Arturia is a name that will be very familiar to most keyboard players. Founded in Grenoble, France, in 1999, the company specialises in the development of music software and hardware for professional and amateur musicians. They have produced some incredible software over the years including of course DX7 V which gave us all the same FM digital technology and sounds that the original Yamaha™ DX7 was so famous for. And let’s not forget the CS-80 V which is Arturia’s modeled version of the legendary Yamaha™ CS-80, considered by many to be the ultimate polyphonic synthesizer of the late ‘70s.
But of course Arturia are not just about software, they are also famous for hardware too and they produce some of the best midi controller keyboards out there.
I have always been a fan of the Keylab series and Arturia recently sent me their new Keylab MKII to take a look at. It comes in black or white and I have the black 61 note version here which I think looks really classy.
The chassis of the Keylab MKII is all metal apart from the end caps but thats ok with me as it would never leave the house so is unlikely to get knocked. They did make a very nice job of those end caps though, they look like wood and it’s a very tasteful design.
As soon as you pick up the Keylab MKII you know this is a quality instrument. It is quite heavy…in a good way. I think it weighs in at around 7kg which is not heavy for a normal synth but definitely weighty for a controller keyboard. This does though lend it an air of robustness. It feels reassuringly solid and this build quality extends to the controls which are all very smooth in operation and have a pro feel to them. In short it is the sort of controller keyboard that is a pleasure to have sitting on your desk.
The keys are synth action and semi-weighted and unlike some controller keyboards you feel like Arturia definitely spent the budget in the right places here. Whether playing pulsing bass lines or delicate classical piano the keys felt great and I would certainly have no hesitation in using this as my main keyboard.
The Keylab MKII comes with some great software too. This includes 6,500 sounds from Analog Lab plus a large number of acoustic pianos in the form of Piano V and just in case you don’t already have DAW software you get Ableton Live Lite to start you off on your music production journey. As if that is not enough Arturia are running a special promotion at the moment which means if you purchase the Keylab MKII you will in addition receive ‘Mini V’, Stage-73 V and B-3 V to fill out your sonic arsenal.
The Keylab MKII is also bus powered. In other words no power supplies to mess around with although there is a power adapter socket if required just in case you want to use the controller hooked up to another synth without a computer in the mix.
Talking of connections there are loads including 5 pedal/controller inputs consisting of sustain, expression and three labelled ‘aux’ which of course are assignable. There is also standard din type midi in/out and more interestingly connections for CV In as well as CV Pitch, Gate, Mod 1 and Mod 2 outputs. Not something you see on many keyboards these days and a very welcome addition.
As mentioned the Keylab MKII comes with a huge range of software but of course this is in the form of a download. For me on my 70mb connection it took around 10 minutes to download install and register and I didn’t come across any problems at all. Once you have all the software installed, plug in the Keylab MKII, switch on and everything lights up in a very cool blue which I think looks great.
In terms of controls you will not be left wanting. From left to right there are buttons for Chord, Transpose, Oct +/- and below those the pitch and mod wheels. These are silver and both look and feel like metal? not sure if they are but they feel great. Next along there is the pad button which is used to send MIDI notes or CC data, depending on how you’ve assigned it in the MCC. Below that is the Chord Memory mode button which lets you store up to 16 unique chords, each containing up to 6 notes and below that is the Chord Transpose mode button which is a little more advanced, letting you trigger chord shapes selected by the pads when playing notes on the keyboard.
Moving along we have the 16 dynamic, pads which can be used to perform and record percussion. Colours can be assigned to specific pads to make it clear what type of sound, sample, or loop you are triggering and next to these are the DAW controls. the Keylab MKII comes with a selection of magnetic overlays for this section and which are labelled for different DAW’s. It’s a nice touch and does make things much easier in use.
In the middle of the keyboard is the two line LCD display…small but clear enough to select your categories and presets etc. Below the display are buttons for Category, Preset, a large selection knob which you turn to choose categories and presets then press to confirm selection. Either side of that rotary control are the Left/Right buttons which move through presets and parameters if you wish to be more precise in selection of those parameters. And at the bottom of this area are three larger buttons for selecting ANALOG LAB, DAW and USER modes.
On the right hand side of the keyboard are buttons for Part 1 & 2 next/previous and a button for Live/Bank selection. Then we have 9 continuous rotary controllers and 9 faders which of course perform several operations depending on which mode you are in and what sounds you have selected.
So as a controller I think the Keylab MKII’s credentials are very sound indeed. In use it was flawless and I would have no hesitation in purchasing one were I in the market for a controller keyboard.
Check out the video below for an overview of what the Keylab MKII is all about.
For more info about the Arturia Keylab MKII visit https://www.arturia.com
And for more discussion about the Keylab MKII as well as other controllers and synths why not drop by our forum? We would love to see you there!