Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 Review

The new Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 is a fantastic little standalone instrument. This in-depth review aims to cover what makes this revision so good, as well as shed light on some of the lesser known quirks of this MIDI keyboard controller.

Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 with audio output
connected to an Olympus WS-331M Digital Voice Recorder.


The Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 produces surprisingly good sound for its size and format. It comes with 128 instrument sound presets that can be customized with eight effects using two banks of knobs. Which can then be saved to Favorites with the option to save up to eight favorites at a time. It also comes with ten drum kits mapped to two banks of eight MPC style pads.

The updated hardware of the MPK Mini Play Mk3 improves upon the previous generation in almost every way, including better keys, pads, and knobs, a better layout, and even better sound output with a larger recessed speaker. Velocity curves for keys can be customized through the editor software, or configured on device using a hidden menu that can be accessed by holding down the "Full Level" button. As for the quirky little joystick that has been a mainstay of the MPK Mini series, with the MPK Mini Play it offers expression control in addition to pitch bend and modulation while in instrument mode. However, I was unable to implement the same functionality in editor without the ability to invert the control change message value to get a value of 127 when centered instead of 0.

Overall though, I'm really happy with the quality of product the Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 has to offer.

First Impressions

I really like this little keyboard. I wasn't so sure at first, because I felt like I had to really hammer on it to get a response. But as I played with it more and got to understand it better, I began to really appreciate its differences and qualities. When compared to my old MPK Mini Mk2, I think the keybed, knobs, and pads are all improvements over those of the previous generation. 

Note that the original MPK Mini Play utilized the same type of keybed, pads, and knobs as the MPK Mini Mk2 controller. While the new MPK Mini Play Mk3 features the updated 2nd-gen dynamic keybed, MPC style pads, and larger knobs introduced with the MPK Mini Mk3. Although the MPK Mini Play Mk3 still uses potentiometers for its effects knobs, while the MPK Mini Mk3 is equipped with infinite encoders. 

Oddly enough, this latest version of the MPK Mini Play controller was issued the Mk3 designation, despite only being the second version of the controller in its series. The reason for which may have been to reflect the significance of its generational leap, or perhaps more so to highlight its hardware parity with the MPK Mini Mk3 controller.

Expression Control

If you're familiar with the Akai MPK Mini and its quirky little joystick, you know it typically just controls pitch bend and modulation. Although when using the editor software, it can be reconfigured to do otherwise. Normally though, the modulation functionality is simply duplicated across the axis with the function being the same in either direction: you start at 0 and go up to 127 depending how far you push or pull the joystick. But unlike a typical mod wheel, it always snaps back to center when released.

Now this is where the MPK Mini Play introduces an interesting change in functionality, one that I think makes the joystick more than just a quirky controller. In one direction, you have modulation (CC1). While in the other direction, you now have expression as well (CC11), allowing you to dip the expression value down to 0, and bring it back up to 127 when the stick re-centers. This is brilliant!

The only trouble is, it only does this in instrument mode. For expression to work with the joystick as a MIDI controller, the control change (CC) message value needs to be inverted so that the value is 127 when the stick is centered (full volume), and 0 when it's pushed to its limit (muted). Currently, the editor doesn't appear to provide any way to invert CC message values. Although, this can probably still be done in DAW using some form of scripting.

Software and Settings

With regards to the editor for the MPK Mini Play Mk3, it's worth mentioning that it's only available to download through the software manager, and only with the MPK Mini Play specific version of the software manager. This caused some confusion for me at first, as I was unaware that there were two different versions of the software manager available: one for the MPK Mini series of controllers, and one for the MPK Mini Play series. 

By default, the editor software is also hidden from view in the software manager. To access it, you first need to enable the "Show Advanced Software" option under Settings. Which can be accessed by selecting the gear icon in the upper left corner of the software manager window. 

The Akai MPK Mini Play MK3 editor adds a few nice little feature improvements over previous versions of the editor, including the ability to edit the Sound and Keyboard Sound FX for each favorite, and an interface for visualizing and editing the keybed velocity curve. You can also save these settings out to your computer, allowing you to build up a library of favorites so you're not limited to just the eight available onboard favorites.

Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 editor software.

For the most part, I really dig this new editor. However, I don't like how the Sound FX fields aren't arranged in the same order as the effects knobs on the keyboard. Consistency in layouts would have been nice. I also wish the editor offered some way to invert CC message values so that the joystick can be used for controlling expression in addition to pitch bend and modulation when used as a MIDI controller, similar to how it works in instrument mode by sending a value of 127 instead of 0 for CC11 when the joystick is centered.

Joystick control change (CC) options in
the Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 editor software.


The MPK Mini Play Mk3 adopts the same new and improved 25-key mini-key style velocity-sensitive 2nd-gen dynamic keybed introduced with the MPK Mini Mk3. Previous generation keybeds were made from monoform pieces of plastic. Which made the keys feel relatively stiff and unresponsive. It also made them prone to breaking off at the action frame. With this new keybed, the keys are individually spring-mounted to the action frame like some of the more expensive synth-action keyboard controllers. If you look closely near the action frame, you can see each key is uniquely labeled with its respective note. The action of this 2nd-gen dynamic keybed is still somewhat stiff, but it does feel better than the previous generation.

Note that the keybed of the MPK Mini Play Mk3 does not support aftertouch. Although this is unsurprising considering the price point, and is consistent with current and past offerings of the MPK Mini series of controllers.

With the built-in OLED screen of the Mk3, there's a hidden menu that allows you to adjust the velocity curve and black-key velocity multiplier. To enter (or exit) the hidden velocity settings menu, hold down the "Full Level" button for 5 seconds.

Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 key velocity settings menu.

The velocity curve can also be edited from the editor software as well by selecting the "Edit Key Curve" button found under the Keyboard section. This opens a small window with fields for editing velocity values, and displays a graph with the velocity values plotted along a curve for some welcomed visual feedback.

Akai MPK Mini Play Mk3 editor software
and Keybed Curve editor window.

After bumping up the velocity curve, and enabling Full Level for pads, I had no trouble playing and getting a descent sound from the built-in speaker, without having to hammer on the keys and pads. The sound from the built-in speaker was better than expected, too. With headphones on though, I actually prefer playing with the default velocity curve values (v1: 96.0; v2: 20.0; v3: 8.0; v4: 2.8; Black bal: 0.9x). I primarily bought this for my daughters to play with, and they have had no trouble with it.

The drum pads also feel and sound really good. There seems to be more range in sensitivity with these pads. With them being pressure sensitive in addition to being velocity sensitive, the pads can be a lot of fun to play with. For example, while using note repeat, a shift in pressure applied to the pads while holding them down can produce an enormously satisfying aftertouch like effect.

The knobs are something else. There aren't many MIDI controllers available with built-in sounds at this price point, and with such a small form factor. Most also usually won't provide much control over the sound aside from instrument selection. With the MPK Mini Play, you have control over brightness, timbre, reverb, chorus, attack, release, and low/high EQ. Having 128 instrument sounds to begin with, there's a massive amount of possibility with that many customization options. And the convenience of having the controls all mapped out and have it just work out of the box cannot be overstated. I think this is a really good first step for anyone interested in sound design without being overwhelmed by the complexities of an actual synth. It can also be used to produce some decent sounds and samples.

As with earlier versions of this controller, the MPK Mini Play Mk3 also comes with an arpeggiator, and supports tap tempo and note repeat as well. It also includes octave up and down buttons, which are especially helpful given the keybed is limited to just two octaves. The keyboard itself supports up to ten octaves through octave shifting. And there are still no transport buttons to speak of.

It's recommended that the keyboard be powered by either four 1.5V AA alkaline batteries, or by USB power. Although lithium batteries may be a better choice than alkaline as they maintain voltage at close to 1.5V over the life of the battery before dropping sharply at the end, while the voltage of alkaline batteries drops progressively over the life of the battery. Batteries are surprisingly long lasting in this controller, though. Especially between use.

In my experience, the keyboard functions well enough when using rechargeable 1.2V AA NiMH batteries. Which also maintain their voltage over the life of the battery. Be aware though, that with lower voltage, you may start to notice artifacts crop up in audio output.

The back panel includes a switch allowing you to toggle the power source. The back panel also includes a USB 2.0 Type-B port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 1/4-inch TS jack for a sustain pedal.


As mentioned earlier, another big feature to point out here is Favorites. You have eight of them to work with, and they each serve a dual-purpose function that can be toggled by pressing the "Internal Sounds" button.

While the "Internal Sounds" button is toggled ON, Favorites can be used to load or save instrument sound presets, including any adjustments made using the effects knobs to customize the sound of a preset. To save the current sound preset, hold down both the "Favorites" and "Internal Sounds" buttons at the same time, and then press one of the eight pads. To load up the sound preset again, just hold down the "Favorites" button and press the pad associated with the saved preset.

When the "Internal Sounds" button is toggled OFF, Favorites are instead used as a sort of program selection, similar in function to its sibling controller, the MPK Mini Mk3. The default favorites that ship with the MPK Mini Play Mk3 include mappings for some popular DAWs, such as MPC, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio, and GarageBand. The remaining default favorites are used to map scales to the pads, which include the Chromatic, Major, and Minor scales. 

Using the editor software, Favorites can be retrieved from the controller, saved to your computer, loaded up in editor, customized, and sent back to your controller, giving you the ability to work with even more options.


Another really cool little feature that I just happened to stumble upon is that the MPK Mini Play Mk3 is able to receive MIDI input over USB and generate audio output using the controller's built-in sounds. Which kinda blew my mind. 

It may not be super practical, but I thought it was another fun aspect of this controller.

Mini vs Mini Play

One other thing to note with respect to this controller's sibling, the MPK Mini Mk3, is that despite only having four knobs, the MPK Mini Play Mk3 still has access to the same number of knob controls with two available banks. Both controllers have sixteen available pads and eight available knobs between banks. Although, the MPK Mini Mk3 does have the benefit of infinite encoders, and has options to send control change (CC) and program change (PC) messages using pads instead of just notes. Each of which are features lacking from the MPK Mini Play Mk3. Aside from those differences though, there's really little to no disadvantage when opting for the MPK Mini Play Mk3 over the MPK Mini Mk3.

Final Thoughts

With all that said, I think more than anything it's worth stating that this keyboard is simply fun to play with. There have been genuine quality of life improvements with this version of the controller, AND you don't need a computer to use it. There's also very little feature disparity with its sibling controller, the MPK Mini Mk3. Aside from the lack of infinite encoders and CC/PC message options for pads, you end up getting a bit more with the built-in sounds of a standalone instrument. I would still like to see an option in the editor that allows for CC message values to be inverted on the joystick, but all in all I'm pretty darn happy with the Akai MPK Mini Play MK3.