporting audio stems and picking up the mixing process in my daw (currently Reason 10) works, I still don’t really enjoy that disruption of the flow. It feels like that workflow of aligning stems, naming tracks and re-doing some of the work you already did on the MPC to recreate the reverbs again in the daw is just tedious and a fun killer.
I continue to dream of a world where there is a completely seamless transition from sketching on a groovebox, where you can start a new embryo of a song with the perfect reverb tail, and then gradually transition to mixing and doing the final arrangement on the computer screen. And that world seems to exist with the Push + Live Suite combo.
Some pros/cons of both as I see it - would love to hear your take:
= my personal gripes
MPC LIVE 2
- Relatively affordable - a used MPC Live 2 typically costs less than a third of a Push 3 SE + Suite license combo.
- Excellent battery life - I get around 4 hours of time on battery on average.
- Smaller desktop footprint - both devices are rather large, but the Push no doubt takes up even more space on the desktop or (if you can stand the weight of it) your lap.
- Made from the ground up for standalone use - you really can make fully finished tracks on it and it’s not marked as an “instrument” as an excuse for not having a proper arrangement mode. It comes with proper song mode and all the automation tools you need to finish tracks.
- Easier sample/resample workflow - by the looks of it, this seems a bit more clunky on the Push where you need to sample onto an audio track rather than just sampling independently or straight to a drum pad.
- Built-in monitors - They’re actually surprisingly useful to quickly get a feel for the levels of the elements of a track, and the kids love using it that way.
- The soft synths and effects don’t sound all that great - they’re “fine”, but soft synths of modern DAWs are noticeably better sounding. Hype sound good, but it’s a limited and dumbed down preset synth on the MPC, and while TubeSynth sounds good for the bread and butter VA sounds, it doesn’t push you into more interesting sonic territories like wavetable, FM, granular etc. Also, the reverbs just don’t sound amazing compared to daw equivalents.
- The actually good soft synths and plugins are expensive separate purchases - for “fun”, I added Jura, OPx4, Fabric collection, Mini D and some of the new effects to the shopping cart, and once you do, the price of them all plus an MPC Live 2 is actually higher than the Push 3 + Suite combo! Which to me is totally nuts.
- No seamless transition from sketching to mixing - at some point, the audio export is inevitable and you need to then commit to printed stems in the daw to finish the mix. This means losing all the soft synth automation and having to rebuild any effect chains that you weren’t pleased with already, most likely including all reverbs. If you need to tweak something, you need to go back to the MPC software and do it over there and then re-export stems back into your daw of choice. All of this is doable, but it makes you spend more time on the MPC before exporting to make sure thighs are just right when you’re really ready for the mixing phase already.
- Can’t easily run off of a powerbank - at 19V, it’s not PD compatible and you’ll need custom powerbanks and power cords to be on the safe side.
- Less future proof - this is more of a me thing, but I suspect the MPC Live 2 won’t be Akai’s flagship product over the next 3 years compared to the Push 3. I wouldn’t be surprised if they release MPC 3.0 software along with a Live 3 launch, forcing people like me to either GAS or upgrade. In comparison, I feel pretty certain that Push 3 and Live 12 will not be replaced until 2027, so buying it now means I can future-proof for at least 3 years.
PUSH 3 + SUITE
- Great synths included - wavetable, FM, virtual analog / subtractive, granular, excessive sample and instrument packs, all included with no need for separate purchases unless you really need it.
- Great effects included - the reverbs on the MPC leave something to be desired, and I can’t imagine that being true with Ableton. No need to pay for separate purchases of reverbs, delays or other effects because you have all you need in Suite.
- 64 MPE pads - maybe a marketing buzzword, but the Push 3 is arguably an instrument in its own right and I’m attracted to the idea of mastering how to play harmonies and melodies on those expressive pads.
- Seamless transition from sketching to finishing a track - the idea of having a completely seamless transition between that almost-finished song to start the ‘proper’ mixing process in the daw is very compelling to me.
- No real mixing limitations - I don’t advocate for serious mixing work while sketching, but there are some exceptions like getting the bass and kick to sit well in the mix because that sets the stage for everything else in my experience. Working on the overall levels and some eq is inevitable in the creation process for me, otherwise I won’t “feel” the groove. On the Push, you have everything you need to mix as you go, unlike the MPC which has arbitrary limitations like the number of mix buses or inserts you can use. For my kind of music, there’s always that one exception when I wish I had just a couple of more inserts on one of the return channels.
- An actually useful step sequencer - looking at tutorials, it seems like a decent workflow that resembles the Elektron workflow to a degree. Having both the trig and notes available simultaneously looks super convenient when programming chord progressions and melodies, faster than even the Elektron workflow. In comparison, the MPC step sequencer is utterly underwhelming and I basically never use it. The MPC is all about playing things live.
- Clip based workflow - this is a thing I don’t love about the MPC workflow, where each track is contained within a Sequence. You can’t easily mix and match to discover what combinations of drum energy works the best for a particular section of a song. On the Push, it seems very easy to discover which combinations work well together, similar to the MC-x0x which I enjoyed. Also, this leads to less sequencer data redundancy across multple sequences and less need for endless Copy Events dialogs and complex math to copy something from one part to another, which is a workflow killer on the MPC.
- Usb-c powered and can run on a PD compatible 65W powerbank or Macbook Pro charger - this somewhat negates the issue below with the underpowered internal battery because there is no room in my house without a usb-c charger.
- Ridiculously expensive - obviously this is the strongest con, especially for someone like me with no previous Ableton Live license. However the 20% off deal in November along with the promise of a free upgrade to Live 12 make the price tag somewhat less ridiculous. Buy once, cry once?
- Mediocre battery life - if I understand correctly, you should be happy if you get about an hour of use unplugged.
- Large and heavy - I have no problem sitting with the MPC Live 2 in my lap, but with the Push 3, I wonder if it’s going to feel a tad too heavy and/or warm?
- Having to pay for and learn a new daw - not sure how big my appetite is for spending hundreds of euros and then hundreds of hours relearning things across both hardware and software. Perhaps Live is inferior in some ways to Reason 10, like when it comes to mixing? Not sure I fully understand the pros/cons there.
What is your perspective on this and which platform would you choose?