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Arturia Keylab 49 USB/MIDI Keyboard Review

Arturia Keylab 49 Black

TL;DR:

Arturia Keylab 49 Review: The Keyab 49 is a high quality USB keyboard that comes bundled with Analogue Lab software. The build quality is pleasant and the functions of the keyboard are easy to use, however Analogue Lab somewhat lacks lustre. On it’s own the Keylab 49 is a brilliant piece of hardware.


Review Preface:

Arturia focus on innovation and boasting ‘True Analog Emulation’ that allows accurate modelling of the behaviour of analogue circuits at your finger tips. Given this, Arturia have made their mark in the industry. With the critically acclaimed ‘Mini Brute’ synthesizer under their belt, along with the high regarded ‘V Collection’ of soft synths, Arturia’s new venture into ‘Hybrid Synthesizers’ is a welcome one. The idea behind this is to create a controller that works completely in sync with a dedicated software platform, without the need to touch the computer the software is downloaded on to; in comes the KeyLab and Analog Lab.


Package Contents:

The KeyLab controller comes in 4 variants, 25, 49, 61 and 88 keys, with our particular model being the 49 key model. Within the package you are presented with your chosen model of the KeyLab, along with a USB cable for connectivity to a computer or laptop. Inside there will also be instructions to download and activate both the KeyLab and the Analog Lab software, which comes free with every KeyLab purchase. Given the tight integration between the Analog Lab and KeyLab, having both is a necessity to get the most out of the product.


Supported Patforms:

The KeyLab and Analog Lab both support Mac OS X 10.7 or higher and Windows 7 or 8. The minimum system requirements are 4GB RAM; CPU 2GHz with multiple cores recommended and also 2GB of free hard disk space. In all they are not a demanding and can be run on many different machines. It supports VST, AAX and AU plug-in types in both 32 and 64 bit environments meaning that it will also run in a wide array of DAWs. Installing and testing took place on Mac OS X 10.9.2 and functioned very well with no crashes. Be aware that to activate and register both products an internet connection is required.


Build Quality, Function, and In-Use Thoughts:

At first glance, there is little to distinguish the KeyLab from other major controllers on the market but once you delve deeper, you realise Arturia have taken a different approach in crafting their new line of keyboards. Arguably, the factor that separates this controller from others is that Arturia have designed the KeyLab range specifically for their very own Analog Lab soft synth collection; featuring 5,000 hand picked favourites from their critically acclaimed V Series of classic analog synth recreations (including models such as the CS-80, Mini Moog, Modular Moog, Prophet V and more). The design of the KeyLab has that ‘new future’ sheen with lots of white, a sparse dashing of blue and a sleek wooden finish on the sides. Overall the build quality is of a much higher standard than others available on the market, it feels and looks like what Arturia have marketed it to be, a ‘Hybrid Synthesizer’.


With the KeyLab we are presented with a 49 note keyboard (with 25 and 61 key versions also available) with keys that feature velocity and after touch. The keys themselves are labelled as being ‘semi-weighted’ and although these keys are meant to replicate the feel of playing a real piano, you can tell the KeyLab keys are certainly not the most accurate representations of those found on real pianos. Arguably, such a design on a controller like the KeyLab would be impractical. The keys here are in the same vein as the ones found on most synthesizers, including Arturia’s signature MiniBrute analogue synth. In all, the keys do take a while getting used to and with our particular review model, some of them got stuck from time to time and did not sound when pressed. Although this did not cause a major hindrance, it was mildly frustrating when having to play in melodies multiple times as one note would not sound, but this was easily rectified.


In recent times, controller keyboards have been expected to do a lot more than just handle simple pitch information and the KeyLab can handle a lot more than just simple MIDI notes. Presented on the controller are 16 pressure and touch sensitive pads along with nine faders labelled as “Amp ADSR” and “Filter ADSR” (with a spare fader that can be assign to a custom MIDI channel if needed), accompanied an additional set of controllable knobs and the compulsory modulation and pitch bend wheel controls. These all go towards creating a complete set of tactile controls. Upon deeper inspection, all of the controls available to the user are, in essence, doubled by the inclusion of two bank buttons providing two levels of control.


Keylab 49 Screen

Embedded into the KeyLab is a 32 digit LCD screen that is effective and simple. It gives a real time indication of the area of the controller that is being manipulated as you as you change any parameter. Amidst the array of controllers is a dedicated volume knob, two parameter change control knobs, with 10 assignable buttons and also 6 transport buttons for controlling your preferred DAW. If 49 keys are not enough, it is possible to change the octave position by 3 in either direction. All of these controls feel solid and responsive with the pads being backlit with a somewhat soothing shade of blue, which is a pleasant addition when playing. That being said, the luminous blue back- lighting can get a little frustrating, especially when it comes to the ‘octave’ buttons. Depending on the degree to which the octave is raised or reduced, the button flashes correspondingly. With it being a constant flash, and no way of turning it off, it can be off putting when caught in the corner of the eye. On the 49 key model, the pitch bend and modulation wheels are placed on the left side of the controller, whilst they sit comfortably here, they both seem rather small in regards to the whole keyboard. This is not a detriment to the controller as a whole, just a personal preference.


The concept behind Arturia’s KeyLab is that it is a ‘Hybrid Synthesizer’ and not just an everyday controller. Given this fact, all KeyLab controllers are packaged with the Analog Lab software that comes as a free download. These two elements of the KeyLab package are meant to coincide: the tight integration the controller has with the Analog Lab software is paramount to its success. After downloading, installing and registering is complete, you are ready to make use of Arturia’s well known sounds. The french company are best known for creating some of the most realistic emulations of classic analogue synthesizers around, using their ‘True Analog Emulation’ techniques for modelling the behaviour of specific analog circuits. The Analog Lab features a collection around 5,000 of the best sounds from the V collection (these include the Mini Moog, Modular Moog, CS-80, SEM and more).


Analogue Lab ScreenThe key factor to remember with the Analog Lab software is that browsing, selecting and the tweaking of patches can all be done from the hardware controller as the KeyLab is designed to map directly to the software. Each and every control surface on the keyboard is assigned to the parameters in the software for each individual patch facilitating the immediacy this combination of products requires. It is also possible to save and edit patches for recall at a later time either from the software, or directly from the hardware. One of the features within Analog Lab is the ability to organise multi-layered patches that utilise two different patches stacked on top of one another. By doing this it greatly increases the number of possible sounds that can be created. Having so many possibilities is great but in this scenario it is a case of quantity over quality as the some of the sounds are not the best, and layering them does not necessarily compensate for this. Another feature allows the user to create keyboard splits meaning that you can spread more than one sound over the keyboard. This is very effective when in a live scenario as you can pre-programme the sounds and map them over the keyboard, instead of having to stop and start every new sound. Another aspect in which Analog Lab caters to live performance scenarios is through a simple drag and drop area which eases the burden of searching through pages and menus to find the right patches; you can also organise all of these pre-performance with the live editor. Analog Lab also contains a ‘chord mode’ that gives the option of using the pads on the controller to play specific chords. This in turn frees up your hands for tweaking controls and gives this part of the KeyLab a distinctly ‘drum machine’ feel. It is also possible to assign favourite patches to these pads, meaning they can be instantly triggered in the software and ready to go, which again is very useful in a live scenario. Arguably the most flexible feature the Analog Lab has is the possibility to change what each and every control surface on the keyboard is commanding. To achieve this, it is a simple case of finding the corresponding control surface in the software, i.e. a control knob, and then using the drop down menu to change what the control is doing. It is as simple as that.


Even though there is tight integration between the KeyLab and Analog Lab, Arturia have taken into account the pairing of their other synth software and their KeyLab range. For those who already own products part of the V Collection from Arturia, the Analog Lab software can detect these synths meaning that the KeyLab controller becomes very versatile for all Arturia products. It is also possible to incorporate any of your own sounds created from the other synths under the Analog Lab umbrella. This opens up the potential for the KeyLab and Analog Lab as it makes split and layered patches much more interesting as more, and arguably better sounds, can be created. Moreover, in a live situation it means that everything can be under the same software and set up alongside the extensive editing and tight integration that the KeyLab offers. One thing to note about the software is that when changing patches, it mutes the previous playing patch and any of the FX that would be in use and as a result it makes for a less smooth transition between each of the sounds. This can disrupt the flow of using the software, but considering the powerful editing and real time performance controls that the KeyLab and Analog Lab combination provide, this is only a minor detail to take into account.


Given that the KeyLab is a MIDI controller over USB, it goes without saying that it is possible to use this controller with any DAW you choose. Although it is advised to not use a USB splitter when plugging in the KeyLab as it seemed to draw more power than some 5V splitters can handle, meaning crashes did ensue. Direct connection to a laptop or computer is much more reliable and makes for smoother usage. Arturia have also made a free MIDI control centre software, which has more in-depth MIDI control mapping and editing options if so desired. This further opens up what the KeyLab is capable of and even though such depth is not for everyone, taking into account that it is free of charge there is no harm in downloading it to see what is possible. The Analog Lab software will also work in standalone mode as well as in an instance inside any given DAW with 32 and 64bit support for all major plugin formats. The KeyLab controller can also be powered by a DC power unit if it is needed to be used away from a computer and coupled with traditional MIDI I/O ports this controller becomes a more viable option in non-computer based set ups. Another nice touch at the backend of the KeyLab is that it supports a breath control input as well as the more commonly used sustain pedal, expressional pedals and auxiliary control inputs.


As a whole, the KeyLab 49 is a very flexible controller that has tight integration with the Analog Lab software (bundled with every KeyLab purchase) as well as having the ability to map to any software out there. The incredible build quality makes this controller ideal for live set ups and on the road usage. Even though there are many controllers out there, the KeyLab range offers a lot for the price point and with its trigger pads, range of controllers, knobs and faders, it will find a place in every studio set up based around a DAW or even in set ups for other live/performance work.


Review Conclusion:

Arturia’s KeyLab 49 is a very powerful MIDI controller. If you are in need of a keyboard controller that is flexible in any scenario it is put in, this is the one. Even though the Analog Lab software bundled with the package is slightly lacklustre in the sound department and does not give a true representation of the sounds available in the V Collection, the tight integration it has with the KeyLab 49 does make up for this. Given these facts The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the KeyLab 49 package a 4 out of 5 stars.


Harnek Mudhar

Harnek Mudhar - 23rd September 2014

US RRP: $399.00 | UK RRP: £249.00

Four Star Award
Arturia Keylab 49 Review
4/5 stars
Arturia Keylab 49 Review: The Keyab 49 is a high quality USB keyboard that comes bundled with Analogue Lab software. The build quality is pleasant and the functions of the keyboard are easy to use, however Analogue Lab somewhat lacks lustre. On it’s own the Keylab 49 is a brilliant piece of hardware.

Editors Rating: