Arturia Minilab Midi Keyboard MKII$99 / £79
We review the Arturia Minilab Midi Keyboard mkI and the new mkII to see what Arturia is offering its customers with the upgrade.
I first came across the company Arturia about 7 years ago and instantly fell in love with their Mini V synth plugin. Ever since, I have followed Arturia closely, and keep getting blown away by their products. Today we are going to have a closer look at the Arturia Minilab midi keyboard mk I and mk II.
We will look at the hardware close up, be introduced to the included software and explore the midi capabilities this unit offers. Does it live up to the Arturia standard of quality and functionality? With a small foot print could this be the perfect controller to have both on your desk and to take away with you on the road? Let’s dive in!
The Minilab keyboard is a 25 key midi keyboard boasting 8 drum pads, 16 endless rotary encoders, modulation & pitch bend touch strips and foot pedal jack all in a compact size of just 37.7cm x 19.1cm. The 25 velocity sensitive mini keys are smaller than full size keys, so it might feel a little cramped at first, but Arturia has not gone so far as to make it impossible to play for long periods. They have found a really good balance between a small portable form factor, and ergonomics with the MiniLab. The 8 pressure sensitive pads can be expanded to 16 by hitting the pad expansion button at the top left of the device. Furthermore the pads can be configured to send Play/Stop/Pause commands to your DAW, and act as midi preset bank selection buttons when the shift key is held. The 4 banks of 4 rotary encoders along the top can be mapped to any midi mappable control in your chosen software, and are pre-mapped mapped to the included Analog Lab software bundled with the device.
The Minilab is a great looking device too with a white finish, mat black encoders and framed by two wood finished panels (mk I) giving it a very authentic retro synth look.
Included Software in the Box
Analog Lab 3
One of the best things about the MiniLab is the bundled software synths that come with it. Alone the Analog Lab suite is a 150 EUR added cost. So when you consider what you are getting value for money is huge here, and not something that can be overlooked.
The Analog Lab collection consists of:
- 21 instruments
- 6,540 presets
All of which have been accurately recreated and transformed into faithful software instruments. Rather than just sample the original instruments, Arturia has rewritten the original synthesizer algorithms into virtual instruments so that it feels just like you are sitting in front of the real thing. This results in a premium warm sounding collection of synths without any loss in quality or original sound. The virtual instrument library can also be opened in standalone mode on you mac or windows PC allowing you to use it without a DAW. This is great for when you want to incorporate the MiniLab into a live performance.
Each instrument in the collection has been mapped to the various controls on the MiniLab keyboard, and so tweaking the sound easy and intuitive. During the development of the software and hardware integration, Arturia even hired professional ergonomists to ensure that everything worked together naturally. Check out Artiria’s promo video for a sneak peek into the sounds of the Analog Lab below.
Ableton Live Lite
If you are new to the music productions scene and are looking to make your own tracks then this next part could be the deal breaker for you. Arturia has teamed up with Ableton to include a copy of Ableton Live Lite. This give you access to a world-class DAW for recording you own productions without any time limitation – free. Ableton Live lite is a customized version of the Ableton Live Suite that offers its own selection of virtual instruments and effects. There is also an upgrade path here where you can save money when moving to Ableton Live Standard/Suite when compare to purchasing Ableton Live outright. Another saving! Check out the promo video below of how Arturia and Ableton Live have worked together to integrate their two technologies.
While this video is using the KeyLab the same integration work has been done for the MiniLab so you will get the same great integrated experience!
Using the shift button at the top left of the controller the MiniLab allows you to change the midi channel on the fly. You can assign different instruments to different channels and switch between then as you need. This is great especially in live situations where you don’t want to be reaching over to your laptop between tracks or in the middle of a track!
The MiniLab also comes with its own midi mapping software (Midi Control Center) so that you can customize what midi data the unit sends out. This allows you to create custom mappings to any software you like. You can set it up to control Ableton Live for production, Traktor Pro 2 for live DJ set or any other midi capable software. Simply create your preset and save it to one of the eight preset banks assigned to the eight pads. When performing, hold the shift button and select the preset you want.
The Drum pads can also be setup to play cords which is a special feature configurable with in Analog Lab. So if you have a chord progression you want to trigger meanwhile playing a lead phrase on the same instrument, this makes it possible. And prevents you from having to switch up and down octaves to hit the right notes.
The Next Generation – Minilab mkII
Released in November 2016 Arturia has revised the MiniLab hardware and fitted the same functionality all into a smaller footprint, the MiniLab mk II. Where Arturia may have fallen short with build quality in the original mk I, they have focused on this area improving on what was already a high quality product. The Modulation and Pitch bend touch strips have been moved up inline with the encoders allowing for the keyboard to have slightly more space, improving on the cramped keyboard of the mk I. The top row of encoders (and encoder 9) have been upgraded to include push button functionality. They have been mapped into the Analog Lab software as transport encoders making browsing for an instrument or preset much easier. Check out the promo video of the MiniLab mk2 below!
Things to note
With the original mk I MiniLab you got the full version of Analog Lab, however with the mk II only a lite version is included which is a shame since this to me is such a big selling point of the MiniLab. But not all is lost, you do get an additional instrument, the Grand Piano Model D by UVI which is a multi sampled grand piano. This is a nice addition to the synths you get in the Analog Lab.
While the loss of the full version of Analog Lab is a shame the upgraded hardware is a welcome improvement and since you are paying the same for something better, the mk II is a worthy successor of the mk I. I personally like the look of the mk I with its wood side panels which are now inserted along the side of the controller making them invisible when looking at the controller form above. For me the side panels are a signature feature of the Arturia hardware line up and I would have liked to see them remain in the design. But I understand getting a smaller, form factor something’s gotta give!
Today we have taken a look at the MiniLab hardware, included software and midi capabilities. We have even looked into the mk II version and the differences between the two. The MiniLab mk I and mk II are quality units backed by a company that has been in the business for almost 20 years and is growing. The quality of the products are second to none and this shows through in its smaller offerings like the MiniLab.
For me, while I would definitely love to have one of these on my production desk I prefer to have faders over encoders. I find them easier to control when performing/recording live and I can even control multiple faders at once. This leads me to one of the bigger 49 or 61 key options by Arturia as my preference.
Do you own one of the MiniLab keyboards or do you have another Arturia product and would like to share your thoughts? Leave me a comment below, I am super keen to hear for you and what you think about Arturia products!
Thanks for reading.