Living with the Arturia Keylab 61
So, it’s been over three months since APN took delivery of the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61 and we figured it was time to check back in and report on how this Budget Pro Midi controller has been getting on in our studio. Our initial findings really focussed on the stunning value for money that we believe this package offers.
Beyond those initial findings though, we did have some concerns about the potential longevity of the Essential unit and it’s ability to weather some serious studio usage. This is partly due to the fact that when you build to an affordable budget it’s tough to get the equation of cheap and quality materials right.
“…it’s been over three months since APN took delivery of the Arturia KeyLab Essential 61.”
Well, I’m happy to report that, unbelievably the Essential looks absolutely brand new still..! Yes, we were surpised too. However, a lot of that is down to simply respecting the gear in your studio. The Essential has been getting aloe wet wipe baths every few days and this has helped keep it healthy. On the faux wood side panels we’ve been very careful when cleaning so overall, no peeling or fading anywhere on the unit.
“…so overall, no peeling or fading anywhere on the unit.”
Just as importantly, the lightweight 61 note key bed had given me a little anxiety in relation to a long term test like this. It’s taken a literal pounding over the last few months as the studio has been pumping out a ton of new tracks and those lightweight keys seem to have just the same feel as we admired on our first outing.
This is partly due to the fact that we’ve been smashing on the still excellent and super firm, backlit LED drum pads – literally rocking the chassis of the Essential with every hit the entire time. It’s also hard not to get histrionic when you start exploring the cerebral side of Essentials – the new, Analog 3 software.
“…those lightweight keys seem to have just the same feel as we admired on our first outing.”
The sheer usefulness of this included software can never be underestimated. It is essentially the blood that courses through the Essential’s veins. In Analog Lab you will find some 6,500 presets that doff their caps to the beauty and power of analog synthesis. If you are not in to sound design like we are at APN you can literally surf the presets for hours, thanks to the direct hardware mapping of Essential to Analog Lab. No mouse clicking necessary to audition these very well designed sounds. Trust me – the difference between left clicking a mouse 6, 500 times or spinning a luxurious, endless encoder is very large indeed.
“No mouse clicking necessary to audition these very well designed sounds.”
Controlling Your DAW
We could pontificate for hours about how great the Analog software is and how you can layer different synths within it, how it contains all of Arturia’s synth engines under the hood and, (if you are smart enough to have purchased the V Collection), how it allows you to open up the actual GUI of the donor synth to fine tune within the Analog Lab 3 environment. It’s definitely a head spinner and, if you want to get to know even a 10th of it’s potential you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the Analog Lab. However, we shan’t talk about all that. I’d rather tell you about the spot on integration that we found truly defines the Essential as how a basic Midi controller should be equipped and set up circa 2018.
“… the spot on integration… truly defines the Essential as how a basic Midi controller should be equipped and set up circa 2018.”
“Arturia’s hybrid expertise really shines with the Essential series.”
Also deeply entrenched in the Essentials’ character is the elegant DAW integration and thorough customizability through the MIDI Control Center. We love this software for getting to the meat and potatoes of things that need to get done fast and for being able to seamlessly detect and adjust to any other Arturia controller you may have plugged in via USB. Mapping the different controls is a cinch so you find yourself setting up performance parameters on a per song or even per plugin basis. Top stuff and something that other manufacturers can make a real mouthful out of. Arturia’s hybrid expertise really shines with the Essential series.
That’s what you become when you buy into the Arturia ecosystem. They make everything so intuitive and accessible that you become a jaded ‘expert’ overnight and people start commenting on your flash moves as you scroll through sounds on your ‘fancy’ white controller.I love it. I also love that even though I have two other HUI based transport systems on the studio work space already, I still find myself using the Essential’s transport just as much. It all depends on how I am positioned or where the artist is. Naturally, the very well considered ‘UNDO’ button has become a legend in it’s own lunchtime. Another must have!
“… even though I have two other HUI based transport systems on the studio work space already, I still find myself using the Essential’s transport just as much.”
All this talk of the Arturia ecosystem does lead me to one sage piece of advice – one should seriously consider the benefit of investing in the V Collection (21 vintage synths and electro-mechanical delicacies) for the simple fact that Analog Lab three integration goes to a whole new level. One that you’ll be very happy you aspired to.
“one should seriously consider the benefit of investing in the V Collection (21 vintage synths and electro-mechanical delicacies) for the simple fact that Analog Lab 3 integration goes to a whole new level.”
I can’t stress enough how corporate maturity and pure creative joy can truly mix together. Creating a hybrid system as seamless and enjoyable as the KeyLab Essential series is a feat that only a handful of companies seem to be able to pull off. Arturia
have done it at an absolute down price whilst maintaining all the airs and good graces of their more expensive controllers and synths. This shouldn’t be looked upon as an entry level system – rather an affordable entry into the big boys club.
Compatible on Mac:
CONTROLLER: 10.8+: 4 GB RAM; 2 GHz CPU, 2GB free hard disk space
ANALOG LAB 3: Mac OS X: Standalone, AU, VST2, VST3, AAX
Compatible on Windows:
CONTROLLER: Win 7+ PC: 4 GB RAM; 2 GHz CPU, 2GB free hard disk space
ANALOG LAB 3: Windows: Standalone, VST2, VST3, AAX
- Deep Feature Set
- Excellent Software Integration
- Old Fashioned LCD Display
- No Plugin Auto Mapping
- Questionable Longevity