REVIEW: Akai MPD218 vs. PreSonus ATOM MIDI pad controllers

As a music producer, I’ve recently been inspired to make my own beats! And instead of drawing the beats with a mouse or finger drumming with midi keyboard (like this video of Just Dance), I decided that I wanted to buy a cheap entry-level MIDI pad controller (or drum pad). At first a friend let me borrow her Akai Professional LPD8, but with the 8 pads, I didn’t find it compatible with Ableton where the drum racks are usually 16 pads.

So! I decided to compare the Akai MPD218 and newcomer PreSonus ATOM and see which one was better.

Buy Akai Professional MPD218 at Thomann:

Buy PreSonus ATOM at Thomann:


Look: The MPD218 has a really sleek black look whereas the PreSonus ATOm looks less sleek with the white pads, but everything is arranged very neatly and the knobs are shaped very nicely. At first I would say the MPD218 wins in the looks comparison, but when you plug it in, you’ll see that the reason why the ATOM has white pads is because they are illuminated with a lot of different colours when it gets turned on and the MPD218 lights up with a red light only on the outer edge of each pad. For the ATOM, the different coloured lights change with different uses, so they have functional benefits. Therefore, on looks, I announce it a tie.

Build: The PreSonus ATOM is built more solidly and feels less cheap. The MPD218 feels a bit plasticky in a cheap way. ATOM wins.

Pad sensitivity: Now this is where it gets interesting for me. I was looking specifically for a pad controller that was very sensitive. When you do finger drumming, you need agile fingers, but you also need a device with pads that will trigger on the slightest and fastest touches. With the same pressure, the MPD218 triggers less notes than the ATOM. I was not too pleased with the MPD218 and I also thought the LPD8 could be improved too. I tried also Maschine Mikro MK3 and Ableton Push 2, and these are really the benchmark of fantastic sensitive pads. Even though the ATOM is not as good as Mikro or Push, for a cheap drum pad, it’s definitely a delight to play and much more sensitive than the MPD218. Since the MPD218 is less sensitive, I found that I needed to hit harder, which made it harder to play on time and get in a good flow. When you need to hit something with more force, then you lose the ability to be quick. It’s fine if you are generally a hard finger drummer, but I think for anyone who does quick note repeats, it’s more handy to have sensitive pads. ATOM wins.

See my YouTube video for comparing pad sensitivity:

In my YouTube review, you’ll see that not all pads are equally sensitive in both controllers. I think because they are both entry level controllers and are cheaply made, so some pads are super sensitive, while some consistently don’t trigger that well. I hope that with more use, that the controllers become more sensitive, like any instrument that takes time to warm up.

Pad feel: Both feel nice and the rubbery pads are fun to hit. It depends what you like, but the MPD218 pads are a little harder, chunky and are taller, which I personally don’t like. The ATOM has flatter buttons and have good grip. (note: Actually I really like the feel of the Ableton Push and for a cheap option the LPD8 which has very flat and soft rubbery pads similar to the Push). Tie.

Price: For the price war, the MPD218 wins hands down. the MPD218 is almost HALF the price of the ATOM, which makes this review even a bit unfair, because they are actually not really equal in price, but I think it’s because the ATOM comes with Studio One software with a lot of in-built sounds and this is definitely what makes the controller superior to MPD218. But in terms of price, MPD218 wins.

DAW compatibility: I tested both using Ableton, and both controllers worked beautifully with Ableton, in terms of being recognised in the system and all 16 pads being perfectly assigned with the drum racks, which was something I was looking for. I really like the Maschine Mikro but it didn’t automatically work with Ableton when you plug it in. You need to install a template and do all this fiddly stuff, so this in addition to the price was a reason for me not to get it. So in terms of DAW compatibility it is a tie.

Overall: I really wanted to like the MPD18 because of the price, but it just disappointed me. Functionality-wise it is fine, but for me the sensitivity and touch of a pad controller is what I’m really going to base my decision on, and I’ve chosen the PreSonus ATOM.

Buy Akai Professional MPD218 at Thomann for €79:

Buy PreSonus ATOM at Thomann for €139:

(note: I see two low scores for this product on Thomann, with no comments attached to the rating, which leads me to believe they are fake reviews, purposely to downgrade the peer-to-peer rating.)

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