Arturia is no stranger to bundling hardware and software together in cohesive packages, but the company is taking a bold new approach with the MiniLab, attempting to redefine the boundaries of what can go into an entry-level mini keyboard.
Arturia has strong roots in the software community, mainly through the success of its Analog Lab software suite, which contains thousands of lovingly crafted classic synth sounds across a wide array of genres and instruments.
The France-based company has also released several hardware products in the last few years, such as the widely acclaimed KeyLab 49 and the synth powerhouse MicroBrute. Lately, the company has doubled down on their commitment to MIDI controllers, and the MiniLab is the latest result.
But does this keyboard controller really compete with some of the other fantastic entry-level mini controllers out there? Well, that’s exactly what we aim to find out in this review.
Before we move forward, we encourage you to take a look at the interactive table below, which allows you to compare the Arturia MiniLab to other notable keyboards—some of which we’ll also discuss throughout this review.
|M-Audio Axiom AIR Mini 32||32||$||8 Velocity-Sensitive Trigger Pads|
|Arturia KeyLab 61 MKII||61||$||Semi-Weighted Keys w/Velocity and Aftertouch|
|Arturia MatrixBrute||49||$$$||3 Brute oscillators|
|Arturia MicroBrute||25||$||Step Sequencer w/8 Memory Locations|
|M-Audio Code 61||61||$||Semi-Weighted Keys|
|M-Audio Hammer 88||88||$||Weighted Keys|
|M-Audio Keystation Mini 32||32||$||Velocity-Sensitive Synth-Action Keys|
|Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S88 MK2||88||$$||Fully-Weighted Keybed|
|Nektar Impact LX49+||49||$||Mac, PC and iOS compatible|
|Roland A-800 Pro||88||$||Velocity-Sensitive Keys|
Arturia are well-known for their beautiful, striking product design, and that hasn’t changed with the MiniLab. The all white plastic shell is flanked on both sides by wooden ends, which looks fantastic and really serves to set the controller apart from the existing products out there on the market.
Everything feels solid on this controller, despite the fact that it’s almost entirely made up of plastic components, and we didn’t encounter any areas that felt particularly fragile during our test. The keyboard comes in two different colors, the standard all-white option and an additional black offering. Both look great, and both have all of the same features and functions included.
On the functionality side of things, the Arturia MiniLab features a 25-key mini keyboard, which we found to be surprisingly playable for its size. Making chord shapes and doing simple runs was easy enough, and other than the two octave limitation, there wasn’t anything really holding us back from playing this keyboard like any other.
In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that I think the keys on this thing are a tiny bit larger than most of the other portable 25-key MIDI controllers out there right now, so if you have slightly larger fingers, you’re likely to notice this difference more than others.
To the left of the keybed, you’ll find the unique, touch strip-style modulation and pitch bend functions. These are a little odd when you first use them, but if you stick with it, you’ll soon find yourself getting a natural feel for the sensitivity and responsiveness of the strips.
It took us a bit to get comfortable with it, but once we did, we didn’t look back. These are a welcome sight on a controller of this size, because many of Arturia’s competing brands don’t have these functions on their mini controllers.
Above the keys, you’ll find 8 backlit trigger pads that can be used to trigger samples. These pads felt great to the touch, were velocity sensitive, and really felt natural running along the top of the keybed. They could also be easily used for triggering chords, if you wanted to have that option while playing a bassline or a lead. This is actually a cool writing tool, as it allows you to workshop new ideas quickly and with minimal downtime.
Finally, at the top of the device, you’ll find 16 knobs, broken down into 4 sets. These four sets are given a blank slate, allowing you to program them to modulate the sound you’re playing in whatever way you see fit.
Overall, all of the functions on this controller are incredibly intuitive and simplistic, and because of that, we think it might be one of the best ways to get started with MIDI controllers/production on a budget.
And below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling MIDI controllers on Amazon, and then compare them to see how well they match up against the MiniLab:
|1) Akai MPK Mini MKII|
|2) Novation Launchkey|
|3) Alesis V49|
|4) M Audio Keystation 49 MK3|
|5) Arturia KeyLab 49|
Setup & Compatibility
On the side of the Arturia MiniLab, you’ll find 2 connections; a footswitch input and a USB 2.0. This is about as minimalist as you can get, and we found that to be a great thing. The keyboard is completely powered by USB, adding to the portability factor, and hooking into your DAW of choice should be hassle-free.
The controller integrates particularly well with the bundled software, Arturia’s Analog Lab, and loads patches with various parameters already mapped to the knobs and ready to go
The bundled software solution that comes with this MIDI controller represents one of the best values currently out there.
How can I say that so confidently? It’s simple: Analog Lab features over 5000 classic synthesizer presets, all of which are incredible. Some have even noted that these sounds are so good, you’ll be hard pressed to find the difference between the digital signals being used to create them, and the real-world hard synths that inspired them.
The program makes it easy to find and favorite sounds from the dizzying stock collection, and all of the various instruments can be broken down by genre, sound, feeling, and more. This system makes cutting through the insane amount of sounds very manageable, and ensures that you always have fresh inspiration whenever you go looking for it.
This program usually costs $89 by itself, which is almost the price of the keyboard alone, so the fact that the full program is included here honestly blows us away. It isn’t uncommon for controllers to include software solutions, but it is rare that they are this comprehensive out of the box. It’s a testament to Arturia’s deep love for sound design that this is included, and really goes to show the company’s commitment to their following.
Using the MiniLab with another program is easy as well, with the only real difference being that the knobs and various other functions don’t come pre-mapped and ready to go. Tested using Logic Pro X, the smart map functionality worked like a charm, and all of the various knobs and pads could be set up in just a few minutes.
The ultra portable, entry level MIDI controller market is one of the most competitive ones out there at the moment, and for good reason. More and more, musicians are looking for products that can be taken on the road with them. There’s also the matter of the MiniLab MKII, which just recently became available.
So without further ado, let’s say a deeper look at some of the competition for the Arturia MiniLab.
Arturia MiniLab MKII vs Arturia MiniLab
The newest iteration of the MiniLab debuted in late 2016, and brought with it a bold new design. Eschewing the large wooden ends, the newer model favors a more subtle wooden inlay.
Everything is simply a bit more sleek this go around, and since the price is only a few dollars more than the original, it might be worth taking the plunge. If all you’re looking for is a good quality, minimalist MIDI controller, you can’t go wrong with either of these.
Time will tell how long the company supports the original product for, as it has now been out for several years. That alone might tempt some buyers towards the MKII, as it will surely receive priority in the future.
Arturia KeyLab 25 vs Arturia MiniLab
The Arturia KeyLab 25 is one of the company’s most popular products ever. Although still just having two octave ranges, the KeyLab’s keys are full size, as opposed to the miniature keys on the MiniLab.
Some players accustomed to a full piano may find playing on mini keys to be difficult or uncomfortable, so it is worth noting that it is one of the biggest differentiators here.
It also includes many more controls for editing and recording, as well as 9 sliders for further customization. All of this comes at the expense of the trigger pads, which the sliders replace on the KeyLab.
Ultimately, if you’re frequently playing live, this likely won’t be the right option for you. The KeyLab is, without question, designed to be used primarily in the studio, and its feature set is optimized accordingly.
Both keyboards include Analog Lab, but the KeyLab has more built-in functionality to control the various parameters of the synth emulations.
Akai MPK Mini MKII vs Arturia MiniLab
The MPK Mini MKII is probably the highest rated direct competitor to the MiniLab out there on the market. Akai has a steady reputation as a manufacturer of ultra-high quality products, particularly with their rock-solid keybed designs.
The Mini version of the MPK MKII features 8 trigger pads and 8 knobs; that’s half the knobs that are included with the MiniLab. You’ll need to decide what’s most important to you here. If you’re looking for something with more depth and variety to the sound design, especially for studio usage, Arturia might be the better way to go. But if a higher quality keybed is important enough to you, or having the smallest, most compact product, Akai’s mini keyboard controller can be had for the same price as the MiniLab.
That being said, what type of music you’re looking to make will also factor in here. For instance, if you enjoy classic 70’s and 80’s style synth, especially genres like Synthwave or Outrun, the MiniLab’s bundled Analog Lab software is a must-have, tipping the scales firmly in Arturia’s favor.
Conversely, if you’re into EDM or dance music, the Hybrid 3 synth that comes with the Akai offering might be more your speed.
The Arturia MiniLab is a fantastic little MIDI controller keyboard that combines a solid construction and feature set with a fantastic software solution to really drive home the value Arturia is known for.
There’s definitely some flaws here, to be sure, but none of them stick out on their own. The keys themselves are small, but a bit springy, and the functionality for studio recording is a bit more basic than it’s larger counterparts, but everything the MiniLab does, it does wonderfully.
We enjoyed our time with this controller, and we’d happily recommend it to anyone looking for something portable, powerful and inspiring.
- Solid and classy construction
- Mini keys are slightly wider than others
- Analog Lab continues to impress and inspire
- Minimalist design without sacrificing functionality too heavily
- Keys are a bit springier than we’d prefer
- Not as good of a value for those not interested in classic synth sounds
The Bottom Line
The Arturia MiniLab is a unique looking, quality MIDI controller that’s extremely well-suited to live performance. The keyboard combines ease-of-use and powerful software to bring you a lean, functional experience. If you enjoy the synthesizers of yesteryear, you’ll find a lot to love with Analog Lab.
OUR RATING: ★★★★ / ★★★★★
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