The Akai ASQ-10 is a bit like the forgotten little sister of the MPC-60 and MPC-3000. Launched in 1988, it sported the sequencer of the MPC in a white, metal casing, with a (still) large, backlit, text-only display near the top.
Filling a niche for those who wanted the ingenious combined pattern/linear sequencer workflow but rather not have the pads and sampling functionality of the bulkier (and much more expensive) MPC, I remember reading an interview with Mike Lindup of Level 42 in Keyboard Magazine claiming this to be “the best sequencer in the world”. And for someone like me, who owned most of the hardware sequencers made, it became #1 on my shortlist. Sadly, they were (and still are) rarer than a hen’s teeth.
I finally found one in the classifieds, owned by a teacher and hobby musician who had brought it back from the U.S. a couple of years earlier. I got it for a fair price, and for the best part of the 90’s, tons of songs and ideas were recorded on it.
And then it started to break down.
Unfortunately, I presume to cut costs, it is equipped with key switches that, while having a gorgeous click on activating, wear down with time and need to be replaced. Had it been fitted with the computer keyboard style keys of old Yamaha and Roland gear, it would have lasted forever, but alas, my Play and Play/Start keys eventually needed a hammer to be activated, and when the disk drive finally started to become unreliable, I gave up and moved to Atari. And then everyone went DAW of course.
Remember, this was around the start of the millennium, meaning that it was really difficult to source replacement parts and almost impossible to find reliable information on the web. I ended up selling it for parts or repair, someone picked it up at the train station in a paper bag. Stupid.
Fast forward to 2014. I have since owned the MPC1000 and MPC4000, loved the sequencer, but I never liked the sampling engine, it always felt like a 90’s relic to me. I started to realize that for recording and manipulating audio, beats and rhythmic textures, I preferred powerful software (Ableton Live, NI Maschine) or interesting quirky hardware (Teenage Engineering OP-1). But the idea started to grow on me to create a hardware-only corner of my studio. To connect old MIDI and CV equipment reliably and be able to record ideas in a fast manner, it’s still hard to beat dedicated hardware, even in the 2010’s.
A new breed of musicians have realized this as well, and are investigating the possibilities of older gear, meaning that suddenly a plethora of information, resources and parts are being made available. I realized that I wanted a sketch pad that I knew my way around blindfolded, and after watching the wonderful MPCHunter site for some time, I finally ended up buying a refurbished ASQ from the Netherlands, and it is now the hub of all my hardware instruments in my “old corner” of the studio.
It does have its quirks. The display beeps at a B flat, and one of the fast-forward keys is upside-down for some reason. But it’s fast, intuitive, and it just works. In upcoming articles, I will share some insights in how an old beast like this can be upgraded to 2010’s standards, and still bring the uncompromising workflow and swing to your music.
Because it’s an MPC in a dress.