With so many of them on the market, it can be difficult to tell one MIDI keyboard from another. But, although you might think they look the same as similarly priced models, Arturia’s KeyLab Essential mk3 ‘boards are actually a class apart.
By strict definition, the word ‘essential’ means something that’s absolutely necessary, but it can also have slightly negative connotations. In the case of the KeyLab range, you might think that it implies that this particular controller is stripped back to the very basics - the ‘essentials’ - and lacking in functionality.
Not so, we can confirm, as, despite being competitively priced, both the 49- and 61-note versions of the KeyLab Essential mk3 have feature sets that put many of their rivals’ to shame.
New control layout
Of course, the first test any keyboard needs to pass relates to its playability, and the KeyLab Essential mk3 does so with flying colours thanks to its high-quality build and keybed. Above the keys, the layout of the controls has been improved in comparison to the previous version, with a bigger display for easier software navigation, more knobs and encoders, and improved velocity- and pressure-sensitivity in the eight pads.
The new design is based on input from user feedback and several Q&A sessions that were held in order to create a layout more suited to users’ workflows. Now, when navigating software, you can filter by category, instrument and more, making the process of finding your perfect sound super easy and leading to a faster creative experience.
Next-level software integration
There’s also deeper DAW control, with custom scripts that were made by each DAW’s developers to ensure super-tight integration as soon as you plug in. As you’d expect, you also get seamless control of Arturia’s Analog Lab V software, which comes in the box, and the company’s other instruments and effects.
Analog Lab V is worthy of special mention here, as it contains a superb collection of presets that are derived from Arturia’s flagship V Collection instruments. You’re getting great sounds out of the box, and with the minimum of fuss.
Other supplied software includes Ableton Live Lite, UVI’s Model D synth and Native Instruments’ The Gentleman, a high-quality piano.
Enhanced performance capabilities
That all? Certainly not; because Arturia knows that not everyone who plays keyboards is Jacob Collier, it’s brought a Chord Mode to the KeyLab Essential mk3, which enables you to trigger preset or custom chord shapes with a single keypress. Other player aids include scale locking, which ensures that you’ll stay in key (multiple standard scales are supported and you can also customise your own) and an arpeggiator.
What’s more, all three of these modes can be used together: you can play a chord with a single key, arpeggiate it and lock it to a scale of your choosing. Taken together, these and all the aforementioned features help to remove any creative barriers to your music making.
So, while it would be tempting to say that the KeyLab Essential gives you everything you need and nothing that you don’t, what’s closer to the truth is that it gives you everything you need and some other stuff that you probably didn’t expect in a keyboard at this price point. And if that isn’t an essential MIDI keyboard, we don’t know what is.
Find out more on the Arturia website.